June-July 2022 Rates Survey

I’m opening up a 6-question survey to the public, as well as court reporting providers, for court reporting rates.

Associations are allowed to collect and distribute aggregate rate data. I’ve provided information on how newbie court reporters are taken advantage of, sometimes working decades behind inflation, due to the dearth of data about the court reporting & stenotype services industry. It is very clear to me that we must move beyond the fallacy of being unable to discuss rates that has been drilled into court reporters’ collective conscience. We must replace it with a more nuanced truth: Discussions and historical data are fair game. It is collusion and the appearance of collusion among competitors that is problematic for those of us that are true independent contractors and associations. Failing to approach this with some nuance allows our silence to be weaponized against our new people, who are told their skills are worth much less than they actually are. They try to make it work and end up leaving because they’re working too hard for too little money.

Associations also risk falling behind if they do not have this data. A lot of players are scraping up court reporter data today, including Capvision, LEK Consulting, Dialectica, and Guidepoint. I cannot yet say conclusively say how the data is being used, but I can absolutely say that it is not in the hands of court reporters, and therefore we are once again playing “catch up.”

This survey focuses on California, Illinois, New York, and Texas. As of the Ducker Report, those states had the highest court reporting demand (page 13). If you’d like to take part in the survey, please do so. You may also submit your e-mail for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

I am hopeful that the data collected will be a useful start to understanding the current state of the market. If nothing else, it should provide a base for discussion. Results should be announced sometime in Q3 2022.

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.

What Rate Should Freelance Reporters Charge?

This is an interesting question for stenographers across the country. What rate should be charged? What is fair? What is a good amount of money?

I have often simply left the answer at: It should be more. I have a body of work on this site that talks about negotiation, inflation, and makes several cases for higher rates for New York freelance. It bears repeating that in New York, the current private regular rate mandated to be charged by officials is about $4.30 per page. If you’re a freelancer paying your own taxes, advertising, business costs, benefits, or workers compensation insurance, then you should consider trying to make more than that by any means necessary, including realtime, rough, daily delivery, and copy sales. The skills you bring to the table are as important as your ability to negotiate and seek out work.

Without more fanfare, let’s turn to what I did tonight. I designed a very small calculator program that takes the user’s input of how much annual salary they want to make, and divides that by all the different rates someone might charge per page to figure out how many pages you need to make that annual salary. It then takes the pages and divides those pages by 20, assuming that’s how many pages a person transcribes an hour. Then it divides  those hours by 7 to tell you how many 7-hour workdays you need to make that money. To tailor this to yourself specifically, you can either edit the calculator, do the calculations manually, or simply half, double, or triple your transcription speed.

I understand that most people do not really do anything with computer code, so I ran the program for several different salary ranges.

These are the calculations if you want to make:

$25,000 a year.

$50,000 a year.

$75,000 a year.

$100,000 a year.

$125,000 a year.

$150,000 a year.

$175,000 a year.

$200,000 a year.

The moral of the story is obvious: The lower your rate is, the more pages you need to make money. The higher your rate is, the fewer pages you need to make money. But to see this in action, let’s just take one point of data: $5.00 per page.

At $5.00 per page, you need about 35 days worth of transcribing to make $25,000 a year.

That’s about 70 days to make $50,000 a year.

That’s 140 7-hour days of transcription to make $100,000 a year.

Anecdotally, if we spend an hour transcribing for every hour we are on the machine, that’s 280 7-hour days of work. There are only 260 weekdays a year. That means to make that $100,000 a year you’re giving up 10 weekends a year at $5.00 a page. Increase the rate to 5.50 and you’re giving up no weekends. 50 cents makes that much of a difference.

Bottom line? Your rate is going to dictate not only your income, but your quality of life. Strive to be a good reporter, know your market, team up with a mentor, and make sure you’re getting paid enough to reach your goals.

 

 

Audio Transcription, Pricing, And You

First and foremost, happy Thanksgiving. As with most great writers, I’m going to take the time away from preparing to the holiday to write about something I know everybody will want to read about: Audio transcription and pricing. As stenographers, we tend to get very focused on a per-page pricing structure. This often leaves us trying to measure our time by pages, and is not always the most ineffective way of being paid.

For purposes of this post, let’s talk a little about CART, audio transcription, and pricing generally. CART and audio transcription are not the same thing, but they have similarities. One key similarity is that they tend to charge by the hour. For CART it’s per hour of writing, usually with a set minimum, and for audio transcription it’s money per hour of audio, sometimes prorated for audio that doesn’t last a whole hour or end exactly on an hour.

Succinctly, for CART, captioning, and audio transcription, despite having different prerequisite skills, the pricing for all of them must take into account the amount of work we’re doing, the quality of the work we’re doing, and ultimately the time it will take us to do the work. So speaking strictly for transcription: I’ve guesstimated that it takes me approximately one to two hours for every hour on the machine to transcribe with pretty close to 100% accuracy. That means for every hour of audio, there are about three hours of actual work involved. So, for me, honestly, working for less than $30/hr becomes painful, so the transcription deal isn’t sweet until maybe the $100-something range. The bottom line of this story? We must examine our time and really decide what it’s worth.

In examining our time, we can also consider other factors. For example, what are other people charging for the same work? As we can see from this Google¬†search here, there are companies that boast a $1/minute transcription fee. So if we do an independent assessment of our time, and we come to the conclusion our time is worth $2/minute, that’s perfect, but just bear in mind that we may lose a couple of customers to the person who is half our price. A potential solution? Split the difference and charge $1.50 per minute.

There’s a lot that goes into economics, buying, selling, demand, supply, and no one blog post could ever impart all of that knowledge on anyone. Even top economists who have devoted their lives to understanding value and money disagree with each other. The best we can do is urge every reporter, where applicable, to look at what they charge, whether charging an agency, lawyer, or outside consumer, and consider how our pricing practices affect all different areas of the field. There’s tons of literature and articles¬†on price matching and how it can help consumers, hurt consumers, help businesses, and hurt businesses, and the cold truth is that it’s up to us to take the time out and learn about these things, because many of us are our own business, and our business rises or falls on our willingness to learn beyond the machine.