How We Discuss Errors and Automatic Speech Recognition

As a stenographic court reporter, I have been amazed by the strides in technology. Around 2016, I, like many of you, saw the first claims that speech recognition was as good as human ears. Automation seemed inevitable, and a few of my most beloved colleagues believed there was not a future for our amazing students. In 2019, the Testifying While Black study was published in the Language Journal, and while the study and its pilot studies showed that court reporters were twice as good at understanding the AAVE dialect as your average person, even though we have no training whatsoever in that dialect, the news media focused on the fact that we certify at 95 percent and yet only had 80 percent accuracy in the study. Some of the people involved with that study, namely Taylor Jones and Christopher Hall, introduced Culture Point, just one provider that could help make that 80 percent so much higher. In 2020, a study from Stanford showed that automatic speech recognition had a word error rate of 19 percent for “white” speakers, 35 percent for “black” speakers, and “worse” for speakers with a high dialect density. How much worse?

The .75 on the left means 75 percent. DDM is the dialect density. Even with fairly low dialect density, we’re looking at over 50 percent word error rate.

75 percent word error rate in a study done three or four years after the first claim that automatic speech recognition had 94 percent accuracy. But in all my research and all that has been written on this topic, I have not seen the following point addressed:

What Is An Error?

NCRA, many years ago, set out guidelines for what constituted an error. Word error guidelines take up about a page. Grammatical error guidelines take up about a page. What this means is that when you sit down for a steno test, you’re not being graded on your word error rate (WER), you’re being graded on your total errors. We have decades of failed certification tests where a period or comma meant a reporter wasn’t ready for the working world yet. Even where speech recognition is amazing on that WER, I’ve almost never seen appreciable grammar, punctuation, Q&A, or anything that we do to make the transcript readable. It’s so bad that advocates for the deaf, like Meryl Evans, refer to automatic speech recognition as “autocraptions.”

Unless the bench, bar, and captioning consumers want word soup to be the standard, the difference in how we describe errors needs to be injected into the discussion. Unless we want to go from a world where one reporter, perhaps paired with a scopist, completes the transcript and is accountable for it, to a world where up to eight transcribers are needed to transcribe a daily, we need to continue to push this as a consumer protection issue. Even where regulations are lacking, this is a serious and systemic issue that could shred access to justice. We have to hit every medium possible and let people know the record — in fact, every record in this country — could be in danger. The data coming out is clear. Anyone selling recording and/or automatic transcription says 90-something percent accuracy. Any time it’s actually studied? Maybe 80 percent accuracy, maybe 25; maybe they hire a real expert transcriber, or maybe they outsource all their transcription to Kenya or Manila. Perception matters; court administrators are making industry-changing decisions based on the lies or ignorance of private sector vendors.

The point is recording equipment sellers are taking a field which has been refined by stenographic court reporters to be a fairly painless process where there are clear guidelines for what happens when something goes wrong, adding lots of extra parts to it, and calling it new. We’ve been comparing our 95 percent total accuracy to their “94 percent” word error rate. In 2016, perhaps there were questions that needed answering. This is April 2021, there’s no contest, and proponents of digital recording and automatic transcription have a moral obligation to look at the facts as they are today and not what they’d like them to be.

If you are a reporter that wants more information or ideas on how to talk about these issues with clients, check out the NCRA Strong Resource Library, and Protect Your Record Project. Even reporters that have never engaged in any kind of public speaking can pick up valuable tips on how to educate the public about why stenographic reporting is necessary. Lawyers, litigants, and everyday people do not have time to go seeking this information; together, we can bring it to them.

Aggressive Marketing — Growth or Flailing?

During our Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021 there were a couple of press releases and some press releases dressed up as journalism all about digital recording, automatic speech recognition, and its accuracy and viability. There’s actually a lesson to be learned from businesses that continually promise without any regard for reality, so that’s what I’ll focus on today. I’ll start with this statement. We have a big, vibrant field of students and professionals where everyone that is actually involved in it, from the smallest one-woman reporting armies to the corporate giants, says technology will not replace the stenographic court reporter. Then we have the tech players who continuously talk about how their tech is 99 percent accurate, but can’t be bothered to sell it to us, and whose brilliant plan is to record and transcribe the testimony, something stenographers figured out how to do decades ago.

Steno students are out there getting a million views and worldwide audiences…
And Chris Day? He’s posting memes on the internet.

You know the formula. First we’ll compare this to an exaggerated event outside the industry, and then we’ll tie it right into our world. So let’s breeze briefly over Fyre Festival. To put it in very simple terms, Fyre Festival was an event where the CEO overpromised, underdelivered, and played “hide the ball” until the bitter end. Customers were lied to. Investors were lied to. Staff and construction members were lied to. It was a corporate fiasco propped up by disinformation, investor money, and cash flow games that ended with the CEO in prison and a whole lot of people owed a whole lot of money that they will, in all likelihood, never get paid. It was the story of a relative newcomer to the industry of music festivals saying they’d do it bigger and better. Sound familiar?

As for relative newcomers in the legal transcription or court reporting business, take your pick. Even ones that have been incorporated for a couple of decades really aren’t that impressive when you start holding up the magnifying glass. Take, for example, VIQ Solutions and its many subsidiaries:

I promise to explain if you promise to keep reading.

VIQ apparently trades OTC so it gives us a rare glimpse of financial information that we don’t get with a lot of private companies. Right off the bat, we can see some interesting stuff. $8 million in revenue with a negative net income and a positive cash flow. Positive cash flow means the money they have on hand is going up. Negative income means the company is losing money. How does a company lose money but continue to have cash on hand grow? Creditors and investors. When you see money coming in while the company is taking losses, it generally means that the company is borrowing the money or getting more cash from investors/shareholders. A company can continue on this way for as long as money keeps coming in. Companies can also use tricks similar to price dumping, and charge one client or project an excessive amount in order to fund losses on other projects. The amazing thing is that most companies won’t light up the same way Fyre did, they’ll just declare bankruptcy and move on. There’s not going to be a big “gotcha” parade or reckoning where anyone admits that stenographic court reporting is by far the superior business model.

This is juxtaposed against a situation where, for the individual stenographic reporter, you’re kind of stuck making whatever you make. If things go badly, bankruptcy is an option, but there’s never really an option to borrow money or receive investor money for decades while you figure it out. Seeing all these ostensible giants enter the field can be a bit intimidating or confusing. But any time you see these staggering tech reveals wrapped up in a paid-for press release, I urge you to remember Fyre, remember VIQ, and remember that no matter what that revenue or cash flow looks like, you may not have access to the information that would tell you how the company is really doing.

This also leads to a very bright future for steno entrepreneurs. As we learn the game, we can pass it along to each other. When Stenovate landed its first big investor, I talked about that. Court reporting and its attached services, in the way we know them and love them, are an extremely stable, winning investment. Think about it. Many of us, when we begin down this road, spend up to $2,000 on a student machine and up to $9,000 on a professional machine and software. That $11,000 sinkhole, coupled with student loan debt, grows into stable, positive income. So what’s stopping any stenographic court reporting firm from getting out there and educating investors on our field? The time and drive to do it. Maybe for some people, they just haven’t had that idea yet. But that’s where we’re headed. I have little doubt that if we compete, we will win. But we have to get people in that mindset. So if you know somebody with that entrepreneurial spirit, maybe pass them this post and get them thinking about whether they’d like to seek investors to grow their firm and reach. Business 101 is that a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar tomorrow. That means our field can be extremely attractive to value investors and be a safe haven from the gambling money being supplied to “tech’s” habitual promisors.

Know a great reporting or captioning firm that needs a spotlight? Feel free to write me or comment about them below. I’ll start us off. Steno Captions, LLC launched off recently without doing the investor dance. That’s the kind of promise this field has. I wish them a lot of luck and success in managing clients and training writers.

Can Freelancers Apply For Workers Compensation Benefits? (NY)

There are a lot of professionals in this field who will laugh at the notion that freelancers can be entitled to employee benefits. “Of course we’re not eligible for Workers Compensation! We’re independent contractors!” The idea does seem as preposterous and fanciful as a soul-devouring stenotype.

Souls purchased separately.

To give a brief overview, in New York, to avoid clogging the court system with employee accident cases, Workers Compensation coverage allows employees injured on the job to apply for benefits to cover their medical expenses and/or wages. To many, this would be where the discussion ends. If you’re not an employee, you can’t get benefits. But when we look into exactly what constitutes an employee, and the way this actually works, we find that the answer is more likely “it depends.” Administrative and judicial judges will look at several factors to determine whether someone is an “employee” or an “independent contractor” under the law, and how the “hiring entity” and the “hired entity” classify the relationship is not a major factor listed on their website.

  1. The right to control. Does the hiring entity or employer control the manner in which the work is done? In stenographic freelance circles, and particularly in New York, this can be a mixed bag. They might ask you to use a specific layout, arrive at a specific time, or even bring snacks to a depo. There are varying degrees of control, and if your agency is exercising a lot of control over you, you just might be an employee.
Text from the WCB site.

2. Character of work. If the primary work performed by the hiring entity is performed by the hired entity, that means the hired entity is an employee. Again, this is something you can probably argue both ways in stenographic circles. You can easily make the claim that court reporting agencies are in the business of providing court reporting services and therefore we should be employees. You can also make the argument that court reporting corporations are not in the business of court reporting, but rather acquiring court reporting professionals for lawyers. Just to note, US Legal tried that in an Unfair Competition case in California during the Holly Moose case. It argued that it was not a shorthand reporting corporation. Justice Elia rejected that, stating “such circular reasoning reasoning to evade…” [this state’s laws] “…is, at a minimum, unpersuasive.” Who can say what a judge in New York might say when applying the facts of a case to New York law?

Text from the WCB site.

3. Method of payment. The important bit here is that whether you receive a 1099 or W2 does not matter in determining an employee/employer relationship. Whether you receive regular payments or whether you are paid for a task as a whole is a deciding factor. Again, it can easily be argued either way dependent on the facts of a freelancer’s “employment,” are they taking jobs regularly and getting regular payments? Are they hired for a one-off assignment?

Text from the WCB site.

4. Furnishing equipment. The vast majority of us maintain our own equipment, and if a workers comp claim were ever made against an agency, I imagine the first thing they would do is bring out that fact. But there are other things to consider. Does the agency supply you with business cards or other materials that you’re supposed to hand out? Some do, some don’t, and that makes this a factor worth considering.

Text from WCB.

5. Right to hire/fire. This relates to the right to hire and fire who’s doing the work. For example, when an agency contracts you, a true independent contractor would have full authority to contract that out to someone else. In my time freelancing, I saw worksheets that forbade such behavior. Ultimately, the right to hire and fire is dominated by the agencies, and this makes a good case, on this factor, for reporters as employees.

Text from WCB.

6. Postmates Decision. Court reporters were doing the gig economy before it was popular. Now many states are grappling with how to treat these cases where someone may be called an independent contractor but meets all the definitions of a common law employee. In New York, we had the Postmates decision. That looked at several of these factors including the character of the work, right to control, and the method of payment. Another thing looked at was who controlled the customer and whether the independent contractor was able to go out and build his own customer base. This is something that court reporters are split on. Many of us have our own clients and many of us work exclusively through agencies. The Postmates decision gives us a look at how administrative judges and appellate courts might look at these kinds of issues in New York. If you don’t have any control or interaction with the client beyond the work you’re doing, a court could look at that and say “employee.”

Taking in all the factors above, as intelligent people not trained in law, we can see how we might argue it both ways. We can see that it’s very clear that the law doesn’t care much how the employer and employee classify the relationship. We can see what’s happened in this state and other states, and we can come to an interesting conclusion. Can freelancers claim Workers Comp benefits? It depends. Can the claimant show that they meet the definitions of a common law employee? I can’t answer that for you. But I can say that if you’re someone who’s injured on the job and meets these eligibility factors, it may just be worth consulting an attorney to give you real advice on your specific situation and the facts of your specific case. Independent contractors, on the other hand, generally may, but are not required to, purchase Workers Compensation insurance. This can be done to guard against medical bills or fulfill the terms of a contract.

Finally, as someone who briefly owned a corporation, I can tell agency owners to make sure you have a rider or option on your Workers Compensation insurance that covers you if an independent contractor claims they’re an employee. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you have a misclassified employee without coverage. It can constitute a crime to fail to follow our Workers Comp law. You can try searching other reporting firms and see what insurer they use. You can also engage with NYSIF to see if they offer a better rate than your current provider. Whatever you do, just be aware that this is a possibility, and the more your freelancers fit into those eligibility factors, the more this could end up a problem for you. I don’t want a problem for you. Chances are good an injured reporter doesn’t want a problem for you. But if somebody’s hurt, can’t work, and the medical bills are piling up, chances are good they’re going to take whatever avenue they’ve got to take to survive. The least we can do is keep this open for discussion.

Expedite Legal, Enhancing Coverage Nationwide?

Everyone is moving faster than ever into new solutions to problems. Adaptation of technology has spiked like never before. There are many hyped technologies out there that promise the world and don’t deliver. Then there are real companies with a tangible product. After taking the time out to review Expedite’s public-facing materials and after having a brief exchange with Expedite’s CEO, Eve Barrett, I am convinced that Expedite is among the companies out there that has a real product. In this case, it’s also a unique product.

We can think of Expedite as the Uber for legal service professionals. It’s helping link providers, namely court reporters and interpreters, with customers, namely courts, lawyers, agencies. I learned that the product is set up to be flexible. People can register as both a customer and a provider. This means that traditional reporting agencies can make use of Expedite to get coverage or get work. This means that independent court reporters can use it the exact same way.

A post I came across on Expedite’s blog, the Docket, sums business up well. Be willing to stick your neck out a little bit. In my view, there is great importance attached to being a skeptic, but we cannot allow our skepticism to hamper our willingness to try new things. I had touched briefly on Expedite’s model in my shortage solutions series. There was some honest skepticism there. But in normal times, we were experiencing a shortage of reporters partially as a result of the disjointed state of the market. There is no central marketplace to just log in and find a reporter. It’s not like the stock market where you can get immediate data on every business out there. There are a lot of tools out there for finding reporters or finding work. Why not add Expedite to your arsenal?

In my exchange with Ms. Barrett, she pointed me right to the Provider FAQ, blog, and vlog. I saw there’s a provider referral program. If a provider refers a provider and both get verified, there’s a bonus. I asked about whether the same was available for providers that refer customers to the program. It was confirmed that anyone can refer anyone, and the bonus shows up in the next job taken with Expedite. This is a smart way to get people using a nationwide app, and I think a robust referral program is a smart move.

The website and app are both available for customers. The app is available on Apple Store and Google Play. The overall message is one of courage and commitment to us. We’ve all been to the recent educational webinars. Presenters have talked about letting go of fear, adapting, making changes to enhance our businesses. I think Expedite is a major enhancement to many reporting businesses.  I asked pretty bluntly if there’s anything she’d tell reporters in the industry, or even people outside the industry. I’ll end with part of the response I got, as it says all it needs to say about the power of the individual. “My goal with Expedite was to help save the profession by alleviating the critical shortage. I also wanted to create a new business model for court reporters whereby they could work more efficiently, keep a higher percentage, receive payment faster, and market their services on a free platform. I’m just one reporter trying to solve the problems that have plagued our industry for decades.”

January 2020, Just Apply!

Courtesy of the links I’ve got up at Get A Real Job, here’s what we’ve got posted around the Internet at the start of the new year. Freelancers can check the bottom for some ideas. Just before we roll into that, remember that NYSCRA has a free mentoring program, and people can use NCRA’s Sourcebook for unconventional moves like finding a mentor. If you’re a student or a new reporter feeling kind of lost, you don’t have to go it alone, reach out. Even people five years on the job have said “wow, sometimes I feel like I need a mentor!”

But you’re not here for that. You’re here for the jobs, dammit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this month we have the Bronx grand jury job still posted. That’s a Reporter / Stenographer title as a City of New York employee. Side note, the Queens DA site is down so I have no idea if they’re hiring. I guess I’ll have to snail mail them. More side notes, the DCAS Reporter Stenographer application scheduled in November has been postponed, and there does not seem to be a date for it on this DCAS schedule, up to April 2020.

There’s no civil service exam out for NYSUCS Court Reporters because they just had the last test in Summer 2019. They generally hold the test every 1 to 4 years though, so keep an eye out. Even though the civil service exam is probably a little way off, Court Reporter provisional applications are being accepted continuously statewide according to the website.

In the least predictable move ever made, we move on to federal jobs. There are three Southern District postings in New York, including part time and full time work. Whether that means they need three people or one really good one, go for it! There are also a number of federal positions all around the country. Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington, Washington, D.C., and Florida. Remember what happens when they can’t get good stenographers in those positions. They settle for less. Spread these jobs around, don’t be shy.

From the freelance angle it is troubling to me that for years I rarely saw agencies advertise looking for steno reporters and yet I see many postings continue to pop up for digital reporters now. It is not inappropriate for stenographers to take this for what it is, a sign that securing private clients may be a way forward to secure future work, especially if our trade and methodology is not going to be front and center of these old businesses. Take the leap, file with NYS, get yourself on the vendor list of NYC VENDEX or NYS procurement, get on the insurance companies’ procurement lists. Navigating the business world is not an easy thing, but it is entirely possible for anyone that sits down and starts familiarizing themselves with how people buy and sell services and where to find people that buy what we do. Pricing is another monster to tackle. Depending on the contract, people might bid super low original prices just to get copies locked in. Some contracts don’t really have many copies so a high original is necessary. There’s no manual I know of, it’s all straight experience and getting yourself situated as a player in this game, not a pawn.

Let’s win it together in 2020!

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.

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.

October Occupations 2019

Before we get into this post I just want to say I updated the old Get A Job post to include the exams page of NYSUCS. I still say that every jobseeker in New York should be checking the pages linked there every 15 to 30 days to be safe. Share findings. Be committed to keeping everyone up to date. If everyone is talking about where the work is, nobody’s left in the dark.

Even though this page launches October 1, postings are only current as of September 30.

DANY is still hiring for their grand jury reporter position. It’s a great job. Definitely give it a shot.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor, as I recall, had a posting for one grand jury reporter. Now there’s a posting for two. I say that if you haven’t applied yet, it’s your lucky day, go for it.

The state court system is still accepting applications for the provisional court reporter job. If you didn’t take the test, it still might make sense to apply. If they didn’t get enough passes on the civil service exam, they’re going to need you.

Southern District, that’s federal court, is still looking for a reporter. Don’t let this great opportunity go to waste if you’ve got the certifications or skill necessary to work with SDNY.

There are over ten vacancies federally all around the country. If New York’s not where your heart is, no big deal, but you’re not allowed to leave (joke).

Plaza continues to keep a posting for court reporting and English instructors.

New Jersey has apparently started hiring for the first time in a long time. I had posted this on Facebook but not on Stenonymous. Hopefully the government has realized the inherent value of having someone personally responsible for making the record.

Freelancers, I know that there’s often not a lot of postings on here with regard to work for you. I will work on something that might help there. Until then, you’re free to check out my recent post on historic data and inflation, as it impacts every dollar we make every day we breathe. I have been getting emails from Magna claiming over $100 in bonus fees. Now that I think about it, this probably gives you a clue what’s actually being charged for appearance fees, and a peak into the law of supply and demand. You’re in demand. Your skills are in demand. Act accordingly, do great work, and make a great record.

Fun fact. In the editor this post has no bullet points. In the preview it does. Which version will everyone see? That is the question. If you’ve ever wondered why some posts seem to have bizarre formatting, I blame computers.

Shortage Solutions 9: Independent Listings

It occurred to me not long ago that one of our biggest issues with the shortage is that we are allowing many other groups to dictate what is true. Big companies or companies that sell audio equipment profit from spreading the belief that the stenographer is on its way out and that their product is the future. Because of this, we can no longer trust companies and organizations that are not by steno and for steno to represent us.

Perhaps this serves as a time for associations to shine. Many stenographic associations across the country maintain member rolls and directories. The most prominent of these directories is our NCRA Sourcebook. It is a powerful tool that, used correctly and advertised frequently, can serve as a gateway for the outsider into finding a qualified stenographer. We are so familiar with it — how often have we told lawyers and bar associations it exists? I admit that I personally have not told a single lawyer about the Sourcebook. Perhaps after today, I will get the opportunity.

Indeed, there are many associations that maintain public directories. My own state of New York has a public listing of stenographers on the NYSCRA website. It needs a little work. Some stenographers, like myself, have disappeared from the listings on occasion. But this is understandable, and I am sure that as members look to independent listing to assist with the shortage, associations will answer the call. Perhaps there will even be individuals and companies that take up the task of creating their own listings or listing companies in order to deliver stenographic services. A lot of direct market apps like Expedite or NexDep function on this very principle, and it’s exciting any time another player brings a new idea to the game.

Now it comes down to you, reader. Does your state have a listing? Are you and your colleagues in the Sourcebook? Are we advertising independent listings so that consumers can find qualified stenographers? NCRA and so many state associations are working hard to maintain these tools for us, and I find this to be just one more way that we can give back by keeping the legal profession aware that we’re not going anywhere and are easy to find. Will you take the jump and bring up Sourcebook at your next dep?

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.