I was pretty down on Stenograph for its heavy jump into digital court reporting, among other things. A reader submitted for my consideration this announcement of a partnership between LegalCraft / LEXEL and VIQ Solutions, the parent company of Net Transcripts and other digital-ish initiatives. Who’s LEXEL partnered with?
Advantage Software will also be an exhibitor at AAERT 2023.
Perhaps the main lesson stenographers can learn from this is to withdraw trust from businesses. Corporations are basically wealth extraction machines. They don’t have loyalty. They want dollars. They all see the money being poured on digital and they want in.
Unlike Stenograph, I have not heard of Advantage’s support quality declining yet, so that’s a positive. But if you were someone like me that was thinking Advantage was squarely on the side of steno, then this was probably informative for you.
For the record, VIQ Solutions was mentioned on this blog a while back. It continues to bleed money while its stock declines, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped anyone from believing that dIgItAl iS tHe fUtUre.
Veritext shares an interesting quirk with U.S. Legal’s Peter Giammanco. Both seem just fine bullying or gaslighting women and seem to shrivel up when challenged. The pro-steno things both companies do are appreciated, but it’s pretty clear that they’re hedging their bets in the steno v digital debate, and I’m done giving them the benefit of the doubt.
The question remains, what to do about all this? The government’s inert. A lot of the reporters working with big box can’t be seen opposing big box. I’ve simply run out of money for the social media advertising — thank you to those that continue to help. I do have plans to further the public awareness campaign and I look forward to sharing them soon.
It’s good to see businesses setting up for the counter to tech’s obsession with pretending to automate everything. Eventually investors will stop being fooled by the buzzword “AI,” and at that point businesses that value people will end up in the limelight. At present, LL caters to attorneys and mediators. It will be interesting to see future offerings for court reporters.
MAXScribe and the Digital Court Reporting Academy were both brought to my attention. Before I launch into my usual full defense of stenography, I’ll put it out there that I think I understand Stenograph from a business perspective. My assumption is that they see the retirement cliff combined with big money’s interest in expanding digital, and they are doing what they see as the most profitable move, diversifying into a product line that they expect will be growing (digital) rather than shrinking (ostensibly stenography). From a purely business mindset, I think all of us get it. But I’ve been down on Stenograph these last few months and remain so.
My criticism comes from a place of circumstance. We let Stenograph into our schools and gave them access to our students. We encouraged each other to get and keep support contracts over the years, though admittedly I was never in with that crowd. The bottom line is that we built Stenograph with our wallets and brand dedication. We need to grapple with the obvious truth, Stenograph does not have the same dedication to its customers, the stenographic trainers, or anyone else. It’s going to sell to whoever will buy.
By itself, that might be annoying, but there is another reason I find fault with what they’re doing. We have some data that suggests stenography is better for equality. If we look back at the Testifying While Black study, stenographers scored something like 80% on African American Vernacular English — a shock at the time it happened. The pilot studies of that study tested laypeople and lawyers, and those people scored around 40% and 60%. The hard truth is that stenographers may, on average, be understanding more of what’s said by speakers of that dialect in the courtroom or deposition than anybody else. Couple that with the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, where automatic speech recognition by major companies scored as low as 25% on the same dialect. Simply put, stenographers are better for accuracy on the dialect studied. I’d bet results would be similar for a number of dialects and accents, though funding for further studies seems elusive. By taking this hard push towards digital, companies, including Stenograph, are basically saying “we do not care about people.” Anir Dutta and others have used the words “democratization of technology.” Perhaps this really is the democratization of technology and we have simply “voted” that AAVE speakers and anyone else that would be better served by stenography or voice writing does not deserve that service. Good thing nobody’s told the press. Seems like the kind of thing the public might object to. “Court case? Congratulations, if you don’t speak in the way the powers that be deem appropriate, your transcript’s accuracy may be lower.”
Even putting aside all that science stuff, Stenograph’s claims are questionable. Take a look.
It states the number of pages produced per hour can be boosted up to 50%. If there was such a product, wouldn’t it have been marketable to stenographers? If it’s not marketable to stenographers, then that likely means stenographers already produce pages faster. If stenographers already produce pages faster, why is Stenograph not trying to improve our methods and processes? It doesn’t make much sense unless one locks oneself into the bubble of “big money wants digital, and we want big money.”
Maybe it’s time for us to get into the business of helping out digital court reporters. Dear DCRs, anyone that says they can double your earnings without giving you a real good idea of how that happens is lying to you. Ask questions.
Then there’s the Digital Court Reporting Academy.
The effort put into enticing digital court reporters is obvious. But I suspect that Stenograph has missed the mark here. Digital court reporters are likely to face the same income disparities stenographers are currently facing, and they’ll make cuts largely the same way stenographers have because they’re people too. The problem remains this wage or income issue. Cash-strapped “contractors” cut corners and court reporting and transcription companies are forcing as many expenses onto the contractor as possible. That means Stenograph is trying to run from a world where stenographers are avoiding purchases because the money isn’t there to a world where digitals will avoid purchases because the money isn’t there.
Though perhaps I have a naive view of the world. I have assumed that the working reporter is the customer. But perhaps they are all really after the “potential working reporters” or students. If you sell 80 student stenotypes for $1,500, it’s a lot more money than selling 5 professional stenotypes to graduates at $5,000. That same logic likely carries to digital. I expect there will be incredibly high turnover based on communications I’ve gotten from past and present digital reporters about their treatment. Stenograph may be financially incentivized to support that turnover because every person that tries digital and doesn’t like it would be a potential customer.
Big money wants digital. It wants digital so bad that lies about the NCRA were plastered to the internet before NCRA apparently got them taken down, students were being misled into digital, questionable claims have been made to get attorneys onto digital reporting, and a piece to discredit me was apparently commissioned and poorly executed. These are just some of the things we look at in horror and wonder how we could find ourselves in such a lopsided competition where actors on the digital side of the equation get to lie and obfuscate while we get cudgeled by our licensing authorities and consumers are left to fend for themselves. Stenograph’s not responsible for any of that, but by continuingto alienate existing customers and continuing to chase big money over morals, Stenograph has set itself up to hemorrhage stenographic customers, and if growth of digital is stunted by stenographers spreading the word that there’s a better career in stenography, the company may well end up the sten-tech industry’s biggest loser.
Steven Lerner, by my count one of the first journalists to acknowledge the court reporter shortage debate, appeared on the Pro Say podcast Episode 248. The beginning talks about the Major League Baseball wage lawsuit and recent settlement. About 20 minutes in, we get to the DR segment and the Glitchy Rollout article.
Mr. Lerner notes that there’s a disagreement between stenographers and the court reporting companies pushing digital court reporting. He notes the 2020 Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, and how automated solutions can have error rates higher than 40%. “Now, imagine unleashing this faulty tech in the US legal system, which has historically been unjust for people of color, in particular, black people. This speaks to the problem of having diversified data sources.” This is certainly a problem for any digital reporting method implementing automated speech recognition.
Asked why this is a problem for everyone, Lerner summarizes, “so even if a person is operating the new tech, there could still be glitches, so that’s why it matters, because it’s just going to disrupt the entire legal system.”
The only major missing piece is that the digital reporting method is not new. The ability to record and transcribe testimony has existed for decades and yet digital court reporting has not supplanted American stenographers. If it were truly cheaper or an innovation worth implementing, implementation would have started sooner and not the better part of a decade after the release of the Ducker Report.
I continue to believe it is quite suspicious that Jim Cudahy utilized his position of Executive Director of the National Court Reporters Association to get the shortage forecasted. Jim later surfaced under Speech-to-Text Institute, an entity claiming the stenographer shortage is irreversible.
I’m relocating! Fan mail and things of that nature can go to 2744 Hylan Blvd, Unit 502, Staten Island, New York 10306. This is also where blog donations by check can go for those of you that prefer not to use the Stenonymous.com homepage box.
Sometime next week I’ll do an article on how Stenograph attempted to bully the Texas Court Reporters Association. As most of you know, I am against their push into automatic speech recognition for many reasons. The science we have today says ASR is only 25 to 80% accurate, yet they’ve billed it as a potential 50% productivity boost. That’s not possible. Stenograph has also slipped something into its licensing agreement where court reporters have to get releases for people’s voices or data being collected or run through the program. It doesn’t take a lawyer to tell us this is wrong. This is remarkably different from the apparent ethos of Eclipse on this matter, where they’re certainly developing ASR for use in stenographic software, but as of yet not attempting to shunt liability onto stenographers, and not, as far as I can see, making bogus productivity boost claims.
If you have digital court reporter transcripts you’d like to share with Dr. Halcyon Lawrence, please send them to me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com. Academics have now taken note of the opaque behavior of tech companies. In order for this to be further studied, and to protect the public, we must become serious about sharing our knowledge and experience with those, like Halycon, that seek truth and transparency. The freedom of speech afforded to us in the United States protects academic integrity, and academic integrity protects the scientific processes that make our society great. This social contract gives all of us a special power to influence the future and make the world a better place.
Some will have seen the scathing post I made on Friday about Stenograph’s survey. They wanted to know if court reporters cared about tall or short keys, and I pointed out that such a concern was a waste of time and effort. This is on the heels of news months ago from Stenograph customers that they were unable to log into their software. But the question remains, how do you get me, a stenographer that has exclusively used Stenograph products for 11 years, to write something like this?
Simple. Stenograph has been making moves to cuddle up with digital court reporting and ASR. We know this from who they’re hiring.
We know this from who they’re talking to. Stenograph cuddled up with anti-stenographer writer Victoria Hudgins after the customer base complained about the logo change. How do I know she’s anti-stenographer? I wrote her over a year ago to point out that Stenograph apparently gave Legal Tech a stock photo and that there were several inconsistencies with the companies, news reporting, and technologies at play. Was any of that addressed? No. So Hudgins writes as an “analyst” but does not actually appear to do any analyzing beyond the chosen narrative — very much like STTI. This is in stark contrast to other organizations like NCRA, NVRA, and Global Alliance, all of whom are far more fair and balanced in the way they present ASR and digital reporting than how stenography is treated by Hudgins, Cudahy, STTI, or even the AAERT.
We also know that Anir Dutta, President of Stenograph —
— is on the board of STTI.
And we know that STTI is a digital reporting propaganda outfit. So it’s undeniable that Stenograph is diversifying. Under normal circumstances, we could maybe call that smart. But these are not normal circumstances. This is a world where we know ASR and digital reporting will hurt minority speakers. We know digital reporting outfits like VIQ Solutions are not turning a profit. We know that the shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext and US Legal. Stenograph is diversifying under the belief that there will be a drop in supply of stenographers and a rise in demand. The data we have today says the demand may not be rising as quickly as anticipated and the supply is not falling as quickly as anticipated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data may also be wrong. In short, Stenograph is diversifying out of a market where its stenographer customers will likely reign supreme. We also know that they’re in such a rush to diversify that they branded over Phoenix theory with Phoenix ASR. Not too subtle about paving over us there.
I’m not the only one to feel that way. Massachusetts Court Reporters figured that all out too, and released an open letter earlier this week. The letter was reportedly also sent to Anir Dutta via email.
In full disclosure, I did help draft an initial copy of this letter, but what was ultimately released was way better than what I wrote. I also wrote a physical letter to Anir Dutta on November 2, which I will release someday in the future, assuming the company does not change direction. It is my sincere belief and hope that he is not against us. I think that he saw what happened to Kodak and he tried to adopt digital as a way of preventing Stenograph from sharing the same fate. A lot of the stuff we know about digital reporting companies today, we did not know when he started at Stenograph. But even if he has no animosity towards us, it will not stop him from making decisions that negatively impact our field, and so to the degree that Stenograph and Anir Dutta make decisions like that, the ball is in our court to stop them.
Now, stenographers, the important thing you need to keep your eye on is how the company responds to all of this. If the writing was on the wall and stenography was doomed™️, they wouldn’t care what you think. Put it this way: Have you ever asked yourself what a T-Rex would think of you? Probably not, because all the T-Rex’s that might have thought about you are dead. We know the writing is not on the wall and that our thoughts and opinions matter very much. How do we know? Stenograph commented on the situation.
And, of course, realizing that if we actually get Stenograph to change direction, the shortage fraud gets exposed, Jim Cudahy did his best to broadcast the message.
Just to be clear about why I’m not nice to Cudahy, he was the Executive Director of NCRA, urged the organization to commission the Ducker Report and learn about the stenographer shortage, and then used his previous title with NCRA to lend credibility to his false and misleading claims that the shortage is impossible to solve. People familiar with this situation basically point to him as the man that weaponized our shortage against us. The jump from NCRA to STTI was not the result of some profound change in technology, it was opportunism, plain and simple.
What I need court reporters to understand now is simple: You have all of the power in this situation. You tell the company as loudly as possible that you will not buy another product and that you will not recommend the company to a single student from now until the end of time unless they change direction, and they will change direction. If they do not change direction, it is clear just how much we meant to them, and it should make it even easier to walk away. If they change direction, I’ll be the first to say GO STENOGRAPH. Until then? I have to lean boycott. It’s our best play and the most direct way we have of influencing the company. Take all the anger we routinely experience via social media and channel it into something very simple and healthy for us all.
Now, inevitably, some will look at Stenograph’s response and want to side with the company. But here are some things to consider for each bullet.
1. Stenograph states it continues to invest heavily in Luminex II and CaseCATalyst. Maybe so. But let’s not shy away from talking about how quickly the company discontinues support for its products. When I was a young reporter in 2010, I was told by teachers that my first machine should be paper. I failed to follow their advice and I bought a Diamante. Not long after, Stenograph sold its paper business and systematically shut down support for anything “old.” My rebellious decision ended up being a smart one. The company does that so much now that we don’t even discuss it as a field. It’s kind of like the EA Games of Court Reporting.
2. Stenograph states it has doubled the number of engineers working on writing enhancements. This is impressive if the engineering team is fairly large, but for all we know they had one person working on it and doubled it to two.
3. Stenograph is releasing a new CaseCAT version in the future and is committed to continuous releases on an ongoing basis. There is no actual commitment here. If they change their mind, they can just say they were committed at the time.
4. Proof It, which is supposed to be ASR for stenographers, will allegedly improve efficiency 40%. There’s no actual reason to believe this claim since ASR from the largest ASR providers in the world is 25 to 80% accurate. 40% is pretty close to 50%. A real 50% efficiency gain would mean transcribing jobs in half the time. If Stenograph created something that could cut transcription time BASICALLY in half, they would be letting you know about that every second of every day until you bought in. Instead it is tucked away in this response.
5. Stenograph claims it continues to have dedicated stenographic teams, but again, this is actually not a commitment. A dedicated team can be dedicated to any number of things. They can be dedicated to digital reporting and stenographic reporting. In a field where two of the largest companies inflate numbers by a factor of six to fool stenographers, it’s not incredibly surprising Stenograph would play with some words in a perfectly legal puffery-like way. It would also be pretty dumb to maintain separate dedicated teams, since you’d be paying effectively double to staff the company.
6. Stenograph announced a partnership of Caseview Net with vTestify. It’s possible this supports my belief that Stenograph is not actively against us but rather being misled. vTestify was that silly company that I blasted for saying it could save attorneys $3,000 on a deposition. After that, they started working more on being a platform and less on being a service. So this, to me, says that Stenograph’s leadership just doesn’t know some things about our field. They wouldn’t tout a relationship with vTestify if they did.
7. Stenograph is committed to growing the profession. And they support this with their Project Steno donations. I hate to punch down on an effort that I commend, because I do commend Stenograph and every company that donates to pro steno initiatives. I actually wrote about Stenograph’s donation in a positive way when it happened. I like Project Steno and I often mention it right alongside A to Z and Open Steno. But at the end of the day we have to realize that Project Steno is a write off and there is a benefit to companies PR-wise and monetarily to donate to it. At this point, it comes off as a publicity stunt to get us quietly accepting the company’s lean away from us. Let’s face facts, NCRA dumped its corporate sponsorship program, US Legal and their pals realized they couldn’t get the NCRA to push the digital product for them, and ever since then there’s been this bizarre “separate but equal” stance where companies just happen to support Project Steno over NCRA or NCRF. Considering that NCRA is basically THE trade association for stenographers, it’s easy to see that the goal is to undermine the stranglehold stenographers have on the market. That’s basically how I regard Project Steno at this point. A convenient place for all the entities not supporting NCRA to point and say “we care about steno too!” It’s called hedging.
8. Stenograph donates hours of training. Most vendors donate when asked. It’s kind of a chicken and egg, cost of doing business thing. You have a society of people, court reporters and stenographers. You have organizations that try to bring these people together, like NCRA. Playing ball with the organization that gives you access to your customers is called par for the course.
9. Stenograph uses a dedicated technical support team. Again, the word dedicated doesn’t even mean anything to me. It wouldn’t surprise me if the “dedicated” tech support is outsourced in whole or in part, just like their stock photo office picture.
I asked some of my audience to give me their comments on Stenograph’s bullets. This is some of what your fellow reporters say:
Respondent A: “My thoughts on it – One of the best things my dad ever told me was “You should always listen to what people have to say, but it’s more important to watch what they do.”
This is a typical PR response, and it sounds nice. But what I see Stenograph doing is channeling their resources to directly compete with their primary customers. What I see is Stenograph entering into increased alliances with STTI (a digital front, despite what they say), and AAERT. What I saw from Stenograph at the NCRA convention was a booth and their separate training offering (I think people had to pay for that in addition to the convention, but I’m unsure on that. If so, then they didn’t “donate” the training.) I saw a decreased level of event sponsorship. When I open the JCR, I no longer see any ads from Stenograph. These actions certainly indicate to me that while of course they would like to keep their steno customers, their focus is now on their digital product.
And I’d like to know if by integrating their realtime platform (CaseView) with VTestify, they plan to mine those transcripts to improve the AI for their digital program.”
Respondent B: “Thanks for sharing. The language in that post and PDF is basic and appears to have been written by a sales executive. Not a whole lot of depth there.
Are they going to begin manufacturing and/or selling digital recording equipment?
Their last bullet point appears to be more about shortening their customer service employees’ time on service calls. The language is unclear about their policy or commitment to meeting their stenographic customers’ needs.”
Again, one thing is for sure. If the writing was on the wall, Stenograph wouldn’t care what you have to say. It has tipped its hand and admitted it cares very much. Use your collective power as consumers and walk away until the company is behaving in a manner that is actually accountable to you and not lip service. Let them know that’s what’s happening. Let them know it’s because of me if you want to. They’re using their position as a tech company to make you feel unqualified to judge their product. Meanwhile, when you ask someone like Stanley Sakai, someone that knows computer programming and steno, he can tell you why we use stenotypes. I can too. Why can’t Stenograph? The company has a monetary incentive not to. Take that away and you have a company with no choice but to support us or fold. If the company was on solid ground, we wouldn’t be able to cut through its arguments like Darth Vader cutting through rebel troops at the end of Rogue One. The company’s condition today is not our fault and we shouldn’t feel guilty about using it to our advantage. Certainly no one in this industry has felt guilty about using us.
For years in my industry it has been claimed that digital reporting expansion was only for emergency use due to stenographer shortage. It was only for jobs stenographers allegedly would not accept. That was largely a lie. In reality, these companies with millions in revenue are utilizing their market share to push stenographers out of the market, despite consumers’ preference for stenographers, which is reflected in the Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014.
As a reminder, U.S. Legal’s Chief Strategy Officer, Peter Giammanco, was kind enough to put in a Summer 2021 email, “does it really matter if done legally or ethically…” [if the products are the same, which they are not.]
Who does this hurt? African American Vernacular English speakers. How do we know? The Testifying While Black (2019) pilot studies told us stenographic court reporters understand the dialect at a rate twice as good as the average person and 1.5x as good as the average lawyer. The Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study (2020) showed us that automatic speech recognition has 80% accuracy for white speakers, 65% accuracy for black speakers, and as low as 25 to 50% accuracy for AAVE speakers. This is something stenographic court reporters have been painstakingly fighting to bring to courts and lawyers since at least earlier this year. Nonprofits like Protect Your Record have been educating on the inappropriate substitution of digital in place of machine shorthand stenography for over two years. There is no good reason to believe USL is unaware of the data or my claims. If they are unaware, then we would all like to know exactly why the legal record should be entrusted to a company that can’t be bothered to keep current in the industry that was 70% of its business as of 2013.
After all, if you look at their public-facing materials, they consider the stenographer shortage to be a big deal. They must care about our industry (sarcasm font).
And yet in the face of an ongoing national consumer awareness campaign, they still cannot be bothered to attempt to recruit stenographers. But they know how to recruit digitals. They’ve got that down to a science. I get alerts on my phone to become a digital court reporter!
But they must promote stenography in some way to avoid being accused of not making good faith efforts to find a stenographer in accordance with consumer preference. Right?
So I can get recruitment notifications for digital court reporting, but by the admission of US Legal rep Rick Levy, the company was not using Sourcebook to recruit people. NCRA Sourcebook / PRO Link is a national directory of stenographers. It’s been in this field for over a decade. About one third of our field holds membership in NCRA and a large percentage of them are in that directory. It’s a great way to find stenographers. Rick Levy, a reporter of over 25 years and said to have been on the board of the National Court Reporters Association, asked me what it was!
But this politeness from Levy was a ruse and excuse to spend more time obfuscating the fact that USL was doing effectively nothing to build interest in stenography, as I later realized and called him out on.
It gets worse. Thanks to one brave person’s response to our national ad campaign, we know that digital reporters and transcribers are not being paid enough to care and they are being trained to obfuscate.
Meanwhile, stenographers are paid enough to care not just about our own jobs, but digital reporters’ jobs. I’m no longer willing to participate in any delusion that digital court reporting is an adequate solution to shortage. Remember, we got a glimpse of the digital court reporting future when Verbit posted a transcription template to the internet where they spelled “point” with a zero, spelled “court reporter” as “core reporter,” and spelled “state your appearances” as “state your up here.” That’s just three errors. How many can you count?
We also know that USL is not the only company committed to lowering the standards of court reporting. Naegeli, Veritext, and Planet Depos are all in on expanding digital reporting and transcribing at the expense of the consumer. The only question is whether they are actively working together, illegally colluding to screw the consumer, or whether they just happen to all be doing the same exact thing and using similar language (sarcasm font). If nothing else, investors are being misled to believe digital court reporting is the future when it is a clear regression and a rollback of the industry standards we’ve been shaping for over a century.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s keep on reading some digital reporting myths.
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?
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.
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.
Simply put, stenographers have integrated digital recording into their own technology. The option to record and transcribe has been around for 30 to 50 years depending on whether you want to start the clock at digital or analog. We stenographers have not been supplanted, which is an easy argument for our superiority as a modality.
Our detractors scoff and say that has to do with our political power. That’s a lie. We have very little political power. Most of our money seems to flow to our continuing education requirements and not lobbying. Our associations only recently sprang into action when we realized consumers were in danger. Even then, the associations routinely hamstring things that might make associations “too strong,” like abolishing term limits for effective association presidents.
Available data also shows that automatic speech recognition is 25 to 80% accurate and not the 99.999% sold to some people by dishonest companies.
Digital’s not cheaper. It allows the offshoring of very valuable private data to poor people who will have an incentive to sell it. It’s more taxing on the transcribers’ hands. How? It takes over 20 keystrokes to type “beyond a reasonable doubt” on a QWERTY. Steno does that in one.
Digital court reporting companies, groups, and associations talk a good game. This is because investors are burning money on them in the misguided belief that they’ll be first in on a new market. The reality is the modality has been around decades and fails to deliver. Just look at VIQ Solutions and its 2021 loss of over $13 million. Personally, I can’t wait until investors realize that these companies know this and took their money anyway.
For all the people who wonder how positive cash flow with negative income happens, check this out.
In brief, digital reporting and its derivatives such as “active reporting” or “AI-assisted reporting” are not cheaper. They aren’t a good investment. All available data says progress on automation has been mostly stalled for 20 years except where the automated program is configured to a speaker and their microphone. Unless we are going to force every litigant and defendant to train ASR for how they personally speak, we are going to need people to do this job. Since a stenographer is anywhere from 2 to 8 times faster than a transcriber, it makes good sense to invest in the expansion of stenotype services.