Stenographers, Planet Depos Is Not Your Friend

Previously on Not Your Friend, we had our very good friends Veritext and US Legal. Today we make an entry for Planet Depos. There’s really not much to say about them specifically. They’ve been using digitals a while, and it seemed superfluous to write about. There are entire Facebook groups dedicated on social media to watching out for this kind of stuff. Where it might take one person a year and a day to find the information and get it out to a large audience, in these groups news travels fast. So if you’re not connected to something like a Protect Your Record group or a DR Watchdogs group, get connected today, or friend someone who is connected. There have been discussions of agencies that are doing this sort of thing, and discussions of how to advocate for our field and stenography.

What can we say? Veritext is still busy seeking digitals in New York City, which is about as close to stenographic fortress as you’ll ever get. PD is doing it in their markets. There are a whole bunch of companies that we were relying on to stay steno, or that were relying on us to do the good work we do every day. That’s changing. What happened? We can blame ourselves, as we often do, and say it’s something to do with our skills or habits. We can blame them, throw our hands up and say this is the end. Or we can take control of the situation. We can embrace that victory is cumulative. We can understand that there won’t be one single defining moment where someone wins or loses. What happens in a year or ten is settled on what we do every day up to that point.

I know my plan. The first step is to really get the news out that this is what’s happening. Next up, information dispersal. As we start revealing how the market works and what’s being charged, the information will be out there for everyone, and consequently, more people will compete directly. Keep in mind recruitment ideas so that the shortage doesn’t beat us via attrition.

I’ll be publishing rate sheets, client lists, whatever I find and wherever it’s leaked. Many others have taken up advocating for us on a larger stage at attorney, paralegal, and “big law” events. These are not new ideas, but the strategies at play are clear winners. Look how Veritext crumpled at the first sign of stenographers rejecting their new direction and subsequently tried dumping some money on steno to make things better. Imagine a world where there’s any sustained effort to expose shoddy business practices and compete. They just might start their own school program!

We can’t guarantee victory. The catch there is they can’t guarantee it either. And if these companies have stiff competition, there’s a good chance they’ll fall in line and use stenography in every market where it’s viable to use stenography. There’s also a good chance that if those companies don’t fall in line, they’ll go under. With websites like Owler saying Veritext has an annual revenue of 300 million, or Planet Depos an annual revenue of 4 million, and with the cold hard truth that large companies with annual revenue in the billions, like Sears, can cascade into ruin, the truth is out there. Competitors are a market force. Labor is a market force. No matter which you view us as, we have real power. Use that power, and a big box can find itself in the recycling bin.

1/13/2020 Edit.

I am made aware of Planet Institute, a mentorship program ostensibly owned and operated by Planet Depos LLC and registered by Planet Depos under the WHOIS lookup. Notably, its registration predates this article by nearly a thousand days. As always, I encourage agencies taking the jump into advocating for court reporting, specifically stenography. Every dollar spent on steno is valuable and important. In my view, every company can easily turn the ship around, get off the digital craze, and grow some value for shareholders by making stenography training and mentorship their focus. That said, I mention this out of commitment to intellectual honesty more than actual belief that PD will come out as a pro-steno player. As always, happy to be proven wrong and watch them come out as a consistent pro-steno advocate.

The Economics of Caring

A question often received is “you became an official, why do you write about and focus on freelance so heavily?” It’s usually an honest question, and there’s an easy and honest answer. Hopefully this’ll put things into perspective and everybody can embrace this kind of thought.

It all starts from my freelance experience. I was working very hard at first and making not very much money. I started as many start out, young, zero life experience. I had my mentors, but mentors can only help with their wise advice and their own experiences. They can’t change the market. And at that point the market was just unpleasant to be in if you weren’t in the very upper echelons of real-time reporting. To keep this short, all the things I talked about in my last article came from things I was told, overheard, or saw myself. I had friends leave this field because it was not treating them well. I have a mentee now whose friends are leaving in droves because the field is not treating them well. This shortage likely exists, at least in New York, because stenographers are underpaid or not treated well, and complaints by newbies are not received well. We’re regarded as complainers. Meanwhile, we were given an impossible task of putting in 150 to 200 percent of what people put in in the 90s. I have seen a lot change in 10 years though. We are much more open to discussion. And now I am not dependent on agencies for work. I can’t be fired for blogging. How could I not contribute, like many of you, to being a voice for the voiceless? How could I kick away the ladder I just climbed?

This is the isolation of freelance. It’s not like the old days where everyone sat around and transcribed at an agency. There’s little opportunity for people to say “oh, what’re you making on that job?” Between the isolation and the antitrust laws quashing any discussion of rates in our trade associations, companies were pretty much free to dictate our worth to us. On empathy alone, the right thing to do is to break this cycle by any means necessary.

But the economics of caring are even more compelling. The almighty Ducker Report tells us that the field at large was over 70 percent freelance in 2013. Maybe most places, but especially New York, the entry level job is freelance, and reporters siphon into other positions from that. So the smaller that freelance chunk is, it follows that the smaller everything else will be. Imagine the industry as one giant paycheck. Every single reporter is a dollar in that paycheck. Maybe realtimers want to count themselves as 10 dollars for purposes of this exercise. What happens to a person if they lose 70 percent of their paycheck? What happens to your reputation if you delete 70 percent of a transcript? If we lose the non-real-time work or cede more of the freelance field to other methodologies, we can shrink to a point of novelty and insignificance. If I want my job to be here, I need all of you to have one too.

This is a future that does not have to happen. This is not some inevitable end. I have already shown, using vTestify’s numbers, that we are a robust field and could beat the shortage with some tweaks to efficiency. But we cannot win if we do not try. This blog stands as one avenue for discussion and sharing. So many others are standing up and speaking out today. It’s kind of like the Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent. In brief, the main character lives the same dark and terrifying day over and over, over a billion years. At the end of each day, he’s punching away at a solid wall. One day, the wall cracks, and the monster terrorizing him is vaporized. We are in a story with thousands of protagonists. On that fact alone, I know that change can be exponential. If it would take one a hundred years to effect change, it could take one hundred a year to effect change.

Next time your anxiety is telling you the situation is un-winnable, that you shouldn’t bother to mentor someone because it won’t make a difference, you shouldn’t share something, you shouldn’t write a JCR article, you shouldn’t go after a private client, or you shouldn’t negotiate better contract terms because whatever you’re up against seems bigger, stronger, or richer than you, just remember we live in a country where people who didn’t have the right to vote secured the right to vote. People who had no workers rights fought and died for workers rights. Victims of serious crime and oppression went systemically unheard for decades — but even they got the world to acknowledge them. What are we fighting for? A permanent place in an industry we own? An industry that takes care of its newbies so they’re not dreading every depo? Not to minimize its importance, but when you look at all the fights people have won in this country, this one will be easy. History has shown us that stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging means the next generation might not have to suffer the same way. So if you’re somebody on the sidelines, or you know somebody on the sidelines, it’s time to reach out, be involved, offer suggestions. When people say Superman isn’t coming, it’s a rallying cry. We are all Superman, and this is a profession we protect together.

Pricing Yourself Out of the Market

In response to my previous articles on historic rate data in California and New York and my use of inflation to extrapolate forward what those rates should be today, a frequent-enough comment was that reporters would price themselves out of the market or somehow hurt the field if their rates were higher. I’m not blind to the realities of the market. I understand there are challenges to running a business, and a point where what we could ask for would be “too high.” I’m working on a bigger post for that too. But for now, let’s just dive into understanding how the game is played, at least in New York, and juxtapose it to the rest of the country.

Often the original is a deflated price to lock in work. If it’s Joe’s deposition, and Joe is your client, you might charge him 6, 7, or 8 dollars if he’s not a regular client. Who cares about Joe’s firm? He only has a deposition once a year. Might as well squeeze as much out of Joe as possible. But if Joe owns a huge firm and they’re involved into hundreds of suits and generating thousands of depositions, you might offer Joe $3.50, $2.00, whatever it is to lock in that work, even if you lose money on the original or don’t charge anything at all for the original. Why? Copies.

Copies are incredibly valuable. As I’ve written before, there’s no regulation in New York on them. Companies have, at least for the last decade, been offering reporters somewhere between $0.00 and $0.50 on copies. This gives the reporter the impression that they’re worthless. This gives companies an awful lot of wiggle room.

If your reporter is only taking 25 cents a copy, you can send a copy purchaser a bill for $4.00 a page. If they don’t complain and just pay it, you’ve just made a whole lot of money. If they complain, they just turned into a sales pitch target. “Oh, our agency has the highest quality standards and we do charge for that. But our reporter said you were such a joy to work with, so we’ve been authorized to cut your bill in half!” Doesn’t matter if it’s true. All that matters is they’ve just sold the person on the other end a positive feeling. “Wow! My bill is half! They like me, they really like me!” The reporter doesn’t know or care, they made their 25 cents. The agency doesn’t really care because printing copies is practically costless. Even on an inefficient home printer, the cost is somewhere in the realm of 25 cents a page, and pennies per page when you get into industrial printers.

So quite frankly, when an agency tells you that they can’t pay more on an original because that’s what they charge the attorney, they may or may not be lying. But it’s on you to understand that that does not mean that they’re doing poorly. That doesn’t mean they can’t afford to pay you better. It’s a tactic. They’re selling you a feeling too. “Wow. They’re paying me the whole O + 2. I feel greedy.” Anything that’ll get you to do the work for less without question and without competing with them directly is more money in their pocket. That’s the bottom line.

Reporters constantly berate each other too. “Why should you expect more? Have you improved your skills any?” But now it’s coming out that a brand-new startup company outside NY is ready to pay its brand new digital reporters $140 for the first two hours — which sounds a lot to me like a $140 minimum. They mention all these cities that they’re paying this in, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle. They say this is the average. Yet I keep hearing about how inexpensive digital reporting is. All the stenographers everywhere else make so much more that a $40 an hour cost to the agency is cheap? You know what all those cities have in common with New York City? They’re some of the most expensive to live in. They’re some of the most expensive to rent office space in.

We are not some anomaly where we just work for less here. You really think any of the so-called big boxes are looking at their profit and loss statements and saying “well, it’s New York, so we just work for less out there.” No. The money is coming in. It might not be coming from your original, but you can be damn sure that with a main office and 1 to 4 satellites, they’d have no problem raising your rates somewhere. But the issue is in our education. From a typical stenographic education, there’s very little business training. There’s very little market training. If you’re a kid, and this is your first real career, you’re not born with business sense. You can get suckered into a $60 bust fee (NY) because you just don’t know any better. People who had real-world experience made more starting out. If I was pulling $40k a year starting out, my best friend, a decade older, was pulling $100k. And, mind you, by all my calculations, even he was underpaid.

That’s the issue in New York, from my perspective. We lack education. We lack an appropriate model where kids out of school are shown the ropes and mentored. If you have a gaggle of agencies all saying that you expect too much or you’re only worth X, then you come to believe you’re only worth X. Yet here you are, seeing with your own eyes, that people with far less education, training, and experience in deposition reporting are being offered comparatively high rates. Remember, these folks, talented as they are, aren’t necessarily preparing the transcript. So let me ask you, reporters, is your hourly appearance fee $40? Forget real-time, rough, daily, expedite. Just for showing up, are you collecting $40 an hour?

What’s left? Talk to each other. Maybe consider pooling some money and starting a business. Make it very clear that they pay us or they compete with us. But don’t ever let me hear again that they can’t afford to raise rates. It’s a game. And the sooner you quit playing by their rules, the sooner you’ll win it. Rule one of any corporate culture I’ve ever been a part of? Don’t rock the boat. I’ve shown you that we’re better value than this digital craze. By all means, rock the boat and show them we can build better businesses too.

December Dirigibles 2019

First let me say, any student or reporter out there seeking a mentor, make sure you check out NYSCRA or any of the other associations offering mentoring. You owe it to yourself to find at least one person, but hopefully more than one, to show you the ropes and help you into and through your career.

With that out of the way, fly high in your career by checking out some of the jobs links below. Remember, you can get all of these links off of Get A Real Job.

Bronx Grand Jury Reporter/Stenographer has been up since 11/8. I hope everybody has applied, but if not, here’s your sign!

The Special Narcotics Prosecutor still has their posting for grand jury reporter up. I’d say that means it’s a great time to reapply or give them a call and make sure you know if and when they’re giving another test. Just note the DCAS test for Reporter/Stenographer is postponed.

Onondaga County Grand Jury is hiring. Thanks be to Adam Alweis for making sure every single one of us had a shot at this wonderful opportunity.

The court reporter provisional title is still up on the statewide NYSUCS postings. The list just came out last month, and if history is anything to go by the state is going to likely take people who passed the civil service test first. That said, it’s never a bad time to apply to be a court reporter today!

Southern District of New York, that’s federal court, is seeking a court reporter. If SDNY is too rich and famous for your tastes, there are over 10 postings for federal court reporters in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Washington State, and Washington D.C. It may be a misnomer, but the D.C. posting says district courts and bankruptcy courts. Bankruptcy courts had previously went the way of the recording, so every time a steno covers one of those, you’re trailblazing.

As always, the court reporter job board and CSR Nation are filled with activity. If you’re in the freelance world and having trouble finding work, these are good starting grounds. Make some connections. I’m hearing a blend of things from reporters in the freelance community. Some are thriving. Some are struggling. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you are struggling and make changes that make your life better. Whether it’s taking on more complex work or dropping an agency relationship that isn’t working for you, you can find a strategy that works for you.

Consider taking on some private clients. With some of the biggest names in the business claiming they can’t find reporters, you might very well find yourself in a position to do what they can’t do and meet the needs of the deposition market with stenographic reporters. Look at all the job postings this year that have come up and been filled. Look at supply and demand. As so many siphon off to court, freelancers are in a position to make more money and take on more business now than in the last ten years here in New York. But that’s only if they quit dancing and make money moves.

I’ll just take this time to encourage people to take up the cause. Post jobs in your state. Join groups where reporters are. Share information. Even if you’re good, you might come across a valuable lead just when someone in your life or professional network needs it most. Even if you don’t believe that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, believe that we are stronger together. Know that every single one of you who have shared something about this field have made a difference.

The Impossible Institute

Let me set the timeline for everybody. It’s 2008. Schools are seeing some pretty nice numbers, maybe 60 a trimester where I was. Court reporting steno schools are saying this is a timeless, guaranteed profession. Obsolescence is impossible and there will always be tons of work. 2010 comes along, and my class of reporters is told by the market there’s no work. There’s a glut. Too many reporters, not enough work. We’ll start you at what they made in 1991 because we’re such benevolent people. And by the way, rate increase is impossible. By 2014, there’s news of a shortage incoming. and by 2018, the shortage is in full swing, and even here in New York, where you had agencies like Diamond not paying their people copies, unless they really liked them, they started paying copies to a larger percentage of their reporters. That was after almost a decade of such a terrible cost to the agency being deemed impossible. Thanks, partner.

So it’s interesting whenever someone tells me something can’t happen, won’t happen, or is impossible. It’s equally interesting when someone comes out with an authoritative and definite prediction, that something must happen. So I briefly reviewed some materials out of STTI, the new mouthpiece of the anti-steno business coalition. Completely ignoring the resurgence of American stenography and my series of ten shortage solutions, the STI says crunch the numbers, it’s impossible for schools to meet the forecasted shortage of 8,000 reporters by 2020. Well, maybe, when we go by the information from 2013, it seems unlikely. But when you can log into the Open Steno Discord and see almost 100 people online on a Saturday morning in 2019, and you can see for yourself the constant efforts of A to Z, Project Steno, and private schools, it seems like these so-called experts have little more than a BA in BS.

Don’t take it from me, look at their own words. They try to pin the blame on NCRA for not adopting voice writing wholesale. But what kind of argument is that? Voice writing has been around since World War II, but the NCRA didn’t adopt it, so now it’s too late, digital wins. If anything, that tells me that if the NCRA doesn’t adopt it, it doesn’t fly. If we, the stenographers in the marketplace today, do not accept your inferior methodology, and keep marketing ourselves, we stay on top. If they’re so sure that these steno-centric programs won’t work, why bother saying they cannot win? Simple. They’re guarding an empty city. If they get you to give up recruiting, educating, and empowering your fellow reporters, the market’s open for them to come in and pick up the pieces. You decide whether that happens. Are you going to let five people scare off 20,000 of you?

Look no further than their straw man future predictions to see how weak their argument is. What will the market look like in 2039? What will happen in 20 years? You don’t know. Nobody knows. So when the “experts” tell you what’ll happen, they hope it’ll give you a sense of security, and you’ll act or fail to act, and become a participant in their version of the future. That’s how that works. It’s an echo chamber claiming steno will fail in the hopes that that’s how things roll. Are you going to fall for it?

I’m generally not going to cover the STI too much on this blog. Who wants to give clicks to a cherry picking propaganda outfit? But look at the beginning of this post again. Look at all the people who made claims that turned out to be untrue. I’ll give you one more. In 2017, I was told more or less not to bother with this blog because nobody would read it or find what I had to say credible. It was impossible. This year I had 13,000 views and 6,000 visitors. Here’s a prediction. You can do that. You can do anything you’ve got motivation for. And you can do it a heck of a lot better than the experts. I’d say the people out there working every day are the experts. To wrap this up, let’s just say that if someone is telling you that something is impossible, or that something is definitely going to happen, you want to look at their motives before you buy in. Last question. What’s your next move?

The Original and What?

I’ve felt compelled to write about this for a few days. Here in NYC, we have a very interesting way of doing things. We were trained or told that the O+2 is automatic. The original and two copies in freelance gets covered, generally, under our original fee. That’s how it was when I was freelance, and for the majority, that’s how it is today. If I had to guess, I would assume it’s because attorneys generally waive our filing of the transcript under the CPLR, but to do that, everyone must get a copy. That lack of responsibility costs us!

Over the years, I’ve gotten to talk to people from outside our little bubble once or twice. You know what’s surprising? Most other places, the witness’s attorney pays for a copy. So not only are the copy rates generally higher than 25 cents, they’re much closer to Nex Dep’s $2, and charged along with the original.

What does this mean? Well, again, let’s take Nex Dep’s $4.00 original. In NYC, a regular deposition with a witness and two attorneys would get you $4.00 per page. Outside NYC? That witness’s attorney would be paying for the copy, meaning the reporter would be walking away with $6 a page on an original regular.

In all honesty, there are a lot of reporters out there who left the freelance business that would still be there today if they were walking away with $6 a page on their standard deposition. That’s just not the reality for most people today, and we have to face that. I raise it as an academic look at how we in NYC might just have to re-examine how we charge for these things. If our original is higher because our copies are so bad and one copy is free, then it makes good sense to demand the original is actually high.

That said, even today’s standards don’t make it impossible to bump up the rate so that reporters are making a better deal. One thing I was encouraged to do by mentors, and one thing that I would honestly encourage reporters to do? Upsell. Don’t be afraid to mention that you can do something expedited or daily. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they want a rough draft, if you can handle that work.

If your agency absolutely won’t come up on the regular rates, as I’ve suggested publicly they ought to, then get them to go up on the expedite charges and make sure you mention to the attorneys it’s a service you can provide. Work out the math. Let’s say you can promise a daily for, whatever, $2.50 more, and you can get a scopist to take it for $1.25, or even $2.00, that’s a profit. Treat your freelance career like a business, the Corporation of You. Do yourself a favor, take a look at what other people charge for, and ask yourself: Am I selling myself short?

Don’t know something? That’s okay. Ask around. I’ve spent over nine years asking questions. I am still asking questions. Why did my lawyer want $15 a page for depositions? How come agencies are crying shortage but refusing to raise my mentees’ rates? Why were CED’s reviews so bad? The only time anyone ever shamed me for asking questions, they were insecure because they didn’t know the answer. I’ll set out these questions for anyone brave enough to ask themselves:

  1. Are you happy with your career?
  2. If you are not, are you willing to learn the skills or techniques to get there? Are you willing to build on what you know to get where you want to be?
  3. If you are, will you help one more person obtain that happiness?

And now, what are you going to do?

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.

November Niches 2019

Every month I do a quick search for work using the links from my old article, Get A Real Job. This month’s no different. Before we jump into that, I’ll just say it’s a great idea to get into the habit of bookmarking the links there and checking them periodically. No one knows exactly when an opportunity will arise, and if you’re waiting for someone to come along and post it, opportunities may pass you by.

The Special Narcotics Grand Jury position is still up. That said, I have heard that they intend to do future postings through DCAS. As of this morning, there is no open competitive or provisional job posting on DCAS for stenographers.

The statewide provisional posting for court reporter is still up! If you haven’t put in an application in a while, it might be a good time to. Just based on my own observations, there’s usually a period of hiring off the civil service exam list that’s about to pop out, and then provisional employees are hired. No civil service exams are announced this morning, but don’t forget to bookmark and check the exams page sometimes.

There are over 10 federal judiciary positions listed across the country. One of those is listed in the Southern District of New York.

Finally, I’m a big fan of bad jokes, but I didn’t write this one. Don’t get too excited Googling stenographer jobs today. There’s an opening for “secretarial stenographer” posted damn near everywhere by some company listed as NYC Hospitality Company. When I clicked in thinking I might help them re-word their ad, because it looks like it was generated by a computer, it said the job was filled. I would love to know if anyone got that job or if it was, as I suspect, computer generated or trolling.

That’s what I got. Unfortunately, on the freelance side, it seems like the path to finding work is still the old-fashioned method of reaching out to people that might have some or building your own brand and business.

Historic Rate Data: New York 1990s

We’ve got another snippet of the past. Last time, we looked at historic rate data from the west coast of the United States. Today, the old Federation of Shorthand Reporters contract hit the web. That’s the east coast of the United States. For those who don’t know, there was a union for freelancers in New York City in the 80s and 90s. They had their struggles and legal hurdles, and they do not exist today, but the agreement stands as a gateway to the past that we can use to inform our future.

And inform our future this should. A quick glance at the contract tells us the November 1991 rate for a regular was 2.75. Expedite $3.35. Daily $3.65. As with last time, I shoved this into an inflation calculator. Inflation, remember, affects all currency. It impacts every industry. It impacts every dollar earned in this country every year regardless of who is earning it or what job they do. If you have money, you are pretty much guaranteed to have inflation. Even virtual economies in video games experience inflation. It is a concept inherent to capital.

You know what I learned? That $2.75 rate in 1991 dollars had the buying power of $5.12. That means if you’re making $3.25 today, you’re working 40 percent harder to have the same buying power. If you’re making $3.50, you’re working about 30 percent harder to have the same buying power. Even at a gorgeous rate like $4.50, you are working 10 percent harder than they did in the 90s to make the same buying power. When I say work harder, I mean more pages. When I say more pages, we all know that that translates to lost time with our families, friends, and more time staring into our screens racing deadlines. If you’re a newbie like I was, and you’re started out at $2.80, you basically need to do double the pages that they had to do in 1991 in order to have the same buying power and quality of life. Again, we’re not talking about a raise. We’re talking about keeping the same exact quality of life.

It’s time to train each other. It’s time to share this info so we don’t stay on this ride. For every reporter out there who doesn’t know, there’s a reporter ready to be suckered. It’s that simple. Staying quiet will force people right out of this field because they’re being expected to work much harder to have the same quality of life. Personally, I have no problem accepting that there are market forces pushing down that rate. It’s not $5.12 or bust. But have some respect for ourselves. I have no problem saying we need to rise up and be damn good at what we do. Can you walk into an agency and say “hey, the rates from 1991 were better, I need a raise?” No. But it’s time to end the culture of silence, look at what was, keep each other informed, and stride toward where we want to be.

Raise Your Rates 2019

Let’s jump right into it. We’re talking New York City, but it’s probably applicable to any chronically-depressed market. I haven’t been in the freelance game for five years. But I care a whole heck of a lot about it. Why? The health of the field is a lot like the health in your body. If you’ve got a powerful left leg, but your right leg is falling off, can you walk?

Let’s face some realities. Reporters are doing most of the work when it comes to reporting. We often give the agencies a lot of praise for marketing, production, and the logistics when work takes place somewhere that isn’t counsel’s office, and I’ll even go so far as to say agencies deserve that praise because it’s not insignificant work. But the reality is the reporter is doing the vast majority of the work on any individual transcript.

So what we’ve been seeing in New York is offers of hundreds of dollars in “bonuses,” which is basically an extra appearance fee. This is an indicator to me that agencies could stand to raise their appearance fees a bit. In my freelance life I had a pretty crazy range of appearance fee, from $15 to maybe $60. Honestly, it might not be such a bad idea for reporters to start asking for $100 or even $200, dependent on the client and work. It might not be such a bad idea for agencies to start offering that standard.

Everybody’s trying to get stuff covered. It’d be a huge incentive for reporters to take more depositions per year if that appearance was higher. Let’s say you get somebody who works like a madman and takes a job every weekday, about 260 weekdays by a nice appearance of 120, that’s $31,000 a year compared to the paltry 4K I would’ve made doing the same exact thing. You’re going to get people out of bed pretty consistently for an extra 20 or 25 thousand dollars a year.

Markets shift. When you see agencies whipping out bonuses of $400, $500, it’s a sign that you can all raise the floor on your rates so that they don’t have to bankrupt themselves covering individual jobs. And for the agencies who resist raising the rates, it’s a sign that they are ready to be defunct and you shouldn’t feel bad about taking a client or bringing a client over to an agency that treats you better.