Court Reporter EDU is FoS

So I stumbled across the CourtReporterEdu.org website. A pleasant website that is facially neutral. You look at it, and it doesn’t seem to be anything “bad.” It talks about stenographers and shorthand. It has a picture of a stenotype. Looks like the kind of marketing stenographers should be doing.

Then you, reader, head on over to a magical place, court reporting info by state.

And when the reader goes to look at their state, they’ll infallibly get a long list of schools that have “court reporter programs.”

From my review of the New York schools listed, none have a digital court reporter degree. The few that mention digital court reporting sell the digital court reporting as a “continuing education” program. In short, they’re selling continuing education for a degree track that does not exist. Some of these schools have zero mention of digital court reporting on their website. Some schools, like BMCC, you reach out to admissions, and they know nothing about the program.

So, of course, I ask Ed 2 Go what the deal is, because Mark Pugal from Ed 2 Go has been trying to sell me on Digital Court Reporting for like a month now.

And of course, I trust, but verify.

BMCC asked for my concerns, so I put them out there.

Now, just to explain, in part, why I think CourtReporterEDU and possibly Ed 2 Go is being dishonest: (1) In many of the schools listed, when one goes to independently verify the existence of the program, it doesn’t seem to exist. Attempting to verify the program with the schools that actually do seem to offer it leads to this roundabout “we don’t have that program, but actually we do” response. Maybe at the point colleges are selling programs with no future and are so insignificant the admissions department doesn’t know they exist, or they don’t exist, we’ve gone too far. (2) Even where the program exists, it is selling students a course in something that is not the industry standard and does not have as many opportunities. (3) Putting a stenotype on your homepage and then diverting people to digital court reporting via esyoh.com and Ed 2 Go is just dishonest. Even if we forgive everything else, the way this page is set up is to confuse people and lend legitimacy to digital court reporting that it does not deserve.

At the bottom of this page is a video walking people through that part. Now for a bit of speculation. We know from the WHOIS lookup that the registrant’s address was in Florida. The server the site is hosted on appears to be in California, but that’s likely irrelevant.

Luckily, one of the schools actually advertising the program gives us a peek into who might be promoting it. Wagner College lists Merritt Gilbert and Natalie Hartsfield.

Merritt Gilbert is apparently in Florida and connected to BlueLedge. BlueLedge, as some may remember from a prior post, are aggressively marketing digital as the answer to the stenographer shortage exaggerated and exacerbated by STTI, Veritext, and US Legal. The author of that article stating digital reporting is the answer to shortage? Benjamin Jaffe. Who is Benjamin Jaffe? BlueLedge.

Who is Merritt Gilbert? BlueLedge.

Who is Natalie Hartsfield? Digital, BlueLedge, Florida.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Remember when I wrote yesterday that US Legal has been on inactive status in New York since 2001? BlueLedge, according to Florida Department of State, has been dissolved since 2019.

And just for anyone who thinks “maybe there are two BlueLedge companies in Florida,” take a look at that mailing address, 101 E Kennedy Blvd. Guess what the address for BlueLedge is.

If you guessed 101 E Kennedy Blvd, congratulations.

How is it legal for a dissolved company to misdirect the public, searching for stenographic reporter training, to Ed 2 Go and digital court reporting? It might not be, but it’s going to depend on us asking our various government agencies to look into this as a matter of false advertising and possibly operating illegally in the state. I reached out to my New York State Education Department as it pertained to this course being sold to New York consumers. Maybe this is something the members of each state association can tackle.

This situation blew my mind. We cannot stand for this. We have to fight and understand that we are playing against people that do not play by the rules or within the bounds of our self-imposed moral code. I have collected these images and ideas in a central place. Please use them to do good. I should note that at least one consumer was extremely confused and came onto our message boards asking about how to buy a stenotype for digital court reporting. We must act with compassion. Consumers are being lied to and we are the only people with the knowledge to explain it to them. They WILL stumble onto our message boards confused because they ARE being bombarded by lies.

PAF Steno

In a previous article about Stenotrain, I noted that its presence was scrubbed from the internet shortly after being acquired by US Legal. I’m happy to say I finally I had some time to sit down and write Patricia Falls, who was formerly involved with that program. I’ve learned there is another program called PAF Steno. I’m told it is an active program with a student graduating this month and five more set to graduate soon.

The website advertises a number of promising features, including a free basic steno training course starting July 19, 2021, and courses in scoping, transcription, CART, and court reporting. So if you know someone in your life who wants to give steno a try, and they don’t like other offerings like Open Steno, Startran Online, Simply Steno, Steno Key, Magnum Steno, or Court Reporting At Home, perhaps PAF is another option they can look into. Please feel free to make suggestions for the resource page if you see something missing or would like your program added.

Addendum:

A reader asked whether PAF teaches digital reporting so I reached out. PAF teaches only steno, scoping, and some transcription as of 7/21/21. This is in contrast to a 2019 post that stated PAF taught all methods.

Need Continuing Education? Consider CCR Seminars.

Wind the clock back about eleven months ago. I grabbed my RPR after a decade of not grabbing my RPR, and I was quickly introduced to the world of court reporting continuing education. We have to complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years. There’s a lot of ways to get it done. You can hit up prerecorded educational material. You can pay per credit. You can also do longer courses and effectively pay bulk prices for the credits. I want to talk about the value of a longer course today.

Last year I tuned into the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 CCR Seminars webinars. I have to say that overall I really appreciated the presentations. There were things like building your brand, apps for court reporters; all kinds of stuff that gave me new perspectives. Last year, thanks to CCR Seminars and NCRA’s Stenopalooza, I was able to complete all my required credits. So that brings me to this year, I get this in my inbox:

Humorless humorist? Is he talking about me?

The value being offered here is high. This is a little under $15 per hour or per 0.1 education credits. There are instances where you can pay $45 per credit, so this is cutting your cost down by 66%. Using these types of services and events can bring your cycle cost down by up to $900. My advice? Get on the mailing list. If you need the credits or just want to attend courses that might be helpful to you, CCR is a great option. The user experience is positive. Everything is logged into your account on the website so it’s easy to track.

If I had to come up with a “negative,” it was that I disagreed a little bit with one presenter’s personal opinion on one topic. That, to me, is a great presentation. Disagreement makes you sit there and think a little bit. It makes you examine why you feel the way you do about a topic, and it doesn’t take anything away from what you’re actually learning. Good value, good customer service, and presenters who aren’t afraid to present professional opinions right alongside facts/content. I’m definitely thinking of attending again this year despite my unfortunate credit situation:

I have at least one reader that has more credits.
She’s also cooler than me.

If you’re not sure about where you are on your cycle, remember that you can always check the transcript here. It can be a little intimidating if you’re just starting out, but it becomes really easy and second nature. Feel free to chime in with thoughts on continuing education!

StenoKey, Stenographic Education Innovation?

On June 19, I had the privilege of getting to talk with Katiana Walton from StenoKey. I’ve mentioned her program from time to time right alongside things like NCRA’s A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno as major positives for this field, but I never had a good grasp of what StenoKey was about. The discussion we had changed all that, and now I get to give readers a synopsis of all the good StenoKey is looking to do for our field and our students.

StenoKey is looking to have a science-based approach to learning. There are many reasons students struggle in stenographic programs, and the way they learn might just be one of them. As it was explained to me, Ms. Walton could’ve opened a traditional school in Florida right now, but because she’s looking to innovate, she must prove to the State of Florida that her method works in order to have a school. That’s where this pilot program comes in.

Centered on Magnum theory, StenoKey utilizes Realtime Coach to grade students instantly. Instead of a traditional model where students learn theory and then move into speed, StenoKey seeks to introduce speed right from the beginning. Students are expected to reach introductory levels of speed in each chapter, as high as 60 to 120 words per minute, before moving on to the next chapter. Briefs relevant to each chapter are also incorporated so that students have an early understanding of the concept of briefing.

Through practice logs, Ms. Walton is able to gauge each student’s level of engagement. This way, students that practice often but have difficulty progressing can receive relevant advice on what to practice to. Students that are not practicing can see in writing that they’re not practicing enough to make meaningful progress. In addition, students have designated times to call in, ask questions about things they’ve encountered during a lesson or take, and receive guidance or support. In the words of Ms. Walton, it “helps build community.”

Similar to our brick-and-mortar institutions, StenoKey seeks to get students to stop looking at the stenotype keys. As early as week two, students are encouraged to stop looking down. The program, by design, acknowledges that five-minute takes may be harder for people who are just starting out. Each chapter has a syllabic 120 WPM test. At chapters 11 to 20, that test is a 2 minute, 140 WPM test. By chapter 41, students are expected to be taking five-minute takes at up to 180 WPM.

The overall goal is not just to reach a working speed of 225, but to have students working towards RMR-like speeds of up to 240 to 260 WPM. Numbers, long the bane of learning reporters, are baked into the program from chapter 12 onward. As it is not yet a school, the program does not offer “academics,” but it does offer one grammar rule every chapter to keep students’ transcription sharp. In addition, it gets into the finer points of realtime writing by explaining conflicts. Magnum theory is conflict free, but the lessons go further by teaching learners about “inconsequential conflicts,” or conflicts that can be spotted and corrected easily during editing on a regular deposition or job.

Asked about superstars in the program, one learner was said to have made it through chapter 12 in six hours. Ms. Walton’s nieces, 12 and 14, also attend the program, and have completed 9 chapters. Part of the success of the program seems attributable to in-depth error analysis. Students are encouraged to identify and analyze their mistakes, either in how they practice or how they write, and fix it. Students are also encouraged to read each other’s notes because sometimes students have an easier time pointing out and learning from others’ mistakes than their own. Asked about the biggest challenge of running such a program, Ms. Walton admitted that not every individual commits to the program. Some just don’t put forward as much effort as they expressed they would during their introduction interview.

StenoKey is looking at helping people with all different learning styles. For visual learners, each chapter has two videos,  a professional video and a “Katiana Teaches” video. The videos work together to give students an in-depth understanding of each chapter. Student feedback from each chapter also goes into tweaking the program to be more successful. Not just for students, StenoKey also has had two working reporters join the program in order to improve their realtime writing. In that sense, StenoKey can also be viewed as a Realtime Development Program. “Magnum Steno is not hard to understand. It’s very systematic” says Walton. She explained that writers do not have to change their whole theory to adopt some Magnum and shorten their writing. “Look for what is holding you back in your writing. There are realtime reporters in every theory out there, and with the right mindset, you can be better.”

One might look at such an idea and wonder if there’s a way to get involved. To that end, Ms. Walton says she’s looking into the possibility of bringing on assistants for administering StenoKey and getting more people engaged with it. She may also be seeking a programmer to develop readback tools or materials.

At that point, Katiana had to go and counsel her program’s attendees. Before we hung up, I was able to get that the pilot program is currently $200 a month and always online. Currently, she’s looking at the possibility of having a longer, more valuable subscription model, and weighing options out. Overall, I think that the idea of fully integrating speed and theory is a valuable one. If students are able to hit working speeds faster than in the past, our shortage becomes a bad memory for the next three decades and beyond. I would urge associations and schools to keep an eye on developments here. If the results start coming in that this is a better method, it may be worth putting some money down on the expansion or adoption of this type of educational innovation. From a distance, I’ve read a little about Walton’s Lady Steno Speed Clinic. I’ve seen the testimonials. I know her heart’s in the right place when it comes to this field. I hope we’ll see similar success and glowing reviews for StenoKey!

Government v Gig Economy

There’s been quite a buzz in California because the politicians out there rather quickly moved to get rid of the gig economy. In my mind, it’s not hard to see why. The gig economy, as a whole, hurts workers. I have opined before that there are many benefits to classification as an employee. In brief, employers stand to save as much as thirty percent by misclassifying employees. Employees have many protections that independent contractors just don’t.

I rarely broach this topic. There are likely to be comments that these ideas are crazy or fanciful. We are independent contractors. We have always been independent contractors. But when you look at the common law definition of an employee, whether the “employer” has control over the work you’re doing, the waters can and do become very muddy. I came across a very interesting truth years ago. An employer and an “employee” can call the relationship an independently contracted relationship, but upon review in an executive or judicial matter like taxes, unemployment, discrimination, workers compensation, the government or a judge can still make a determination that the relationship is an employer-employee relationship. It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters how you’re treated. Of course, ironically, if you think you’re an independent contractor, chances are you’re not going to bring an unemployment claim under a common law employee theory!

Why is this worth talking about? Succinctly, the government has a very strong interest in eradicating the gig economy. There will always be, logically, more employees than employers. When you introduce the gig economy, that is, the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, you introduce many more entities the government has to track to enforce its tax laws. Government may also say it’s about protecting workers, but ultimately, I’d bet money it’s about the money.

So we, us, our entire industry, in many states, but right now California, will have to decide how to handle this. One solution that has been proposed is having a court reporter carve out, exempting us from any law that more strictly classifies workers. Another solution, I propose, is to be ready for reclassification. Start looking at all the different ways employment contracts can be structured and unions can be formed. Start figuring out ways to keep your current quality of life and work as, ostensibly, a commission-based employee, or an employee paid by the page.

This is not so much a declaration of how we should do things, but a serious suggestion to everyone that follows me, no matter what side you’re on, start thinking about how you can benefit yourself and your fellow reporter regardless of how things shake out. If you win an exemption in state law, fine. If you do not, and you find yourself reclassified, take advantage of every single one of your new rights without hesitation. Quite frankly, if it comes down to it, and you have to unionize and get the right to refuse work in your union contract, do it. Do whatever it takes. But let this be a time where we inform each other and share opinions on which way to go, and why that’s more or less valid than another option.

Keep in mind, even as independent contractors, understand that you can still lobby for legal protections. NYC has, according to the Freelancers Union and others, taken major steps to protect freelancers by requiring independently contracted employees actually have contracts, and enacted discrimination protection for independently contracted workers. So you see? It is not a binary choice of win or lose. This is now a matter of win no matter what happens. Do not close off your mind to the possibilities, and you will find a route to victory in every state this becomes an issue.

October Occupations 2019

Before we get into this post I just want to say I updated the old Get A Job post to include the exams page of NYSUCS. I still say that every jobseeker in New York should be checking the pages linked there every 15 to 30 days to be safe. Share findings. Be committed to keeping everyone up to date. If everyone is talking about where the work is, nobody’s left in the dark.

Even though this page launches October 1, postings are only current as of September 30.

DANY is still hiring for their grand jury reporter position. It’s a great job. Definitely give it a shot.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor, as I recall, had a posting for one grand jury reporter. Now there’s a posting for two. I say that if you haven’t applied yet, it’s your lucky day, go for it.

The state court system is still accepting applications for the provisional court reporter job. If you didn’t take the test, it still might make sense to apply. If they didn’t get enough passes on the civil service exam, they’re going to need you.

Southern District, that’s federal court, is still looking for a reporter. Don’t let this great opportunity go to waste if you’ve got the certifications or skill necessary to work with SDNY.

There are over ten vacancies federally all around the country. If New York’s not where your heart is, no big deal, but you’re not allowed to leave (joke).

Plaza continues to keep a posting for court reporting and English instructors.

New Jersey has apparently started hiring for the first time in a long time. I had posted this on Facebook but not on Stenonymous. Hopefully the government has realized the inherent value of having someone personally responsible for making the record.

Freelancers, I know that there’s often not a lot of postings on here with regard to work for you. I will work on something that might help there. Until then, you’re free to check out my recent post on historic data and inflation, as it impacts every dollar we make every day we breathe. I have been getting emails from Magna claiming over $100 in bonus fees. Now that I think about it, this probably gives you a clue what’s actually being charged for appearance fees, and a peak into the law of supply and demand. You’re in demand. Your skills are in demand. Act accordingly, do great work, and make a great record.

Fun fact. In the editor this post has no bullet points. In the preview it does. Which version will everyone see? That is the question. If you’ve ever wondered why some posts seem to have bizarre formatting, I blame computers.

Outfluence by Al Betz

I had posted in the New York State Court Reporters Association Facebook about how many people would be interested in participating in a business course. Regardless of how many votes that eventually gets and what happens, I wanted to put out there what Anthony Frisolone shared: There is this amazing company out there aimed at helping students with understanding communication and value. They tell it like it is on their site. Schools tend to teach academics and many of the finer points of how to be a professional go untaught or under-taught. At a glance, it’s something that could be invaluable to any student, and something that should be shared far and wide.

I’ve been in the field for years and didn’t know this was an option, so I’m willing to bet there are people out there that don’t know about this and could use it. Maybe associations can use it. Maybe schools. If enough people show an interest, I myself would be happy to organize something in the New York area. For now, however, let me make good on my promise to spread the word. Check out Outfluence.

How To Create Timed Dictation

There are various types of learners. Some like to see things in print. Some like to watch videos. I’m a one-man shop, and can’t tailor everything to every learning type, but I do make it a point to try to be accessible and offer multiple solutions to a thing. I’ve got a video on this topic, but it makes good sense to have written instructions.

It’s easy. Take the WPM you want to mark. Let’s say 40 WPM. Divide that by 4. That gives you how many words you need to say every 15 seconds to hit 40 WPM. Often we indicate the 15-second markers with some kind of indicator, like slash marks ( // ), either manually or automatically. Then we read back the dictation, and every 15 seconds, make sure we hit the slash mark. Just keep in mind that this is for word count only. Standard dictation has an average syllabic density of 1.5 syllables. So a marked dictation for word count, for a 40 WPM should look something like the example below:

“There are several things that we must remind ourselves //from time to time.
Succinctly, we must remember that in //a great state like New York the right of the //jury trial is not absolute. In New York City a //person charged with a B misdemeanor can be forced to //trial by judge as opposed to trial by jury. This //trial by a judge is also called a bench trial.
//This can be confusing for a layperson like myself because //we are taught that in America a person must be //found guilty by a jury of his or her peers //before he or she may be convicted of a crime. //There’s no shame in holding this belief, as Article III //of the American constitution and the Sixth Amendment suggest that //one must be tried by a jury.
The Supreme Court //of the United States decided that the right to a //jury trial only pertains to serious crimes. Serious crimes are //defined in terms of jail exposure. If the potential jail //time is six months or less, a crime is not //serious and so does not need to be tried by //jury.

Even more fascinating is that the jail time is //looked at per offense. So if someone is charged with //and convicted of 21 B misdemeanors and sentenced consecutively as //opposed to concurrently, that person could theoretically go to jail //for 10 years without a trial by jury.

I think //that the best way to find out what the American //public think of this concept is to publicize it. Obviously, //all of this information is available publicly and can be //found easily in an internet age. The problem with nearly //infinite knowledge is that we take it for granted and //don’t challenge our beliefs to see how accurate or inaccurate //they may be.

As I said before, from time to //time, you should remind yourself that there are things that //you may believe or take for granted that are not //true, or not completely true. Ignorance certainly has its place //in life, and we cannot always search for every answer //all the time, but it is worthwhile, from an academic //and philosophical perspective, to question.

Question yourself. Question what you //believe. When you’re finished questioning all of that, question it //again. Great things can come from an inquiring, honest mind. //One does not need to be a genius in order //to innovate. One need only be reliable, persistent, and considerate //to become an agent of change in the local, state, //national, or even international communities.”

It’s really that simple. With a little time and effort, anyone can do it.

Forgiving Your Impostor Syndrome

There can be a culture shock for students who get out of reporting school and jump directly into the freelance world. One minute you’re in a t-shirt and jeans tapping away in a class of people with about the same skill level as you, and the next minute you find yourself at the head of the table, more or less alone, and in charge of making the legal record of deposition proceedings. Even worse, the people you’re working with don’t always cooperate. Even worse, you may not have ever seen a legal proceeding before.

There may be a feeling building that you are inadequate, or that you handled a particular situation poorly, or even that you made a mistake! Everyone makes mistakes. The reporter who tells you, “I never make mistakes,” makes mistakes. The reporter who tells you they’ve never had a complaint makes mistakes. The reporter who tells you mistakes were made, usually on your part, most definitely makes mistakes! That multimillion dollar corporation you work for? They make mistakes too.

The mistakes are not the problem. Being unwilling to learn is where many struggle. Be trainable. Be willing to question yourself and sometimes even your “superiors” to find the right answer. Be willing to reach out and ask a mentor how you could’ve handled something better. Be willing to talk to several mentors if a topic seems controversial. In a regular office or court environment, we have coworkers, union reps, and generally people to talk to about how to handle things that come up. As independent contractors we’re our own business, and navigating these things on the fly can be challenging.

Those feelings of inadequacy? Treat them like a bad dream. Forget them, go about your day, and forgive yourself. Learn what you can and move on. A lot of times I try to offer numbers and science to back up what I’m telling people. Today’s a lesson straight from the “been there, done that” camp of court reporting. Years of observation. You know what you’ll see very rarely? People wearing their mistakes. Nobody is sitting there saying, “yeah, I totally botched a job at the start of my career 10, 20, 30 years ago.” The truth isn’t that nobody has ever botched a job in the history of reporting, but that professionals learn from what happened and move forward into long and illustrious careers.

Your career can be long and illustrious. But if you suffer from feelings of inadequacy or frustration from difficult challenges, one of the first steps is going to be learning to let them go and do what you’ve trained to do. The next step? Training yourself to do better. Before long, you’ve got yourself a staircase, and hopefully that day you’ll turn around and help others build theirs.

Shortage Solutions 10: Contract or Employment

Can you believe this blog has covered 10 ideas for addressing the shortage? Time flies. Having given the whole court reporting shortage issue some more brainstorming, it’s worth bringing up for discussion the solutions that will follow. As always, happy to have comment on this issue. First, contractual agreements. In the field today, many reporters work under a verbal agreement, or a very informal email or rate sheet agreement. Even in places where independent contractors are required to have contracts, much of the business is contracted verbally or less formally.

Anecdotally, there’s something respectable about putting things in writing. People are more likely to live up to their word when there are clear terms of engagement. Need a freelancer to be on call to cover? Get it in writing. Throw them a little consideration (money) for their availability. Create easy-to-understand terms and expectations on availability. Create fair and realistic penalties for breach of contract on either side, or remedial terms that both sides can live with.

That lets me move on to another thought process. There is nothing in US law, to my knowledge, that prohibits a company from hiring employees and paying them a per-page commission or per diem rate. Pretty much no reporter makes less than minimum wage, so compliance with minimum wage laws is trivial. What is stopping a company from shifting its workforce from 1099 reporters to employees? Nothing. Nothing but a different set of paperwork and some accounting changes. Compliance with workers compensation laws may need a little creative insuring to allow reporters to transcribe from home if they choose to give employees that option. But this does not seem like an impossibility, merely a challenge for the entrepreneurial to overcome.

Why these solutions? Frankly, one of the issues with shortage boils down to the inconsistency of freelance reporting. If reporting firms nail down some availability, via employment contract or independently-contracted agreement, they can have a more realistic idea of how many reporters they have versus how many they need. Businesses survive and thrive off of mastering their staffing needs. Reporting businesses will be no different, and in the end will rise and fall based on their ability to meet demand. In this case, the demand being the service that so many stenographic reporters are ready, willing, and able to provide.