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.

How We Discuss Errors and Automatic Speech Recognition

As a stenographic court reporter, I have been amazed by the strides in technology. Around 2016, I, like many of you, saw the first claims that speech recognition was as good as human ears. Automation seemed inevitable, and a few of my most beloved colleagues believed there was not a future for our amazing students. In 2019, the Testifying While Black study was published in the Language Journal, and while the study and its pilot studies showed that court reporters were twice as good at understanding the AAVE dialect as your average person, even though we have no training whatsoever in that dialect, the news media focused on the fact that we certify at 95 percent and yet only had 80 percent accuracy in the study. Some of the people involved with that study, namely Taylor Jones and Christopher Hall, introduced Culture Point, just one provider that could help make that 80 percent so much higher. In 2020, a study from Stanford showed that automatic speech recognition had a word error rate of 19 percent for “white” speakers, 35 percent for “black” speakers, and “worse” for speakers with a high dialect density. How much worse?

The .75 on the left means 75 percent. DDM is the dialect density. Even with fairly low dialect density, we’re looking at over 50 percent word error rate.

75 percent word error rate in a study done three or four years after the first claim that automatic speech recognition had 94 percent accuracy. But in all my research and all that has been written on this topic, I have not seen the following point addressed:

What Is An Error?

NCRA, many years ago, set out guidelines for what constituted an error. Word error guidelines take up about a page. Grammatical error guidelines take up about a page. What this means is that when you sit down for a steno test, you’re not being graded on your word error rate (WER), you’re being graded on your total errors. We have decades of failed certification tests where a period or comma meant a reporter wasn’t ready for the working world yet. Even where speech recognition is amazing on that WER, I’ve almost never seen appreciable grammar, punctuation, Q&A, or anything that we do to make the transcript readable. It’s so bad that advocates for the deaf, like Meryl Evans, refer to automatic speech recognition as “autocraptions.”

Unless the bench, bar, and captioning consumers want word soup to be the standard, the difference in how we describe errors needs to be injected into the discussion. Unless we want to go from a world where one reporter, perhaps paired with a scopist, completes the transcript and is accountable for it, to a world where up to eight transcribers are needed to transcribe a daily, we need to continue to push this as a consumer protection issue. Even where regulations are lacking, this is a serious and systemic issue that could shred access to justice. We have to hit every medium possible and let people know the record — in fact, every record in this country — could be in danger. The data coming out is clear. Anyone selling recording and/or automatic transcription says 90-something percent accuracy. Any time it’s actually studied? Maybe 80 percent accuracy, maybe 25; maybe they hire a real expert transcriber, or maybe they outsource all their transcription to Kenya or Manila. Perception matters; court administrators are making industry-changing decisions based on the lies or ignorance of private sector vendors.

The point is recording equipment sellers are taking a field which has been refined by stenographic court reporters to be a fairly painless process where there are clear guidelines for what happens when something goes wrong, adding lots of extra parts to it, and calling it new. We’ve been comparing our 95 percent total accuracy to their “94 percent” word error rate. In 2016, perhaps there were questions that needed answering. This is April 2021, there’s no contest, and proponents of digital recording and automatic transcription have a moral obligation to look at the facts as they are today and not what they’d like them to be.

If you are a reporter that wants more information or ideas on how to talk about these issues with clients, check out the NCRA Strong Resource Library, and Protect Your Record Project. Even reporters that have never engaged in any kind of public speaking can pick up valuable tips on how to educate the public about why stenographic reporting is necessary. Lawyers, litigants, and everyday people do not have time to go seeking this information; together, we can bring it to them.

Collective Power of Stenographers

One piece of feedback I get back from time to time is “we can’t stand up to XYZ Corporation. They make 100 million in revenue!” I deeply empathize with this reaction because I’ve felt that before. Back in freelance, that feeling was constant. How could I negotiate with a company that was only offering $3.25? They were a big company with lots of work. I was basically a kid just out of college with my extremely shiny AOS. I didn’t even have a squid hat yet.

With this thing on, I became unstoppable.

But about 3 years ago I started to teach myself very basic computer programming. I began to learn a little bit more about numbers and math. I had always hated math, and the whole experience completely changed that perception. I started to like math. One the first programs I ever wrote was a simple counter program similar to this one:

This program loops for as long as steno is awesome, and steno never stops being awesome.

In this code, you start with the number 0 and it adds one forever until the computer malfunctions or the program is shut down. What you see happen very quickly is that when you’re adding one several times a second, one quickly becomes 10, 100, 1,000, 1,000,000.

What the hell does that have to do with stenographers? We are the ones that add up in this program called life. For example, let’s say we have XYZ Corporation and it makes $100 million a year in revenue. Now let’s say there are 23,000 reporters, like vTestify said almost three years ago, and let’s assume that reporters ONLY make a median salary of about $60,000 a year. Those reporters make $1.3 billion in revenue annually. You take two percent of that a year and throw it in an advertising pot, and you’re talking a $26 million annual advertising campaign.

5 percent? I said 2 percent. Someone should fix this immediately.

So now to bring this out of theory and into reality, you can see it happening in real life. There’s no group of people that’s going to have a 100 percent contribution rate. But when you look at the numbers, you start to see that overall we put far better funding into our organizations and activities than alternative methods or spinoffs. Take, for example, AAERT, which pulled in about $200,000 in 2018 revenue. For those that don’t know AAERT, they’re primarily engaged with supporting the record-and-transcribe method of capturing the spoken word. As I’ve covered in past blog posts and industry media, it’s an inefficient and undesirable method (page 5), and most digital reporters would do a lot better if they picked up steno.

Published by ProPublica

Then we can look towards the National Verbatim Reporters Association, which seems to focus more on voice writing, but definitely includes and accepts stenographic reporters. We see the 2017 revenue here come in at almost $250,000. Not bad at all.

As far as I’m concerned, every dollar is deserved. I’ve never heard a bad word from an NVRA member.

But then we look to our National Court Reporters Association, which is primarily engaged in promoting stenography and increasing the skill of stenographic court reporters. This is where we see the collective power of reporters start to add up in a big way. In 2018, the NCRA saw more than $5.7 million in revenue. The NCRF brought in an additional $368,000. That’s over $6 million down on steno that year.

I think I can see my membership dues somewhere in there.
When I pay off my massive personal debt, I’m going to become an NCRF Angel / Squid.

What conclusions can be drawn here? As much as the anti-steno crowd wants to say the profession’s dead, dying, or defunct, there’s just no evidence to support that. Here you get to see some fraction of every field contributing to nonprofits dedicated to education, training, and educating the public. We know from publicly-available information that our membership dues are not 30x more than these other organizations, so we know that there are a lot more of us, and we know that there are a lot more of us participating in continuing education and sharpening our skills. We’re the preferred method. We’re the superior method. We’re training harder every day to meet the needs of consumers. There are only a few ways this goes badly for stenography.

  1. We lack the organization or confidence to counter false messaging.
  2. We lose trust in our collective power and institutions, stop supporting them, and stop promoting ourselves. Kind of like the Pygmalion effect.
  3. We spend time tearing each other down instead of boosting each other’s stuff.

See the common theme? There’s really nothing external that’s going to hurt this field. It all comes down to our ability to adapt, organize, and play nice with each other. In the past, I equated it with medieval warfare and fiction. The easiest way to win any adversarial situation is to get the other side to give up and go home. It’s an old idea straight out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Applied to business, if you can convince people not to compete against you, you win by default. This might be in the form of a buyout. This might be in the form of convincing people that stenography is not a viable field so that there are not enough stenographers to meet demand. This might be in the form of would-be entrepreneurs believing they cannot compete and never starting a business. This might be in the form of convincing consumers that stenographic reporters are not available. This might be in the form of casting doubt on stenographic associations. This might be in the form of buying a steno training program and ostensibly scrubbing it out of existence. These are all actions to avoid competition, because as the numbers just showed you, we only lose if we do not compete. If you do nothing else for Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, please take the time to promote at least one positive thing about steno. If a guy in a squid hat could get you to think differently about just one topic today, what kind of potential do you have to make a difference in this world?

I’ll launch us off with an older quote from Marc Russo. “If you are a self-motivated person with a burning desire to improve your skills, this is the field.” This is our field. This is our skill. All we have left to do is stand up to the people that take advantage of our stellar customer service mentality and the public perception that we’re potted plants.

Can a potted plant do this?

PS. That $3.25 I was having trouble negotiating up from? Some of my friends were making $4.00+ with less experience than me. The limitation was me and the way that I was thinking about it. We have all had to deal with hurdles that seemed insurmountable. Max Curry talked a little bit about it in his NCRA Stenopalooza presentation “Fear…Let It Go!” when he talked about his father and introversion. It was an amazing presentation. But here’s my takeaway for those that missed it last year. If you’re having a problem, try looking at it another way.

Beware Commercial Leasing Agreements for Equipment

Commercial leasing, by itself, is not a scam. The idea behind commercial equipment leasing is that you are leasing or renting computer or electronic equipment from a company for a specified time. Some agreements then contain provisions for you to buy the equipment or return it to the company you are leasing from. That said, contract law is pretty serious in the United States and you will generally be expected to abide by the terms of the contract that you sign with a provider or seller if a matter goes to court. This means you have to be absolutely sure you want to be a part of the agreement you’re signing.

Why beware? A few simple reasons:

  1. Complexity. The likelihood that you need a company to help you pick out equipment is low, and the cost of computer equipment for court reporting is low enough that you can probably figure out a way to buy the equipment outright or cheaper using revolving or personal credit. It does not make sense to have a complex contractual agreement for equipment unless there is something generous you are getting from the contract such as generous tech support provisions, replacement parts, or free repairs/replacements. If you can walk into a store and get it, caveat emptor. If you are entering an agreement for someone else to get it for you, be just as careful.
  2. Third-party bait and switch. Some sellers will say they are helping you pick out the right equipment for you. This can be very tempting because not everyone in our field is comfortable buying computers without advice. So you could be talking to your software manufacturer, who refers you to their “computer specialists,” who are actually a third-party commercial leasing company. So one minute you’re talking about buying a computer, the next minute you’re signing a commercial leasing agreement, and if you’re not careful, your signature could end up on an agreement that you don’t fully understand. This is totally legitimate, legal business, but it could cost a reporter a lot of money unnecessarily.
  3. Predatory practices. Beyond the third-party bait and switch, there are general equipment leasing “tricks” that can end up costing consumers. Evergreen clauses are one example of this, where the buyer has the option to buy the equipment, but the seller is allowed to extend the agreement if the buyer does not notify them of their intent to buy the equipment. There are also instances where sellers attempt to alter the text of the contract just before it is signed. If you see a company employing predatory practices or attempting to confuse you, it may be a good idea to avoid doing business with them altogether.

Protect yourself and your wallet. Always make sure you read, understand, and retain a copy of what you sign or agree to. If you are having trouble understanding the terms of a contract, it may pay to have a lawyer review the contract with you, because monthly payments, fees, or penalties in an agreement can quickly snowball to be several times the cost of the computer equipment you’re leasing — and it’s mostly legal.

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.

NYSCRA Certs Waive Provisional Assessment for NY Courts

NYSCRA President Nancy Silberger announced on December 13, 2018 that holders of the NYSCRA (New York State Court Reporters Association) certs ACR (Association Certified Reporter) and RCR (Realtime Certified Reporter) will be able to skip the provisional assessment for the state court test. This happened thanks to the work of Debra Levinson. I had written in the past about the value of associations, and today I can honestly say that the value of a NYSCRA membership has increased.

To put it in plain language: Every one to four years there is a civil service examination for the court reporter title and a statewide civil service examination for the senior court reporter title in New York State Unified Court System. Senior court reporters work in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, which is the “highest” trial court in the state. Court reporters work for the other “lower” trial courts, criminal, civil, or family courts. Passing the civil service examination is what gets you a permanent position with the New York State Unified Court System. Sometimes, and as a matter of fact right now, there are provisional postings for titles where people may apply for and take an assessment test to work provisionally in a title. Working provisionally allows people to begin accruing vacation time, sick time, comp time, and I believe it also leads to time in the title and pension. Basically if you are waiting for a permanent position to open up, the provisional posting is your way in. What NYSCRA has done is made it possible for you to get the provisional position in the court reporter title without the assessment test. You already passed a test, so why take it again? So if you can pass NYSCRA’s NYACR or NYRCR, you don’t have to pass the provisional examination to get a job with the NYSUCS right now. What’s better than that?Join NYSCRA. Propose great ideas like this one, and watch the association work to make NY reporting better year after year.

Veritext Buys A Diamond

In a perhaps not-so-surprising move Veritext bought Diamond. I wish every reporter a great deal of luck and success, but I do want to talk a little bit about why I think this is overall bad for us.

Corporations are entities made to create a profit for their owners. That’s their legal and primary purpose. There’s nothing really wrong with this, it’s kind of how things work. When you buy a stock in a public corporation, generally you can rest assured that the Board of Directors has a duty to protect the value of your shares. Yay.

But this poses a unique problem for reporters. Their duty is to their bottom line. What’s one of the biggest expenses? Labor. What’s labor in reporting? Our fees! So ultimately, Veritext, which I now nickname Gobbler Corporation, has bought its way into having what I imagine to be a pretty hefty book of business. This is bad for the following reasons:

If the reporter shortage continues, they have an incentive to push audio recording. It is cheaper and it will always be cheaper to get someone to take notes during a proceeding while it’s being recorded than hiring a stenographic reporter. This savings isn’t likely to be transferred to the lawyers and litigants, but added to Veritext’s bottom line.

If the shortage does not continue, Veritext has a larger market share of New York and will have a better ability to dictate prices to its reporters.

Honest solutions? We need to be better on our information game. We need to keep instructing reporters on what we are worth and encourage them to be powerful entrepreneurs. I’ve written before in this blog about how people can negotiate or seek information on government contracts. Perhaps soon I can write about becoming an NYC Vendor. Now is the time! More than that: We need to start fighting harder. As they start shifting to recorders, resist. Call up your favorite law firm and offer your services. Become the competition. Make them buy you out too. Reach out to law firms and tell them, hey, they’re cutting us out, and they’re not passing those savings to you, so hire a stenographic reporter today for a better deal!

This is the best damn time to be a reporter that I’ve seen in New York. The court system wants you. The unions want you. The association wants you. The agencies want you. Your skills are in real demand. But your willingness to step out of your comfort zone and really connect with customers, clients, lawyers, and the end users of our services really can alter how everything plays out. What you do actually makes a difference. Why? Strategy. Envision the whole thing as a game of chess. In Chess, if you refuse to move, you concede the game. Most of us are not wealthy, can’t concede and stop working. If you let the other player take all your pieces off the board, the sources you rely on for work, pulling off a win grows ever more challenging. If you start making moves, you force the opponent to react. Their game gets thrown because they can’t account for every move you make. Every dollar an entity gets is a dollar that makes them stronger. What do you think happens if the hundreds of stenographers in the city start taking dollars away by being real competition?

And we’re bothering people that want stenography to fail big time. The fact that we’re catching on and creating a plan to fight back is hurting them so bad that they’re gloating at me in anonymous e-mails about how our days are numbered.

So the choice is simple. Concede and let the current shotcallers decide how things are going to go, or step it up and take the time to read about how to draft responses to city RFPs (requests for proposals) and become true entrepreneurs, and introduce true competition to a needy, living market. Remember that a market is not just “oh, they want to pay me this”, but an amalgam of buyers and sellers, all seeking the best deal for themselves. Remember that as a provider you are the backbone of the market, and it’s your action or inaction that dictates tomorrow.

Veritext bought a Diamond. There’s no reason we can’t build ten more.

The Unsubtle Policy of Open Gates

I’m an introvert at heart. That’s going to surprise a lot of people because I’m also the guy who’s always engaging on Facebook, the union, or whatever forum seems appropriate at the time.

I ignore my impulses to shut up. And I do that mostly because I’m convinced it’s what we should all do. I’d like to add to a movement where when a job comes out on the federal judiciary jobs page, or the state court’s page, or the city’s DCAS page, or the page of any of the five district attorneys in this city (New York, Special Narcotics, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx), or anywhere at all, we all talk about it. I’d love for that movement to spread to every state and every place there’s jobs. I’ll focus on New York because I live here. I’ve seen some other great New Yorkers take up the idea and spread jobs on their pages. I’ve seen great people from other states do this same thing.

There’s a value, whether monetarily or as a boost to one’s rep/ego, to being the go-to person who people look to for advice. It feels much more rewarding to keep things personal and have people write in to get knowledge. But I’ve weighed the value of knowledge in my mind, and I really do feel like it’s more valuable when it’s accessible. The value of knowledge shared is greater than the value of good feelings.

So what I’ll ask of anyone who feels the same, set aside one morning a month to do a quick look around the common job spots of your state and let people know what’s available. Together we can create a kind of herd immunity where no one is left out of the job search or the quest for their dream job.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Inspired today to write a little about the pitfalls of poor practice habits. It is no secret that it takes practice, and a lot of it, to become a stenographer. Dedication, time management, and perseverance when faced with crushing failure or frustration are all things that come to mind when we think about practice. 
But we who have done it can tell you that practice does not make perfect. Others have tried to describe this truth by saying perfect practice makes perfect. The concept is simple: When you have set a goal, ensure you are doing the things that lead to that goal. Analyze and know yourself, your habits, and decide what must be worked on the most. 

Imagine that you are a beginning student whose goal is to hit various combinations of keys quicker and more accurately. In such a case, finger drills may be an appropriate use of your time because they are allowing you to familiarize yourself with the keys and combinations, and be more effective at hitting strokes on your early test. Now imagine you are a court reporter applying for a position in a court where there is a high volume of cases and the judges talk very fast. Finger drills are less helpful in such an instance because you do not need to be better at your stroke combinations, you need more speed and endurance. Only fast takes for moderate lengths of time can really help. Finally, imagine you are looking to be a captioner. Writing ultra fast or writing for long periods of time may be helpful, but ultimately it may be that your goal is to hear the words, take down the words, and have them come out on screen perfectly. For such practice, the answer may not be speed takes, but literally listening to the television, taking it down, and building your dictionary word by word.

Then there is another important factor for all of us to consider. Even if you have come up with a great method of practice: Despite some similarities,!our brains are all very different, and we all have different learning styles. Though court reporting/stenography clearly favors auditory and tactile learners over visual ones, you should consider what learning style you truly are and how you might work that into your practice. Are you a visual learner? Flash cards might be your thing. Are you an auditory learner? Listening to dictations over and over might be your path to victory. Are you a tactile learner? Maybe you just need to spend more time stroking the keys, with or without dictation, to get your fingers to glide without hesitation from one word to the next during the actual job or test.

This is all to say: Practice will not make you a great writer. You must know yourself. You must be willing to look at what everybody else does, incorporate what works for you, and discard all else. We have seen brilliant writers come out who focused primarily on finger drills, and we have seen writers just as brilliant that despised finger drills and never ever practiced one if they had a choice. You must be willing to learn who you are and how your mind makes connections. We can only urge each other and ourselves to choose a goal, and work backwards from that goal to figure out how to get there. If you want to make good transcripts, your writing is not required to be 100% accurate but you will need to practice transcribing time. If you want to caption for a large national event, you will need to be pretty close to 100% accurate and will need to focus on practice that forces you to stroke things out and build your dictionary.

There is a place for every dedicated reporter in the Reliable But Unremarkable Stenographic Legion. Practice won’t make you perfect, but with the right practice, you will achieve your goals and find success in this field.