What Law Offices Need To Know About A Court Reporter Shortage

There’s been a great deal of marketing and many press releases about “disruptive” technology in my field. I’ve been a stenographic court reporter for a decade. I’ve worked right next to reporters who have been working for three or four decades. All of us concede that technology, on average, is getting better. Computers today can do things that few could have imagined in 1970. Computer programs used to be written on punch cards. Try inserting one of those into your iPhone. It’s no wonder that when people see some of the older stenotypes, they ask where the punch card goes.

You write on a stenotype but type on a typewriter. Can’t explain that!

Of course there’s no punch card. But we end up getting a pretty bad rep because the keyboard layout we use is a hundred years old. It’s easy to look at that and forget there’s a whole arsenal of technology attached to that keyboard layout. By 1963 we were using magnetic tape for computer transcription. By 1987, our stenotypes were rocking floppy disks. Today’s stenotypes are so damn good you can read my notes off the screen without any special training.

You would be able to read the notes off the screen, if I ever took any.

There was no secret that there was a court reporter shortage coming. Our field first learned this shortage was coming towards us in 2013. By 2019, the entire country knew there was a shortage. There is a court reporter association in almost every state, a National Court Reporters Association, and myriad nonprofits and other initiatives aimed at solving the shortage. Since 2013, we’ve seen things like Open Steno, A to Z, and Project Steno all aimed at meeting the demand for stenographers in their own way.

With even a gentle push from the larger corporations in our field, things would have been fine. But we started to see some strange moves in our industry by some companies. Some companies started to ask law offices to change their deposition notices to allow for audio recording. Some companies started saying that reporters were unavailable even when we were all sitting at home on social media chatting away with each other. Some companies started completely fabricating news, saying things like “…this world hasn’t been digitized…” Some companies say AI is making things better even though AI only gets 65 to 80 percent of what’s being said. Some companies started to push “digital” court reporters. Digital reporters, while they are nice people, are just recording your deposition and taking some notes. They are being used by those companies as part of the record and transcribe method. These companies are literally taking people who could fill the stenographic reporter gap and telling them “no, do this instead, it’s newer.” They don’t bother to tell them that stenographic reporting utilized the record-and-transcribe method several decades ago with Dictaphone technology and has since evolved to be far more efficient. Stenography has been digital since before some of us were born.

Eventually, you have to ask yourself, “what’s the deal? If there’s is a shortage, why does Veritext, or Planet Depos, or US Legal advertise that they’re hiring digital court reporter positions in New York, but almost never a single ad for a stenographic reporter?” Well, reporting firms, like just about any other industry, make a good deal of their money being the broker for the buyer and seller. You buy our services, we sell them, and the court reporting companies make money by knowing how low we’ll go and how high you’ll go. I started out as a deposition reporter in 2010 and was offered $2.80 a page. Years later I learned that was almost the exact same rate given to reporters in the 1990s and far lower than the page rates that court reporters working in court got. Court reporting companies told me reporters were a dime a dozen and that law offices wouldn’t pay a penny more. Meanwhile, I was taking depositions where the attorneys were telling me how expensive our services were. On a deposition with a lot of copy sales, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was taking home 20 percent of the total invoice. That’s a lot of money to a company to market and print, bind, and mail a transcript that takes hours of reading, research, and transcription on my part.

Our entire profession is in a state of shock because we placed a great deal of trust in reporting firms to market our skills. This is similar to the trust you put in them to find you a qualified stenographic reporter. Yet we find ourselves compiling state databases, national databases, and nonprofit databases dedicated to helping you find stenographic reporters because some companies can’t be bothered to connect consumers with the service they want. They see the education culture that stenography has as a threat. They see it as an expense to do away with. What happens when you take a field with 60 nonprofits and dozens of schools dedicated to the welfare and training of court reporters and replace it with people that have no such support system? You get workers that are easier to intimidate and lowball in the long run. How do I know? It already happened when the Federation of Shorthand Reporters in New York collapsed. Worker pay stagnated while the invoices to attorneys skyrocketed; this is the same situation on a national scale.

What law offices need to know is that they alone decide what happens next in our industry. Ultimately, law offices set the demand. It’s you, the attorneys, office managers, paralegals, and secretaries. You can trust us to recruit enough to fill any shortage. You can trust us to adopt the latest technology. You can trust us to continue over a hundred years of tradition, value, and service by making sure your record is accurate and turned around quickly at the best cost. We have to trust you to demand a stenographic reporter every time so that steno schools can keep pumping out graduates and promising jobs. We have to trust you to look at claims that a stenographic reporter could not be provided with skepticism. We have to trust you to be smart consumers. We have to trust you to let your colleagues know what’s going on in our tiny industry. Don’t just do it so that I have a job in ten years. Do it for your clients. Do it for your consumers. I guarantee that if the demand for steno slips, you’re going to be looking at some crazy deposition bills and hearing some new excuse.

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PS. This article comes after a great satire (image here) was done on this topic by a reporter under the alias DigitalByHumans. In that satire, posted to Craigslist, the writer describes a world where a company does this same sort of thing to attorneys, deciding to use “digital” attorneys, and goes on to note that the company makes a lot of customer comfort moves to hide the fact that they aren’t using actual attorneys. While my post here tries to focus on getting straight to the facts I know and the conclusions I draw, I really think that it was something special and illustrates the frustration a lot of us have on this topic. There are states where we are very heavily regulated and the regulating bodies have, through inaction or inability to enforce the law, allowed people to come in and record as “digital court reporters” without any regulation, whereas a stenographic court reporter doing pretty much the same thing would be fined or reprimanded. It’s not the digital reporters’ fault, it’s the companies’ fault, but until consumers and consumer protection agencies stand up and say “no,” the situation will continue.

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.”

Magnificent March 2020

Every month on Stenonymous, we bring you job opportunities. This month we’re going to do something different and take all the job opportunities away. Just kidding. Before I start giving boring sermons about the importance of mentoring, let’s start with an announcement I saw from court reporter and Vice President of Local 1070, Renee Belmar. I reached out to her, and she had one message she wanted me to add, “Let them know we need reporters.” If you ever had doubts about signing up for the next civil service test, it’s time to cast them aside! We need you.

Moving along, an anonymous source reported the following in early February: Kings County grand jury tested on February 4, 2020. The participants were made to write the test on the Kings County DA’s equipment and struggled with it. Queens GJ will be seeking reporters soon or is currently. Special Narcotics may be doing testing later this year. Keep going, jobseekers! If you don’t get it one time, you’ve got it the next. Progress is slow. Success is cumulative. On the flip side, I get what you’re going for, KCDA, but maybe having people write on their own writers for the test would lead to slightly better results. It can be really hard to take down stuff on a machine that’s new to you or in a different position than usual. For example, I did an interview recently where they had my machine propped up on boxes, and it was a bit different to write that way.

Please note that NCRA keeps a job board. It’s far better than my monthlies and might just give you a gateway to your dream job. If you want a break from steno life and want to jump into advocating for sten, check out career opportunities at NCRA.

With that, and more in line with our regularly scheduled programming, DANY, KCDA, Richmond, and Special Narcotics have no official postings. Bronx’s District Attorney has still got a posting up for a grand jury reporter. Queens DA’s website is still under construction, so jobseekers might want to call into the grand jury bureau or HR and see if any openings are expected soon. To my knowledge, there is no citywide DCAS test before April 2020.

The statewide provisional posting for court reporter is still active. If you are somebody who is preparing for the civil service test, the provisional opening is a great way to start your career with the state system. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re talking about opening testing or filing in Fall 2020, whether it’s posted to the exams page 2020 or 2021, it’s coming, and you can get ahead of the game by practicing now.

Please know there are openings for federal court in the Eastern District of New York and Southern District of New York, including a whole bunch of other states. This is a great time to be a stenographer seeking work. You’ve got the skill, now you’ve just got to reach out and grab the work.

As always, feel free to like, comment with more jobs, or even promote your agency below. Keep posting jobs to social media. Helping people find the work is one of the ways to beat shortage. We can only do that together.

Addendum:

The Eastern District posting closed on February 28th. I write many posts a few days ahead of time and use an automated scheduler to post them. Great example of why it’s best for people looking for work to keep these links and check often.

Copyright and Stenography

I created a masterpiece about a week ago. On the left, a very horrifying creature that took about three minutes to create and was instantly copyrighted upon creation. If you took my creation and slapped it on a mug and started selling it, I could probably successfully sue you. On the right, a file snapshot of years worth of transcript work, which could be freely copied by anyone any time, at least ostensibly, as any court that decides this issue seems to decide that transcripts are not expressive work protected under copyright. Sam Glover also wrote about this years ago, but seems to have purged it from his blog. Some courts, like the one in Urban Pacific Equities et al v The Superior Court of Los Angeles County (59 Cal. App. 4th 688, 69 Cal. Rptr. 2d 635), have taken the step of ruling that the transcript does not have to be turned over under a business record subpoena because it is a product of business and not a business record, but this does not necessarily prevent it from being copied if counsel obtains it another way.

Here in New York, we do have guaranteed payment of an original via our General Business Law 399-cc (Transcripts and stenographic services). In that way, I feel the state and legislature has already partially acknowledged the hard work that we do. But it’s no secret that court reporter businesses, for whatever reason, have chosen to make originals cheap, and make their businesses more or less dependent on these copy sales. It’s often reported in social media circles that attorneys at a deposition will openly and in front of the stenographic reporter offer to copy and give the transcript to counsel that would otherwise have to order the transcript from the reporter. Why not? As best anyone can tell, it’s legal! There’s also a darker side to this. If you do not have a clear agreement with your agency stating otherwise, they can probably also legally copy your work and not tell you about it. Again, why not? It’s legal!

The question arises, what do we do about this? Many ideas have been floated over the years. Some say we should change our model to reflect the lost copy sales and consider charging in a different way, like hourly, per diem, or a higher original. Personally, I believe it would not be unfair to create a body of law protecting stenographers’ rights to their work. Transcribers would probably be equally in favor, and it would certainly slow the rate of copying if it were explicitly not legal.

Many ideas have been floated in this regard, including putting it under theft of services. I don’t think anyone supports throwing attorneys in jail over this. That’s unreasonable to me. But I do think it’s fair to create a civil penalty for the copying of transcribed work. Virtually everything else is protected via patents, copyright, or intellectual property laws, and it seems weirdly unfair to have a class of people whose work is wholly unprotected.

I would propose language to the effect of “No person or business entity shall copy, reproduce, publish, or dispose of to another a copy of the transcript of any matter transcribed or stenographically reported. A person or business entity that violates this must pay a copy sale to the stenographer or transcriber that created the original transcript. Such copy sale price shall not exceed the mean average of the stenographer or transcriber’s copy sales for the twelve months preceding the copying, reproduction, publishing, or disposal.”

Now, if we were to propose such law, there’s a strong possibility we would have to make some concessions. Let’s be fair, many of these matters are matters of public domain and importance. I would propose a few important carve outs, such as, “nothing in this law shall be construed to abridge the right of any person to critique, cite, discuss, parody, or utilize a transcript’s content in any expressive matter.” This punches a bit of a hole in the law, but look at fair use in copyright law, and you’ll get what I’m trying to do. Also, “nothing in this law shall prohibit any person from preparing or having prepared by another their own transcript of the same proceeding or matter.”

There are some bigger issues we’d have to deal with. Would this law exclusively cover private transcribers / stenographers and not public employees? That’s a fantastic question. As a stenographer, I’m sure everyone knows where I stand, but as someone who reads a good amount of law, I understand that government work simply works out that way sometimes. I think if we’re serious about a New York City, New York State, or even someday federal law on this, it’s entirely doable. I think the important thing is prohibiting copying while allowing “fair use” type cases that don’t prohibit freedom of speech and expression. Notably, we could always go the way of this proposed Florida rule, which states plainly, “subdivision (g) requires a party to obtain a copy of the deposition from the court reporter unless the court orders otherwise…”

As always, discuss away or email me! It’s always fascinating to see what others have researched. Hopefully, if ever it becomes a serious discussion by our lawmakers, they’ll also get a chance to consult with authorities in our field like NYSCRA, NCRA, or even ASSCR.

Shortage Solutions 12: Stenography

If you haven’t had the time to use my site’s search box for all the shortage solutions available, I recommend giving it a try. Over the last year we’ve covered some phenomenal ideas. Many stenographers across social media have internalized these ideas, talked about them, made them better than I ever could’ve dreamed.

Well, this one’s for all the non-stenographers and a look into why our shortage mathematically requires us and not other methods of capturing the spoken word. May it help some of you educate non-reporters and maybe even reporting companies on who we are, what we really do, and why we are irreplaceable. Really quickly, machine shorthand reporting gets a bad RAP because it’s “old.” The stenotype style we use today originally was invented in 1906 by Ward Stone Ireland. With over a century of usage, it’s easy for other methods to say that the technology is outdated and point to something like digital recording, originally invented in 1970 by James Russell, as a newer, “better” technology.

Objectively, when you look at both methods, they have seen vast improvements. Back in “the day,” stenographers had to painstakingly transcribe paper tape notes or even dictate their notes back to a typist using Dictaphone-type technology, who would transcribe for them while they continued to take other proceedings stenographically. Modern stenography uses advanced word processing techniques to take the input from a stenographic writer and output text. The more skillful someone is at operating a stenography machine or stenotype, the cleaner the output text is. Some reporters, reaching a 99.9% untranslate or accuracy level, can practically hit print at the end of a job and have a ready transcript.

Even those of us without such a level of skill are more efficient than the record and transcribe methodology. The average person types about 50 words per minute (WPM). The average transcriber reaches about 80 WPM. The average stenographer? 225 WPM. So while it may seem paradoxical that this century-old technology is the fastest and most efficient method available to the consumer today, it’s true.

So when we talk about shortage, numbers, and the “impossible” gap stenographers must fill to meet rising demand and replace retiring reporters, let’s talk some real numbers. There are somewhere between 11,000 and 30,000 working reporters in this country depending on whose numbers you want to use. Let’s say a healthy 15,000. If we’re inputting words 2 to 4 times faster, on average, you need 2 to 4 people to replace every stenographer. If you need another person to operate the recording equipment, that means 5 people per stenographer today. It gets tougher. Hard-working transcribers have reported it takes up to six hours for them to transcribe a one-hour depo. I’m a pretty average stenographer. I know from timing my own work that a one-hour depo is about 40 pages, and I can transcribe 40 pages in 1 to 2 hours. On a great day where my input is good, I could even do it in 30 to 45 minutes dependent on page density and subject matter. But let’s stick to average, one hour transcription for one hour of testimony for one stenographer. Now compare that to the record and transcribe method, up to six hours for one hour of testimony. That could be six to seven people to do the work of one stenographer, or it could take six to seven times as long.

What do all these numbers mean? It means whoever’s numbers you want to use, if you want to say the gap is 10,000 people by 2030, or 1,000 people, or 5 people, it means you’re talking about filling a stenographic reporter gap. Companies who are pushing digital as a solution are saying there’s no way to get stenographers, but somehow they can find, organize, train, and utilize teams 4 to 6 times larger than their current stenographic reporting assets. We complain about the lack of stenography schools. How many digital reporting or transcribing schools exist? How long have those existed? AAERT lists four. NCRA lists almost four steno schools in New York alone. Tell us again how that is the future? Seems to me that if you’re scared about filling a gap of 1,000, a gap of 4,000 is pretty terrifying. If we’re talking replacement of 15,000 stenographers, we’re looking at 50,000 people plus the gap. Even with the abominable success rates of the past, pre A to Z, pre NCRA 2.0, 10 to 20 percent, it follows that if you’re introducing tens of thousands of hardworking people to the field of reporting, and you introduce them to stenography, you can overcome any shortage you would otherwise have. Smart transcribers and digital reporters have a head start on this. They’ve switched to steno because it’s better for them, their wallet, and the consumer.

Let’s just touch on AI as it relates to taking down the spoken word. Computer programming is not magic. Despite the claims of some that technology is advancing every day, an objective look at technology shows it hasn’t advanced much at all. How much better has your bank’s voice recognition gotten in the last ten years? It was hit or miss then, and it’s hit or miss now. Look at it in big picture terms instead of the daily claims of “tech news” sources. Improvements have been made, to be sure. Open source programming projects allow virtually anyone with a little time and technical knowhow to integrate voice recognition into their product or website. Promises of a $25 billion market draw new investors every day.

But the fact remains that a lot of the buzz surrounding automatic speech recognition is just that, buzz, smoke, promises of a better tomorrow that no one can guarantee. It’s a new spin on old news. To understand this, it is important to understand what computers really are. Computers are math-solving machines. Anything you can break down into numbers can be represented by a classical computer. Video games? Math. Word processing? Math. Internet search? Math. We are spoiled. We live in a world where you click buttons and have windows. Far gone are the days when programmers had to use punch cards to operate computers. But consider that everything your computer is doing is broken down into two signals, 1 and 0, on and off. How smart do you think someone has to be to figure out an equation to account for every accent, English dialect, or circumstance? Try differentiating four different speakers using math! I’ve said it before. There’s a very real possibility that it can be solved and that perfect voice recognition can be programmed. Could be tomorrow. Could be 100 years away. Might not even happen. We don’t know. But any claim that AI is the future must be met with serious and sustained skepticism, as AI-related companies can burn through half a billion dollars in a year and still have no major profitable product. There’s a reason the public trusts stenographers and not Siri, and that’s why smart investors stick with stenographer platforms.

Companies and organizations should really re-examine their own views on this. Stenography needs all hands on deck, and they’ll have a much easier time building on our education culture and matured technology than trying to switch over the industry to something untried, untested, and less consumer friendly than the personal and proper touch of a qualified stenographic reporter. The years of training and experience we have collectively, as well as the infrastructure of our large associations and institutions, are second to none. Ultimately, it will be up to the buyers in our market to examine that and decide: Do they want to ride the wave, improve the field as it stands today? Do they want to pay the great cost of reinventing the wheel in the hopes that things will someday be better? I suspect the smartest leaders have already crunched some of these numbers and weighed these factors. They know there’s a very real truth that replacing stenography is unlikely to work. It certainly doesn’t make sense mathematically, and that is why they hedge their investments and keep all avenues open.

Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call to companies on the fence. Do not go the way of US Legal, who apparently acquired Stenotrain just to scrub its Internet presence a couple of years later. These numbers are real. The challenges faced in finding coverage are real. These challenges are far from insurmountable. But it will be about four times harder to use non-stenographic transcribers than it would be to address the stenographer shortage. Follow the recent example of companies like Lexitas. Reach out to stenographers and ask them about schools that need your support to keep supplying you with quality reporters. Your investors will thank you. Your customers will have the best service for the lowest cost. You will not be subject to the inconsistency of professional flip-floppers. Your business won’t be broken by people who have no plan for when a transcript is needed for appellate review. Your companies will thrive. You will have a better outcome than you would losing money and clients up against a superior modality like stenography. Shortage solutions? Without a doubt, the resourceful entrepreneur picks steno.

Shortage Solutions 11: Logistics

One of the highlights of the January 2020 PYRP popup in Brooklyn was talking about the local shortage. One solution mentioned on the freelance side was how stenographers and stenographic reporters can advocate for attorneys to set depositions at different times. It was explained that it can be very difficult to accommodate every deposition at 10 a.m., and how a small change in attorneys’ ordering habits might make it simpler to cover work.

This is a small thing to talk about, but would be no small feat to accomplish. It would be a serious cooperative effort for the buyers and sellers of stenographic services to come together and do something to alleviate the coverage issues faced by all companies.

This also brings to light a truism we don’t talk about often. The winners of this market will be the logisticians. Companies and entrepreneurs that master matching reporters with work are necessary. If a reporter can only work in the afternoons, or close to home, or has some other need, an agency that can satisfy those needs is going to get coverage over an agency that just doesn’t care. This is a time for companies that truly support the stenographic reporter to really shine.

Reporters nationwide are advocating for stenography. I see no reason why scheduling habits can’t be a small part of our efforts at consumer education. If it’s the difference between covered and uncovered work, it’s worth mentioning, and it’s worth getting a stenographer into every proceeding possible. There is a digital reporting proponent named Steven Townsend. He has described an idea he calls the long tail, stating that digital recording can cover matters where transcript demand is not high. So when we talk about matters of coverage and jobs that are “not good enough” for a stenographer, remember that long tail. Remember that’s a core strategy of the companies gunning to replace you. Take enough of the “easy” work, become what lawyers regard as “the reporter” and then muscle in on the so-called valuable work under the idea that stenographers are obsolete. They even tell digital reporters we’re obsolete so that they don’t realize we’re a growing and vibrant career choice. There has already been talk in Veritext-owned companies in New York about digital reporters taking over EUOs, which are insurance jobs that many reporters are hesitant to take or refuse to take. Don’t let that happen. Those jobs fuel new stenographers and stenographers with a lower skill ceiling.

Nobody becomes a USPS or UPS-type master of logistics overnight. There is a lot that goes into getting a stenographer on every job. So let’s make it a part of the discussion and grow it together. Existing companies can adapt these ideas, or stenographers can form new companies that do it better. Either way, stenography and the consumer win.

A Night In Brooklyn, PYRP 78

This past weekend 78 pop-up events across the country launched for stenographers, almost all of which were at the same time on January 18, 2020. For Sabbath observers and those who couldn’t make the January 18 pop up, Devora Hackner organized and hosted one on the night of January 19 in Brooklyn. It was a fantastic night and a good indicator of what just a little solidarity can achieve. Protect Your Record Project, started in California by Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline, has swelled to a national movement where stenographers are saying loud and clear to the consumer that we are the fastest and most efficient method of capturing the spoken word.

The Brooklyn event was a real showing of stenographic society in NY. Every attendee’s presence was important and brought something special to the table. Nancy Silberger, immediate past president of NYSCRA and host of New York’s Saturday PYRP event was there. Howie Gresh and Reid Goldsmith, both longtime working reporters and educators were there. Ellen Sandles, a reporter who has done extensive research into the Federation of Shorthand Reporters was present. Representatives and owners of Little, Lex, and Diamond were also present. NYSCRA’s President, Joshua Edwards, also made an appearance some time after the event’s start. There were over thirty decades of collective reporting experience in the room and nearly two dozen attendees.

Everyone came together to talk about how to advocate for stenography. Ms. Silberger mentioned her ability to host some meetings. Ms. Sandles talked about having potential press contacts. Jane Sackheim of Diamond mentioned that space could be offered by Diamond to teach A to Z courses, something NCRA and Project Steno advocates should definitely ask about. Mr. Gresh reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s involvement in offering free test prep classes. Rivka Teich, a masterful reporter working at the Eastern District Brooklyn Courthouse talked about doing a career night and introducing more people to what we do and different jobs in the field. Mr. Edwards reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s mentoring program and urged people to sign up as mentors or to be mentored. He also brought up that attendees were still being accepted for the NYSCRA Court Reporting & Captioning Week Real-Time events.

Many, many ideas were covered. From high school outreach and following NYS legislation to PYRP’s available resources and files, all the way to potential legislative ideas, like copy protection for reporters’ work. The importance of starting discussions on stenography was noted. We talked about the potential of changing covers, parentheticals, and cert pages to say stenographer instead of court reporter. The importance of communicating with the videographer and injecting oneself into the record when necessary to make a better record was talked about.

There is one theme recurrent in all of this. The power of the individual is undeniable. That’s everyone who was present. That’s you. Reporters are getting together and great things are happening. Maybe there’s a skill you have, or some kind of connection you’ve made that can help educate a consumer or empower another reporter. You don’t have to wait for a giant winged creature to invite you, you just have to be brave enough to jump on the wagon.

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.

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.