BLS Statistics on Our Field May Be Unreliable

During the course of the ad campaign about US Legal’s dishonesty, an astute commentator mentioned that they believed I was giving people bad life advice by advocating for them to get into court reporting. The reasoning was actually very sound. They said the field is growing much slower than average. In fact, if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics page for us, this is ostensibly true, the growth is a slow 3%

But this doesn’t tell us the whole story. What about if we use the WayBack machine to see what the page read in January 2014?

10% growth and an employment change of 2,000 expected by 2022! And when did that data get updated? As far as I can tell, sometime between 2014 and December 2016.

What changed between 2014 and 2016? We started recruiting more. So the idea that we went from a 10% growth to a 2% or 3% growth that then remained mostly stable until October 2021 and somehow that resulted in the addition of only 100 jobs is just ludicrous. Our big retirement shortage crisis was set to start in 2018 and continue through 2033. Ducker was a forecast made before NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and the growth of Open Steno. The abysmal 3% growth rate is after Ducker. What’s missing? BLS has our numbers all wrong. They think about a third of the field is self-employed.

In actuality, at least according to Ducker’s 2013-2014 outlook, we’re about 70% freelance.

Some small sliver of the freelancers are employees or were in the past, but that’s the exception, not the norm.

So the BLS thinks we’re 34% self-employed. 34% of that 21,000 number is about 7,000, and we’re about 70% self-employed, which is roughly double their estimate. Based on that, I conclude they’re probably not counting about 7,000 freelancers, which puts us just ahead of NCRA’s estimate of 27,000 and gives us about 28,000 court reporters.

In brief, the health of our field may be far better than presently-available BLS statistics show. I would love to get the straight number of graduates between 2013 and 2021 and compare that to the 2018 opportunity forecasted by Ducker, which was about 5,690. The 2018 forecasted supply of stenographers was 27,610, very close to that 27,000 estimate by NCRA or my 28,000 estimate that assumes the BLS is wrong. I do not presently have access to graduate numbers, but if the graduate pool was much higher or much lower than 6,000, it would give us a more accurate picture of where we are, with a higher amount of graduates being very good and a lower amount of graduates being very bad. California would be in the most dire position. Their shortage was forecasted to be 5x to 20x worse than any other state. If California can survive and thrive over the next decade, the rest of us can too.

If we believe the NCRA’s numbers, we have likely recruited just under what we needed to by 2018. If my assessment of the BLS and Ducker data is correct, we recruited just above what we needed in 2018. Either way, it seems we will need to continue this period of heavy recruitment to keep pace with the retirements that are going to happen over the next ten years. Failing to do so would be catastrophic for our field. While I still think it’s very clear that the shortage has been exacerbated by companies like US Legal, Veritext, and Planet Depos, and am horrified by their collective, seemingly intentional, failure to attempt to recruit stenographers, at the end of the day, it’s up to us to make up for their bad behavior and end this shortage the same way we ended the last one. We have to keep building interest in this field, whether that’s through media, press releases, word of mouth, or smoke signal.

Anyone demoralized by the 3% growth number should take comfort in seeing just how fast those stats can change. Our actions greatly impact those numbers. Consider that the 10% estimate came just after a wave of recruitment by schools, the same wave that I was recruited during, and that the 3% estimate came in the middle of a depressed market where court reporters were not recommending this job to anyone because they were working very hard to maintain the quality of life of past reporters. Perhaps if investors were plopping down $200 million on stenographic companies with no future, we’d be growing at 22% too.

That’s not even a joke. Let me lose $10 million in a quarter and I’ll double everyone’s page rates. This field would be about triple its size. The money being dumped on digital reporting is literally the only thing that keeps it competitive with stenography.

If you lost $10 million between March and June, raise your hand.

The only way to get people interested in our field is to broadcast ourselves. To that end, if you or your organization would like help writing and releasing a paid press release, please reach out to me. I can’t do it for free but I’m very serious about boosting the amount of content out there on us. The numbers show that with the slightest effort we will produce more content than digital reporting companies, recruit enough people to take back the rest of the industry, and enjoy much more of our $3 billion field. Sound good? ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

Was Ducker Worldwide Wrong About Stenographer Shortage?

The main talking point of some industry hacks, is that we have a low pass rate for stenographic court reporting, about 10 to 20%, and therefore we cannot solve the stenography shortage by recruiting because recruitment will “never” keep up with demand. This is extrapolated from the information that was provided in the Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014 by Ducker Worldwide. As stated in the beginning of the report, the way that this forecast was created was by interviewing about 120 people from in and around our field, as well as some proprietary data analysis by Ducker.

My main strategy, up to now, has been to explain why these people are extrapolating incorrectly or making bad arguments. I’ve made counter arguments that suggest the shortage is best solved through stenographic reporting that put theirs to shame and have not been refuted. I’ve unapologetically named names on the corporations that are trying to bump us out because this matters to me. This is my field. This is what I want to do. This is where I can help society the most. If they are successful in changing the minds of reporters and consumers, my job is likely to be eliminated someday or the pay is likely to be substantially reduced. People will suffer greater inaccuracies in their court records because ASR is 25 to 80% accurate and non-stenographers transcribe English dialects like African American Vernacular English (AAVE) at a rate half as accurate as court reporters. To me, there is no greater dishonor than to do well and lift the ladder up while others are trying to climb. Not only are companies attempting to lift the ladder, they are indifferent to the fact that they would hurt people in the process.

I tried to be diplomatic about it for four years. I tried to convince colleagues and companies in a more polite, erudite manner. I made a very open warning that if they did not make companies where we were the standard, we would build them. We’re building. Look at the lawyers who started Steno. They put us in the name of their company. Not to mention Steno Captions LLC, a company that not only put Steno in the name, but gave me solid data that helped me show our field that VITAC was offering a disgustingly low amount of money. I’m not prescient, but I just told you that I love my field. I know my field. Humans are literally built to be this way; we get better and more knowledgeable at anything we do a lot. Now I have another open warning: Change direction or we will figuratively burn pathetic digital reporting businesses to the ground. It clearly isn’t as scalable or logistically feasible as it was thought to be and digital proponents look like clowns to anyone paying attention.

In this country, the elements for defamation are that plaintiff must prove defendant published a false statement of fact to a third party that causes damage to plaintiff. It’s been years of publishing information and not a single company has threatened to sue. That’s a clear indicator to me that I am accurate or real close in just about everything I publish, including that big companies may well be facing financial trouble. Sooner or later, the majority of reporters are going to work out that I am publishing truth. They will, as I have, work out that millions of dollars don’t mean much if these companies don’t have a good business model. By trying to force us out of the market, companies are giving themselves 27,000 competitors, a move that should make shareholders physically ill. No longer will we accept the false narrative that “there’s nothing they can do.” They’re bright people. Insist that they figure it out and see how fast they figure it out. Tell them to stop throwing up their little social media posts or reporter corners and calling that support while they put advertisement dollars and training effort down on digital. Nobody who thinks about the situation for more than a minute or two believes that they’re using digital because they can’t find stenographers. We have a national database of stenographers that goes underutilized. How do I know it’s underutilized? Easy. When I was a young reporter, I got inundated with emails from agencies that found me on Sourcebook. Today, after about four years of blogging, out of all the garbage-like companies that were pushing garbage-like product, namely US Legal, Planet Depos, and Veritext, I have received maybe one email looking for reporters, if that. Other companies are writing me and looking for stenographers. We certainly don’t see any recruitment campaigns as we do with digital. One email in four years? Nothing they can do? How about working with the very established industry that they’re operating in instead of trying to outsmart it? Tipping points are hard. Not getting fully behind stenographers is going to be much, much harder for businesses. Look at the news. Watson didn’t work out. Automation is looking less likely every day. Even the poster child for automation, Elon Musk, is having a rough time making good on his big tech promises. What hope does anyone with less fame or money have? We’re not even playing particularly rough and digital proponents can’t make it work. What happens to big firms when reporters start poaching clients, publishing invoices, publishing client lists, and creating marketing firms that could eclipse the annual marketing budget of any court reporting firm in the country? Again, this is not prescience, it’s observation. I am one guy with a blog. I have about as much money as the bear that wasn’t a bear. If I am able to poke holes and publish things that professional news organizations miss, just imagine what any person reading this is capable of, let alone many thousands of court reporters. That TikTok I posted Monday said it best: Do not fuck with stenographers.

In addition to changing the strategy from diplomacy to Hell March 2, I have to now point out the inherent flaws of relying on Ducker’s 2013 information in 2021. The industry outlook is eight years old at this point. Stenographers had a choice in 2013, go big or go home. After that time, NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno all went big. Plenty of other reporters did too. Kim Xavier began Stenovator Pathway Solutions. Allison Hall set up programs and initiatives to get students in schools and help them find their way, and most recently received an award from the Oklahoma judiciary. Katiana Walton started training people under StenoKey. Shaunise Day started Confessions of a Stenographer. Protect Your Record Project set up strategies to help educate consumers against the pushing of inferior digital reporting products. NCRA Strong created resources for members to help educate consumers. So many people did so many things that I regret ending the list there. The recruitment and content creation efforts of stenographers didn’t double or triple, it exploded exponentially into a runaway train that only keeps accelerating and will only go faster now. Ducker’s top reason for low enrollment was that stenography was relatively unknown. That just isn’t going to be the case anymore. The median age of reporters in 2013 was 51 according to page eight of the report. Today, NCRA statistics state the median age of reporters is 55. It has been eight years. Without any activity whatsoever, the median age should have been 59. We can already see the results of our work.

Another “problem” with relying on the forecast or cherry-picking data from it is that focusing directly on the shortage ignores all the nuance and the actual messaging of the report. Let’s go through the report together and see just how much it supported the conclusion that stenographic court reporters were needed. Check out page six, where they published the segmentation of court reporters to voice writers.

Remember, this is 2013 data.

Voice writing is actually a decent product. Yet voice writers still were only 4% of the field. For about five years companies stood silent. When they had the slightest hiccup in scheduling, 2018, they went digital because “stenographers take too long to train and have too high of a failure rate.” If that were true, perhaps they would have built the voice writing side of their business, since it was already far more established as a modality than digital reporting. It is far more likely that some companies’ ultimate goal is to offshore the work, a disastrous result for our justice system in America due to the fact that offshore transcribers will be beyond the subpoena power of local and state courts. Even if it is not the goal, it is the logical consequence of moving reporter transcription from the front end to the back end and taking us away from public view. What school would open to fill a job that nobody sees or knows about?

The number of reporters entering and retiring is touted by know-nothing companies like US Legal as the reason the stenographer shortage cannot be solved by recruiting more reporters. Recently they put out that we have an annual shrinkage of 920, and I explained why, even assuming that was true, they were wrong. The equation they presented would eventually lead to negative stenographers, which is impossible if there are 200 new entrants a year. Ducker also explains why they’re wrong. At the worst of our decline, when the study was commissioned, we had an estimated 1,500 entrants coming into the field from 2013 to 2018, about 300 a year. Are we really to believe that with all of the effort going into training court reporters and bringing attention to the field that the number of annual new entrants fell between now and then?

It took eight years for our median age to rise by four years.
That means we’re winning.

In addition to Ducker’s forecast with regard to the actual number of opportunities, there was data about violent crime which led to them to believe the demand for criminal court reporters would go up. According to them, it was trending up at that moment.

Trending up, but still negative until 2012.

But when we look at sites like Statista, we see that the violent crime did rise for about three years as predicted by Ducker. Then it started falling again. It is hard to say, given the events of 2020 and 2021, where that per capita violent crime rate is going to go in the years to come. But what we can see with clarity is that Ducker’s information became outdated on violent crime as quickly as 2016. That leads us to the question: What other information might be outdated that we simply do not know about?

Fun fact. You can prove violent video games do not cause violence because violent crime went down while violent video games prospered.

The next few pages of the Ducker Report focus on the demand for stenographic court reporters. It’s probably the single greatest marketing piece of its time for us. We needed people, and the forecast told us that. Page 13 of the report gave us some striking infographics that let us know California and the west coast were going to have the hardest time with meeting the demand.

If California survived past its catastrophic 2018 opportunity, I am pretty sure the rest of the country is going to be okay.
Their shortage is nearly 20x worse than the rest of the country and they have some of the craziest licensing laws there are.

The rest of the report focuses on state projections. Some states were projected to have a surplus. This means that any state with a surplus could theoretically lose reporters to states with shortage problems and still be fine. This is likely what occurred in 2020 when depositions moved online. The fact that depositions moved online and companies continued to push digital is another clear indication that this was never about the shortage. It was about messaging. Signal to reporters that their job is over and get them repeating that news over and over under the mantra of “nothing else we can do but go digital.” Let me pull a word from Stacey Raikes’s amazing JCR article: Hogwash. It was a sweet lie to ride on. It’s over now. And make no mistake that it is a lie so blatantly obvious that I predicted it would occur back in February, writing “there will be a strong push from certain entities to say there aren’t enough of us. That will happen regardless of the truth.” Let’s repeat this: Stenographic reporting is here to stay. There is a place for every single one of our students as long as they work hard and do good work.

So was Ducker Worldwide wrong? Not by my assessment. They made an accurate forecast based off accurate data that existed when the industry outlook was written. That said, as an industry, we need to stop letting others tell us what the report said, really look at it, and encourage colleagues to look at it. It was a message that stenographers were needed. The shortage was not ever impossible to solve. That was a lie propagated by STTI that the corporations picked up when they saw a chance at pushing our educated and highly trained workforce out so that they could exploit digital reporters. Offshore transcribers are also being exploited, with some of them being paid as little as $0.80 a page or $0.24 a minute. The only way that we get pushed out is if we let it happen. I began documenting these events years ago with hope that we would not. Don’t let me down.

Two years ago. This didn’t age well. About six months later the study “racial disparities in automatic speech recognition” was released and showed us ASR was 25 to 80% accurate depending on who’s speaking. Given old patents that show 92% ASR accuracy was possible in 2000, the idea that growth was exponential became laughable.

Addendum:

An awesome Reddit user pointed out that the way I describe the median age here does not account for retiring reporters and assumes none retired out. To that, I would have to partially agree, but also point out that Ducker conceded that many reporters stay past the retirement age, as shown in purple below. The number of reporters that reached retirement age in the last 8 years was not the retirement cliff we have been anticipating. The next ten years is the retirement cliff. So I see it as I do because the reporters that were not yet retirement age as of the Ducker Report are likely to still be with us in large numbers, with some exceptions, such as our very recently retired and beloved Dominick Tursi. Given the substantial increase in stenographic reporter recruitment in the last 8 years, the logical conclusion is that the reporters staying past retirement age are bringing the median age up. There is no doubt that we need to continue our recruitment efforts, but we should no longer be swayed by the arguments that the situation is “impossible.”

“Taking into account that court reporters tend to stay in the workplace longer than average…”

NCRA 2.0 May 2019 Survey

Truly, NCRA has continued its commitment to being inclusionary and making changes to benefit all stenographers and members. Today we got an email that asked us to share our thoughts. That means you, reader, can participate in shaping the discussion for the field. You can be pretty sure that your words are going to reach somebody. Feel free to discuss it here, but before you do, go answer up, because your feelings matter, and the NCRA has taken an important step in letting you know that by asking. I encourage everyone, from the people that I am regularly in correspondence with to my anonymous readers to check in with your ideas for the future and how to make an NCRA that you want to be a part of.

And here are my own answers, to the extent they may be helpful or act as a beginning for bigger, better ideas.

What’s your GREAT idea?

“Most of our fights are won or lost at the state level. NCRA has historically taken on a supportive role and/or a federal, national approach. It is probably time to put at least some focus on states, particularly the big four identified by Ducker, Illinois, California, New York, Texas. Ducker said over 50 percent of court reporting was out of those states. If we lose in any of the four, it’s over.  I understand there is a committee for this type of thing now, but it will take some more press to get this knowledge to the members that have left / stopped renewing. As a very sad example, a friend of mine formerly worked with the Workers Comp Board of New York, which was gutted by electronic recording. When that person called NCRA, that person was told something along the lines of it’s a state matter and that NCRA is federal — of course, that was the NCRA then and not today’s NCRA 2.0 — but today that means one fewer member for NCRA. We can’t change the past. We can make the future better.”

How can YOU help?

“I can write. I can research. Perhaps one avenue to go down is to build a strong case for federal educational grants, see what Congress has passed in relation to other industries and begin building a strong case for stenographic education funding. NCRA has been efficient at this type of federal lobbying before and that can continue.”

Other IDEAS?

“1. Perhaps a reworking of the bylaws is in order. Leadership in NCRA is limited to Registered members, but this ends up being more exclusionary than other methods. The unfortunate truth is that there may be qualified leaders among your participating members. We had this issue in New York. In our case it was that retired and educator stenographers could not join the board. We voted on it twice, and both times, members stepped up and said if they want to lead, have them lead.


2. Inclusionary leadership. There are infinite ideas in the world. Perhaps it would be beneficial to NCRA’s image to come out with two or three big ideas that are being discussed, and either formally vote or informally poll members to see which is most important to them. I wouldn’t bind the board to the vote, but it’d probably make people, even the people that cannot donate time or effort in other ways, feel they have a voice. And to those that “lose” the vote, you can tell them this issue is still on our radar. You matter. Ultimately, memberships are selling the organization, and with regard to sales, feelings matter. 


3. If the time and data is available, make an effort to reach out to those who have not renewed. Perhaps talk to them about their beliefs or why they left. Thank them, encourage them to give NCRA 2.0 a try, and make a note of common themes. For example, if you found that 25 percent of non renewals were for a specific organizational reason, wouldn’t it be worth addressing?”

Interview with Esquire GC

Pingback: Shortage Solutions 1.

After reviewing the Esquire Deposition Solutions, LLC’s article about their remote court reporting solution to the the ongoing court reporting shortage, I reached out to Esquire and got a prompt response from Avi Stadler, former litigation attorney and current General Counsel at Esquire.

Across social media, reporters have been wondering about this initiative and what it might mean for them personally and the field as a whole. We’ve gotten a good first look at what the program is and how it might develop, and we encourage all readers to keep on reading about it below. Note that the following is not a verbatim transcript but a recitation of what was said.

We asked:

  1. When did the remote deposition initiative start? We’ve found articles dating back to at least 2017 for Esquire being a leader in promoting remote depositions.

A. Actually, the program started very recently. Where there might be some confusion is we first promoted remote depositions, which are the attorneys appearing remotely and the court reporter with the witness. Now we’re rolling out remote court reporting, which is the court reporter appearing remotely in jurisdictions where that is permitted by law.

2. Did the Ducker Report and forecasted shortage play a role in the development of the remote deposition technology and program?

A. The shortage isn’t forecasted, it’s here. We are having issues every day with covering work. That said, we are looking at remote reporting as our flagship approach to the shortage that will allow reporters to cover more jobs and stack depos without wasting travel time, gas, and money. If a reporter has to commute two hours there and two hours back, that’s four hours lost. This can give reporters back that time.

3. Is there any special training required or is it an intuitive program?

A. We do train reporters rigorously, but the technology is not very complex. We’re starting this program in our offices so there are always dedicated Esquire staff there to help. If the program is very popular, we may actually expand it to other locations after proper testing and quality assurance.

5. What states is Esquire looking for remote stenographers in?

A. Several. We are not giving out legal advice, but we do have a document which cited some of the laws in various states that I’d be happy to give you. Notably, Texas and Florida do not allow remote swearing of witnesses so we do not offer remote reporter in those states. Federal depositions may be remotely reported, and we are exploring that as well.

6. Is it true that 70 percent of reporters are retiring by 2023? The Ducker Report seems to suggest 2033.

A. I’m not entirely sure. There may be a typo in our article — but I’ll say this: demand is outpacing supply. At the time the Ducker Report was written in 2013, the average age of reporters was about 51 and now it is 57. At that time, there were 1500 new entrants expected and 5100 set to retire, so we all have some work to do together to close that gap and meet the demands of our clients and the industry. Anecdotally, it has become increasingly difficult to cover jobs. We’ve even asked for coverage from other agencies at times and still been unable to cover.

7. Any specific areas pop out as being difficult to cover?

A. California has been very challenging. We’ve even talked to the California Deposition Reporters Association about it, and they’ve said the same. Other than that, non-metro areas. For example, border towns in Texas can be hard to cover. Unfortunately, again, Texas does not permit remote swearing of witnesses. Rural areas are difficult to cover.

8. Has the forecasted shortage increased opportunities for reporters in terms of work or pay?

A. More work is definitely available for stenographers. I wish more people would pass the tests. It’s a great career. Our mission is to ensure the sanctity of the record is preserved, very much like all of you. So there’s a ton of opportunity and more people should get into it.

9. Has the forecasted shortage increased court reporting costs?

A. Costs have definitely gone up. Court reporters are charging more. Some companies are paying hundreds of dollars in bounties to get jobs paid. It’s a difficult situation, and that’s not sustainable.

10. With the remote court reporting program, who is responsible for ensuring compliance with local laws?

A. Well, we are not giving legal advice to our clients. But, again, I have a document I’ll share with you that cites the laws in various states and that we are confident in. Ultimately, our clients have to be comfortable with remote court reporting and whether or not it’s allowed in their jurisdiction.

11. Is Esquire running any stenographer training programs?

A. We do offer a mentorship in all of our offices where a new reporter can be paired with a more experienced reporter. We also engage with state court reporting associations and have occasional programs related to court reporting, continuing education, and business. For example, last year we had a program “Like A Boss.” That program was designed to help with the challenges of being an independent contractor and offered tax tips. Finally, we work very closely with the schools. Here in Atlanta we offer to have reporting students tour the office, see what we do, and get a feel for what it’s all about. We also have an internship program that allows students to sit out with Esquire reporters to gain deposition experience.  We’ve had over 30 interns across the country participate over the last 3 quarters.  Additionally, we offer two scholarship opportunities each quarter to our interns.

12. Any other initiatives or ideas you’d like to tell stenographers or clients? Anything you’d like to tell us at all?

A. My boss — the CEO of this company — loves this industry. Her son is currently completing service in the army and plans to enter court reporting school after that. We are all committed to the industry. Personally, I see it as Esquire freeing court reporters to do what they do best, making the record, while Esquire takes care of the sales, marketing, production, collection and pay.

And there you have it. Often on this blog we encourage readers to think critically and always be informed. Today’s no different. Be informed, be inspired, and be ready to realize that there are a lot of opportunities out there for the working reporter and aspiring entrepreneur. There’s a big demand for reporting, and stenographers have the capability to fill it. There’s a big demand for solutions to problems. For example, perhaps many of our readers feel the stenographer should have a physical presence so that the stenographer remains a fixture at proceedings. That’s good! It’s another perspective which can lead to more and better solutions.

So whether you come away from the blog thinking you want to work with Esquire or thinking you’ve got way better ideas, I’ve got to encourage you to get out there and do it. Say it. Be a part of the conversation and lead your peers to be more marketable, professional, and ready for the future.