Is US Legal Giving Digital Reporters Benefits?

I hold myself out as an advocate for court reporters and people pass me info. A few have stated some large firms are offering packages to digital court reporters that are not being offered to stenographers, such as sign-on bonuses. I always ask for some kind of corroborating information so that I’m not publishing false statements. Today, I have some corroborating information.

In this Zip Recruiter ad, US Legal advertises that it offers family-friendly benefits to its employees, including retirement benefits, insurance, paid parental leave, and an EAP. It then goes on to describe a digital court reporter position. As I see it, either it’s (1) a clever play on words where they talk about the benefits that employees get and then hand the digital court reporters an independent contractor “job,” because employers can save a good 40% by misclassifying employees — seriously.

And up to 30% of workers may be, shockingly, misclassified.

OR (2) if it’s not a play on words and they’re actually offering all of these things to digital court reporters, then the fraud that I have been talking about just became really easy to explain: US Legal is, as far as we can tell, making the public claim that they cannot find stenographers. We know that stenographer rates are as much as 30 years behind inflation. We know that US Legal failed to use coverage apps or directories like PRO Link, Expedite Legal, and Cover Crow. In fact, corporate rep Rick Levy, who was on the board of NCRA at one time, attempted to pretend that he did not know what Sourcebook was. We know that US Legal is and was aggressively recruiting digital reporters on LinkedIn and did not attempt to do so for stenographers. We know that US Legal posted an impossible equation to JD Supra in order to convince readers the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve. We know that US Legal acquired and apparently destroyed StenoTrain. We know US Legal inflated the shortage numbers by a factor of six to convince the public stenographers were unavailable and that the shortage was impossible to solve. We know that US Legal’s Chief Strategy Officer Peter Giammanco and Rick Levy both had no problem bullying the women in our profession and others, but they give me carte blanche because they’ve worked out that I’m not afraid of them. We know that digital recruitment isn’t going well because they’ve had to publish their recruitment advertisements every day for months. Even if we want to excuse all of the company’s behavior, how do we excuse this? Reporters are 88% women and yet maternity leave was out of our grasp. All of these benefits that could bring reporters in, I have not seen offered to stenographers. Again, how can the company make a good faith claim stenographers are unavailable when the truth is that the company has done everything in its power to crush the stenographic modality?

If benefits are being offered to digital reporters, I’m happy for those digital reporters, but it’s only a matter of time before the companies turn on them too. We have to let digitals know what’s going on, get them working steno, scoping, and all the things that are going to improve their skills, and lead our industry by example. These big-money types won’t have a choice but to use steno if everybody they’re hiring is taking that money and putting it down on stenographic education. Here’s a hint: That’s happening right now.

We have a choice, as people, to not be complicit in our own demise. It is very clear that the company wishes to exaggerate shortage claims in order to sell attorneys the inferior digital court reporting product at inflated and unreasonable prices. Either we become very open and honest with the attorneys we work with that this fraud issue is ongoing or we risk our jobs being stashed and undervalued. Our value is not directly tied to our productivity, but to our ability to communicate our value and negotiate a better deal. We are players in a game where we hold most of the leverage. Our nonprofits are bigger. There are more of us. We do the vast majority of the work that makes the business and industry viable. We are the consumers of the software and equipment companies that are supposed to support the industry. We are each contributors to local economy — our money doesn’t just sit in the bank, it supports local businesses. There are so many court reporters in this country that we could singlehandedly run candidates for office. Again, we hold all of the leverage. My only suggestion is that we start using it unapologetically. Remember, when the shortage narrative was accepted without question, we were lied to. Now this industry has facts and figures that tell us we were lied to, and there’s a shocking amount of silence. Now that this industry has been shown we defeated stenographer shortage twice before, it’s only a matter of time until we defeat it again, and on that day court reporters would do well to remember every single person and company that said such a thing was impossible. Remember them and remember that when they had a choice to uplift young reporters or peddle garbage, they chose the latter.

New Year New Rates Movement (NY Freelancers)

With the ongoing reporter shortage, agencies have been more willing to negotiate to get coverage. For many reasons, we do need to address the shortage, but while it’s happening, it’s important to remember supply and demand. They want the jobs covered? They need to pay properly.

I saw a post that basically said: “Agencies known for paying low have offered to pay my rates.” And the next line was great “new year, new rates.” The message is clear: if you’re getting low balled by your agency or you know someone else who is, ask for more. Encourage everyone to ask for more. Ideas often spread through echo chambers, so echo this: Public sector’s set at 4.30 a regular, 5.50 an expedite, 6.50 a daily, and a dollar a copy! You better believe that agencies are making at least that, so it’s time to start asking for that. Do not be shy about taking action in your own interest. In 2010 agencies had no problem moving lockstep and saying no, we can’t afford to pay you more. Eight years later, shoe is on the other foot, and it’s only our ability to coordinate, spread the idea, and stand firm that freelance reporters must make more for what they do.And if they don’t pay, remember that each and every freelancer is an entrepreneur and can compete directly with the agencies. I’ve known reporter-owned agencies that paid us above what the market was when times were tough, and it’s the reporter-owned firms that are going to pull us forward. There’s going to be a wave where the next shotcaller comes into town. You could be that person, you could know that person, or you could encourage that person to succeed.