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.

The Resurgence

It was looking pretty bad for steno for a while. Schools were closing. Courts were pushing stenographers out. Easy example, a few decades ago, stenographers started getting pushed out of New Jersey courts. The wheels of progress and the winds of change are slow, but I was fortunate enough to see this spot for a stenographic reporter pop up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. This is evidence to me that we can recover lost ground.

And there is certainly ground to recover. The Workers Compensation Board of New York moved to recording and having their stenographers transcribe. Our NYSCRA and others pushed to have the legislature mandate use of stenographic reporting, and the bill to do so was passed by the assembly and senate, but vetoed by Governor Cuomo. Needless to say, whenever New York decides to elect a new governor, it will be time for us to try again.

But seeing such a push by stenographers everywhere to educate the public and continue training each other to provide the best quality records possible, there’s no doubt in my mind that we can continue to take back any areas of the market that were lost.

I’ve gone over the math many times. There are more of us and so many ways to spread the message that stenography is still relevant and superior in this modern world. Old keyboard, new tricks. The best part of it is that as the push continues, people and companies are rising up to start new education programs. Just this year, by my own count, we’ve had something like a half a dozen programs open up and enrolling future stenographers.

The sweeter irony is that digital reporting very well may face the same shortage it tried to use against us. As word about stenography spreads, many transcribers are realizing that stenography can save them time and money in their transcription work, or that they can use stenography as a springboard into a career that is, on average, about double the pay. I’ve seen at least two social media posts in the last seven days about transcribers and digitals switching to steno. Let’s face it, anyone saying stenography is equal is running on intel that’s six years old. At that rate, they’ll catch on and get back on the wagon sometime in the next sixty. We can’t wait for them.

The truth is that from independent people like myself or Mirabai Knight, to major stenographic organizations like ASSCR or NCRA, to all the many consumers, judges, lawyers, stenographic court reporting has a lot of allies. It’s not going away. The New York State Court System said as much. We know the truth. All that’s left is to get out there, tell it, train our students to be the best they can be, and see the resurgence of stenography spread across the country.

Do You Log Your Practice?

Steno students, do you keep track of how much you’re really practicing? Some of the most successful stenographers out there practiced at least 2 to 4 hours in addition to school to reach their goals. It is a whopping time commitment, and there are simple things you can do to increase your monitoring of practice and progress.

One easy, old-fashioned way to do it is a practice log. The one I have here will take all the hours you input into column B and add them together to give your entire month total of practice. A really solid month of practice and good goal to have for speed students is 100 hours a month. So take this log, or design your own, and take the next step in holding yourself accountable and living up to your potential. (DROPBOX)

Recording Grand Jury (NY)

So I’ve been following the facts on a series of cases picked up by the Batavian and Daily News. The very short story, with some extrapolation, is that a grand jury stenographer contracted by the district attorney was apparently using the AudioSync feature in our modern stenotypes. This caused the defense attorneys to seek dismissals of the indictments. As best I can tell, and after writing Batavian author Howard Owens and one of the attorneys, who had stated it was a Judiciary Law misdemeanor, I pieced together the following with regard to grand jury recording law in New York:

Criminal Procedure Law 190.25(4) makes it very clear that grand jury proceedings are secret. Judiciary Law 325 gets into how it shall be lawful for a stenographer to take grand jury proceedings, and doesn’t explicitly allow audio recording. Penal Law 215.70 talks about unlawful disclosure and lists the crime as a class E felony. Finally, Penal Law 110 tells us an attempted E felony becomes an A misdemeanor.

What can we further infer from all that? Well, as best I can tell, the indictments are only dismissed if it’s shown that the recording altered the testimony or proceedings in some way, and the defense is given the burden of proving that. As of writing, no indictment has been dismissed because of recording. That said, this opens up a serious concern for grand jury stenographers across New York. Recording the grand jury proceedings may be construed as attempted unlawful disclosure, and thanks to Judiciary Law 325, it may be difficult or impossible to argue that such recording is in the course of your lawful duties. Like Frank Housh in the video linked above, I was shocked that we could work in this industry for years and not ever be told the law surrounding that. Admittedly, I was a grand jury stenographer in New York City for months, and while I understood that not recording was a condition of my employment, I did not know that recording could theoretically give rise to a criminal prosecution. It is up to us to keep ourselves and each other informed, and now we know. This is not a joke, and you could go to jail for up to one year and have a criminal record for up to ten years on an A misdemeanor.

That caution stated, as of writing, there has been no prosecution of any grand jury stenographer for that specific reason, so it seems that the district attorneys or assistant district attorneys involved in these cases disagree with defense’s contention that this rises to the level of a misdemeanor. It also appears that recording of the proceedings does not automatically invalidate indictments.

The court rules Part 29 and Part 131 did not come up in my correspondence with anyone involved in this matter, but they are tangentially related and may be worth a review. And remember, nothing written here pertains to federal grand jury proceedings. We are talking strictly the New York State courts.

Any future updates to this matter will be posted right here.

Combination Banking

Hello, students. Today we’re going to touch on something I had written about not long ago on social media. Many people have trouble adding designations while writing. It’s work, and it can cause delays or missed words. One trick you can use is what I’ll call combination banking. Take your question or answer bank, and combine them with common responses. As an example, KWRAEUFRPBLGTS can be A. Yeah. Just be aware that in your software you must define it properly so that it gets its own line instead of being appended to the last line.

Luckily, I don’t have to write too much about this because Glen Warner already tackled dictionary building and phrasing here and was kind enough to supply me with a list of bank combos. Thanks, Glen!

Never be afraid to try out new things. They may transform your writing and accelerate your progress, or give you your own ideas about how to move forward.

Can’t Outspend? Outsell.

When many of us were in school we were given a line, steno sells itself. Many of us can probably relate to that. Most steno companies, upon hearing you’re a professional stenographer, will give you a shot. Many of us in New York came out during a big slump (2010) where steno wasn’t selling itself, but even then, it was trivial to get work. All we had to do was say we’d been working three months, and “they’d” go from sorry no work for you to “oh, here are the keys to the kingdom.” Not all of us knew it, but that’s how it was. Agency owners are good at reading confidence, and what we’re offered is often linked directly to our confidence level.

Of course, the following may be an incorrect assumption on my part, but bear with me: We have entered an era where steno is not selling itself. Company owners are being pulled into the mindset that the voice recognition is “good enough,” and some of the major players, like Veritext, have been pushing recording.

I should note, in full disclosure, that I have not been able to corroborate what I’m about to say with documents or pictures as I usually do. It’s pulled from the social media sphere, so consider it anecdotal for now, and do not be surprised if agencies start railing against social media. Even as some claim that Veritext sent an email stating they were not using recording in states like New Jersey, others have come forward across social media to say yes, this is being done behind our backs. Many of us are reportedly asking lawyers what they’re seeing, and they are seeing digital getting peddled to them relentlessly.

So what do we do when we have major players putting their resources into our replacement? Who here thinks they have more money that Veritext or their owners? Hopeless, some would say. But there is something that many reporters are realizing: This alleged shortage is a great time get private clients and begin new businesses. If Veritext or some entity swears they can’t get a stenographer, some lawyers have allegedly called their insurers and gotten authorization to use a local stenographer or stenographic firm. All their marketing moves and salespeople count for nothing if a stenographer finds themselves in the right place at the right time.

We’re the boots on the ground. We have more contact with law office staff and employees. We have the keys to the kingdom. But the people at the top have made it very clear that they’ll do whatever is convenient for them. It’s time we do the same for the survival of our industry. We don’t work for them? Try it. It might just give us access to their clients. We work for them? Guess who already has access.

Even if we don’t want to handle private clients, we could always network with an existing firm owner out there and get them clients in exchange for the work or a share. If we’re even moderately successful, big companies will be offering to buy back their business from us in a few years, and the field will be a lot healthier once the market share is spread out. Our actions determine the future. The conversation today is steno or digital. Tomorrow it just might be stay steno or slam sand.

Shortage Solutions 8: Retirement

The document that alerted us to an impending shortage was the 2013 Ducker Report. In there, it told us that in about 20 years from then, a very large percentage of reporters would be retiring. Off the top of my head, I think it was as high as 70 percent, but you’re free to read it. That point is about 10 to 14 years from today.

Obviously, this brings great opportunity, because if supply can’t meet demand, the price for the service should rise. In many markets, it has risen, especially where reporters have pushed to be paid more. Some reporters are getting out there and grabbing their own private clients because it’s a seller’s market. In response to the shortage, the field had a great many recruitment ideas including A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno, and many schools got online to reach a larger pool of students.

A big issue for us has been if enough jobs go completely uncovered, there are interests in the market ready to jump on that and say we don’t need stenography. We can use digital recording. We can use AI transcription. We can use whatever. Veritext, from my perspective, led this charge. Notably, they’re also putting money into stenographic initiatives, but this seems to be a clear case of hedging bets in case our commitment to what we do beats the money being poured into our replacement.

So here’s where we stand: We have a large group of people slated to retire. Do we tell them not to retire? No chance. But we can collectively start spreading the word that the retired are valuable. We had this push maybe a year ago in New York. Our Association, NYSCRA, didn’t give retired reporters or educators power. Not because of any ill will or resentment, but because of a simple bylaws issue. As luck had it, who had the most time to take part in and help shape up ideas? The educators and retired! So we took a stand and voted to give them equal voting power and right to be on the board.

Let’s face facts. If we are working 9 to 6 and then going home to transcribe for an hour, it leaves us very little time to advocate for this field. We may not be able to financially take time away from work or training to be a recruiter or voice in support of this field. We may not be able to advocate for others or mentor students. It’s a great time to consider forming programs and workshops for the retired who want to remain in the field as advocates. Look at the lobbying industry. Somebody works in a field for 30 years, a private interest or association grabs them up, and then they are the spokesperson who goes out and educates politicians on the issue — sometimes for big money.

If you’re retired, if you’re about to retire, or if you know someone about to retire, and especially if you’re somewhat of an altruist, you’ve got a chance to make a difference. Anything from a kind word to a student to full-blown involvement on a board or in a professional management corporation can change outcomes. As a matter of fact, a lot of these large corporations keep veteran stenographers at the head of their court reporting programs. Even traditionally transcription-oriented companies, like Escribers, had a stenographer in management. There’s no reason why the retired can’t, if they are so inclined, put down the machine, pick up the phone, and continue to make money from this field, for this field, and grow it in a way that keeps the career bridge they just crossed standing firm.

New Speed Students, Learn To Let Go

I spend a good deal of time interacting with self-learners and some new students. One thing that new people often struggle with is the switch from QWERTY-style typing to our stenotype keyboard. What do I mean?

Picture this. How many times on a regular keyboard have you typed something quickly, only to realize it is wrong? Backspace, backspace, backspace, fix! This habit is ingrained in pretty much anyone that has been raised typing on a computer. That’s what we do. It doesn’t make sense to do it another way because you’d have to go back and fix it later anyway.

Well, all that changes when it’s time to do steno. In the early days, we must learn to let go and just get the take. Perhaps captioners will disagree, but I feel it strongly hampers a person’s natural progression, early on, to be using the asterisk to correct every little messed up keystroke. In the beginning, put an emphasis on reading through your mistakes. But correcting them on your tests or in your practice takes will likely take time away from creating the muscle memory you need to succeed.

All of this is said with one caution: If you notice a serious problem with a group of words, you need to practice out that problem. Create a finger drill. Reach out to a mentor. Talk to your teachers. Heck, reach out to me. You don’t want to end up a professional reporter who drags their S into every stroke or something semi-critical like that.

Another thing: Do not be surprised if someone disagrees with what I have to say. In the stenographic learning process there tends to be two schools of thought. There is speed, and there is accuracy. There are, in fact, people who believe that accuracy is paramount and you cannot advance in speed without accuracy. My own experience is that with speed comes accuracy. If you can stroke out a sloppy 240, you can probably jam out a neat 180 or 200, and a passing 225. I have had failing tests turn to a pass because I sat down with my notes and really looked at what I had.

A mentor outside the stenographic field once told me, “your hesitation is what kills you.” When it came to steno school, I took that to heart, I stopped hesitating. I urge every student to do the same so that you can get out of school, make some money, and change some lives in this wonderful field.

If you enjoyed this article, check out my old assorted tips for students.