Verbit Published Kentuckiana Proceeding Audio Online Without Anyone’s Permission

It came to my attention some time ago that Verbit was using a real proceeding’s audio to test its potential transcribers. After entering one’s information, one will get to a screen that encourages him or her to download all the files and put together a transcript from the information and audio given.

Legal professionals = transcribers.

I’ve already made it pretty clear I don’t like digital reporting as a modality. It can threaten access to justice and is the corner-cutting modality of my industry. I don’t like Verbit either. As I see it, consumers and investors are being misled constantly by the company. I do love digital reporters, but mostly because I see them as being taken advantage of. As I see it, we can bring them into the mainstream stenographic court reporting industry and train them to stenotype just like us. I’m very pro-people, and that’s why one of my biggest criticisms of US Legal Support was that it was using all of its power to mislead people into believing the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve while doing nothing to recruit stenographers.

But this just takes my criticism of digital reporting and Verbit to a whole new level. Anyone with access to the link from anywhere in the world can just pop on and download a bunch of files from somebody’s case. These files have been accessible since July 2021 that I personally know of, and these files were still accessible as of September 15, 2021.

Each of the green buttons is a file that you can click and download.

The whole thing leaves me in a pretty tough position. I want to prove this is happening so that court reporters can warn the legal community. But just dumping the evidence onto the internet a second time will violate the parties’ privacy more than it has already been violated. With heavy redaction, though, we can go through the various files and get a good idea of it. Let’s start with the cover page. Just remember, the redactions were put there by me. In the actual files there are no redactions.

This was surprising to me, because usually family court stuff is usually private in my jurisdiction of New York. It’s not something the entire world is able to get its hands on.

There’s a file labeled TAG, which appears to be the digital reporter or video operator’s annotations. If I am correct about that, this is a window into just how useless the annotations are for a transcriber.

Redactions are mine. The full file has names and information I just don’t think should be published on this blog.

There’s a file containing a notice of deposition. To limit the time spent redacting, I’ll offer up the first page only.

Remember, I was only able to get my hands on this because of Verbit’s recklessness with it.

The “must read” file comes next. Since that’s created entirely by Verbit, it’s downloadable here.

Then there’s a Verbit guidelines page, which seems harmless enough. But it hilariously refers to a “USLS” manual. The file is literally named “redone for USLS,” which to me seems to be fairly good circumstantial evidence that Verbit has a connection to US Legal Support. Not only is US Legal potentially defrauding consumers by making bad claims about the stenographer shortage, they might be working with a company so ignorant of good court reporting practice that it posted a proceeding online.

For the sake of completeness, I went looking for a USLS Manual and I found a 2017 version. Interestingly enough, it reads very much like an employee manual and has very specific formats for jobs. Remember, common law employees are all about who has direction and control of the work. I would say that if US Legal is or was using a 150-something page manual to “train” its “freelancers,” those people are actually common law employees and US Legal probably should have been paying employment taxes for them. What a shame it would be if I uploaded that manual and someone let the IRS know there was potentially a failure to withhold those taxes.

Back to Verbit’s files, they offer a template, which is more or less a transcription of the audio file they’re asking transcribers to transcribe. It is the single greatest indictment against digital reporting I have ever seen. The reporter’s name, Hang Nguyen, is misspelled as Han. The term “court reporter” is spelled “core reporter.” There’s a missing apostrophe. There’s a zero in the word “point.” She asks them to state their appearance and how they’re attending, but somehow it’s transcribed as “state your up here.” There are so many errors that quite frankly I hope my reporting colleagues do not let this go and that they take the time to send this to their bar associations. I am quite sure there are stenographic reporters that make mistakes. I personally make mistakes. But this falls well within the territory of “way too many mistakes to be normalized and accepted by our justice system.”

I bet you Hang Nguyen could be trained to be a damn good stenographer and would do far better than whoever transcribed this.
Remember, companies don’t typically tell their digital reporters we’re an option, let alone that we are the market preference.

There’s a Kentuckiana reporter worksheet that’s published by Verbit. It’s a pretty standard worksheet, so I will not bother to publish it here.

We get to the audio file, and it’s a 22-minute file. Given that this proceeding is a family court matter between two individuals, it’s not appropriate for me to republish, but again, it was available on the internet for months and being used to screen or train Verbit transcribers. It’s real testimony about a family court matter.

This image shows the file time on the right.

I set out to investigate whether permission had been granted to Verbit to publish these proceedings on the internet. In full disclosure, court reporters have shared audio in our field, but it’s usually a snippet of a word or sentence for clarification purposes and not large chunks of testimony with information that can identify parties. Now, I don’t really like Kentuckiana because of their pro-digital stance, but when I reached out, Michael McDonner seemed very reasonable and made it very clear, permission was not given to distribute this audio.

I had the link and I gave it to him in the hopes he could do something about this.

But what about the attorneys? Maybe John Schmidt said it was okay.

John Schmidt did not say it was okay. And I gave him the files and link from my investigation.

But perhaps Amber Cook had given permission?

“the public should have had no access to the depositions.”

I reached out to Hang Nguyen on LinkedIn but I got no response as of writing. I also reached out to Leor Eliashiv from Verbit. Predictably, there was no response. But at the very least, Kentuckiana made a commitment to demand the audio be taken off the internet after I told them where to find it.

I asked Kentuckiana to consider using stenographic transcribers. I pointed out that we spend a lot of time training our newbies not to make the kinds of mistakes that have been made here.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Kentucky, I’m clueless. I have a pretty good relationship with Lisa Migliore from Migliore & Associates. Just to be sure, I asked whether what Verbit was doing was good court reporting practice in that state, and she answered that it was not, citing the Kentucky Court Reporters Association Code of Professional Responsibility.

“…I find it very concerning that one cannot obtain this from our local courthouse–yet it is easily accessible by any number of people located across the world with nothing more than an email address and/or a real or fictitious name.”

For so long our institutions and businesses have been trying to find a way to say we are the superior product. Maybe the answer is to just show consumers what they’re really signing up for if they entrust the future of the legal record to companies like Verbit, tons of errors and potential breaches of privacy. We have to direct people to the many resources to learn stenographic court reporting, such as NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno. We have to get serious about educating consumers. Please consider a donation to Protect Your Record Project today. They have been pioneers and powerhouses in consumer awareness, and it is largely thanks to them that this article will reach thousands.

Addendum:

Within 24 hours after the posting of this blog the files were taken off of the internet.

This is where it used to be.

Investors Misled, Verbit Lies, Media Buys It

I’ve been following Verbit for a while. I’ve pointed out my skepticism regarding its series A funding claims of 99% accuracy in record time. That was well before the racial disparities in automatic speech recognition (ASR) study really hit the news and showed us that all the biggest players in the ASR market were having trouble consistently getting 80% accuracy. That was well before the captioning article showed us “record time” was 8 hours. My skepticism was revived when I read about Verbit floating the idea that it might go public. It seems very much to me like they’re unprofitable, like VIQ. It’s a game of getting investors to keep piling money on as far as I can tell. It’s the Uber strategy of throwing money around and trying to control a market whether or not the model is sustainable. We have a lot of reasons to doubt what Israel-based Verbit says.

Time to add one more to the pile. They claim they’re a New York-based company. They claimed that in May 2020.

This is basically all fluff. You cannot tailor-make ASR for legal proceedings because they encompass such a wide range of matters. Law and language are constantly evolving.

The claim was repeated in a June 2021 article by Peter Cohan in Forbes.

Wait. I thought we were tailoring to legal? This sounds a little bit like “we do everything. Honest.”

And despite my attempts to alert them to the inaccuracy in July 2021, nobody could be bothered to correct the article. It’s still wrong as of September 14, 2021.

Okay. Maybe my antics turned them off. Or maybe they just don’t care what’s true.

And just to make this really clear, it’s fact checkable using New York’s business search, which takes maybe 60 seconds. Verbit is a foreign corporation, meaning it is not based in New York.

Delaware, Israel, New York — maybe its base is wherever it thinks is going to be most attractive to investors.

This might seem like a minor thing, but it points to a larger problem. Media people are not bothering to fact check anything. They’ll go on and on about how the technology is great and new, and how this company is a unicorn valued at a billion dollars, but they’ll miss simple realities, like 85% of AI business solutions being predicted to fail. IBM Watson wasn’t the holy grail of ASR and IBM makes $70 billion in annual revenue. What are the chances that Verbit beat IBM with its $5 million in revenue? I’ll give everyone a hint. Vince McMahon’s theme song tells us exactly what chance they have.

And Verbit is not doing anything to correct false perceptions. They reposted their May 2020 article again on September 14, 2021.

Leor is actually a nice person. We got to talk once. But Verbit itself is playing the claim game.

Just for fun, let’s dive into the implications they list here, since it’s being published a second time as if it is still true.

1. The rise of non-compete litigation. I see no reason to believe that this is an accurate assessment. States like New York are banning non-competes under 75,000. Even our sitting President of the United States doesn’t seem to like non-competes very much. So it probably wasn’t true in May 2020 when the courts were closed and probably isn’t true now.

2. Courthouses are closed. True in May 2020. Not really holding true now.

3. Working from home culture. Stenographers adapted to this. There’s no edge to Verbit in that department.

4. High demand for lawyers. Can’t argue here. Our nation of laws needs lawyers, especially in rural areas.

5. Technology is key. They mention how lawyers that know how to send documents electronically and perform video conferences are more desirable. Is this surprising to anyone?

6. Fewer courtroom cases. Verbit has pointed to our stenographer shortage in the past as the casus belli requiring our replacement. If there are fewer courtroom cases, demand is lower than anticipated, and therefore stenographers can meet demand and the whole theme that we cannot has been a marketing farce.

7. Smaller law firms thrive. They’re writing this because smaller law firms have fewer resources to spend figuring out that the article is a sales pitch. Marketing is about how you make people feel. They want to make smaller law firms feel good and try Verbit.

8. New court reporting strategies. In May 2020, laws regarding oaths and the swearing-in of witnesses were changing to adapt to the pandemic environment. This has been a major debate in our field where some businesses ignore procedural rules while others zealously defend them. New York itself has fairly simple guidelines for depositions taken within the state, without the state, and in a foreign country. As page 32 of the Summer 2020 Vermont Bar Journal told us, this situation gets complicated. So it’s not a false statement they’re making, but this is an example of framing. “New” and “court reporting” are designed to make the reader feel like court reporting is changing. Our strategy is the same it’s been for a hundred years, stenotyping what you say while you say it. We just do it with better technology than we had in the 80s.

9. Courts are going digital. Yeah. Sure. But as I have pointed out to digital court reporters, stenographers have been digital for a while now.

10. The rise of the remote deposition. Automatic speech recognition thrives via the remote work because the audio quality tends to be much clearer, assuming everyone’s connection is good. It’s a closed scenario where everyone is speaking into a microphone. By contrast, the stenographic court reporter can survive anything. Check out 25 seconds of one of my early freelance jobs and let me know how well automatic captioning does there. I was a 20-something year old kid next to a steam radiator. If I had not been taking notes on my stenotype, there’d be no legal record of the proceedings. Automatic speech recognition fails in court reporting for the same reason court reporters get stressed out at lawyers. We have to get every word. Sometimes they stick us in spots where it’s really hard to do our jobs. In today’s world we are occasionally looked down on for asking to change our seat or relaying that a situation is unreportable. We will be very upset if the legal field suddenly decides “yes, we can create the ideal hearing scenario for the computer that we couldn’t bother to do for the human beings we work with every day.” But my money is on one simple truth, people are people and most of them will never jump through hoops to make a computer “happy” when they can work with a live stenographic reporter who will jump through hoops to make them happy. It’s the same reason customers dread calling any kind of service center nowadays. Getting bounced around by an automated system has got to be one of the most infuriating experiences in modern life. Applying that to the legal record is a masterful level of stupid.

This isn’t anything new from Verbit. They put out questionable marketing materials all the time. They did it again in this undated webpage about digital reporting. Let’s put those “myths” to bed too.

Nobody believes this. The Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014 by Ducker Worldwide clearly gauged the use of digital reporting in each state. Digital or its predecessor, analog, have been in use in society and even stenographic court reporting for a long time.
They give three states that ostensibly allow digital court reporting to bust this myth and omit states like Washington where providers like StoryCloud have been accused of breaking the law. Download the complaint below!
We are all certified at over 95% accuracy. It’s true that we don’t all provide realtime. These things are different and they’re conflating them, hopefully out of ignorance. There is no evidence digital reporting is closing the gap.
They neglect to mention that transcription can take six to eight times the number of transcribers to get the work done in the same amount of time.
I’ll concede “fewer” inaudible portions for the sake of argument. But again, why would you sacrifice a stenographer who can tell you right then and there that something is missing?
It’s less secure because the transcription work is being done outside the jurisdiction of our country and our courts. If I alter a transcript illegally, I risk jail. If someone on the other side of the world does it, what recourse does an American lawyer have?
The racial disparities in automatic speech recognition study of 2020 told us all the major players were 25 to 80 percent accurate depending on who was speaking. This means Verbit’s transcribers have to spend time figuring out what the computer gets wrong and then fixing it, arguably slower than typing it from scratch.
Stenographers have audio sync. We can do this too. It’s often much faster for us to search for a keyword and read what we have. I’ve had people ask me to read back stuff from hours or days prior. Good luck finding that on an audio file, even with modern audio searching.
Our notary is not what makes us trained “officiants.” Our support systems, educational systems, and experience with transcript production is what protects your record.
The Justice Served study about a decade ago put the costs in about the same ballpark for the consumer.

But you know what’s screwed up? Here Verbit is calling digital court reporters highly trained, but not long ago, they were claiming that digital reporting required a workforce that is not highly trained. Again, this is a company with no conviction or facts backing it. It is a chameleon, ready to blend in with whatever way will make it money or sound good.

I am quite proud to present my new work of art “Verbit is lying to consumers.”

Let’s keep on reading some digital reporting myths.

Oh, no. They got me here. Stenographers really are human.

AI never has a bad day? Well, in my October 2020 article, YouTube thought the caption for defeating the enemy and extinguishing his life was “to feed my enemy, I extinguish his wife.” In my June 2021 article YouTube AI thought “raise your right hand” was “rage right hand.” There’s two bad days right there. If Verbit’s got better ASR than YouTube, why haven’t they sold it to YouTube yet?

Actually, digital transcription is worse off than Alexa and Siri.

To understand why this is wrong, you have to know a little about the tech and concepts at play. Alexa and Siri are constantly able to learn your voice and tune to your voice. That’s like voice writing. In order to create a uniform ASR program that can get all English speakers all the time and automate that transcription, you need tons of data from all those speakers in all different types of environments. Since new people are being born every day and language is changing a little bit every day, this is basically hopeless. As written in Scientific American, ASR is not perfect and may never be. Just think criminal prosecutions. Does anyone really believe we are going to get defendants to sit there and help the court system train the computer to their voices? “Ah, yes, I think I will just assist the state in my prosecution.”

For anyone that hasn’t caught on, there is a pattern here. There is little substance, a lot of fluff, some great sales tactics, and no real court reporting knowledge. Perhaps most offensive is their reliance on quotes and ideas from the National Center for State Courts, which as far as I can tell just doesn’t like stenographers, since they continually call for digital recording despite some evidence that costs are similar and stenographers are more efficient. I hate to say that about NCSC since they seem to admire community court solutions as much as I do, but that’s where we’re at, they don’t like that my job exists.

I really feel for investors. They’re being recklessly encouraged to throw millions of dollars into something that, from any reasonable view of the facts, has a high chance of failing or stagnating. As I pointed out in my science article, they’re paying Kenyan transcribers maybe a fourth of what Americans are paid for the same work. Any alleged savings doesn’t go to the consumer, it goes to the company. Does the court reporting consumer want the creators of the legal record to be outside of his or her subpoena power? Does the captioning consumer want a company to push down prices so that captioners have a hard time affording continuing education? Is everybody really okay with what is apparently a zombie company coming in and sinking millions of dollars into Rev 2 under the false notion of “future technology?” Livne himself has admitted they’re “over-subscribed” when it comes to funding. It’s quite clear to me that they’re overfunded because they’re turning out to be an overblown transcription company and not the cutting edge of technology. After all, just compare their “over-subscribed” funding of maybe a couple hundred million dollars to the money pit of real AI research. When the media will admit that or when investors will catch on? That remains to be seen. But very much like US Legal, anything from Verbit needs to be viewed with extreme caution.

For investors looking for a stable return, consider getting involved with stenographic firms. Voice recognition and transcription has been identified as a market with billions of dollars in potential. Stenographers are the most efficient modality in that regard. Where technology companies will overpromise and underdeliver, the stenographic writer has worked out a system that has been going strong and evolving for over a hundred years. A Kentley Insights 2019 report showed a 10% profit as a percentage of revenue for court reporting businesses. As far as I am concerned, a far safer and more stable return is in stenography. If any investor wants to be directed to the more entrepreneurial minds of our profession, I am happy to direct. Please write me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

Addendum:

I reached out to Jim McMillan from NCSC and I have to correct my above position on the organization. He explained that he believed quote Verbit used from him was from a 2013 post and that that was well before speech-to-text automatic speech recognition was close to usable. The position that NCSC takes tends to be on courtrooms that do not require the transcription of many matters. Obviously, I will always be an advocate for the stenographic reporter, but this is a far different take on it that I previously had and important for our field to see.

Remember, this was about recording the matters in courtrooms, not depositions, because in some states a low percentage of matters are ordered.
Of course, I think that the damage to non-standard English dialect speakers is too great to ignore, but I see Jim’s point here.
And my assessment is he’s honest.

What Is Realtime Voice Writing and Why Is It Better Than Digital Reporting?

In our field there are three main modalities for taking the record or captioning. There is stenography, voice writing, and digital recording. Stenography is using a chorded stenotype and computer dictionary to instantaneously take down and transcribe the spoken word. Digital recording is all about letting a microphone pick up the audio and having somebody transcribe it after the fact. Sometimes digital recording proponents insist that they can run the audio through automatic speech recognition (ASR) systems to “assist the transcriber.” I’ve been pretty open about my feelings there.

Transcribers and digital reporters can do better switching to steno.

There are also nonprofits representing each modality. NCRA is all-in for steno. NVRA admits stenographers, but in my mind is really more for voice writers, and rightfully so. AAERT is pro-recording. ATSP is pro-transcriber to the extent it has any court reporting industry presence. There are others like Global Alliance or STTI that claim to be for all three modalities, but I’ve always gotten a “jack of all trades, master of none” vibe from those types of associations.

From information available to me, I believe that NCRA is by far the largest organization and in the best position to handle the court reporter shortage, but NVRA does provide an incredibly important role in certifying voice writers. One common problem in the early years of voice writing, which some New York attorneys still hold against them, was that occasionally they could be heard through the mask. Even now, when there is a lot of sibilance, one can infrequently hear a voice writer through the mask. Modern certification requires that the voice writer is able to perform without being heard, and a two-strike policy is employed in which the first time a writer is heard during a test they are tapped on the shoulder. The second time they are heard, they are disqualified. Voice writing tests, like ours, give the voice writer one shot at getting their “voice notes” correct. They are not allowed to repeat or review the test audio. This kind of testing is important and represents the quality standards this industry needs. NVRA confirmed its testing policy in an 8/11/21 e-mail to me.

No audibility within two feet.

Most reporters know that voice writing is, at its core, speaking into a Stenomask or other voice mask and allowing automatic speech recognition to assist in the transcription of what’s said. In some settings, a voice writer may use an open mic. Some stenographic reporters may be surprised to learn that realtime voice writing is superior to digital reporting and general ASR use. In general ASR use, the microphone takes input from everyone and the computer system gives its best guess based on the training data it has. In a study from last year, it was shown that that technology’s accuracy could drop as low as 25% dependent on who is speaking. Realtime voice writing, by comparison, is a trained operator, the voice writer, often speaking into a closed microphone, and utilizing ASR that has been trained to that writer’s voice. In the best of circumstances, that ASR can reliably put out highly accurate transcriptions of the voice writer’s voice — as high as 98%. Many realtime voice writers utilize Dragon by Nuance connected to their preferred CAT software. I guesstimate that Nuance has the best ASR tech, and there’s no coincidence that despite all the other ASR vendors out there, Nuance is the one Microsoft wanted to buy. This lead in technology comes from the system being trained to understand the specific user or voice writer.

One important distinction is the difference between realtime voice writers and voice writers that speak into the mask and have someone else transcribe and do the work. This is very similar to the divide in stenographic reporting where some scopists report having to fill in huge chunks of information missed by the court reporter. A realtime voice writer, like a realtime stenographer, does not have to provide realtime services, but they do maintain the equipment and capability to do so.

The knowledge and preparedness of the voice writer is integral to the integrity of the record produced. Think of all the glitches and anomalies in stenographic CAT software. Think about how reporters create macros and dictionary workarounds every day to deal with them. As an easy example, my software does not like certain punctuation marks to be together. Early in my career, I worked out that placing a backslash between the two marks and then deleting it would override the software’s programming to delete punctuation. Similarly, voice writers have to deal with the complexities of the ASR system, the CAT software, and how they interact in order to overcome word boundary and formatting issues.

The understanding and maintenance of a voice writer’s equipment is also paramount. How the computer “hears” a writer’s voice in one microphone can be vastly different than another microphone. Different masks can be given different training configurations to enhance the ASR transcription. Voice writers are speaking into a mask, and where saliva or liquid gets into the mask it can alter what the computer hears. The competent voice writer monitors their realtime and keeps redundant equipment in case of an equipment failure, including extra masks and multiple audio backups of their “voice notes.” As someone who keeps two stenotypes in case one decides to die mid-trial, I admire the voice writers that take the time to ensure the show goes on in the event of computer problems.

Like us, there are many briefs or triggers voice writers use. The key difference is that they must speak the “steno.” The same way we must come up with a stroke for designating a speaker, they must come up with a voice command. The same way that stenographers must differentiate the word “period” from the punctuation symbol of a period, voice writers historically had to create differentiations. For example, in years gone by, they might have had to say “peerk” for the symbol and “period” for the word. Modern ASR systems are sometimes able to differentiate the word versus the mark without any special command or input from the voice writer! Again, the experience and ability to predict how the software will interpret what is said is an important skill for the realtime voice writer.

The obvious question arises as to why this blog tends to be silent on voice writing. There’s no overt hostility there and deep admiration for the people at the top of the voice writing modality of record taking. Simply put, I truly believe that stenographic reporting is better and will open more doors for students. That’s colored by my own experiences. As of today, voice writers are not allowed to work in my court and be in my civil service title. We can argue about whether they should be allowed, but the simple fact is that New York courts today tend to utilize stenographic reporting or digital recording. It’s easy to see that the qualified voice writer is a far better choice than the digital recording, but I couldn’t say to a student “get into voice writing! You’ll have the same opportunities as I do!”

I also have to present a warning to voice writers and stenographers. I have seen many of us fall into the mindset of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We are much closer to each other than either modality is to digital reporting for the simple reason that we like our jobs. Digital reporting proponents have made little effort to hide that their ultimate goal is to offshore the jobs to Manila, Kenya, India, or wherever they can. Digital reporting proponents want to pay stenographers and voice writers less than half of what they’re worth. Digital reporting proponents don’t even respect their own digital reporters, which is why I’ve suggested those people join the stenographic legion.

There is a tumultuous history between stenographic court reporters and voice writers. I’ve been told by multiple NCRA members that when an effort was made to include voice writers about two decades ago, there was heavy backlash and even some harassment that occurred against those that were pro-integration. That was the climate of yesterday. While it seems unlikely that there will be formal alliance, inclusion, or cooperation, the separation we see today is not the same violent rejection of voice writers from the early 2000s. The civility of NCRA’s 2021 business meeting showed that court reporters are ready to disagree without belligerence and keep our industry moving forward. This is more akin to why the North American Olive Oil Association probably doesn’t partner much with the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s. Olive oil and fish oil are both fine oils, but every second and cent spent advocating for one could be spent advocating for the other. It doesn’t make much sense to divide the time and resources. That’s where we are today. What the future holds for tomorrow, I can only imagine.

A big thank you to everyone that made this article possible, up to and including the NVRA. One source of my information was the esteemed Tori Pittman. Trained in both stenography and voice writing, Tori gave me a full demonstration of voice writing and agreed to speak at length about voice writing. See the full interview below!

PCRA Wouldn’t Say Whether It Sees the Future Generation As Being Digital Reporters & What You Can Do About It

It came to my attention through an anonymous source that on June 26, 2021, the Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association held a webinar titled “Educating the Next Generation of Reporters.” The learning objectives were pretty standard: The importance of staying up to date with technology, how technology is affecting reporting, and recruiting individuals to become students of court reporting. At a glance these are all things related to technology and advocacy, and certainly fall under NCRA’s CEU guidelines. Nothing particularly surprising until we get to a couple of the presenters.

Moderated by an RDR, so it’s got to be legit, right?

Chrissy Boggs from Secure Transcription Solutions (STS) and Kelly Moranz from Tri-C. Secure Transcription Solutions doesn’t sound like court reporting and Ms. Moranz is on the board of the Speech To Text Institute (STTI). STTI is basically the new mouthpiece of digital reporting and automatic speech recognition. They claim that they want to set quality standards for all methods of record taking, but as we’ll get into, digital reporting, and especially automatic speech recognition, is inherently less efficient and cannot consistently meet the quality of stenographic court reporting or voice writing as of today.

No single technology holds exclusivity on uncompromising quality. Also, ASR gets 25 to 80 percent of the words depending on who’s speaking.

It was noted that Chrissy Boggs has worked with STS since its inception in 2019. “During that time, she has embraced the unique challenges posed by the court reporting industry; namely, the issue of expediently producing qualified reporters using critically needed and thoughtfully designed digital reporting technologies.” At this point, at least some reporters in attendance were confused, and for good reason. There is an audience requirement for CEUs. Courses must be designed to meet the continuing education needs of a specific credential holder segment. Take a look.

Considering NCRA’s stance as an association for stenographic court reporters, I have some trouble seeing how expediently training digital reporters fits.

During the presentation, automatic speech recognition by Parrot was showcased transcribing My Cousin Vinny. It performed poorly according to at least two sources. It was mentioned that there’s room for every method and they don’t diminish one method over the other. In summary, the presentation was a platform that legitimized digital reporting and automatic speech recognition as court reporting technologies, and if you don’t believe me, you can check out the extensive notes taken by my source.

Being somebody who just resigned from an association board last month, I thought “this must be in violation of their mission statement or bylaws.” I could not have been more wrong. As of today, PCRA’s bylaws do not define court reporters as stenographic court reporters. Their purpose is the general welfare of court reporting.

We can argue about the artfulness of the wording. But there’s nothing really raising flags at this point.
If you can capture the spoken word for instantaneous audio playback, you’re a court reporter. Maybe artfulness does matter.

My investigation didn’t stop there. I took a look at the mission statement, which I could see was revised late last year.

Well, okay. There’s nothing particularly strange about this yet.

So then I used the Wayback Machine to get a look at what the mission statement had been in August 2020, prior to the revision. It unreservedly and unapologetically was about stenographic court reporting. That was the clear mission of PCRA prior to the November 2020 revision.

Oh, I like this.
Well, a bit lengthy, but okay.
Let’s make this a shorter and more concise statement by completely eliminating any mention of steno. That will tell people what this organization is about.

This leads, naturally, to some questions. Questions that I asked PCRA right away.

1. Does PCRA see the future generation of reporters as being digital reporters?
2. Why was PCRA’s mission objective changed from focusing on stenographic reporters in November 2020?
3. Doesn’t it seem nonsensical to promote the modalities as equal when stenographic reporting organizations like NCRA are many times bigger than digital reporting nonprofits?
4. Any other comments related to the session or PCRA’s stance as it pertains to stenographic reporting and digital reporting.

I was ready for them to kick my ass (in a good way). Maybe some kind of legal requirement was at play. Maybe I missed something very, very obvious. Maybe a mistake was made. Whatever the case, certainly a board of RPRs was going to set the record straight and make this situation clearer.

Oh. Yeah. Great.

If you take the statement at face value, it’s actually not a bad statement. A hundred percent steno sounds good. But my four questions were pretty softball questions. It would’ve been pretty easy for anyone with any conviction or strong feeling to say “The future is steno. No further questions.” They didn’t bother. Regardless of actual intention, this creates justifiable suspicion of a change in direction, a lack of conviction, and/or a desire to hide something. All things we do not need in leadership today. If that sounds harsh, let’s apply the response I got to some other situations together.

For those that can’t watch the video, I sit down with guest star Marina Dubson in a series of three short skits. In the first skit, the question is asked, “Did you cheat on me?” The response, “baby, I’m 100 percent you.” In the second skit, the question is asked, “Why did you eat all the snacks?” The response, “While the number of snacks has recently changed, my objective remains the same.” In the third skit, the question is asked, “Why would you invite Johnny to the party? You know we don’t get along.” The response, crickets. There’s not a single situation I can think of where avoiding questions like that doesn’t raise some suspicion, whether it be suspicion that the answerer is lying or that the answerer simply does not care enough to give a real answer.

Well, I am incredibly naive and gullible. Maybe they just forgot there were specific questions posed.

When I received this email, I considered becoming a dentist.

I cannot overstate how upsetting this is for me personally. I’m no association hater. I’m a member of six different associations this year, though admittedly not PCRA. In my view, PCRA has always been among the best teachers with regard to political writing and advocacy for reporters. They were the victims of a mindless media flop that I have spent years trying to correct. They have maintained great materials on their site with regard to writing to politicians or writing to editors since I was a young reporter. There’s a lot of great stuff about the organization that reporters should support. But this needs an immediate course correction. I’ve gotten better responses in the past from Esquire and Veritext. I hope I am not the only one that finds it a little odd that, when questioned, Veritext, ostensibly among the leaders of the corporations pushing digital reporting, says technology “...will not take the place of the stenographer” and PCRA, when questioned, can’t be bothered to answer directly. It’s about as bizarre as NCRA’s complete silence on the matter despite requests for comment from myself and others.

Maybe they don’t monitor their PR e-mail. Or maybe they’re too busy with the convention.
But none of that changes the fact that this time is critical for our profession and we need our associations to be better than this.

Just in case somebody thinks this is all bluster and that digital reporting and/or ASR really can be equivalent to stenographic reporting, let me set the record straight. It can take up to eight transcribers to complete a rough draft, something I was completely oblivious to until I consulted Lisa Migliore Black from Migliore & Associates. She had this to say:

“I’ve spoken with Verbit salespeople on a few occasions over the past few years. In the most recent sales pitch regarding the provision of rough draft transcripts, the representative stated that eight transcriptionists would be working behind the scenes to provide a rough draft of the day’s proceeding with a final transcript delivered the next day. Eight. Eight sources of potential breach of confidentiality. Eight transcriptionists to provide the rough draft that a single stenographic reporter could produce within seconds of the conclusion of a legal proceeding. Eight transcriptionists to provide the next day [that] a team of three (stenographic reporter, scopist/editor, and proofreader) could produce within an hour of the ending of the proceedings on the same day with a stenographic reporter in charge. If Verbit’s ASR technology were truly an advancement, shouldn’t it be more efficient and require far less human involvement?”

In brief, there’s no reason to believe the technology is equivalent, and Verbit, a digital reporting proponent, has conceded the lack of equivalence its own infographics, as I reported in the past.

Steno: “Our workforce is highly trained.” Digital: “Our workforce is not highly trained.” It just screams equal, doesn’t it?

For those that believe pay is commensurate with training or experience, enjoy this video where a Youtuber advertises that transcribers can make 23,000 Indian rupees a month working with Verbit. That’s about $308 a month as of writing. Good luck maintaining uncompromising quality and adhering to AAERT standards when digital proponents can pay people 8,000 miles away 6% or less of what court reporters make today. No matter what Moranz had to say during the presentation, the hard fact is that once you shift the reporter from the front end to the back end, unscrupulous and conniving people are going to be shipping the work off to Manila, Kenya, and India where your laws and best practices are not enforceable. How do we know? They already do it.

Everyone is eligible.

It’s just anti-intellectual to continue to pretend that these things are equal. 85 percent of AI business solutions, the umbrella under which ASR lives, are predicted to fail by 2022. There’s very good reason to believe some companies relying on digital solutions are unprofitable. Court systems have acknowledged that the use of such technologies would threaten access to justice. Captioning advocates refer to ASR output as autocraptions. That PCRA is okay with platforming this stuff as stenographic reporter education and then comfortable with giving me one of the most non-responsive responses I’ve ever had the displeasure of reporting should give reporters and the consumers we serve pause.

There’s a real easy way to remedy this situation, and there can be some good to come from it. Bylaws matter. Board members and the organizations they serve are obligated to follow the law and the organization’s bylaws. If you are not a Pennsylvania reporter, the best thing you could do for this industry right now is forward this to a Pennsylvania reporter. If you are a Pennsylvania reporter, then any three members of the board or any five members of the association can propose a bylaws amendment.

Or we could just trust that it’ll all work out.

You need only slip the word stenographic in front of “court reporting” and “captioning” in Article II and redefine court reporter in Article III to be any person who captures the spoken word by stenotype or stenographic means.

Two minor alterations.
And one slight touch up over here.

This exercise will serve a few purposes. If everything is cool, then the amendment is going to pass without issue, members can feel confident in their PCRA, and this post can go down as the ramblings of Chris Day, the registered paranoid reporter. It is not lost on me that there are good, professional people on that board right now and that leaders sometimes stay silent for strategic reasons or out of fear. At this point we really need our leaders to fear silence and take strides to safeguard our associations. I am unabashedly a steno ally. If I can’t get satisfactory answers, then any time a writer wants to spin a bullshit anti-steno story, they’re going to tear our leaders apart. Changing the bylaws will allow PCRA to come out strong on this issue and maybe give the organization some practice in responding to media inquiries.

The exercise will also help identify people who might be sitting in positions of power with an intention to spread the consumer nightmare that is digital reporting. If anyone fights the amendment, it’s a great indicator they’re trying to subvert your organization’s original mission and have got to be voted out. Those subversives, by the way, will be the ones saying “we don’t need to amend the bylaws because there’s no problem with the bylaws.” Those subversives will be the ones who want to publish a throwaway statement about this article instead of amending the bylaws.

Subversives are not going to spell out for you that their intentions are not in line with what most of us expect from stenography’s leaders. How do we know? Again, it’s already happened before. Jim Cudahy was the Executive Director of NCRA. He did the association a great service in getting the stenographer shortage forecasted. Nowadays he’s using his “knowledge” and past title to advocate for an integrated market of stenographic and digital reporters and bring some legitimacy to AAERT and STTI.

Okay. I admit it. I’m just jealous because he’s better at hashtags than I am. (Joke)

Professional flip flopper, weaponizing the shortage against us, and completely shameless. It’s very dangerous to engage in pitchfork culture. It’s also very dangerous to continue to trust everybody when there is at least some evidence of a small minority in the field willing to use their credentials and experience to sabotage the rest of us. That’s why I urge Pennsylvania reporters to take control of the situation and get those bylaws amended in 2022.

This exercise will also put the industry on notice that stenographers are not going to sit idle while the dues they pay are used to advocate for their elimination. There is also some hope that every reporter in the country realizes now how important it is for us to take ownership of our associations. If you don’t want your association, STTI and AAERT supporters will be happy to have it, its legitimacy, and its bank account.

You want an easy win for steno? It takes three to five of you to make the difference. In an organization that is 100% steno, it will never get easier.

Addendum:
A few hours after this article launched, an e-mail was sent by Lisa Migliore Black to a number of people regarding whether the CEUs should be counted. A response by NCRA President Christine Phipps acknowledged that the course, in the way that it was submitted to NCRA, was appropriate. She pointed out that withdrawing the CEUs would punish certification holders that had already taken the course, and explained that steps had been taken to review the content. It was further mentioned that steps would be taken to deal with similar issues in the future. Not a bad outcome and certainly in line with what I had expected when I initially reached out to NCRA. As of writing, I cannot think of a way to screen CEU courses better without making it a much more burdensome process on nonprofit and commercial educators, so I think these actions are appropriate for addressing junk education.

I am happy that this article got some discussion going.
I am also happy that discussion was going prior to my article. Thanks NCRA!