The Ultimate Guide To Officialship (NY)

This one is for the people whose dream job is officialship or becoming an official court reporter. Just to get some quick links out of the way, there are two major Facebook discussion boards that I’m aware of. There’s the Officialship Job Board and the NCRA Officials group. I’m going to talk primarily about New York State Unified Court System officialship here, so if you’re looking for federal employment, please check out and bookmark the federal judicary jobs page. You’ll likely need your RPR for federal employment. As a matter of fact, if you’re looking for employment in New York City generally, you should check out one of my very first posts, Get A Real Job. Just keep in mind that if your dream job is Southern District NY, you’re going to need Eclipse last time I checked.

I’ll be writing most of this from memory, so feel free to correct me if I am factually wrong anywhere. This is not, in any way, a “guide” that is endorsed or published by the New York State Unified Court System (NYSUCS). I am not writing as an employee of NYSUCS. This is me as an individual just retelling my hiring experience in “guide format.” If you get a job with NYSUCS, you listen to your boss or your union over anything you might read or interpret here. If you’re looking for official information about NYSUCS, you should go to the site and ask that question through official channels.

The Tests, Classifications, and Eligible Lists:

Before we go anywhere, let’s just address how you get a court job. There are rarely per diem assignments available. These are court reporters that are hired and paid per day to come in and take the record. Per diems are rarely sought as of writing. Then there are what we refer to as provisional postings and then there are permanent positions. Provisional postings go up whenever there is a spot that needs to be filled and can be found by going to NY courts current opportunities. You can also search for “NY courts careers.” Civil service examinations are posted at “NY courts exams.” Reporters that apply for a provisional position usually must pass an in-house test. The court system may waive the provisional test for NYSCRA or NCRA certified court reporters. Reporters looking for a permanent appointment must pass the civil service test. That test is never waived. By law, civil service tests must be given every one to four years. Provisional employees can be considered temporary in your mind. If a civil service test is given and a provisional employee does not pass it, they may be let go. Provisional appointment should not be underestimated though, since an employee begins to accrue vacation time, sick time, time in the title for raises, and pension time. Many reporters begin their career by obtaining provisional employment and then passing the civil service exam to become permanent employees.

There is a separate civil service test for court reporters and senior court reporters, but they are substantially similar. “The test” consists of a multiple choice written knowledge portion and a skills portion. The written knowledge portion focuses on grammar, spelling, and technical knowledge. The skills test consists of an opening statement, a jury charge, and a four-voice dictation. The dictation is in the ballpark of 200 WPM. Two of the skills tests are transcribed and one is read back from the court reporter’s notes into a tape recorder. The readback portion is only graded for accuracy and not for inflection. If a reporter misreads their notes and corrects that misreading, the error is not counted against them. There is a readback time limit. Generally, court reporters have been expected to bring their own printers, stenotypes, pencils, and other equipment to the testing site. There has been discussion within the system about the possibility of online testing, but no civil service test has been given in that manner as of today. There are two eligible lists created when the civil service examination is graded. One list is a promotional list and one list is an open-competitive list. The promotional list is for anyone that held a court title prior to taking the test. The open-competitive list is for people who are not in the system that take the test. Everyone on the promotional list is scored above everyone on the open-competitive list. For example, let’s say that Mary Sue is a freelancer and scores a 100 on the open-competitive list for the senior court reporter title. John Doe is a court reporter working for the New York State Unified Court System and scores a 96 on the promotional list for the senior court reporter title. John Doe will be considered for a position as a senior court reporter before Mary Sue. When someone accepts a job with the New York State Unified Court System, typically they complete one year of probation. It is easier for the employer to discharge an employee during probation. In addition to provisional and permanent appointments, there are also contingent permanent appointments. Succinctly, every employee in the court system is a “line.” Sometimes there are situations where someone permanent is sick, injured, or not present. Contingent permanent people fill their line until the permanent employee returns, if they return. The most important thing to remember about the civil service examination is that when it is posted there is an orientation guide and accompanying materials posted to the exams page. Test takers must read and follow the orientation guide. Failure to follow the guide can result in an applicant’s disqualification.

Once you’re on the list, you get a preference letter asking you what courts you’re willing to work in. When I got that letter, my brilliant plan was to say I was willing to work in any court and then turn down canvass letters as needed. If you turn down canvass letters, you must make sure that you respond to the canvass letters and remain active on the eligible list. If you get put on inactive status on an eligible list, you can get skipped over for future canvass letters. In summary, fully read every official material you receive.

The Titles and Courts:

With the hard part out of the way, let’s talk titles. there are two major titles in the New York State Unified Court System. There are court reporters and there are senior court reporters. Senior court reporters typically cover Supreme Court. Court reporters typically cover what we refer to colloquially as “lower courts.” In the “lower courts,” of New York City most courthouses are supervised by a court reporter in charge or “CRIC.” These CRICs coordinate with a supervising court reporter and/or chief clerk when necessary. I am informed that in many courthouses, the CRIC title is obsolete and has been replaced with “county supervising court reporter.” The county supervising court reporters report to a “citywide supervising court reporter.” In Supreme Court, the courthouses are overseen by principal court reporters. The principal court reporters coordinate with chief clerks when necessary. Court jobs are all ranked with a judicial grade (JG) number, and that number links to your pay. Court reporters are JG-24. Senior court reporters are JG-27. The Supreme Court of the State of New York is our state’s highest trial court. It deals with the adjudication of felony criminal cases and civil cases with damages over $25,000. Then there are the “lower” courts. In New York City, we have criminal courts that handle criminal arraignments, violations, and misdemeanors. We have civil courts that handle cases under $25,001 in damage. We have family courts where people can file petitions for family matters, including the issuance of orders of protection. A court structure chart is also available. Do not be fooled by the terminology “lower courts.” All of the matters where court reporters and senior court reporters are assigned are extremely important, as are both titles.

The Unions:

In New York City, if you work in the “lower courts,” or grand jury, you are represented in the Local 1070 union. If you work in the Supreme Court, you are represented by ASSCR. Local 1070 is comprised of a number of different titles. Every title has its own chapter leadership, and the chapter leadership works with the main leadership to solve problems. In Local 1070, the chapter leaders generally perform union steward duties when directed by the president or vice president, or whenever necessary. In ASSCR, there are the officers and the executive committee. The officers can be thought of as the decision-making body of the union and the ones who carry out any union-steward-type duties. The executive committee typically assists the officers by keeping apprised of union news. The way one runs for a union office is decided by the organization’s constitution and bylaws. For example, in ASSCR, a nominating committee is formed and nominates a slate. If someone that wants to run is not nominated by the nominating committee, then they have to follow the constitution and bylaws. Generally court reporters and senior court reporters that do not work in New York City are represented by CSEA, a massive conglomerate of titles, workers, and workplaces. My experience with and knowledge of CSEA is too limited to write about its organizational structure. The most important thing to understand about a union is that it negotiates your employment contract for you. If there is something you want in your workplace, you need to let union leadership know. Employment contracts cover a vast number of topics including vacation time, sick time, disciplinary procedures, grievance procedures, employee standards and employer obligations. Raises, increments, and longevity pay are all things that are addressed through your union as well. There are two more important things about union membership. First, your union has a duty to represent every member equally. Second, you generally cannot refuse lawful orders unless compliance would lead to imminent life-threatening danger. Insubordination can cause you disciplinary problems up to and including termination. If you are being questioned by a supervisor, you have Weingarten Rights. You have the right to have a union representative present if a conversation with your employer can adversely impact your employment or working conditions in any way. The employer usually has zero obligation to inform you of these rights, and you must assert them.

The Job:

A lot of stuff is on-the-job training. There are a lot of court-specific quirks that wouldn’t make sense to go into, such as night court and sealed criminal matters. Your first day on the job, you want to ask for common briefs and terms. In addition to our salary, when judges, lawyers, litigants, or members of the public ask for matters to be transcribed, we get transcript money as laid out in Part 108. Those terms, as far as I know, have been the same since 1999, so it’s a real lesson in the value of court reporters. A lot of transcription service firms jack up their rates every few years. By contrast, court reporters are consistent and reliable. We are responsible for maintaining equipment to take down our notes and produce and bind transcripts. We’re talking about a printer, ink, paper, computer, cables, stenotype, and transcript covers. Personally I am a big fan of pre-punched three-hole paper and A6 transcript covers. The drawback to using A6 covers is that you require different covers for differently-sized transcripts. Reporters that use standard transcript covers and separate fasteners do not have this problem.

There are a few things that are universally frowned on or just plain illegal. Stealing time? Bad. Stealing supplies? Bad. Being habitually late? Bad. Be on time and ready to work. Remember when switching over from freelance to employment that you have a boss now. If you have doubts about something, you should ask your boss for guidance. Coworkers can also be a big help. You’re an employee, and you are now covered by all of the employee rights laws, including the New York State Human Rights Law, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII, Workers Compensation, and unemployment, et cetera. The most important thing about the job is not to take advice from some guy’s blog if it’s different from your court rules or boss’s instructions.

Interested in a career in the courts? Check out this NY Courts publication.

This concludes the “guide” portion of this post. If you’re interested in a really weird story about why I wrote this post, keep reading. If you don’t really care, feel free to stop reading.

The History of this Post:

Over the last few years I’ve had lots of people write me about various topics. Usually it’s well-meaning or polite people who have a grammar suggestion, topic suggestion, or information. I love those people. I even love the people who come on my blog and disagree with me. Separate from those people, starting maybe two or three years ago, someone sent me about 48 e-mails through an anonymous proxy. The e-mails were usually nonsensical, poorly written, or tried to turn me against other reporters. Sometimes they masqueraded as helpful advice or a hint at a story that didn’t exist. When the e-mail campaign failed to turn me against my best allies, this person began to infiltrate our Facebook groups under the fake name Jared Leno. Jared Leno proceeded to write rude comments to agencies that would come on our job boards to post jobs. At that point, I called him or her out on what they were doing and I alerted Facebook admins of groups where I was a member so that Jared could no longer use that fake identity to harass court reporters. Jared did what all bullies do when they lose, “he” whined and cried.

Jared/Anonymous then turned to Reddit. As some people know, we have the r/stenography subreddit, the r/courtreporting subreddit, and the r/courtreporters subreddit. The admins of r/stenography and r/courtreporting appear to be either absent or squatting, and at one point we had frequent posts from our Mystery Messenger (MM). One intrepid reporter started r/courtreporters so that we could have a space with an active admin, and we began to report the MM for harassment. “They” constantly create new accounts so that they can spread disinformation, avoid bans, and make comments about my blog. One of their favorite “jabs” is that I am an official and I write about freelance often. There are two main strategies when you’re dealing with trolls. The first is to ignore it. Sometimes this works. If someone is doing something to annoy you, and you don’t show that you’re annoyed, sometimes they go away. The problem we face here is that there are people that are going to Reddit to ask legitimate questions about our field. So if we just leave these boards a confusing, spammy mess, we’re going to leave the impression that this is a dead field or that we’re all lunatics spouting nonsensical drivel. Strategy two? Drown the spammy posts out with reality. So if you’re on Reddit, definitely subscribe to those channels. They’re a great way to get information out to the public. If you’re not on Reddit, it’s free, it’s generally anonymous, and it can be fun.

It’s been an interesting relationship. At first I believed that MM was a court reporter in pain. I tried many times to reach out and help. As time went on, I saw that it was much more likely to be someone who hates steno and someone whose IQ is high enough to use the internet but low enough that they have nothing better to do with their life than to get my blog clicks. Maybe it’s Steve Hubbard or Justin “Mr. Stenoless” Higgins. Who knows? All I know is MM is a great case study in being your own worst enemy. Their tirades have helped my blog grow its readership by almost 400% 2018 to 2019 and an additional 40% 2019 to 2020. Without MM’s unassailable genius I never could’ve come up with the work of art that is this blog post. If I could make one plea to MM, please do not find anything better to do with your time than follow me across the internet. Without your 1/31/21 post and unending struggle to get my attention, today would not have happened. Thank you for these wonderful years of service.

It was a tough decision on whether to publish this story. Some in my circle believe that talking about an anonymous “agitator” gives them more power. But perhaps knowing that this situation exists will help others identify MM by their inarticulate, artless writing as they continue to impersonate court reporters and spam court reporting groups. Perhaps others who have been e-mailed anonymously by this person will be able to identify that there is malicious intent there sooner than I was able to. I know at least one other person that received communications from MM. There’s bound to be more, right?

You literally asked for this. LOL. How about that?
Now all of this information will be easier for court reporters to find.

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 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.

June Jettisons 2020 (Jobs Post)

Time to jettison whatever’s not working for us and have a look at the jobs posted around the internet for June 2020. Having a hard time this year? Consider finding a mentor! There are many mentoring programs available, and even Facebook groups conducting mentoring sessions. There are lots of general job listings to wade through at both NCRA and USCRA. NCRA’s also looking for a content specialist!

In the New York area, we still have the New York grand jury reporter posting up. The DCAS test schedule for reporter/stenographers has not yet been updated. The State’s Verbatim Reporter 1 position remains posted, though it’s a little unclear to me on whether they’re actually hiring. The statewide court reporter provisional posting remains posted by our state court system. Michael DeVito’s contact information is at the bottom of the application. If you are looking to become a court reporter for our courts in New York State, you should contact him. I had one very brief e-mail exchange with him months ago, and it left me with a great impression. Every prospective reporter hire with questions should make an effort to contact him. Court reporter is one of maybe six titles that have been posted throughout the pandemic, and in my view, it outlines the need for stenographic court reporters, even if there are not immediate hirings. There has been no civil service test posting, but it’s worth checking the exams page every month if court is the dream job! In our federal courts, the Southern District has a posting up. The federal judiciary jobs page shows New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and South Carolina all have spots for stenographic reporters.

Many have asked about CART. I have a lack of familiarity with CART, but I do know there’s a CART provider directory. Many are current or past practitioners. Many are out there and willing to answer questions when asked. Let’s put it this way, if you knock on 100 doors, at least a few are going to open. The world is at your fingertips in exploring this wonderful side to reporting and stenography.

Every month I bring jobs posts. I can’t give people the jobs. I can’t post all the jobs. But if one person walks away with an idea, or a place to search, or a plan to move forward in their career, it’s worth it! I encourage people to continue sharing and promoting all the different ways to find work.

 

Big Box Reporters: We Are On The Same Side

Got an email that I was given permission to share. It talks about something we touched on in the blog post No Rebel Alliance, and that SoCalReporters talked about in No Evil Empire.

We are watching Veritext and other colloquial big box firms buy up many steno and court reporting outfits across the country, and most recently to my knowledge, Epiq. We are seeing some bigger firms try to push digital reporting over steno. We’ve written about all this before. With these occurrences, we are seeing a lot of vitriol and hatred towards the corporations pushing digital reporting and the stenographers that work with them.

But what we have here is a clear message from people working for the more corporate cultures: They are not blind. They know what’s happening. Those that do not know are educating themselves a little more every day. They don’t need castigation or derision over where they work or who they work for. They need our support like we need theirs.

This is a strategic look at the situation: Who has the capability to build client lists or come across bills to law firms, the independent contractor who never deals with the big box or the independent contractor who deals with them every day? Power to both, but the one with the everyday relationship has much more power and leverage. The company has an incentive not to piss those people off because those people could start poaching clients.

So here’s a thought: Every day associations and individuals are coming out with pro stenographer material. Let’s make sure we continue to make at least some of that material corporate friendly and corporate neutral. Let’s make sure we let every reporter out there know we’re on the same side and try hard not to insult each other. I’m certain we’ll see a huge uptick in education and public knowledge about our field, but only if we keep this a message of unity whenever it can be.

And again, to the agencies and agency staff that I’m quite sure are among the 700 readers we have this month: You’re not the enemy. We’re on the same side. We want you to be in business and make lots of money. It may be a little foreign considering that for years and years the industry was largely quiet no matter which way the wind blew and now there is a lot of anti-corporate sentiment out there. It’s not personal, it’s just business, and when you try to replace a person’s livelihood by switching to digital, that’s a literal end to our business. Don’t take it for granted that you’ll win just because you’re bigger and stronger than an individual stenographer. Take the easy way out and team up with steno, or steno’s going to look for a middleman that keeps us front and center, like Expedite Legal.

Shortage Solutions 4: Direct Market Apps

So by now everybody knows the Uber story. Basically replaced or pushed on the conventional taxi company and made it so that you no longer had to call a company or hail a cab, but could just click in on your phone and get door-to-door service.

Expedite is kind of like that for legal service professionals, AKA stenographers. Court Buddy is kind of like that for lawyers. With more industries trying the direct market app approach, from food delivery to barbers, we are seeing people really give the direct market apps a try and it might be worth looking into as a potential shortage solution. Like other direct market apps, there’s bound to be competition and a growing number of apps to fill that void.

A word of caution: These direct market apps are only good for us if the players know their own market. Be a part of that. If you don’t know your market, join a mentoring program. If you know your market, be a mentor, guide the others in your market so that they can take advantage of these new ideas. Look at Uber. There have literally been articles about how Uber tries to use “psychological carrots” to get drivers to drive cheap. We don’t need to drive cheap to get work. If you start to notice these apps playing the carrot game with you, don’t be afraid to beat them with a stick!

Second word of caution: Agencies are reportedly telling their reporters not to use Expedite and even allegedly withholding work from those that do. Know why? Their entire business model relies on being the middleman, and apps like Expedite can subsume the middleman position and can threaten their livelihood.

Apps like Expedite also can dispel the illusion of a shortage in areas where the ongoing reporter shortage may be less severe than companies would like clients and reporters to believe. As reporters, we need to identify that the shortage may be exaggerated in part so that companies can say “there’s nothing we can do but go digital” and recreate the glut of reporters that they used as an excuse to depress our rates nine years ago in New York.

The 2013 Ducker Report forecasted a shortage, and we’re all coming up with ideas and solutions every day. Coincidentally none of them do away with the stenographic reporter. Remember: The future is malleable. You do not need to throw away a vibrant and wonderful career on the say-so of somebody who’d profit from you getting out of the business.

Shortage Solutions 2: Coverage Area & Marketability

Read a post from a reporter that listed off all the things she’d read reporters wouldn’t take this week: Med mal, doctor depo, realtime, rough, late job, early job, remote deposition, big-box dep, interpreted dep, video dep. it dawned on me that one obvious albeit unlikely-to-work solution to the shortage is an attitudinal shift in reporting.

Think about it this way: We complain about digital recording making its way into our work, but if the companies can’t cover that work because we won’t take any job below our special standard, then we’re leaving a gap, and markets fill gaps one way or another.

So although this might seem obvious, let’s roll through some things that make people marketable, and understand that doing any of these makes you — and steno — more palatable. No shame in being selective sometimes. Just understand that the more selective we are collectively, the more of an in non stenographers have into what we are all hopefully wanting to be our industry. Again, things that make you and steno marketable.

  1. Taking a wide variety of work. See above.
  2. Being on time to jobs.
  3. Being able to get to jobs without schedulers holding your hand.
  4. Knowing when and how to call an agency. Client forgot an interpreter? How you get on that phone and address the situation is huge.
  5. Organization, ability to manage files, find orders quickly, and do your work. Goes with time management.
  6. Daily, expedite services. Realtime is good, but there are intermediate levels of skill and turnaround that can be just as important and necessary.
  7. Having a wide coverage area and/or a lot of open coverage times.
  8. Sales leaning. Don’t be afraid to ask your agency what other services they offer and mention them on a dep. Not your primary purpose, but communicates to the agency and client that you’re someone with a wider skill set. Don’t be afraid to ask for some compensation for selling the upcharge or service. Don’t be afraid to ask the agency if they give any training or classes in selling upcharges on the job.
  9. Service leaning. Again, controversial, but if the setting is warm, comfortable, and appropriate, it can be okay to bring water to the dep or some little extra snack. Mixed feelings here because we often have to set boundaries and let people know we are not the secretary. We also suffer often from not being considered for lunch breaks and the like in freelance. But consider this: Court officers and interpreters have offered to go get court reporters coffee. They’re not secretaries, it wasn’t their job, but it’s a nice gesture, and sometimes it can be that moment where a lawyer realizes wow, this person is not only a super stenographer, but a really pleasant person to work with. Caution: If a setting is hostile, inappropriate, or uncomfortable for you, you do not have to play the yes woman/man.
  10. Positive attitude. Life isn’t all roses and sunshine, and sometimes there is a time to put your foot down and say no, stop. But anecdotally, we are so used to suppressing our emotions that once we finally speak up on a job, it can actually become a habit. Controlling the room for the sake of the record is good. Controlling the room for the sake of control is damaging to how people view you and what you do. I guarantee that if you are polite to a client, they might just be a little kinder to the next reporter they work with. On the other hand, if you’re rude…

We’ll be talking about some more shortage solutions in the coming days, but take this as the one you have the most innate control over!

Language Study and Service

Some may have read one of several articles from various outlets such as the New York Times, Philly, or Trib that, in summary, basically stated there’s a study that will be published in the Language journal. This study took a couple dozen volunteers and had them transcribe recorded statements that the news articles described as black dialect, but which I have also heard referred to described as urban English or street talk. The volunteers did not do well, and there was a high percentage of inaccuracy.

NCRA and PCRA responded to these articles openly. They basically called the title of the article(s) provocative, and pointed out that this involved volunteers taking down recorded statements as opposed to a live courtroom setting. They seem to believe as I do, that this study shows the desperate need for highly trained stenographers in courts.

Succinctly, there are two things the news often gets wrong: Law and science. We are talking about both at the same time, so I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that there are probably some inaccuracies or misconceptions about the actual study. Anecdotally, I look back to correspondence I’ve had with a researcher of a concept coined benevolent sexism. I actually wrote Jin Goh, a researcher in that study, and Jin Goh basically said we need more studies for the study to be conclusive, and the media misrepresented the study. The results were interesting and honest, but they did not mean that being nice to people was sexist as some news reported.

So of course the first step in understanding a study would be to read it and decide if reaching out to its authors is necessary. So I reached out to the group that publishes the Language journal only to learn that the study itself isn’t going to be published until June 2019.

So what can we say at this juncture? The study had a fairly small sample size, as best I can tell, of 27 volunteers. I am not entirely sure if those volunteers were stenographic reporters as of writing. This isn’t uncommon. We are in a world with finite resources and funding, so studies often don’t have the kind of money you’d need to reach conclusive results on any one topic over the course of one study. We can also note that this is, as best as I can tell, one of the first studies of its kind, so while it has interesting results, we need to remind ourselves these results are not, to our knowledge, representative of multiple studies over years. We need to remind ourselves that some researchers showed us months ago that studies and the news stories about them can be worded in a way that gets clicks, but not in a way that informs the reader. For example, a study was recently conducted that showed jumping out of a plane without a parachute does not increase your chance of injury. The catch? They jumped out of a parked plane. They did this intentionally to remind us all that news on studies can be slanted or cause misconceptions.

So what should we do? In my opinion, there’s only one thing to do. Open our eyes to the fact that a scientific study was conducted, and it’s apparent that humans mishear things a lot! Continue to adapt to different accents in our training and work. Continue to push to provide the best service possible to all lawyers, litigants, and caption consumers. I do think there’s a lot to be said for our performance in real courtroom settings. We ask for repeats all the time to make sure that what people say is honestly and accurately reflected, and that’s something they probably couldn’t get into a lab or study as easily. Perhaps with time we could even conduct our own study, and maybe it would find that the stenographer mishears less than the average person. Perhaps we’d find our hearing is average. We don’t know. That’s the point of studies.

Bottom line: Don’t let this thing ruffle your feathers. I saw a lot of reporters spew a lot of vitriol over the articles, and in the end, the theme of the articles were not “stenographers are bad,” but more “humans mishear things and we should be mindful of this in the administration of our courts because if the transcribers aren’t hearing it then it is likely the lawyers and judges aren’t either.” We’re good at what we do, and we’re better off proving that than attacking linguists on Twitter. We are better off making sure our service is the best service lawyers and litigants can find, period. Truthfully, researchers give us valuable insight into what we do, but it is we who perform every day who know what’s at stake for the lawyers, litigants, and judges we serve.

As an aside, I understand the verbiage of the headlines upset some readers and I agree that this all could’ve been written more artfully. I myself have used descriptors to try to explain the issue as it is and make it more clear for anyone that cares to read.

UPDATE MARCH 5, 2019:

I am very excited to say another article was released which published the linguist’s name, Taylor Jones. Taylor Jones’s site has a lot of very specific examples that I think are eye opening and important for everyone to read and understand, including examples like, “when you tryna go to the store?” I am delighted to have come across Jones’s website and work, and will be reaching out for comment and clarification on this study to understand exactly what it is about and how reporters might improve training. Previously, I believed I’d have to wait until June to see the study. At a glance, according to a January 2019 blog post by Jones, it does appear that they utilized and/or surveyed Philadelphia court reporters that were actually working in the courts. It is stated that evaluated sentence-by-sentence, accuracy was just under 60%, and when evaluated word-by-word, accuracy was about 82%. Without having yet received comment from Jones, I can say I am incredibly impressed by the blog, and anyone with interest in this study and developing better verbatim records should definitely swing by it and read some of the stuff there. At first glance, this really may be more of an issue than I had believed, and I’d encourage every reader to keep an open mind. Notably, Jones states he has worked with Culture Point to come up with a training suite to address this issue.

April 2, 2019:

In order to be subscriber-friendly I have attached all future updates on this to a new a blog post.