Scam Email Targets NCRA Members – August 2022

A scam email was sent around to some National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) members claiming to be for fundraising for “treatment” for “Mindy” and “Kevin,” a fabricated one-year old. Many stenographers received their first alert of the scam from Margary Rogers, NCRA Membership Committee Chair, and the group NCRA Membership Matters.

Scam email targeting members of the National Court Reporters Association sent to Stenonymous.com

One of the main giveaways that this was a scam was the domain name, NCRA.org.us. The NCRA’s domain is NCRA.org.

This blog has a history of reporting scam activity in our industry and informing readers about scams. It seems natural to join the chorus of voices helping get the word out so that not one of us is fooled by would-be scammers.

The National Court Reporters Association released a statement immediately, and took measures to educate members on scams.

Response to the activity of scammers by the National Court Reporters Association

As a general rule, scammers play off human bits like fear and sympathy. Any time someone is trying to get you to act without thinking, you can be sure a scam or propaganda will follow. The name of the game is manipulation, and our alertness and critical thinking skills are how we win the game.

Our communities and associations are seeing increased scam activity in recent months. We mustn’t allow scammers to pull at our heartstrings and take our hard-earned money. A sincere thank you to those that fight to keep members informed. We need you now more than ever.

Median Pay for Stenographers Falling Despite Demand?

The interpretation of statistics is something that fuels plenty of jobs and debates. From serious matters such as crime and the criminal justice system to industry niches such as futures trading, people are always seeking new ways to collect and describe data. The court reporting and stenotype services industry is no different. There are numerous market research reports on our $3 billion industry, along with the publishing of data from sources such as industry associations and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Due to the nature of our field, with over 70% of it being “freelance” according to the Ducker Report, these statistics vary a lot. Take, for example, the BLS’s current count of 21,300 court reporter jobs in 2020, with 500 jobs expected to be added 2020 to 2030.

Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 1, 2022.

Now compare that to about a year prior.

Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of June 21, 2021.

Does anyone think we had 15,700 jobs in 2021 and that number grew by about 6,000 in 2022? No. We must understand and accept that there’s some inaccuracy or margin of error here, the BLS can’t be 100% correct.

For the sake of completeness, let’s go back about a decade using the wayback machine, which shows past images of websites, and see what kind of changes the entry for court reporters had.

Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of June 20, 2020.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 3, 2019
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of October 14, 2018.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 6, 2017.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of June 28, 2016.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 21, 2015.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 4, 2014.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 8, 2013.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of June 15, 2012.

The BLS does seem to acknowledge the retirement wave we are expecting in the job outlook portion of its statistics, and mentions a potential 21,000 openings due to retirement.

Job outlook of court reporters from the BLS as of July 6, 2022.

Interestingly, 21,000 is 70% of 30,000. Ducker said 70% of reporters would retire over the next 20 years (2013 to 2033), and predicted a 2018 supply of reporters of 27,700, which is close enough to 30,000 for this comparison. The only issue I have with the numbers here is that they condense the time frame. Ducker predicted 70% of reporters retiring over 20 years, or an average of somewhere around 1,050 a year. This seems to assume all the retirements will take place over the next decade, when the reality is the forecasted retirements were spread over double that period of time.

The Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014 predicted that about 70 percent of court reporters would retire 2013 to 2033.

Otherwise, looking at the Bureau of Labor statistics numbers in isolation, they don’t really make sense to me. In 2012 there were 22,000 court reporter jobs and a gain of 3,100 jobs over 10 years (2010-2020). By June 28, 2016, only four years later, it was reported there were 20,800 jobs with a gain of 300 jobs over ten years (2014-2024). Going by the BLS, jobs reported 2012 to 2022, we lost over 28% of the jobs in this field. Our growth rate is far down from what it was in 2012 pre-shortage forecast. The BLS stats are really bleak.

But we cannot look at the BLS statistics in isolation. We must take other available industry statistics. Again, the Ducker Report, commissioned by the National Court Reporters Association in 2013, forecasted a 2018 supply of stenographers of 27,700 and a supply gap of about 4,000 court reporters.

Ducker Worldwide forecasts 2018 supply and demand for stenographers.

The Speech-to-Text Institute pretty much copied those numbers to make the case for why digital court reporting is required. They say we can’t fill the stenographer demand. That doesn’t appear to be mathematically true.

Illustration of stenographer supply and demand by Speech-to-Text Institute. Notably, the supply gap was not as bad as forecasted.

Reconciling the two sets of data is a nightmare. Are there around 27,000 court reporter jobs or 15,000? Are we adding 1,400 jobs over the next ten years or will there be over 22,000 jobs? Are we in demand or is our median pay falling? Some of this is explained by looking at retirements versus growth. But these things really matter, because ultimately, over-recruiting is going to lead to lower incomes and bad outcomes. There’s already one person out there whose experience with court reporting was so bad, they dedicated a Twitter to it. My goal is to avoid that kind of suffering for people. So I’m opening up an uncomfortable conversation. What if we reach a point where we are recruiting to fill a supply gap that’s on its way to being filled? Unless we start creating more opportunities by branching out and building demand for our services, some of our graduates may end up with nowhere to go. That’s a future that those of us deep into mentorship do not want for the people we guide. We need to start coming up with things that drive up demand if we want the number of stenographers to begin consistently increasing.

If we can’t get a handle on how many of us there are, we’re going to get mowed over every time someone comes out with a new agenda or misleading statistic. We are in a weird place politically because just about every player benefits by pushing the shortage. STTI, U.S. Legal, Veritext, and the digital court reporting brigade get to sell digital by stating the shortage is impossible™️ to solve. NCRA gets the increased volunteering and stenographic fervor that comes with everyone fighting against the digital menace™️ and against the untimely death of stenography™️. Schools get increased enrollment from our stenomania™️-style recruitment. Perhaps this is a pessimist’s point of view, but I’m left with the sense that even if I could show with 100% certainty that the shortage wasn’t as bad as forecasted, it wouldn’t really matter, because all of the major players would ignore it.

I write because I believe that prosperity flows from truth. When we see situations as they are and not as we want them to be, our combined commitment to excellence seizes the day. Our “gold standard” situation doesn’t arise merely from telling ourselves we’re the best, but from our human ability to be problem-solving machines. In order to be effective problem solvers, we must state the problem accurately. I am now of the belief that our falling median pay is a greater threat to our wonderful profession than the shortage, thanks largely to the initiatives that were created to confront the shortage, such as NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno, as well as hundreds of volunteers. I further believe there are steps that can be taken to address the issue, such as the collection and distribution of aggregated rate data, which the FTC says is legal, or an increase in the overall entrepreneurship, sales, and marketing of court reporters through education. Tools to help new reporters understand the business. These things would keep court reporters informed and marketable, help slow the rate at which newer people without ties to the existing market are taken advantage of, and surprise, attack the heart of the issue, pay disparity is killing our field.

If we do nothing, our association numbers will likely tumble as people fail to find the money for their annual membership during a time of soaring inflation and falling wages. Realtime is not a sustainable answer for the majority. There are fewer than 3,000 CRRs and CRCs combined. If we allow ourselves to be boxed into a world where only realtime is treated as valuable, we lose a significant percentage of the market share and field. Those kinds of losses are the true threat to our sustainability, considering they would come atop the loss in jobs and growth reported by the BLS.

This is not a doom-and-gloom scenario though. Recognizing the challenges ahead will allow us to meet them. For my part in it, I have recently started a reporting firm and hired an operations manager to help bring in business. If I am able to bootstrap this operation successfully, I’ll be doing my part to raise those median wages while also saving consumers money. Even in the worst case scenario, I’ll learn lessons I can pass to the next entrepreneur, and this timeless profession will endure.

Correcting the Record on Dave Wenhold and NCRA

Some months ago, I was writing about a plot in our industry. In its loosest sense, this deals with Veritext, US Legal, and my documenting that the companies tend to spend a lot of energy building digital court reporting at the expense of stenography. In my view, both companies and the Speech-to-Text Institute appear to be crafting a narrative rather than responding to legitimate shortage concerns. “We cannot recruit enough stenographers from the 40 to 80 stenography schools nationwide, but we can somehow fill demand with digital reporters and Blueledge.” It’s not a believable position. To this day, I’m making efforts to determine whether there is actual cooperation among competitors, a sort of tacit parallelism where major players in our industry all suddenly and “independently” decided that digital reporting was the future, or something else. The motivation would be money. By making our market out to be an emerging market that investors can be first in on and omitting the fact that there’s a well-established profession, more low-information investors can be drawn in and more capital can be raised. My work is largely about restructuring the discussion from “the stenographer shortage is irreversible” to “we beat it.”

In the course of my writing and documentation in December 2021, I began experiencing psychosis symptoms. This culminated in a nasty bout of paranoid thinking where I made some crazy claims. Specifically, claims attaching Dave Wenhold and the National Court Reporters Association to the plot claims. I do want to clear this up for my readers: Dave Wenhold and NCRA have done nothing wrong. On all the available evidence I have today, Dave’s been a leader and friend to stenographers for many, many years. I’ve written before that I generally admire Dave Wenhold. I think he’s brilliant. My more negative thoughts about him and the NCRA were a side effect of the distorted thinking I was experiencing during my medical situation in December and some months afterwards.

I’m deeply sorry for some of what came out of Camp Christopher Day. I have no problem being a “bad guy” if it’s justified. But I stand firmly against misinformation. To the extent that I gave my readers misinformation that caused them to believe NCRA or Dave Wenhold are not working for stenographers, it’s a problem I need to address. The claims I made about them were largely motivated by a broken mind coupled with some bad information. I should not have written things I did in December.

There are a lot of promising things coming out of Camp NCRA that members can get behind. The organization is calling for volunteers and has launched an advocacy center. The advocacy center’s first move seems to be focusing on the Training for Realtime Writers Act. If successful, we can expect an expansion of stenographic education, as more dollars will flow to schools. If that’s something you’re interested in supporting, head over to the advocacy center page and send a message of support to your elected representative. NCRA’s made it easy for you, just fill in your address and it will assist you in contacting your rep.

It’s an exciting time to be in this industry. We are finding our footing in a data economy. It may be worthwhile for NCRA to continue to collect and publish statistics on our field, but especially rate data. For over a decade, a myth has pervaded our field that associations can never discuss rates. I surveyed nearly 100 court reporters last year. Over 72% reported that they did not have a good grasp on antitrust law. Over 86% had heard that associations can never discuss rates.

Stenonymous Project Phoenix survey results.

Despite the ubiquity of the rumor, it is untrue that associations can never discuss rates. In fact, the FTC itself states that many trade associations share aggregated data with members. I’ve clipped out the relevant text from the FTC site for my audience.

FTC Spotlight on Trade Associations

This is important for a number of reasons. My survey results showed a dire need for antitrust education that NCRA or a private vendor could jump on to increase revenue. Aggregated rate data on our field would help attract investors, new blood, and entrepreneurs to our field. The data collection could be featured in the JCR and increase the value of membership and the publication. Imagine, in the not-so-distant future, mentors being able to concretely tell mentees average rates and earnings. It would be a monumental project for NCRA alone, but perhaps the National Congress of State Associations can be mobilized to train and organize the state associations to provide state data, which could then be fed up the pipeline to NCRA every quarter.

I pledge to do my part, remain in treatment, and continue to platform people and support this profession. If any of my readers need clarification on my work, please comment below or reach out to me at contact@stenonymous.com.

NCRA: “We must warn legal professionals…” about digital!

For a long time on Stenonymous I’ve covered digital recording and its encroachment on stenographic reporting business. From an economic perspective, I see digital reporting as a way for companies to drag more people into the industry, use them to increase labor supply in the industry under the falsehood that the technology is equivalent, and then use the increased labor supply to force reporters to accept less money or fewer pay increases without passing savings, if any, to the consumer. I’ve pointed to the fact that the stenographer shortage being used to justify the expansion of digital court reporting is exaggerated and the entities that pull from the Ducker Report conveniently ignore the age of the report and routinely fail to adjust for real-world events after the report. A lot of the news around the shortage has been based around convincing people that the stenographer shortage cannot be solved through recruitment, leading me to the conclusion that the shortage is being pushed in order to push the digital service against consumer choice.

From a social perspective, I’ve extrapolated from the Justice Served (2009), Testifying While Black (2019) and Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition (2020) studies that on average digital is going to be less accurate than stenographers and not cheaper. While no methodology is perfect, recording and transcribing creates more room for errors because audio monitors are listening for problems — questions of spelling and audio overlap — that they anticipate the transcriber will have. Stenographers, on the other hand, are listening for problems the stenographer will personally have. It really puts us in a league of our own and is a good anecdotal reason for why stenographers and voice writers are not easily replaced by a Mechanical Turk transcription army.

I’m not alone. For months, stenographers have been attempting to educate attorneys on the differences. From Protect Your Record Project to NCRA Strong, there are lots of players helping to define and share what steno brings to the table. I am at a point where I occasionally get messages from people who are exploring the potential of a digital court reporting career. They want to know what they’re signing up for. In some cases they’re being asked to shell out a few thousand dollars in equipment and they want to know if it’s worth it. I generally explain why I believe stenography has more career options or opportunities.

I also explain to digital court reporters or prospective students that we are fighting against a world of inaccuracy. National Court Reporters Association President Debbie Dibble’s recent message about the article “Make sure your court reporter is really a court reporter” really drives this home. 55 missing pages of testimony in a single proceeding. The importance of having a live stenographic court reporter for proceedings is on full display, and NCRA is up to the challenge of letting the bench and bar know the truth.

Ultimately, stenographic reporting has the larger market share and the stronger lobby, something that digital proponents don’t seem honest about when it comes to introducing this work to jobseekers. As I see it, jobseekers left in the dark make excellent candidates for enlightenment. We may well be heading into a period where tons of resources are put down on attracting digital court reporters —

— and digital court reporters turn things around and pick up the stenotype.

Collectively, we have made sure there are numerous resources out there. NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno to name a few. The last frontier seems to be taking people who are being sold a career in digital and pointing them to the words of people like NCRA President Dibble and the ongoing shortage debate. Digitals will work out pretty quickly that they’re being sold on something less rewarding than promised, and stenographic market share will keep growing.

Bulletin: NCRA Misquote Removed & ILCRA Victory

Some time ago I wrote about how a quote was falsely attributed to the National Court Reporters Association, stating there’s a need for 33,000 digital court reporters by 2033. That misquote was still up in the first quarter of 2022, and I brought it up in a discussion with President Dibble. Upon checking again today, I found the quote removed. This is a win for the profession. Student consumers across the country looking into court reporting don’t deserve to be misled.

In other news, the Illinois Court Reporter Association published a document on their recent lobbying victory.

This shows the importance of reporters coming together and working for things that collectively benefit us. State and national association membership is one of simplest ways to organize and act. A big thank you to both associations for showing us that.

I have more to write on NCRA, but I need time to collect my thoughts in light of this new information. Enjoy the victory, stenographers!

NCRA Joins Battle, Calls Out Potentially Illegal Conduct

NCRA has not thrown its weight behind the allegations I made with regard to US Legal, Veritext, STTI, and an apparent scheme to exaggerate and exacerbate our stenographer / court reporter shortage in order to sell attorneys the inferior digital court reporting service. But the National Court Reporters Association has taken a very powerful step by admitting that some vendors in our industry are violating the procedural rules of some states.

Getting attorneys to stop stipulating away their consumer choice away is an outstanding move™️, and one that everyone can take part in by spreading this image. If we do not support our national association now, there may very well not be one to support in ten years. If you’re on the fence about renewing, this would be a reason to give it one more year and see what the president does.

Thank you, President Dibble and all the staff at the NCRA for not laying down on these important issues facing our field. If we can get jurisdictions to begin enforcing procedural rules, it is progress on the road of protecting consumers and the legal record.

NYSCRA Offering RPR WKT Test Prep September 2021

The National Court Reporters Association opened registration for written knowledge tests on September 1, 2021. In an effort to help reporters succeed, the New York State Court Reporters Association is holding several review sessions, each corresponding to a different part of the RPR WKT. On September 12, a technology and innovation review will be held. On September 19, an industry practices review will be held. On September 26, a professionalism and ethics review will be held. Registration links below!

  1. September 12 – Technology and Innovation.
  2. September 19 – Industry Practices
  3. September 26 – Professionalism and Ethics

Alternatively, a registration link has been provided for all three.

I am going to be working on a much larger article about certification and my journey from believing certification was worthless to believing that it is necessary. But this can’t wait. In brief, certification is necessary because it forces us to engage with each other in the form of classes and CEUs. That engagement creates a community. That community helps us keep each other informed and avoid being taken advantage of. If you have any doubts about whether you should sign up for your WKT, just remember that the more you know, the more you can share with your fellow reporter, and the better all of us become. I have a feeling that NYSCRA’s illustrious current President, Joshua Edwards, and its indefatigable incoming President, Dominick Tursi, would agree with me on that one.

You can also sign up for NYSCRA’s voluntary RCR test pioneered by the founder of DALCO reporting, Debra Levinson, CSR-RMR-CRR-CRI-RCR. Read more below and register here!

Vote Yes! NCRA 2021 Proposed Bylaw Amendments

The National Court Reporters Association gave members notice of proposed bylaws amendments recently. If you haven’t given these proposals some thought recently, and you intend to vote during convention time, then please take the time to consider them now. I’ll give a summary of each and what I see myself doing, and why, come voting time.

Amendment 1 – Fellows of the Academy of Professional Reporters

What’s the deal?
The proposal amends the requirements to become part of the Fellows of the Academy of Professional Reporters. The new language mostly points to needing to have stronger ties to NCRA to be a part of FAPR.

My takeaway:
I usually lean toward inclusion, but I also see validity in fellows having close NCRA ties. I believe I’m going to vote yes.

Amendment 2 – Stenographic Captioning and Stenographic Captioners

What’s the deal?
Stick the words “stenographic” captioning and “stenographic captioners” in areas where the bylaws say “stenographic reporting” or “stenographic reporter.” It’s making it a point to mention reporters AND captioners.

My takeaway:
I have always found the need to differentiate ourselves as a bit silly and the term reporter inclusive of who we are and what we do (steno). As an example, if someone walks into a room and greets a group of colleagues, “hey ladies,” I have two choices, I can huff, puff, and yell “I AM A MAN,” demanding that everyone acknowledge the difference, or I can roll with it and say hello. That said, the differentiation and explicit mentioning of captioners makes some of them feel good. It makes them feel included. It makes them feel respected as having a distinct and important skill. I am voting yes on this one without hesitation!

Amendment 3 – Holding Elective Office

What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. This amendment would make it so all participating members who are stenographic reporters can hold elective office in the NCRA. As of today, you can pay dues and vote on the future of the organization if you are not a certified reporter, but you cannot hold elective office. If this amendment passes, any stenographic reporter that has been a member for five years would be able to hold elective office.

My takeaway:
I respect certification very much. I became an RPR shortly after proposing this amendment. But I feel it’s important for us to acknowledge that certifications do not necessarily make a person a leader. The bylaws committee has a little blurb against this stating anyone could claim to be a reporter, join, and run for office, and that much is true, but this idea that someone would join for a minimum of five years and then win an election without anyone else pointing out their complete lack of history is one I just can’t get behind. Take the leap, allow uncertified people to hold office, and open up this association to a pool of leaders it would otherwise not have. About forty percent of the association is not certified. It’s a reality that it’s time to address and tell all stenographic reporters that this association values them enough to give them a seat at the decision makers’ table if they win it fair and square. Any uncertified reporter that could win an election against a certified reporter has political savvy that we frankly need in leadership, so please vote yes.

Amendment 4 – Eligibility to Vote

What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. In 2019 there was a membership dues increase. People that were not at the annual business meeting physically were not allowed to vote on it. This amendment would allow everyone to vote via e-mail.

My takeaway:
The dues increase was in line with inflation and completely warranted, but by limiting the pool of people that could vote for it, it made people really mad and gave the impression that leadership would do whatever it wanted and limit who had a say when it was convenient. In reality, it was done that way out of precedent. This amendment will force NCRA leadership to communicate more about dues increases, but I have a lot of confidence that members will vote for increases that keep the association healthy and strong. Please vote yes so that all voting members have a say on dues increases.

Amendment 5 – Conflict of Interest

What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. This amendment would put the requirement for a conflict of interest policy in our bylaws and gives the board full authority to determine the scope of language and enforcement.

My takeaway:
Some time ago, Jim Cuddahy was NCRA’s Executive Director. That’s when the Ducker report was commissioned and we had a study done on our court reporter shortage. Fast forward, Jim Cuddahy is a part of the Speech To Text Institute and, in my view, one of many digital reporting proponents using the shortage to say “there are not enough court reporters, we must record it.” It makes it look like NCRA was used to do something that was later weaponized against members. People are angry about that, and NCRA has taken social media flak for it despite there being nothing NCRA could really do. One of the questions that floated up on social media was “WHY ISN’T THERE A POLICY?” Only when this proposal was made was I made aware there was a COI policy, and that’s the point, letting members know in big, bold letters there is one.

There’s a blurb about how counsel interprets this amendment to be illegal, but the association already has a conflict of interest policy. Honestly, I’m stunned. We have a conflict of interest policy, but putting the requirement for a COI policy in our bylaws would be illegal? Baloney. In full fairness, to the extent a COI policy can be viewed as a non-compete agreement, it could be illegal, but that’s why this amendment gives the board power over the language and enforcement. Every single board member and the NCRA have a duty to follow the law and they are required to interpret this amendment in a way that follows the law. Again, it is stunning to me that for purposes of proposal, everyone seems to be assuming it must be interpreted in the most unfavorable possible light. I am hoping that you will all see this as I do and vote yes.

Amendment 6 – Virtual Annual Business Meetings

What’s the deal?
This amendment will allow NCRA to have virtual annual business meetings.

My takeaway:
I think this modernizes our bylaws to help us operate even when force majeure would not apply. It’s an obvious yes.

Amendment 7 – Integration of CLVS as Participating Members

What’s the deal?
Certified Legal Video Specialists will be allowed to vote in the association, but will not be able to hold elective office.

My takeaway:
It seems unfair to be a certification body for people that have zero input. NCRA advisory opinion 44 points to the verbatim reporter and video specialist roles not mixing, so there’s no reason to think this is some attempt to undermine the association’s goals or membership. This is a chance to show CLVS members that we value their certs without losing any steno board seats. I’ll vote yes.

Final Thoughts

Associations have a duty to follow their bylaws and the law. The votes we make here dictate to NCRA how it must conduct itself in the future. I’m not against anyone that votes against me here. These votes are unlikely to make or break the association, but they will shift perceptions. On amendment 3, we have a shot at telling reporters without certs we want them to be active in the association, not just collect their money and votes. On amendment 4, we have a shot at telling voting members they deserve a say in dues increases whether or not they can physically make it to the business meeting. On amendment 5, we have a shot at telling all members yes, we have a conflict of interest policy. We have a shot at adding value to membership. Value leads to growth. In the interest of growing our national association, I am voting yes, and I hope you do too.