Value Gradients for the Stenographer in Training (180+ WPM)

In this article we’ll get down to the different kinds of services offered by freelancers and some officials. This’ll be for the benefit of the relatively new and uninitiated. If you’ve already obtained some mastery over the basics of steno industry or if you’re brand new, this really won’t be for you because you already know about it or are just too new to be worrying about it. I say if you’ve completed 80 percent of a 225 words-per-minute program, 180 WPM, this is probably a worthwhile read.

So there are different things in this field that add value to your work as a stenographer. While we can’t necessarily get behind the subjectivity theory, value is, to a great degree, subjective. This means that simple things like writing a professional cover letter, resume, or contract pitch can make you, at 180 WPM, more valuable than a person who can get 225 WPM but can’t really nail the grammar on anything. Consider the first gradient in your whole career to be learning to write professionally, and always look to improve that writing.

Then we get to the simple things offered by stenographers that pull in more money, typically called upcharges. Often markets are different, and “employers” may even tell you that “they don’t pay for that.” This is a tactic to get you more comfortable with doing the work for less. If there are more stenographers willing to do the work for less, the “employer” has leverage over the stenographers that know about these upcharges, and can bypass them and have you do it for less money. Work smarter, not harder, and consider asking several reporters in your market about the types of upcharges they get. Here are some common ones: Medical testimony, expert testimony, video testimony. Some charge up to 5 percent more for late night work. Some even add an interpreted testimony fee to make up for the time lost to interpreted depositions, which are often fewer pages per hour.

Related to what we just went into is confidence. There is a level of unease that comes with being new. You will probably be pressured to take jobs for less than they are worth. Immediately out of training, it’s agreeable to take all you can get. That said, after a couple of months, after you’re used to getting the transcripts out and doing the work, have the confidence to talk to some other reporters in your market and learn more about what’s expected locally. Don’t talk to one or two — talk to as many as you can. One reporter may say don’t get out of bed for less than a thousand. Another reporter may say hey, if you can rack up 6 busts in a day, it’s okay money for zero work. Have the confidence to take all the different types of jobs just mentioned. In my “class” of reporters there was a very strong fear about taking medical testimony. It had been hyped up as this impossible thing. To be clear, medical words can be unique or difficult, but having the confidence to go out there and do it makes you a better writer with the marketable trait of being able to take any kind of job. There is value in a person that can be sent to any type of job.

Let’s touch on some more common upcharges. Expedite. What is an expedite? That depends. When I started, a “regular” was 2 weeks. Anything quicker was some kind of expedite. Of course the rule follows: The faster they want it, the more they should pay. Nowadays, agencies are pushing people to make 7 or 5 days the regular. In my mind, this is much too short, and it devalues the worth of an expedite. It’s what people who play strategy games would call “a stupid move.” That said, if you can get your work out faster than “regular”, that adds value.

Daily. What’s a daily? You take the job, go home, transcribe, and the job is done by the next day. If you can do a daily, again, there’s value there. Not every single stenographer or transcriber can fulfill a daily. Indeed, to fulfill a daily, multiple transcriptionists have to be put on the same job sometimes. If you can do a daily, you can probably make a thousand or more dollars in a day without being realtime because daily jobs can be worth double a regular in freelance.

Immediate. Immediate is basically you finish the deposition and within 30 minutes to an hour it is ready to go out. The bottom line is the client is getting the transcript pretty quick after the deposition ends. Only the best reporters with 99.9 percent accuracy or a phenomenal scopist behind them can achieve these kinds of levels.

Rough. Rough is basically you go through the untranslates and fix up the transcript before sending it out with the understanding the finished transcript comes later. A rough can be a dollar or more per page in upcharges because it’s basically like an easier immediate. Proceed with caution: Many reporters go out there and produce roughs that are basically unusable. Some of my own roughs have been pretty bad. Always seek to improve and get out the best roughs so that lawyers are encouraged to use this service.

Realtime. Maybe you’ve heard of realtime reporting. It’s among the largest upcharges because these reporters have their words coming out on a laptop or tablet screen for the client. I haven’t personally done realtime, but I know that these reporters can command a dollar or more per realtime hookup on top of their daily, medical, or other upcharges. Why are these upcharges important? More money per page equals fewer pages to make the annual income you want to make. We’ve got over 900 mathematical calculations to show this off.

Now that we’ve been through these different levels of skill, let’s look at how it’ll apply in the real world. Certifications exist, and they are important. That said, in many states and municipalities you can offer these services without the certification. What does this mean? It means that the limiting factor is you. It’s your skill and comfort level. It’s your willingness to go out there and say yes, I will take a medical. It’s the desire to get your skill level to a place where you can realistically offer these things. Your value, to a great degree, is dictated by you.

You will go out there and have bad jobs. There will be hard days. There will be times you feel shaky about the service you’re providing. There will be “employers” who make you feel replaceable. Just keep improving. Know where you are at. Be open to feedback, but don’t live by it. Learn from every mistake. If you are in training and know you are able to produce a daily transcript already — great! Don’t let anybody take that away from you. Don’t accept, as fact, that anybody can do it or that nobody charges for that. The freelance world — the business world — is a tough one. There are buyers and sellers, and the buyers will always be looking for a way to knock you down on the price. Remember these gradients in value, and remember that the more of them you achieve, the more you have something to sell.

NYSCRA Bagels and Lox February 2019

Some will have seen an article authored after a little prodding and editing (AKA help!) from another reporter, Devora Hackner. Photo archive here. Obviously, I had overall positive impressions from the entire event. Got to meet Steno Joe in person! The food was absolutely amazing. There were literally three or four tables of food and everything from bagels to sushi. NYSCRA spared no expense and its sponsors did an amazing job. If you were a non-steno there to learn about steno, you walked away sated and happy. I do think it was an important showcase of our field, and there were over 100 seats, most full.

Unfortunately the structure of the event prohibited me from seeing the CaseCAT and Eclipse trainings, but I know both trainers are at the top of their game and I have personally attended Anthony Frisolone’s past webinars and a Local 1070 seminar, and it’s always been a wonderful experience. If you need CaseCAT help, Anthony is the man. His training is worth every dime. Quick note, the photography by Shmuel Amit was also amazing and is featured mostly along the bottom of the original article.

There are two major points that don’t get covered in the article because Stenonymous and that article have different audiences. Firstly, when Jane Sackheim got up to speak, it was an honest surprise. Hadn’t been on the agenda. It’s rumored Diamond put 1,500 or more down on the event though, so there’s no real issue with letting a sponsor like that get a few words in. If I had a sponsor that good, we’d be sponsoring stenographers to visit NYC high schools. Jane did say there would always be a need for court reporters. Given the current climate, I hope she meant stenographic court reporters, but given that she was funding a NYSCRA event along with ASSCR, we’ll assume it was stenographic court reporters! Then there was a talk about balance.

Jane said it was always a balance between paying what a reporter would accept and charging what a client would pay. That is an insightful thing to think about and consider. Not every single proceeding is worth $400 per page, and there is a certain point where clients just wouldn’t pay. That said, I have always been under the belief that we are incredibly underpaid in New York. When I was freelancing, many of my contemporaries and I were making in the ballpark of $3.25 per page and 0 to 50 cents on a copy. Back at that time (~2012) I met some freelancers out from Ohio who reported they made a dollar or two a page on copies. Different markets? Yes. Different jobs? How different can they possibly be? We had a hard time negotiating here in New York. We were told there were too many reporters and not enough work because that was a convenient thing to say to get us to accept low rates. Now there’s a reporter shortage but we shouldn’t ask for more because clients won’t pay it? All the respect in the world for a woman that built a business and ran it so well that Veritext decided to buy it out rather than compete with it. There’s power to the personality that runs the ship. But here is something I think every reporter should consider: We don’t know the truth until invoices start leaking. We don’t know if the copies are being charged at a buck a page or 4.85 a page. We have to question it for ourselves and decide how to build our own brands and reputations. We don’t know and therefore we can’t say with certainty today what the truth is, but it’s probably somewhere between clients won’t pay and reporters expect too much. We know there’s a serious profit margin in the business because almost every reporting firm has a main office and a satellite office in every borough of the city, and I would point to that each and every time someone says the agencies are hurting. Do business with these agencies, and do good work, but be open to the idea that sometimes you are told things that are subjective are objectively true. We did over 900 math calculations, and to not be working all the time, you either have to be a fast transcriber or making in the ballpark of $5.50 a page average. That’s a tall order, but I believe that if agencies and reporters continue to put down money and ideas to enhance the field and our professional organizations, we’ll be okay.

Without further delay let’s end this on a high note. Nonmembers who attended get $18 off their membership this year. Also, NYSCRA did something incredible. They asked for the following:

    Seminar speakers you’d like to see.
    Seminars or speeches you yourself would be willing to conduct.
  • So what’s left to do? Write NYSCRA today at nyscra@bowermanagementservices.com or head over to their site at NYSCRA, tell Tim he’s doing a GREAT job, and share your thoughts and ideas. They’re asking for them! Personally I’d love a few seminars for freelancers on how to be marketable to agencies and how to be marketable to attorneys directly. Hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll have an interview with Eve Barrett of the Expedite app to discuss exactly that. I think these things are perfectly attainable, but it’s time for members and potential members to ask for them.
  • Workers Rights

    Here on Stenonymous we have explored many different things related to freelancing and stenographic employment. As a quick recap for those that have trouble navigating the site, we’ve discussed turnaround times and how they have gone from 30 days to 5 with no extra money involved. We’ve discussed the Beginner’s Trap and freelance loyalty, which is all about how you must be loyal to yourself to earn a better income. We’ve brought out the need to build skills that make you marketable. We have admitted the power of a contract and thought about what should go into a rate sheet. We’ve gotten into billing, anticontracting, form SS8, and what it means to be an independent contractor. We have explained why we can’t discuss rates, and then we have discussed rates. We even put out other people’s rates.

    Now it’s time for something a little different. I would like people to seriously consider a dilemma the field finds itself in. As independent contractors, we are consistently in a bind of being afraid to discuss rates thanks to antitrust concerns. This fear is probably at times a little overblown, but it causes us to be silent and to act very content even when things are not going well. Indeed, our biggest organizations, our NCRAs and NYSCRAs are trapped in the position of being unable to serve as forums for rate discussions due to liability concerns. All this is happening while some of our biggest purchasers are making a push from stenographic reporting to digital recording. I think it is time to ask ourselves what we actually get out of the independent contractor label. It’s out there that employers can save up to 30 percent by labeling employees as independent contractors. It’s out there that about 20 percent of employees are misclassified. Succinctly, the gig economy is bad for workers. Employers are doing their best to eliminate the cost of workers compensation and unemployment. These are serious benefits, worth thousands of dollars, that independent contractors do not get. Independent contractors have little to no federal protection from otherwise illegal discrimination and need to go to small claims instead of Department of Labor if we go unpaid. Employees are also entitled to FMLA leave, and in New York, family leave laws. Employees have the right to unionize and the employer is forced to enter good-faith negotiation with the employee union. Under today’s law in New York, the only way to take any of these benefits, if you are a commission employee misclassified as an independent contractor, is to dispute the issue on a case-by-case basis. How many people have the guts to do that?

    We’re not even getting the benefits of being independent contractors, which would be the write-offs, the ability to hire other workers, and the ability to set our own hours. Think about it. How many of us in the freelance sector print our own transcripts or have consistent business write-offs? Yes, it is nice to write-off the occasional mailing fee, but the agencies have largely taken up any function that gets a write-off except for your starting equipment fee. Ironically, I have more write-offs as an employee with the state, thanks to my 1099 income, than I ever did as a freelancer. The ability to hire other workers? Go ahead and try sending someone who isn’t you to a deposition. See how many times you can do that before they stop sending you work. When I call my plumber, I don’t get to choose who he or she sends. Setting your own hours? Don’t know about everyone else, but I know that I got deposition forms that said please arrive early and gave me a start time. My hours were more or less set by the work, which really isn’t that much different from your boss telling you I need you at 10 tomorrow. We live in America, and people are entitled to refuse work any day they feel like, it’s not something we need the mantle of independent contractor for.

    From New York to California independent contractors are beginning to challenge their status or realize the raw deal. California came out with a simplified three-part test for independent contractors. Maybe we should have a serious discussion about whether the title is worth keeping for most of us. Maybe we should talk about new laws and enforcement for independent contractors in New York.

    It’s absolutely ludicrous to me that we box ourselves into a position where “freelancers” who are meted work, have deadlines dictated to them, are told when to arrive, what to bring, and disciplined via withholding work when deadlines are slipped, defend this model. The numbers don’t lie. Turnaround times are six times faster. Rates haven’t risen with inflation. Independent contractors save employers 30 percent. What could you do with a 30 percent raise? Hell, what could you do with a 10 percent raise? I mean, I have to go back to the article where I calculated out 1000 different rates. If you’re the breadwinner, unless you’re making at least $5.50 a page average, you’re working nights and weekends to make ends meet. The pricing structure doesn’t even need to change. The only thing that would have to change is agencies would have to pay minimum wage if your page rate didn’t give you at least minimum wage. Guess what? That’ll basically never happen. Imagine a world where you go take a deposition for an hour and only make 20 pages. Now imagine you transcribe for one hour. Your page rate is $3.25. $65 for two hours. Not a great rate but realistically what my generation was lowballed with. Way above minimum wage. We’re specialized workers, we deserve it.

    Ultimately, I am of the opinion that in this market and under these circumstances the losers are the independent contractors. There are no substantial gains to being independent contractors, and anyone with private clients could just continue their private clients as a separate business entity. My opinion is malleable and I’m open to debate, but beyond the shallow arguments of we have always been independent contractors and we buy our own equipment, I’ve heard precious little that impresses me. You know who else buys their own equipment? Teachers.

    Maybe it’s time for a swap. Maybe it’s time for our trade organizations to shift to labor unions. At the very least, it’s time to talk about these issues in public and consider what can be better.

    EDIT. On February 11, 2019, I discovered this JCR article which appears to have a different viewpoint than my own but also talks about the issue. I feel it is important, when possible, to give as much information as possible, so please feel free to review that and join the discussion.

    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.

     

     

    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.

    Knowledge Preserved Is Power

    Connecting Dots.

    To some degree, we all enjoy researching pieces of history.¬†Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes we learn things that nobody else knows. Sometimes we get to use our knowledge to help those close to us, and that’s a wonderful thing.

    But I had quite the experience exiting steno school years ago, I found that knowledge was hard to come by. I wanted to know all about the old Federation for Shorthand Reporters. I wanted to know why it failed, and I wanted to know what people’s rates used to be so I could compare them for inflation. Some stenographers were kind, and gave anecdotes, like they made $2.85 in 1989, which was interesting, because I was offered $2.85 when I began my professional steno career in June 2010. $2.85 in 1989 had about the same buying power as $5.20 in 2018. Sincerely, I’m told some have worked for less than $2.85 a page today. I’m basically saying freelancers should be making $5.20 on a regular easy. Laugh all you want, it’s the math. And that’s the point. How is this not common knowledge? How are we not talking about this? How are we not discussing the best ways to negotiate and pull up whatever we’re making today?

    Finding real concrete information was hard, and often, even when I became an established professional,¬†people who had some experience in the field were done with the field and didn’t want to take the time out to share their experiences.

    It’s imperative that I write a little bit today about why I started to preserve some of these ideas about the market, competition, and steno in general. Some of it is a modern look at how we might make things better, but also it’s about catching up, preserving knowledge, and putting it out there so that stenographers everywhere might benefit.

    Let’s be very honest. How easy is it for an agency to tell a kid out of school that they’re only worth $2.85? The kid doesn’t know! The kid doesn’t have anybody to tell them what was or what may be. The kid only knows they’re in the moment and they’re being offered XYZ. It’s not like agencies can’t afford stenographers, they just have an interest in paying the minimum that’ll get the job done. That’s the reality.

    We have probably 100 years of stenography. If we assume there was an average of only 20,000 stenographers in those years, that’s 2,000,000 years of life and steno experiences. The industry has survived and thrived. Our biggest weakness is that nearly all of the information today is locked up behind paywalls, private practice sessions, quiet conversations. This constant limiting of the spread of knowledge has hamstrung us like no enemy ever could. As Ariel Durant said, a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. Connect the dots, lift people out of ignorance, and the civilization will take care of itself.

    Winning.

    It’s about training people not to be afraid anymore. It’s about reaching out to students and telling them where you’ve won, where you’ve lost, and how they can be successful. Give them real numbers. Ask how they’re doing. Tell them what people were making in the 80s, 90s, and now. Tell them how people outside of New York City make a dollar on copies. Tell them New York officials make at least dollar on copies. We cannot teach resourcefulness, but we can facilitate an attitude and environment where people understand the market and push for private clients and create stenographic-only firms. We can get to a point where companies like US Legal stop pushing their electronic recorders and start contributing to training more stenographers.

    The bottom line is that without a healthy field in multiple disciplines, eventually the train runs off the tracks. I hear a lot of people echo “come to court”, “come to CART”, “come do what I do because it works for me.” But the bottom line is to continue to thrive, stenography needs to continue to grow its market share, and it needs to push to retake where it has lost. A lot of victory has to do with perception. If stenography is perceived as failing, then it is less likely that people will want to get into it, and less likely that people will start schools dedicated to it. Such a perception would be a deathblow for this field.

    On the other hand, if it is seen as something new, exciting, and with growth potential, it will encourage people with money, entrepreneurs, and innovators to invest in it. We’ll encourage the building of more free steno materials. It will cause a boom for us, and if we’re smart about it, we may not see that boom end in our lifetime. So I’d say yes, absolutely encourage people to join your particular discipline, but also listen to their problems, and suggest how they might do better where they are too. It’ll make a world of difference for them on an individual level, and save all of us as a whole.

     

     

     

    To E Court Reporters and Transcribers

    I’m writing to you today because chances are high we aren’t that different. Maybe we both like law, or depositions, or working with lawyers. Maybe we both heard this was a great career with lots of potential. Maybe we will both face the same hurdles and challenges. Maybe you’ll cruise around my little blog here and find articles that pertain to you.

    For the longest time, the deposition was the space of the stenographic reporter. Depending on where you’re at, we were making a lot of money and still have great careers today. Now what’s happened is the companies that previously used stenographers are trying to move towards transcription. They’re using you all to record and transcribe what we take down and transcribe. And I’m here today to make two points for your benefit:

    1. Try stenography. It’s easy to learn, it’s hard to do fast, and our community is in the process of building free resources for you to try it out.
    2. There’s a constant and unending thing at play called the market.

    Stick with me, because I’m going to offer solutions. We all know that there are buyers and sellers of goods and services, and they are always, through one way or another, negotiating. If Law Office A doesn’t like Reporting Company B’s style or service, they can always use Reporting Company C. That’s the market at work. But there’s an unspoken side of the market, the labor force. Stenographers, voice writers, electronic reporters, transcribers, are all players in the market, and our actions can dictate our future.

    Succinctly, when I was a deposition stenographer I was making only about $3.50 to $4.00 a page, and 25 cents to 50 cents a copy. That’s on a regular 14-day turnaround. There were also services where we’d rush the transcript for more than 6 bucks a page. To put that in perspective, let’s say that a fast-talking lawyer can do at least 60 pages an hour. 240 an hour. But for every hour at a deposition it would take me about an hour of transcription, 120 an hour. Sounds high, right? But I was an independent contractor and had to factor in the days where I made $0.00.

    So now let’s take you, the valuable, amazing person they’re now pitching $20 an hour at, or $40 an hour at. Let’s say that you’re also doing the transcription work, and let’s assume it takes you much longer so you’re getting more hours transcribing. $40 at the 1 hour deposition, then four hours of transcription. $200. It takes you 5 to 10 hours of work to make pretty much the same $200 I was getting in two hours. Don’t forget, you’re doing pretty much the same work, it’s just taking you longer and making your life harder.

    So what are the solutions? I’ve got 3:

    1. Try stenography. It’s going to make your life easier. You’re going to command higher rates and pump out work fast. Has someone told you it’s dead? Consider whether they have a financial interest in telling you that.
    2. Negotiate for more. Just like I’ve told stenographers for the last 4 years we are what we ask for. The work you’re doing is hard, and it is valuable. They can afford to pay you more and they know it, and I know it, and now you know it too. They’re not passing the savings of using you off to the lawyer, they’re pocketing it. And as capitalism teaches us, the money is always better off in our wallet.
    3. Unionize. I’m not even kidding. As freelancers we deposition reporters would’ve had an uphill struggle to unionize. Unions are a dirty word now but let’s look at what they’re entitled to by law: Good-faith negotiations. Ultimately the union gets a peek at company finances and the company and union negotiate on what would be a fairer market rate for the services being provided. Where direct pay isn’t available, a union could negotiate for job security, better workplace rules, and medical or other benefits. There are even already legal workers unions in NYC.

    If you found this helpful, spread the knowledge. Empower your colleagues. Fight because this is a fight worth winning. If you found this strange, consider that the rules in life are too. The longer you play by the rules dictated to you by others, the more you are set to lose. Take control. Be polite, be professional, be the best, but go forward with the understanding that you are a market force, and your actions dictate the future.

    A Word On Raises

    The bottom line of this story is going to be, “you need to ask for a raise.” What was quite common in my New York freelance years was many of us accepted, year after year, what agencies handed out. It is time for us to step out of our court reporting skins and be business people.

    There’s something called inflation. The really low level summary of inflation is that as more money is produced the value of existing money decreases, meaning item values go up. That’s why you could live off less money back in the 50s or 60s, and why everything is so expensive now.

    The buying power of the money in the bank goes down every year, and every year, the services you provide need to be charged at a higher rate so that you have the same buying power.

    Try it for yourself. Get an inflation calculator, type in your very first page rate or salary, the year you started, and the year it is now. A reporter told me that in 1989 they made $2.50. That’s worth $5.11 now. If they aren’t making $5.11, their buying power is shot.

    I did it myself. I sat down and said what’s a good starting rate for 2018? I was given $3.25 in 2011. Inflation calculator says that’s worth $3.66 now. I had a few friends who started at $4. That’s worth $4.50 now. But who wants to work for the same exact money every year? No. We want a raise. So what would a raise of 3% a year look like? Year 1, you start at $4.00. By year 6, you should be making $4.60. Look at those numbers again. Just to have the same exact buying power 2011 to now, you need $4.50 a page. To give yourself a $0.10 raise after six years, you need $4.60. Your cost of living is going to go up, and unless you make more money every year, your quality of life is going to go down.

    That’s really it. This is my case and my explanation for why we have to start talking about our rates. We have to start informing each other about simple business principles. We need to keep an eye on that inflation rate. We need to really take a close look at what we make on all our services and ask ourselves why our money for our associations, charities, and causes are so tight. We need to admit one thing: You need to ask for a raise.

    What’s In A Rate Sheet?

    In a moment of clarity, I sent a blog post of mine to a friend. She rightly pointed out that for many the confusion is not so much that there needs to be a contract or agreement, but rather many do not know what to put in a contract or agreement until they’ve been royally screwed.

    To that end, I set out to see what people put on their rate sheets. I asked court reporters from around the country and received two or three actual rate sheets. For purposes of this post I will not add rates. Perhaps, if people ask, we can have a whole other post with regard to rates and numbers people may charge. As a general note, I express no opinion on these line items, but this gives all an idea of what others do so that we may all emulate what we want to emulate. In no particular order, we have:

    • Same day.
    • Overnight.
    • Next day (daily).
    • Two-day.
    • Three-day.
    • General turnaround time expectations.
    • Deposition O&1.
    • Arbitration O&1.
    • Certified copy.
    • No copy surcharge (O&1)
    • Rough draft.
    • Rough draft or expedite with “free copy.”
    • Excerpt only surcharge.
    • Expert surcharge.
    • Technical testimony surcharge.
    • Medical testimony surcharge.
    • Video surcharge. (proceeding videotaped)
    • Interpreter surcharge.
    • Heavy accent/uncontrolled room surcharge.
    • Teleconference/video conference surcharge. (Held over video/phone)
    • Meeting/symposium/board surcharge.
    • Transcript not ordered fee.
    • Tape transcription with down payment.
    • Confidential/nonconfidential surcharge.
    • Appearance fee.
    • Holiday/weekend appearance surcharges.
    • Waiting time fee.
    • Night job surcharge.
    • Cancellation at or after 5 p.m.
    • Cancellation before arriving to job.
    • Cancellation after arriving before setting up.
    • Cancellation after arriving after setting up.
    • Statement on the record fee.
    • Bust fee.
    • Printing and shipping of exhibits.
    • Adding an agreement to pay to rush/special orders and/or terms.
    • Adding an agreement to pay according to the fee schedule.
    • Mileage/travel surcharges
    • Hotels/accommodations surcharges.
    • Sale of audio fee.
    • Notary-only appearance.
    • Space/room fee.
    • Witness review coordination fee.

    As anyone can see there are innumerable ideas and guidelines for what might go on a rate sheet. It is down to us to see to it that our time and skill is adequately compensated, and a big part of that is ensuring our agreements contemplate as many of the little what ifs as possible.