The Impossible Institute

Let me set the timeline for everybody. It’s 2008. Schools are seeing some pretty nice numbers, maybe 60 a trimester where I was. Court reporting steno schools are saying this is a timeless, guaranteed profession. Obsolescence is impossible and there will always be tons of work. 2010 comes along, and my class of reporters is told by the market there’s no work. There’s a glut. Too many reporters, not enough work. We’ll start you at what they made in 1991 because we’re such benevolent people. And by the way, rate increase is impossible. By 2014, there’s news of a shortage incoming. and by 2018, the shortage is in full swing, and even here in New York, where you had agencies like Diamond not paying their people copies, unless they really liked them, they started paying copies to a larger percentage of their reporters. That was after almost a decade of such a terrible cost to the agency being deemed impossible. Thanks, partner.

So it’s interesting whenever someone tells me something can’t happen, won’t happen, or is impossible. It’s equally interesting when someone comes out with an authoritative and definite prediction, that something must happen. So I briefly reviewed some materials out of STTI, the new mouthpiece of the anti-steno business coalition. Completely ignoring the resurgence of American stenography and my series of ten shortage solutions, the STI says crunch the numbers, it’s impossible for schools to meet the forecasted shortage of 8,000 reporters by 2020. Well, maybe, when we go by the information from 2013, it seems unlikely. But when you can log into the Open Steno Discord and see almost 100 people online on a Saturday morning in 2019, and you can see for yourself the constant efforts of A to Z, Project Steno, and private schools, it seems like these so-called experts have little more than a BA in BS.

Don’t take it from me, look at their own words. They try to pin the blame on NCRA for not adopting voice writing wholesale. But what kind of argument is that? Voice writing has been around since World War II, but the NCRA didn’t adopt it, so now it’s too late, digital wins. If anything, that tells me that if the NCRA doesn’t adopt it, it doesn’t fly. If we, the stenographers in the marketplace today, do not accept your inferior methodology, and keep marketing ourselves, we stay on top. If they’re so sure that these steno-centric programs won’t work, why bother saying they cannot win? Simple. They’re guarding an empty city. If they get you to give up recruiting, educating, and empowering your fellow reporters, the market’s open for them to come in and pick up the pieces. You decide whether that happens. Are you going to let five people scare off 20,000 of you?

Look no further than their straw man future predictions to see how weak their argument is. What will the market look like in 2039? What will happen in 20 years? You don’t know. Nobody knows. So when the “experts” tell you what’ll happen, they hope it’ll give you a sense of security, and you’ll act or fail to act, and become a participant in their version of the future. That’s how that works. It’s an echo chamber claiming steno will fail in the hopes that that’s how things roll. Are you going to fall for it?

I’m generally not going to cover the STI too much on this blog. Who wants to give clicks to a cherry picking propaganda outfit? But look at the beginning of this post again. Look at all the people who made claims that turned out to be untrue. I’ll give you one more. In 2017, I was told more or less not to bother with this blog because nobody would read it or find what I had to say credible. It was impossible. This year I had 13,000 views and 6,000 visitors. Here’s a prediction. You can do that. You can do anything you’ve got motivation for. And you can do it a heck of a lot better than the experts. I’d say the people out there working every day are the experts. To wrap this up, let’s just say that if someone is telling you that something is impossible, or that something is definitely going to happen, you want to look at their motives before you buy in. Last question. What’s your next move?

To Our Litigators

RE: Stenographic Reporters

If you’re reading, I’m going to hope you’re the kind of lawyer that we all look up to. You’re responsive to clients, you’re honest with potential clients about what you can do for them, and you’re ready when it comes to filings, motions, discovery, or trial. Maybe you’re the one at your firm tailoring your service to your client’s budget, or maybe you oversee someone doing that for you. But the end is the same, giving the consumer the best value for the budget.

That’s what urges me to write today. There has been a lot said about “AI” transcription and digital recording versus stenographic reporting. There has been a lot said in my field about the Ducker Report and a forecasted shortage of court reporters. Some brave companies are turning to remote reporting, where legal, to allow a stenographer to appear remotely. Other courageous reporters are doubling their workload to meet your demand.

There is one solution that’s come out known as digital reporting. The main idea is that someone will record the proceedings, run it through a computer program, and then someone will fix up what the computer does. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is what we stenographers actually do. The major difference is we are stenographically recording (typing!) every word, and the computer is accepting that stenographic word and turning it into your English transcript.

The bottom line is: It simply ends up being more efficient to do it our way. One person, perhaps two, can stenographically record and transcribe an entire proceeding and have it to you that night or the next morning. For your dollar, there’s just not better value. Stenographers type four to five times faster than your average typist, so to finish the same proceeding, we are talking about four or five times the usual turnaround time for transcribers, or four or five times the staffing. Take the number of stenographers you have today, and multiply that number by 3, 4, or 5. If you think there’s a shortage and/or workflow issues now, imagine a world where you need five court reporters to put together your one proceeding. Imagine a world where the transcript is questioned and you need to bring those people in to testify instead of one stenographer.

Trust me when I say the firms switching to digital reporting or demanding you change your deposition notices to allow digital reporters are not saving you or your clients any money. Ever notice how there are almost never prices posted online for services? That’s because most of these companies act as middlemen. They make an agreement with you or the insurer, and then they make an agreement with us, the stenographers or transcribers, and they keep what’s in the middle. It’s really that simple. I would not be surprised, as a stenographer, to learn that I only made $3.25 a page on some of my old depositions with 25 cents per copy while the agency I worked with charged whatever they charged. 5? 6? 7? I don’t know. I only know that when I consulted a lawyer, the lawyer wanted almost 15 dollars a page if my case went to depositions.

I’ve been a stenographer for a long time, and I see two roads that you, the litigators, may take. You can let the sellers decide the market, and eventually stenographers won’t be an option, or you can make a sustained demand for a stenographic reporter at every dep. When lawyers start turning to direct market apps like Appear Me, Expedite Legal, and NexDep to get stenographers, those agencies pushing the digital and AI will jump on board and do whatever it takes to increase your supply of stenographers and get your business back.

Stenographers have been serving the legal community for decades. There’s been a push in recent years to do away with us because of a public perception that our methods are antiquated. Ironically, the people leading this charge are the companies we trusted with selling our services. So to our litigators: You now know all I know, and the customer is always right. Which will you choose?

NYSCRA Bagels and Lox February 2019

Some will have seen an article authored after a little prodding and editing (AKA help!) from another reporter, Devora Hackner. Photo archive here. Obviously, I had overall positive impressions from the entire event. Got to meet Steno Joe in person! The food was absolutely amazing. There were literally three or four tables of food and everything from bagels to sushi. NYSCRA spared no expense and its sponsors did an amazing job. If you were a non-steno there to learn about steno, you walked away sated and happy. I do think it was an important showcase of our field, and there were over 100 seats, most full.

Unfortunately the structure of the event prohibited me from seeing the CaseCAT and Eclipse trainings, but I know both trainers are at the top of their game and I have personally attended Anthony Frisolone’s past webinars and a Local 1070 seminar, and it’s always been a wonderful experience. If you need CaseCAT help, Anthony is the man. His training is worth every dime. Quick note, the photography by Shmuel Amit was also amazing and is featured mostly along the bottom of the original article.

There are two major points that don’t get covered in the article because Stenonymous and that article have different audiences. Firstly, when Jane Sackheim got up to speak, it was an honest surprise. Hadn’t been on the agenda. It’s rumored Diamond put 1,500 or more down on the event though, so there’s no real issue with letting a sponsor like that get a few words in. If I had a sponsor that good, we’d be sponsoring stenographers to visit NYC high schools. Jane did say there would always be a need for court reporters. Given the current climate, I hope she meant stenographic court reporters, but given that she was funding a NYSCRA event along with ASSCR, we’ll assume it was stenographic court reporters! Then there was a talk about balance.

Jane said it was always a balance between paying what a reporter would accept and charging what a client would pay. That is an insightful thing to think about and consider. Not every single proceeding is worth $400 per page, and there is a certain point where clients just wouldn’t pay. That said, I have always been under the belief that we are incredibly underpaid in New York. When I was freelancing, many of my contemporaries and I were making in the ballpark of $3.25 per page and 0 to 50 cents on a copy. Back at that time (~2012) I met some freelancers out from Ohio who reported they made a dollar or two a page on copies. Different markets? Yes. Different jobs? How different can they possibly be? We had a hard time negotiating here in New York. We were told there were too many reporters and not enough work because that was a convenient thing to say to get us to accept low rates. Now there’s a reporter shortage but we shouldn’t ask for more because clients won’t pay it? All the respect in the world for a woman that built a business and ran it so well that Veritext decided to buy it out rather than compete with it. There’s power to the personality that runs the ship. But here is something I think every reporter should consider: We don’t know the truth until invoices start leaking. We don’t know if the copies are being charged at a buck a page or 4.85 a page. We have to question it for ourselves and decide how to build our own brands and reputations. We don’t know and therefore we can’t say with certainty today what the truth is, but it’s probably somewhere between clients won’t pay and reporters expect too much. We know there’s a serious profit margin in the business because almost every reporting firm has a main office and a satellite office in every borough of the city, and I would point to that each and every time someone says the agencies are hurting. Do business with these agencies, and do good work, but be open to the idea that sometimes you are told things that are subjective are objectively true. We did over 900 math calculations, and to not be working all the time, you either have to be a fast transcriber or making in the ballpark of $5.50 a page average. That’s a tall order, but I believe that if agencies and reporters continue to put down money and ideas to enhance the field and our professional organizations, we’ll be okay.

Without further delay let’s end this on a high note. Nonmembers who attended get $18 off their membership this year. Also, NYSCRA did something incredible. They asked for the following:

    Seminar speakers you’d like to see.
    Seminars or speeches you yourself would be willing to conduct.
  • So what’s left to do? Write NYSCRA today at nyscra@bowermanagementservices.com or head over to their site at NYSCRA, tell Tim he’s doing a GREAT job, and share your thoughts and ideas. They’re asking for them! Personally I’d love a few seminars for freelancers on how to be marketable to agencies and how to be marketable to attorneys directly. Hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll have an interview with Eve Barrett of the Expedite app to discuss exactly that. I think these things are perfectly attainable, but it’s time for members and potential members to ask for them.
  • Stenographers, US Legal Is Not Your Friend

    As some quick background, I received an anonymous email that basically said “US Legal is shifting to ECR and having stenos train them, your mileage may vary but your days are numbered.” Hit up two of my favorite friends and mentors about it. One said, “they sent it to you because you blog everything, don’t give them any air time.” The other said, “look into it, verify whether or not it’s true, and there’s not much you can do about it.”

    So anyway, I took the second option, and I surveyed some people using Google/Facebook, and like me, people had heard this before. A dear friend sent me a mailer that was received from US Legal CA. They want people to transcribe from home. Then I went looking on the careers page of the website and found their New York listing for Electronic Court Reporter. Probably because we are 1099s, there’s not the slightest mention of stenographic reporter.

    But this inspires some critical thought. Why would a company push so hard for transcribers and electronic recorders? My opinion? They believe that the alternative methods are where the almighty dollar is. But they rely on us not speaking about it. They rely on us not sharing this message. They rely on us continuing to work with them using our infrastructure and experience that stenography has built over the last six decades. So I have an honest message to any stenographic reporter: Leave them in the dust. Don’t take the jobs, take the clients. It’s one thing if you want to work with us and pay us well. It’s another thing entirely to position yourself to do away with us. These aren’t your clients, they are our customer base, and we’re taking it back.

    Consider too that these companies have shown the willingness and desire to not play by the rules. In a recent decision, Holly Moose v US Legal, US Legal argued that it should not be bound by state rules because it is in the business of connecting customers with independent contractors. The court said that this logic was unpersuasive at best.

    Our ability to stay vibrant and the viability of this field rely on being visible and profitable. Nobody is going to educate stenographers if we’re making transcriber money. If a company offered you double your money this year but no more jobs after that ever from anyone, would you take it? That’s what we’re looking at on a grand scale the more we put our heads in the sand. Companies exist out of convenience to their investors. Reduce that margin, watch them pull out, and let the work flow naturally where it needs to: Stenographic court reporters.

    Veritext Buys A Diamond

    In a perhaps not-so-surprising move Veritext bought Diamond. I wish every reporter a great deal of luck and success, but I do want to talk a little bit about why I think this is overall bad for us.

    Corporations are entities made to create a profit for their owners. That’s their legal and primary purpose. There’s nothing really wrong with this, it’s kind of how things work. When you buy a stock in a public corporation, generally you can rest assured that the Board of Directors has a duty to protect the value of your shares. Yay.

    But this poses a unique problem for reporters. Their duty is to their bottom line. What’s one of the biggest expenses? Labor. What’s labor in reporting? Our fees! So ultimately, Veritext, which I now nickname Gobbler Corporation, has bought its way into having what I imagine to be a pretty hefty book of business. This is bad for the following reasons:

    If the reporter shortage continues, they have an incentive to push audio recording. It is cheaper and it will always be cheaper to get someone to take notes during a proceeding while it’s being recorded than hiring a stenographic reporter. This savings isn’t likely to be transferred to the lawyers and litigants, but added to Veritext’s bottom line.

    If the shortage does not continue, Veritext has a larger market share of New York and will have a better ability to dictate prices to its reporters.

    Honest solutions? We need to be better on our information game. We need to keep instructing reporters on what we are worth and encourage them to be powerful entrepreneurs. I’ve written before in this blog about how people can negotiate or seek information on government contracts. Perhaps soon I can write about becoming an NYC Vendor. Now is the time! More than that: We need to start fighting harder. As they start shifting to recorders, resist. Call up your favorite law firm and offer your services. Become the competition. Make them buy you out too. Reach out to law firms and tell them, hey, they’re cutting us out, and they’re not passing those savings to you, so hire a stenographic reporter today for a better deal!

    This is the best damn time to be a reporter that I’ve seen in New York. The court system wants you. The unions want you. The association wants you. The agencies want you. Your skills are in real demand. But your willingness to step out of your comfort zone and really connect with customers, clients, lawyers, and the end users of our services really can alter how everything plays out. What you do actually makes a difference. Why? Strategy. Envision the whole thing as a game of chess. In Chess, if you refuse to move, you concede the game. Most of us are not wealthy, can’t concede and stop working. If you let the other player take all your pieces off the board, the sources you rely on for work, pulling off a win grows ever more challenging. If you start making moves, you force the opponent to react. Their game gets thrown because they can’t account for every move you make. Every dollar an entity gets is a dollar that makes them stronger. What do you think happens if the hundreds of stenographers in the city start taking dollars away by being real competition?

    And we’re bothering people that want stenography to fail big time. The fact that we’re catching on and creating a plan to fight back is hurting them so bad that they’re gloating at me in anonymous e-mails about how our days are numbered.

    So the choice is simple. Concede and let the current shotcallers decide how things are going to go, or step it up and take the time to read about how to draft responses to city RFPs (requests for proposals) and become true entrepreneurs, and introduce true competition to a needy, living market. Remember that a market is not just “oh, they want to pay me this”, but an amalgam of buyers and sellers, all seeking the best deal for themselves. Remember that as a provider you are the backbone of the market, and it’s your action or inaction that dictates tomorrow.

    Veritext bought a Diamond. There’s no reason we can’t build ten more.

    Remote Swearing of Witnesses (NY)

    March 9, 2020.

    I wrote the original article about three years ago. In its current state it is confusing and hard to follow. I have rewritten the article. Below is the new article followed by a link to the old one. The old article is preserved for the sake of completeness only. Note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, merely a discussion of law.

    NEW ARTICLE:

    The New York State Department of State oversees the Division of Licensing, which licenses and oversees our notary public licenses, which allows us to swear witnesses.  The DOS also publishes a notary law packet which is an amalgam and presentation of the various bodies of law that govern notaries public in New York State. In the 2017 and 2019 versions, the packet cites the 1915 case Matter of Napolis, which states in pertinent part that oaths may not be given over the phone. About 90 years later, New York’s CPLR was amended with CPLR 3113(d), which states in pertinent part that “unless otherwise stipulated to by the parties, the officer administering the oath shall be physically present at the place of the deposition…” As far as I can tell as a layperson, this makes it effectively legal for parties to stipulate that the officer administering the oath does not have to be physically present. In a 2017 correspondence with the DOS, I brought up this issue, and the DOS stated, in pertinent part, “with respect to civil depositions, a notary may under the specific provisions of Article 31 of the CPLR and in compliance
    therewith, swear in a remote witnesses…” [sic].  In a June 2019 correspondence with the DOS, I asked them to amend the notary law packet to include CPLR 3113(d). They stated they would take my comment under consideration.

    Some seasoned reporters are uncomfortable with the remote swearing of witnesses with the law and DOS materials as they are, and they ask the attorneys to deem that the witness be sworn instead of swearing them in. As a reporter and citizen, it’s my opinion that if you are going to ask them to deem the witness sworn, you should change the verbiage in your swear-in paragraph or cert to reflect that. If you have them stipulate to the remote swearing under CPLR 3113(d), you should ensure they state that on the record or that it is in your stipulation page.  Note that all of this only governs depositions taken under the CPLR. In federal cases, Rule 30(b)(5) and rules like it may hold authority.  Like its CPLR counterpart, FRCP Rule 30(b)(5) has language “unless the parties stipulate otherwise…” That said, I have never specifically asked the DOS about remote swearing under the FRCP.

    I have done this research so that if one of us is ever in trouble, we have a fighting chance. There are a lot of newbies out there who do not know there’s supposed to be a stipulation, and if we can help just one not get into trouble, that’s important to me.

    Addendum:

    In 2020, Executive Order 202.7 was issued. You can read about it here.

    ORIGINAL (OLD) ARTICLE LINK.

    Learn Stenography!

    NCRA.

    National Court Reporters Association is, as of writing, the powerhouse association for stenography in the United States. I came across this video today and I figure it’s worth sharing to all who might come across this blog. It will immediately direct you to a site with a little information about how to start getting involved. Having lent a piece of equipment to one of the A to Z programs they describe, I can honestly say I’m a big supporter of this stuff and people giving this profession a try. It’s worth it.

    A very brief summary of what we do: We take down the spoken word and make it text. We type it faster than a regular keyboard because our keyboards (stenotypes) allow us to hit multiple letters at once, and those letters stand for various sounds, words, and sentences.

    More Than A Job.

    In our field we often point at the potential to make money for relatively little education, and I think that’s just fine, but I also realize that doesn’t motivate everybody. If you’re in the camp of not being a money-hungry person, then consider a few extra things. For those of us that work in court reporting, we provide hours upon hours of service to the community, logging and keeping safe thousands of pages of court or deposition records for the day they’re needed by lawyers, litigants, or the public. For those of us that work in captioning or CART, we provide access to the people who need it most. Voice-to-text access for the 15% of Americans who report trouble hearing, and the millions who cannot hear at all! Indeed, if you  won’t do this thing for the money, do it for the people you will be helping just by sitting at a little machine and typing your heart out.

    Stanographer.

    Stanley Sakai gives a pretty upbeat and fast explanation of stenography here for those that want to know more about the concept of machine shorthand.

    Stenoodie.

    I came across this fascinating blog by someone who writes under the author name Stenoodie, and they have a short page describing steno/machine shorthand for those who like reading more than videos.