Why Don’t We Talk About The Cost of Corruption in Court Reporting?

Something I’ve thought about for some time but have historically had a hard time putting into words.

We have these large corporations, some of them willing to cross ethical and legal boundaries, which the small business owners rely on to buy them out.

We have a situation where a whistleblower of sorts can come out and say “yeah, I did the math, they lied,” and the government won’t even look, nor will the journalists, so we know that there’s pretty much never going to be any investigation.

How much money these corporations control is in question because it’s all private equity. The estimator sites, as you’re about to see, are notoriously unreliable. But the estimate is the hundreds of millions of dollars for some agencies.

Revenue estimator sites are notoriously unreliable when it comes to private equity.

So just to put that into perspective, the National Court Reporters Association pulls in something like $3 million per year on members dues (wide ballpark figure). 10,000 voting members estimate at 300 a pop.

So with 1% to 3% of revenue, at least one company in the field could afford to match a sizable chunk of the NCRA budget. That’s less than annual ad budgets for some organizations.

What percentage of revenue do companies use to advertise?

So for relatively small amounts of money, leaders on our end can be bribed, and I think it’s something we need to open our minds to. This is a ballpark $3 billion industry according to market research I reviewed in the past. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 18,500 jobs with a median pay of about $60,000 per year. $1.11 billion in court reporter control annually.

BLS Court Reporter Summary as of 8/27/23.

NCRA statistics give a more optimistic 27,000 court reporters.

NCRA statistics posted as of 8/27/23

27,000 of us and a median salary of 60,000, court reporters control up to $1.62 billion a year.

So we know that we control a significant portion of the field’s total revenue no matter whose numbers we use. And we know that to control more of the the $3 billion field, the corps only need tiny percentages of revenue to grease the wheels going in their direction. And even our strongest association has basically no capacity to shell out anything close to that money.

Here’s a question for all of you. Would you spend 2% of your revenue, 5%, 10% or more, if it meant that future years you might pull in 10, 20, 30% more in revenue? It would be stupid not to with a potential 1,500% return annually. Especially since the agency owners you’re buying out won’t speak out against you and nobody would investigate the corruption. And even if they did investigate, there’s no guarantee that the lawbreakers would structure the payments in a way that is easy to detect. It’s a low-risk shot at controlling the market. And that 2% of revenue isn’t chump change, it’s enough to let someone retire for the rest of their life, so bribery would probably be easier, because people that accept bribes don’t often do it for amounts that allow lifelong retirement. They do it for much less.

Stenonymous.com Googles average bribe size

So what am I getting at? 93% of bribes are under $1.5 million and the median value of bribes is $64,500. That’s a good 20 bribes for 1.5% of revenue for an organization that makes $100 million.

Corporate officers that have bonuses tied to corporate performance would be drooling for such an opportunity. Who’s going to turn them in? The shareholders that directly benefit from the increasing share value?

All these licensing boards that miraculously won’t do their job would be phenomenally easy to corrupt.

$64,000 would basically double a court reporter’s income if they were making median wage. So even court reporters are susceptible.

64,000 would more or less double what a well-paid association management company would charge…

Googling the average cost of an association management company by Stenonymous.com

…and to be quite honest, I was on an association board, and we didn’t even pay out $50,000 to $75,000, it can be more like $30,000 or less, my recollection, so that median bribe of 64,000 is over 200% of what we’re paying.

$64,000 would also be $64,000 more than what we pay most of our board members — board members that are often relying on the larger companies to buy out their businesses.

Look at this for a moment as a military op. If you can outspend and control your opposition’s leaders, you win. How hard would it be, really, for the people in power to go “derail these bumpkins and I’ll make it worth your while?” I’m not saying it happened. But I am saying it would be easy and there would be zero resistance. I am saying that it would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year if such a thing was successful. For those of us that believe in honor, this is a horrifying thought. But we must accept that many do not think in terms of honor, they think in terms of dollars and cents, and learning to think like them is an illuminating experience.

So what do I suggest we do about it? I suggest we begin to treat this like a military op and begin to tighten up security gaps in leadership. Perhaps send stenographers to association management training regularly so that we have a large pool of leaders to choose from. Start detaching ourselves from paying someone else to handle our problems and begin building leaders that have done the job and respect our culture and society. Yeah, corruption will still be possible, but this is calculated to cut down on the susceptibility to corruption of our leaders. Oh, yeah, and pay the stenographer leaders, where possible, so that they’re not bleeding money to support the profession. Maybe even tie their compensation or bonus to new member signups and old member renewals so that they have an economic incentive to be proactive and bring more members into the association.

Alternatively, we could take the position that I originally took, and create something of an alternative media company that will inspire future leaders and out corruption. The players on the field will be less likely to bend or break rules when there’s a functioning free press ready to hold them accountable. I believe that raising about $6 million through shareholders (1,000 shares at $6,000 a share) would be enough to create a company that could reach self-sustainability and substantial returns for shareholders, including institutional shareholders, but I have yet to come up with a full business plan on that. Nonetheless, it is a viable option that me or anyone with enough guts could assemble and execute.

The cost of corruption to us as a profession is quite high. It has the capability of destroying entire associations and thousands of jobs. On the flip side, for the most powerful organizations in our field, it’s pretty cheap. People can be bought, on average, for comparatively tiny amounts of money. The tiny amounts of money could lead to massive returns for those willing to commit to malfeasance. If we do not begin to guard against this and come up with mechanisms that prevent our institutions from being hijacked, then we will almost certainly, sooner or later, be hijacked.

Average cost of a car is something like $50,000. $30,000 by some low estimates I’ve found. Would you leave your car unlocked and running with the keys in the ignition?


Then why have we left the door wide open to our $3 billion-a-year industry and our $1.6 billion-a-year slice of that? Can’t guard the record and pump knowledge into our continuing education community if we’re economically outplayed and starved of cash.

I am hopeful that framing the issue as I have leads to a re-imagining of our organizational and leadership structures. We cannot afford to be blind, lest we walk off a cliff. At the end of the day, we need to decide if we want our field to be a series of cliques and clubs that ride to a slow death because “the good old days are over,” or if we want to be a profession that has secured and cemented its right to exist for as long as the technological progress of humanity allows.

This profession has been a bastion of socioeconomic upward mobility, awarding great sums of money to those willing to work hard and serve the public good. I’ve made it clear that my intent is to keep that alive. If you’re with me, feel free to share.

What Court Reporters Can Learn From Y2K

Remember when the world was supposed to end? Computer programs were going to crash. Massive delays could happen. It was the doomsday that never happened about 21 years ago.

It turns out Y2K was a pretty big problem in the computer programming world. Computer memory used to be incredibly limited. To get around this limitation, many programmers designed programs to save dates using fewer numbers. MM/DD/YY was shorter than MM/DD/YYYY. The result of this design was that in the year 2000, many programs could believe it was the year 1900. Booked a flight? Good luck finding your 100-year old reservation in the system. Clocked in at work? You were going to be 100 years late. Had a bank account? They were going to owe you 100 years of interest. Anything where dates and computers were important was in danger.

That danger came and went because programmers went to the media. Programmers whipped up a frenzy of attention to the issue, and the people that pay them took the issue seriously. Millions of dollars were spent to fix old programs, and the result was that Y2K went down in the public’s mind as a hoax or joke.

There are a few things stenographic reporters can mirror here. We too have a looming crisis. Our reporter shortage is well documented. The average age of NCRA membership is 55. For all the reasons listed in the PCRA article, digital reporting and automatic speech recognition is an inadequate replacement for the stenographic court reporter. Indeed, I’ve even “pontificated” that if we fail, it will cause much more severe delays than courts already experience.

We too have people that need to buy in. Court administrations, private attorneys, captioning purchasers, and educators are all examples of people we need to buy in the same way banks, airports, and others bought in and helped stop Y2K. Ultimately, these are the people injured if we fail to recruit more reporters, and the least we can do is let them know. The schools are not going to survive long with the offshoring of the jobs. The rest of them are going to suffer from a quality issue.

We too have seen this coming in advance. For over 7 years we’ve been pushing out initiatives to recruit reporters. NCRA A to Z, Open Steno, and Project Steno have all grown more robust and organized in that time. We still have a good 7 to 10 years before the majority of reporters cross the retirement threshold and reality tells us whether we’ve won or lost. That’s 7 to 10 years to change the outcome if you think we’re losing or keep the lead if you think we’re winning.

Most importantly, we too can win. Programmers were facing an unprecedented issue and worked to fix it. They did not fix everything perfectly; a nuclear weapons plant had a little hiccup after all, but they fixed everything enough that nothing catastrophic happened. They had a choice, and they chose to be leaders. As I told many students on February 2021, we too have a choice. We are not facing an unprecedented issue. We are facing a labor shortage. We don’t have to do this perfectly. As I explained yesterday, the corporations that are trying to bump us out of the field are far from perfect and their arguments are completely hollow. There are so many of us that with even the slightest effort, we will eclipse whatever anti-steno propaganda is put out there. We just have to do it.

My art skills inspired me to become a blogger.

How Organizations & Associations Work

Our lives are built on perception. The perception that someone must do more, or that someone does too much, or that someone is doing something wrongly or rightly can be very powerful. Perceptions can change outcomes. We see it in social movements. We see it in the Pygmalion effect. Think of the power of your own opinion. If you do not like a store, you do not shop there, and that store effectively loses the money it would have made off of you. Some voice that opinion, some vote silently with their wallet, and others buy away. All of these contribute to the reality of that store’s situation. While you read, continue to keep in mind the power of your opinion.

When I was younger, I viewed associations, unions, and groups of people, collectives, as inherently powerful. In that perception, I also expected them to be wise and knowing. “They should be able to fix this. They should be able to fix that. They should know what to do.” Perhaps others believe as I once did, that the association and members work together to create things. Perhaps some believe the members support a group and therefore the group should be able to do everything by itself. There is probably not a simple graphic to perfectly illustrate how everything works. Again, though, there is one overarching truth, the power of your opinion.

Think of something in your life that you wanted and you now have. Did it magically appear in your lap? It’s likely that there were steps you had to take to get what you wanted. It’s likely that there were “vehicles” you drove to get there. Maybe the “vehicle” to something you bought with money was a good job. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to a good relationship was a dating service, or a night at a bar, or walking down the street in a squid hat. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to being a successful person was forming good habits, strengthening weaknesses, or playing off strengths. In the context of this discussion, associations, unions, and organizations are all vehicles to get where we want to go.

One jab that large organizations and corporations get is their usually slower reaction. This has to do with organizational structure. When a group is formed with one decision maker or very few decision makers, that group can respond to things at the will of that sole decision maker. A great example is this blog. Not a single person needs to be consulted before something is posted. However, in order to ensure that budgets are spent wisely, many organizations are built up from a board structure. The nonprofit “sector” runs heavily off of volunteer boards. A board of directors is typically a group of people that oversee the management of the entity. Think of them as the manager’s boss. In the case of our stenographic associations, these tend to be professionals from our stenographic community. Larger associations can afford to pay a management team under the board’s direction to deal with legal obligations, filings, and member questions. Even in larger organizations, the team may be very large, with an executive director and many people under him or her, or it may be a very small one-warrior management team. Smaller organizations may have a board that has to devote their own time to doing these things and act as both board and management. Ultimately, think of a board of directors as a group of people coming together to vote on the best way to direct an organization and its funding.

How do you fit in? Maybe you’re not a board member. Maybe you have no desire to be a board member. Maybe you’re “just” a member. You don’t control management, so where does a guy like me come off telling you your opinion has power?  In the association and union structure of an organization, the members give the board and management power and resources to act. Very often there is a constitution and/or bylaws that dictate how someone can run for a board position, how someone can propose an amendment to the constitution and bylaws, or how someone can participate with management and the board as a volunteer. Any member can contribute a great deal to the organization as a whole. If members dislike the way something is being run in an association structure, they have the power to replace the board by running against them. If members do not feel the mission of an organization is being accurately carried out by management, they have the power to submit changes. Association management generally has a duty to follow the law of their country and the bylaws of an organization. This all amounts to a great deal of power being given to members of large organizations. The importance of the association structure is in its ability to be “owned” by the members. Again, for example, let’s say that you log onto the Stenonymous Facebook group and you want to post an article about birds. Let’s say I say “I would prefer not to have posts like this on my group.” There’s no mechanism for you to take over and make it okay to post about birds. In an association structure, if the members want posts about birds, there’s a mechanism to override management and post about birds.

How can one enhance their pull as a member? In many organizational structures, there are groups of volunteer members dedicated to a task handed down by the board and/or management. These are often called committees and/or subcommittees. Committees do not have a direct vote in what the association does or what the board decides, but they are charged with giving input and/or creating things that can be used by the association for its mission. Committee work also helps teach members to work together constructively in a team so that if they ever do decide to run for board membership, they are used to working cohesively with others that may have very different opinions on the “right thing to do.”

Now we get down to the greatest power members have. We are the boots on the ground. We see what is occurring in our workplaces, out in the streets, and on our social media. I’ve been a proud union member of two different unions in the last 5 years. Occasionally, when I hear or see something strange, I’ll let a union person know, or I’ll ask a union person a question. Why? It’s not about getting people in trouble. It’s not about being more friendly with my union leader. It’s not about being a busybody or a know-it-all. It’s not about scoring points at the workplace. It’s about realizing that these management and director teams are human beings. They are not omnipotent giant floating brains.  Often, they have not heard about what we are sharing with them, or they have not thought about it in the way we have presented. Imagine you are now John or Jane Doe, CEO of Your Corporation. Your boots on the ground are your employees and your customers. If someone’s lying about your company behind your back, do you expect your boots on the ground to mention it to you? We are a community. Like any community, we each have great power in protecting and growing the community.

Over the last decade, I have seen something startling in the way that we view our leaders, and sometimes how our leaders view us. For a time, I know people in power were dismissive.  I have friends and colleagues whose concerns and opinions fell on deaf ears, whether that was management or board members. Those friends and colleagues voted with their wallet and they backed away from the association structure. Those deaf ears are long gone or have gone on to support associations that work against our community’s best interest, and yet still there is a pervasive attitude of “what have you done for me lately?” There is a disowning of the community’s triumphs when they come from people who aren’t in our tribe. There is a strong push towards factionalism. This divides our house. This forces us to spend time and energy fighting each other. With the inherent power of members of a community described, and the reasons for an association structure described, it’s my hope that we’ll spend less time beating up on our allies and their organizational structures. There has been a great push to platform each other in recent months. This pandemic showed us that unity is achievable. So if there’s somebody out there that doesn’t get it; if there’s someone that has no clue how powerful they are or why certain things operate the way they do, it’s up to us all to let them know, and in that order. You got this, now go get it.

Why & When Leaders Stay Silent

There’s a 1998 Merlin movie where Merlin (Sam Neill) is created by the Fairy Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson) to bring the people back to the old ways of magic and religion. Merlin ends up turning against her because she’s ruthless. She goes on to make his life hell, getting him arrested, “permanently” scarring his lover, and sabotaging his plans to put a good king on the throne. This ends in a coalition of “good guys” storming Mab’s castle and Merlin and Mab clashing in a magic duel. Realizing that magic is her strength, Merlin turns his back on Mab and walks away, convincing the crowd to do the same. Forgotten by all, Mab and her magic fade away, she’s defeated.

Consider this my way of convincing the crowd to look away. Recently a letter was released by AAERT regarding the documents released by NCRA Strong. On the one hand, they accused NCRA of distributing misinformation. On the other hand, they invited NCRA to collaborate and help lead the market. My life experience tells me any time someone is playing good cop, bad cop, they want something out of you. Putting aside the fact that it’s hilarious to accuse anyone of distributing misinformation when you list yourself as a government organization on your Facebook page, let’s dive into what they want from NCRA and its members.

They want attention. Surprised? When you do the math, you see that NCRA is a far larger organization with far more reach than AAERT. Just look at social media presence alone. NCRA’s Facebook page has 11,000 likes, and NCRA has archers. AAERT has about 700 as of writing, no archers. The AAERT group has maybe 600 members. The NCRA group, just one of them out of several, has over 3,000. Maybe stenographers just like Facebook. But I’m betting the hard reality is that they’re trying to get NCRA members to react, force NCRA itself to react, and in doing so, give themselves credibility and a larger platform.

This is where all of you come in. Organizationally, we are stronger. I just showed you that. Even we as individuals have more reach and a wider platform. Look at Protect Your Record Project, which started as a California-based discussion; it was a video by Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline, and has evolved into a nationwide movement of over 2,000. This weekend, hundreds of stenographers are coming together in pop-up meetings in almost every state. Look at Encouraging Court Reporting Students and Breck Record, 10,000 members regularly helping each other. Even brand new endeavors, like Tricia Bidon’s Encouraging Steno Students group, have almost 500 members.

“But Chris, even if we have the numbers, XYZ Corporation has way more money than we do!” There are, at a bare minimum, 10,000 of us, but 20 or 30 in some estimates. If each person donates one hour of their time, guesstimating that hour to be worth a paltry $15, that’s 416 days or $150,000 an hour. Remember when I reported that Trint raised $168 million? They could afford to hire us for 160 workdays on that money. That’s it. There’s no equal to our numbers and our opponents know it. That’s why they’re trying desperately to convince us that we are alone and there’s nothing we can do.

We’re in this together. We have nothing to prove to any of our detractors. We have no reason to engage them on their terms. There’s a human desire to be fair, intelligent, and debate honestly. I empathize with anyone feeling the urge to “win.” I myself have time and time again let myself be baited into meaningless debates that take my attention off more valuable projects. Ultimately, the goal for them is to throw us off our game and get us responding to them. As many of you know, the way to win is to use our national presence. Get out there and educate the attorneys we work with every day. Educate people who don’t know that this is a viable, vibrant career. Educate your fellow reporter who maybe hasn’t heard that they can make a difference. You’ve got the story. You’ve got the numbers. Move forward confidently. Be the Merlin of your own personal story and know when to leave your opponent in the dust.

Review: A Court Reporter’s Guide to Leadership and Team Building, by Colin Yorke

Got to sit down with a copy of A Court Reporter’s Guide to Leadership and Team Building. Purchased it just last week. It is a short read aimed at all court reporters, but I feel it especially helpful for newcomers to the field who may not have had time to think about the bigger picture. I also see it as something that aspiring managers should be required to read. It discusses the very important traits of bearing, courage, decisiveness, dependability, endurance, enthusiasm, integrity, justice, knowledge, loyalty, tact, and unselfishness.

Mr. Yorke’s a former court reporting supervisor and Marine veteran. His work on this book neatly summarizes a lot of the broader aspects of the work that many of us in the field had to learn through attrition, observation, or failure. For example, let’s take bearing. Bearing homes in on how you conduct yourself and reiterates how that could impact upon other areas of your work or how people perceive you.

Admittedly, many of us who have had to learn these lessons the hard way or had a mentor helping us along the way may regard this book as common sense — but then I find that common sense ends up being very uncommon unless we share it and make it ubiquitous. So let me share this: If you want some fantastic insights from a former court reporting manger that get right to the point, this book is for you!

Not long ago, I had written a blog post about tips for students, and the very first thing I wrote about was respecting perspectives. I respect Colin Yorke’s perspective. I believe students should hear, see, and read these things early in their career or education, and the cost of the book, at only 10 to 13 dollars, is obtainable.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am likely to be receiving a free copy in addition to the copy I purchased, which allows me to give my purchased copy away to a stenography student. To this end, I tried to come up with a suitable method for deciding who it would go to, and I think simple lottery is fairest. If you would like to be entered into the lottery, please send your name and email to ChristopherDay227@gmail.com before 11:59 p.m. on July 19, 2019. I will write a computer program to randomly select someone and then ask the winner via email for a mailing address. The free copy will be mailed by July 27.

July 16, 2019 update:

After I posted this, Colin Yorke generously donated some more copies of his book to this lottery, so there will be more than one winner. Good luck to all entrants!

Us and Them

While regular fans of my work may believe that the them of this story are a company, the digitals, or rock bottom rates, tonight is different. A great writer already addressed the topic of the adversary in the mirror. Mission accomplished. No more them to talk about. Right?

Incorrect. There’s a growing discontent out there. People are upset with our associations. People see the falling rates, the fantastic need for better training across the country, and all the challenges we face in producing the record. People are upset that things too often do not go our way. Some days, despite our best efforts, it seems we are fighting a losing battle. There’s actually another side to this, too. The leaders of associations — the people who are often donating time and money for the greater good — not only face criticism, but also the harsh reality that many, many people find it easier to critique than to help build something greater.


STENOGRAPHERS: Why are you not doing X?

ASSOCIATIONS: Why are you not helping with X?

What does this do? It makes it us and them. Maybe it even makes it us against them. There are, and will always be, personality conflicts and personal squabbles that prevent progress. Can’t help that.

  • But what we can help is how we look at this from a long term, high level of thinking and strategy. To that end, I would like to offer a few assorted suggestions.
  • If you are an association leader, try keeping a log of what you’re doing. Note what is working. Note what has been tried. Note what didn’t work and why it didn’t work. One of our major problems today is that we’ve had decades of leaders and there does not seem to be a good guide on how to lead. Keep lists of ideas and suggestions from members so that even an idea that is untenable today can be examined someday in the future.
  • If you are a stenographer who has complaints, bring them up. Be polite, be professional, be honest. The more developed your idea is, the easier it is to work with. If it is a very developed idea and shot down, you can even seek private funding or commence the idea privately. As an example, a mentor believed that associations should take a more active role in education. I largely agree. Where we disagree is that I believe it is on the proposers to create a program to share with the association, whereas I believe the mentor thinks the association should do it.
  • Telling other people they should do more is unwise. First, you’re alienating the person you are telling to do more. Their first reaction is going to be to consider not doing anything more because their work is clearly unappreciated. Second, their opinion of you is dropping through the floor, and your ability to work together in the future is damned. I do believe in my heart that we can always do better, but I always try to acknowledge that we are all human and can only do so much.
  • What makes a leader? Followers. That’s it. That’s all you need. What keeps followers? Engagement on their level. Everyone has different tolerance levels for engagement. Find out what your followers like to do and then include them at their own comfort level. Hey, Mr. Reporter, you like drawing and design? Would you like to help us create an attractive flyer? Hey, Ms. Reporter, you like science and statistics? Would you help us design a program to track historic price data? Frankly, it doesn’t even have to be purely voluntary. If a small stipend is the difference between a yes and a no, consider paying out to increase the intellectual property of the association and its value to members.
  • Similarly, everyone may now see the inherent power they have as followers. If you have stuff you are willing to do, let your leaders know. It will make it more probable that you will get to take on or design something you’re passionate in.
  • Finally, see some validity in the id and the ego. There is who we are, and who we want to be. You’ve got to respect both. If you know a reporter wants to be a leader, but is not a good leader, but a good writer, then perhaps have them lead a writing project.

Associations face a lot of brain drain. They’re run by volunteers. Many aren’t making any money directly or indirectly off their leadership position. Imagine you are a stenographer that works all day, transcribes for 2 hours a night, goes home, and then sacrifices the little free time you have to jump on a conference call or respond to association emails. It’s not so much that people in power don’t want to fix everything, but the effort behind it is tremendous. Then add the fact that it can be very easy to burn out or become bitter, and perform less-than-optimally as a leader.

This is where you come in. It matters precious little if you are a leader, or a follower, or masquerading as either. It matters very much what you do and how you act. Realize that there are always improvements to be made, and that your inaction, action, words, or silence will change outcomes for all of us.