To Our Litigators

RE: Stenographic Reporters

If you’re reading, I’m going to hope you’re the kind of lawyer that we all look up to. You’re responsive to clients, you’re honest with potential clients about what you can do for them, and you’re ready when it comes to filings, motions, discovery, or trial. Maybe you’re the one at your firm tailoring your service to your client’s budget, or maybe you oversee someone doing that for you. But the end is the same, giving the consumer the best value for the budget.

That’s what urges me to write today. There has been a lot said about “AI” transcription and digital recording versus stenographic reporting. There has been a lot said in my field about the Ducker Report and a forecasted shortage of court reporters. Some brave companies are turning to remote reporting, where legal, to allow a stenographer to appear remotely. Other courageous reporters are doubling their workload to meet your demand.

There is one solution that’s come out known as digital reporting. The main idea is that someone will record the proceedings, run it through a computer program, and then someone will fix up what the computer does. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is what we stenographers actually do. The major difference is we are stenographically recording (typing!) every word, and the computer is accepting that stenographic word and turning it into your English transcript.

The bottom line is: It simply ends up being more efficient to do it our way. One person, perhaps two, can stenographically record and transcribe an entire proceeding and have it to you that night or the next morning. For your dollar, there’s just not better value. Stenographers type four to five times faster than your average typist, so to finish the same proceeding, we are talking about four or five times the usual turnaround time for transcribers, or four or five times the staffing. Take the number of stenographers you have today, and multiply that number by 3, 4, or 5. If you think there’s a shortage and/or workflow issues now, imagine a world where you need five court reporters to put together your one proceeding. Imagine a world where the transcript is questioned and you need to bring those people in to testify instead of one stenographer.

Trust me when I say the firms switching to digital reporting or demanding you change your deposition notices to allow digital reporters are not saving you or your clients any money. Ever notice how there are almost never prices posted online for services? That’s because most of these companies act as middlemen. They make an agreement with you or the insurer, and then they make an agreement with us, the stenographers or transcribers, and they keep what’s in the middle. It’s really that simple. I would not be surprised, as a stenographer, to learn that I only made $3.25 a page on some of my old depositions with 25 cents per copy while the agency I worked with charged whatever they charged. 5? 6? 7? I don’t know. I only know that when I consulted a lawyer, the lawyer wanted almost 15 dollars a page if my case went to depositions.

I’ve been a stenographer for a long time, and I see two roads that you, the litigators, may take. You can let the sellers decide the market, and eventually stenographers won’t be an option, or you can make a sustained demand for a stenographic reporter at every dep. When lawyers start turning to direct market apps like Appear Me, Expedite Legal, and NexDep to get stenographers, those agencies pushing the digital and AI will jump on board and do whatever it takes to increase your supply of stenographers and get your business back.

Stenographers have been serving the legal community for decades. There’s been a push in recent years to do away with us because of a public perception that our methods are antiquated. Ironically, the people leading this charge are the companies we trusted with selling our services. So to our litigators: You now know all I know, and the customer is always right. Which will you choose?

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.

Knowledge Preserved Is Power

Connecting Dots.

To some degree, we all enjoy researching pieces of history. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes we learn things that nobody else knows. Sometimes we get to use our knowledge to help those close to us, and that’s a wonderful thing.

But I had quite the experience exiting steno school years ago, I found that knowledge was hard to come by. I wanted to know all about the old Federation for Shorthand Reporters. I wanted to know why it failed, and I wanted to know what people’s rates used to be so I could compare them for inflation. Some stenographers were kind, and gave anecdotes, like they made $2.85 in 1989, which was interesting, because I was offered $2.85 when I began my professional steno career in June 2010. $2.85 in 1989 had about the same buying power as $5.20 in 2018. Sincerely, I’m told some have worked for less than $2.85 a page today. I’m basically saying freelancers should be making $5.20 on a regular easy. Laugh all you want, it’s the math. And that’s the point. How is this not common knowledge? How are we not talking about this? How are we not discussing the best ways to negotiate and pull up whatever we’re making today?

Finding real concrete information was hard, and often, even when I became an established professional, people who had some experience in the field were done with the field and didn’t want to take the time out to share their experiences.

It’s imperative that I write a little bit today about why I started to preserve some of these ideas about the market, competition, and steno in general. Some of it is a modern look at how we might make things better, but also it’s about catching up, preserving knowledge, and putting it out there so that stenographers everywhere might benefit.

Let’s be very honest. How easy is it for an agency to tell a kid out of school that they’re only worth $2.85? The kid doesn’t know! The kid doesn’t have anybody to tell them what was or what may be. The kid only knows they’re in the moment and they’re being offered XYZ. It’s not like agencies can’t afford stenographers, they just have an interest in paying the minimum that’ll get the job done. That’s the reality.

We have probably 100 years of stenography. If we assume there was an average of only 20,000 stenographers in those years, that’s 2,000,000 years of life and steno experiences. The industry has survived and thrived. Our biggest weakness is that nearly all of the information today is locked up behind paywalls, private practice sessions, quiet conversations. This constant limiting of the spread of knowledge has hamstrung us like no enemy ever could. As Ariel Durant said, a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. Connect the dots, lift people out of ignorance, and the civilization will take care of itself.

Winning.

It’s about training people not to be afraid anymore. It’s about reaching out to students and telling them where you’ve won, where you’ve lost, and how they can be successful. Give them real numbers. Ask how they’re doing. Tell them what people were making in the 80s, 90s, and now. Tell them how people outside of New York City make a dollar on copies. Tell them New York officials make at least dollar on copies. We cannot teach resourcefulness, but we can facilitate an attitude and environment where people understand the market and push for private clients and create stenographic-only firms. We can get to a point where companies like US Legal stop pushing their electronic recorders and start contributing to training more stenographers.

The bottom line is that without a healthy field in multiple disciplines, eventually the train runs off the tracks. I hear a lot of people echo “come to court”, “come to CART”, “come do what I do because it works for me.” But the bottom line is to continue to thrive, stenography needs to continue to grow its market share, and it needs to push to retake where it has lost. A lot of victory has to do with perception. If stenography is perceived as failing, then it is less likely that people will want to get into it, and less likely that people will start schools dedicated to it. Such a perception would be a deathblow for this field.

On the other hand, if it is seen as something new, exciting, and with growth potential, it will encourage people with money, entrepreneurs, and innovators to invest in it. We’ll encourage the building of more free steno materials. It will cause a boom for us, and if we’re smart about it, we may not see that boom end in our lifetime. So I’d say yes, absolutely encourage people to join your particular discipline, but also listen to their problems, and suggest how they might do better where they are too. It’ll make a world of difference for them on an individual level, and save all of us as a whole.

 

 

 

The Positive Reporting Challenge

Have you been on the stenography or court reporting subreddits? You may be surprised to see that those communities are not heavily populated by stenographers, but awash with electronic recording heralds.

It’s no secret what they’re doing. They’re poaching people who have an interest in stenography or court reporting and siphoning them to recording. It’s out there in the open, it’s legal and allowed. Transcribers can be taken from a pool of people that know nothing about what we do or how much we make, and then put to work for far less than what they deserve for the job — our job.

They rely on us being complacent and putting on a vitriolic, belligerent public face. They rely on us not taking notice or doing nothing about it. They rely on us not stepping in and saying: Yeah, you can go record, but you can also do what I do, and wow, what I do has given me a lot of success. They need people to become transcribers. The companies that want transcribers are on a recruitment drive, and they go directly to the root to get recruits, us.

I say we take it back. One person described how their girlfriend just got a job recording for US Legal. You know what I did? I said wow, congratulations. But if she likes it, why doesn’t she try steno? She can get paid more for the same job! Encourage people. Empower people to step up the game and join the stenographic legion. And boy, did it enflame another user. He was all LOL tape recorders are taking your job.

And now I realize — this strikes a nerve. It absolutely breaks their game when we come in and say: Hey, this is a great career, and you make more. I mean just by politely suggesting steno, I made someone explode.

So what do I propose? I propose anyone who has five minutes this month sit down, make a Reddit account, head over there to the stenography or court reporting subreddit, and post something positive about steno, or post a resource for steno. Whether you had a great run for 30 years, or you mentored a student, or you have a wonderful resource for sten learners, or you have a great career right now, just go write about it. Let’s be honest, there are thousands of us. If just ten say something nice about steno, it drowns out the ads for ER and puts us in the best possible light.

What’s business about? Presence. Location, location, location. And right now you’ve got ER sitting right under a sign labeled court reporting. Set up shop and put it out there for the public: This field’s here to stay.

To E Court Reporters and Transcribers

I’m writing to you today because chances are high we aren’t that different. Maybe we both like law, or depositions, or working with lawyers. Maybe we both heard this was a great career with lots of potential. Maybe we will both face the same hurdles and challenges. Maybe you’ll cruise around my little blog here and find articles that pertain to you.

For the longest time, the deposition was the space of the stenographic reporter. Depending on where you’re at, we were making a lot of money and still have great careers today. Now what’s happened is the companies that previously used stenographers are trying to move towards transcription. They’re using you all to record and transcribe what we take down and transcribe. And I’m here today to make two points for your benefit:

  1. Try stenography. It’s easy to learn, it’s hard to do fast, and our community is in the process of building free resources for you to try it out.
  2. There’s a constant and unending thing at play called the market.

Stick with me, because I’m going to offer solutions. We all know that there are buyers and sellers of goods and services, and they are always, through one way or another, negotiating. If Law Office A doesn’t like Reporting Company B’s style or service, they can always use Reporting Company C. That’s the market at work. But there’s an unspoken side of the market, the labor force. Stenographers, voice writers, electronic reporters, transcribers, are all players in the market, and our actions can dictate our future.

Succinctly, when I was a deposition stenographer I was making only about $3.50 to $4.00 a page, and 25 cents to 50 cents a copy. That’s on a regular 14-day turnaround. There were also services where we’d rush the transcript for more than 6 bucks a page. To put that in perspective, let’s say that a fast-talking lawyer can do at least 60 pages an hour. 240 an hour. But for every hour at a deposition it would take me about an hour of transcription, 120 an hour. Sounds high, right? But I was an independent contractor and had to factor in the days where I made $0.00.

So now let’s take you, the valuable, amazing person they’re now pitching $20 an hour at, or $40 an hour at. Let’s say that you’re also doing the transcription work, and let’s assume it takes you much longer so you’re getting more hours transcribing. $40 at the 1 hour deposition, then four hours of transcription. $200. It takes you 5 to 10 hours of work to make pretty much the same $200 I was getting in two hours. Don’t forget, you’re doing pretty much the same work, it’s just taking you longer and making your life harder.

So what are the solutions? I’ve got 3:

  1. Try stenography. It’s going to make your life easier. You’re going to command higher rates and pump out work fast. Has someone told you it’s dead? Consider whether they have a financial interest in telling you that.
  2. Negotiate for more. Just like I’ve told stenographers for the last 4 years we are what we ask for. The work you’re doing is hard, and it is valuable. They can afford to pay you more and they know it, and I know it, and now you know it too. They’re not passing the savings of using you off to the lawyer, they’re pocketing it. And as capitalism teaches us, the money is always better off in our wallet.
  3. Unionize. I’m not even kidding. As freelancers we deposition reporters would’ve had an uphill struggle to unionize. Unions are a dirty word now but let’s look at what they’re entitled to by law: Good-faith negotiations. Ultimately the union gets a peek at company finances and the company and union negotiate on what would be a fairer market rate for the services being provided. Where direct pay isn’t available, a union could negotiate for job security, better workplace rules, and medical or other benefits. There are even already legal workers unions in NYC.

If you found this helpful, spread the knowledge. Empower your colleagues. Fight because this is a fight worth winning. If you found this strange, consider that the rules in life are too. The longer you play by the rules dictated to you by others, the more you are set to lose. Take control. Be polite, be professional, be the best, but go forward with the understanding that you are a market force, and your actions dictate the future.

Audio Transcription, Pricing, And You

First and foremost, happy Thanksgiving. As with most great writers, I’m going to take the time away from preparing to the holiday to write about something I know everybody will want to read about: Audio transcription and pricing. As stenographers, we tend to get very focused on a per-page pricing structure. This often leaves us trying to measure our time by pages, and is not always the most ineffective way of being paid.

For purposes of this post, let’s talk a little about CART, audio transcription, and pricing generally. CART and audio transcription are not the same thing, but they have similarities. One key similarity is that they tend to charge by the hour. For CART it’s per hour of writing, usually with a set minimum, and for audio transcription it’s money per hour of audio, sometimes prorated for audio that doesn’t last a whole hour or end exactly on an hour.

Succinctly, for CART, captioning, and audio transcription, despite having different prerequisite skills, the pricing for all of them must take into account the amount of work we’re doing, the quality of the work we’re doing, and ultimately the time it will take us to do the work. So speaking strictly for transcription: I’ve guesstimated that it takes me approximately one to two hours for every hour on the machine to transcribe with pretty close to 100% accuracy. That means for every hour of audio, there are about three hours of actual work involved. So, for me, honestly, working for less than $30/hr becomes painful, so the transcription deal isn’t sweet until maybe the $100-something range. The bottom line of this story? We must examine our time and really decide what it’s worth.

In examining our time, we can also consider other factors. For example, what are other people charging for the same work? As we can see from this Google search here, there are companies that boast a $1/minute transcription fee. So if we do an independent assessment of our time, and we come to the conclusion our time is worth $2/minute, that’s perfect, but just bear in mind that we may lose a couple of customers to the person who is half our price. A potential solution? Split the difference and charge $1.50 per minute.

There’s a lot that goes into economics, buying, selling, demand, supply, and no one blog post could ever impart all of that knowledge on anyone. Even top economists who have devoted their lives to understanding value and money disagree with each other. The best we can do is urge every reporter, where applicable, to look at what they charge, whether charging an agency, lawyer, or outside consumer, and consider how our pricing practices affect all different areas of the field. There’s tons of literature and articles on price matching and how it can help consumers, hurt consumers, help businesses, and hurt businesses, and the cold truth is that it’s up to us to take the time out and learn about these things, because many of us are our own business, and our business rises or falls on our willingness to learn beyond the machine.