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.

Shortage Solutions 7: Recruitment

Check out our new table of contents!

So today we’re going to put into words one of the philosophies we go by. We have been over lots of ways for professionals and companies to beat the shortage or perceived shortage. Today we’re going to dive into the numbers.

Hopefully, we can all agree that stenography is somewhat easy to learn but incredibly difficult to do fast. Even if we can’t agree on that, we can agree there’s a high dropout rate because of the amount of focus and practice that goes into doing what we do. There is a certain percentage of people that hear about stenography, a certain percentage of people that try it, a certain percentage that like it, and a certain percentage that love it and want it to be their career. Empirically, it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to make the education easier without sacrificing performance. So the amount of people that make it to the end will pretty much always be lower.

So let’s fake some numbers. Let’s say for every 1000 people that hear about steno, 100 try it. Let’s say 10 of those 100 are good. Let’s say 1 of those 10 loves this field and wants it to be their career. Can we, as professionals, impact those bottom numbers, and get it to be, you know, 5 people who love it and want to make it a career? A 500 percent increase? Debatable. I say let’s try.

But what do we have very direct control over? That first number. The number of people who hear about stenography. The number of people who know it’s a thing. How many people have you met that don’t believe we exist anymore? How many people have you met that don’t believe we are typing or taking down every word?

Indeed, these are likely the same principles on which A to Z, Project Steno, or Open Steno Project were founded. It’s about lowering barriers like tuition or general steno knowledge. It’s about understanding that every impression has a chance at getting someone to start the path, and that every person that starts the path has a shot at finishing it, however low or high you think that shot is.

There are different ways to perform this outreach, via social media, physical appearance at job fairs, or use of other avenues. There are already many people who have taken up recruitment efforts, and if it’s something you’re into, you can either join an existing movement or jumpstart your own thing. 10 years ago, a lot of the programs we’ve just mentioned were in their infancy or didn’t exist at all. Who is to say that your own idea won’t take off the same way?

Veritext Scholarships

So we’ve got a bit of good news here. Veritext announced on May 20, 2019 that it was expanding its scholarship program. Now, obviously, this information is directly from the company. We can’t say for sure what’s happening in Minnesota, Washington, or elsewhere, but let’s be cautiously optimistic and assume this news is one hundred percent true for a moment.

It’s a good start. We’ve got to support these companies taking on the funding of education. There’s been a strong wave of stenographer activism since the big push for digital began, and this may be a tacit admission that steno is here to stay. Nothing but praise for Veritext today. Now, more than ever, is a great time for all companies to get out there and tell the field about their efforts in steno education. We are starving for good news! But, of course, we would be abdicating our moral responsibilities if we didn’t offer some suggestions.

    Schools, reach out to the company and see if you can join their program. It never hurts to make a contact.
    Veritext, according to the Ducker Report, the big four states for reporting are California, New York, Illinois, and Texas. Some of the largest shortage cries come from at least three of those states. It would be most helpful to our field if you would expand scholarships to those locations when possible.
    Also Veritext, if you continue to support rolling out the digital stuff alongside the stenography scholarships, it’s going to be assumed that the scholarships are hedging your bets and the digital is your real investment. This probably isn’t the public perception that you want your stenographers walking into your depositions with. On the flip side, if stenography becomes the primary focus, stenographers will be more loyal and less likely to poach clients. As an accountant once explained, it’s just how the world works.

Some will be skeptical because Veritext was formerly making a major push for digital by asking attorneys to amend their notices to allow it. Anecdotally, as recently as May 20, commentators online were stating that Veritext was attempting to send a videographer only to a dep. We shouldn’t forget that. We need to continue to make everybody aware that some companies are taking an active role in supplanting stenographic reporting. But if this is a sign that there can be a pivot and a turning point in the right direction, we look forward to heaping on more praise, letting the past be the past, and seeing stenographers remain the guardians of the record well into the future.

Easy E-Signature in CaseCAT

There are a great number of ways to achieve an E-signature. Among the least expensive and least reliant on outside vendors like Adobe or Real Legal is detailed here.

  1. Go to your certification include.
  2. CTRL + Print Screen, also known as PRT SCRN on some keyboards, usually next to scroll lock and above insert or home keys. This takes an image of your screen.
  3. Go to the paint program, paste it into paint with CTRL + V.
  4. Use the select tool in paint to select a small box of your signature line and the space above it. Right click and copy. Alternatively, use CTRL + C to copy.
  5. Paste it into a new paint file. Make sure the paint file is only as large as your signature image.
  6. Draw your signature in. Save the file as a .png.
  7. Go back to CaseCAT and create a new certification include. Delete the blank line, F4 + L for new line, and then edit, insert, image. Bring the signature image into your cert. Remember to save!
  8. E-Signing without reliance on other vendors.
  9. Please note, on some laptops and keyboards, the print screen function requires you to press the fn or function key before it will work. So you may have to hit CTRL + Fn + PRT SCRN.

 

If you liked that, you may also want to see my tutorial on CaseCAT characters per line using characters per inch. Remember that if you need CaseCAT training, Stenograph maintains a page for Certified Training Agents.

Finger Drill Generator

ATTENTION WINDOWS USERS: Click and play version here. NO INSTALLATION REQUIRED. Download the .zip, unzip it, and double click the .exe.

After a bit of reflection on the best way to handle this, I’ve written a free computer program to help create finger or word drills for students and educators. The program has about 10 preset lists and allows you to create and load your own custom finger drills.

The video tutorial is here.

If you hate computers, I created about 10 drills using this program and I share them here.

For a quick text tutorial:

  1. Download and install Python 3.
  2. Get the program text at this location or this location. Copy and paste it into a notepad file.
  3. Save the notepad file, preferably in its own folder by itself.
  4. The program should say something like name.txt. If you don’t see the .txt, you need to look up how to show hidden file extensions.
  5. Change that .txt to a .py. Double left click and the program will launch.
  6. The black box will give you a series of 13 numbers and their corresponding “drill list.” You can enter the number of the category you want, or create your own custom list. At this time, custom lists only work properly if you use single words.
  7. Once you’ve chosen a category or created a list, you choose the wpm and number of minutes. The program will then create a text file by multiplying wpm * minutes. AKA, 225 wpm * 10 minutes is like 2,000 words. If you enter a very large number here, it may cause problems, like a computer freeze.  I would not advise entering more than 300 wpm for more than 300 minutes (90,000 words). As a matter of fact, do not do it.
  8. Having a finger drill by itself is useless. You can use my transcript marker or Todd Olivas’s slasher to automatically mark the program for speed dictation.

Educators and students, if you have not already, feel free to check out the transcript marker and written knowledge test randomizer.