Bulletin: Court Reporter Shortage or Fraud?

Law360: A Dire Court Reporter Shortage? Depends on Who You Ask.

Certain court reporting companies are exaggerating and exacerbating the stenographer shortage for the purpose of selling digital court reporting to lawyers/courts/consumers.

Veritext, US Legal Support, and Planet Depos have all publicly made statements about the unavailability or shortage of stenographers while putting most of their effort into expanding digital court reporting. Succinctly, utilizing their market share to obfuscate the availability of stenographers and artificially increase digital court reporter demand. It is unknown whether this is concerted or a form of tacit parallelism.

The resulting atmosphere is also misleading to those seeking a career in court reporting.

The nonprofit Protect Your Record Project was formed to educate consumers on the bait and switch tactics occurring in the court reporting industry.

In 2021, US Legal Rep Peter Giammanco wrote, “Does it really matter if done legally and ethically and both methods end with the same final transcript?” A consumer awareness campaign was subsequently launched. There are questions about whether digital recording is reliably the same as stenography. In one New York case, the court remarked that past holdings that recording was equivalent to stenography were belied by the record in that appeal.

Companies continue to profess shortage while placing the bulk of their effort into expanding the digital reporting market, effectively limiting consumer choice and ignoring consumer preference for stenography. The 2013-2014 Court Reporting Industry Outlook is used to add credibility to these claims, but that forecast is nearly a decade old and does not account for recruitment initiatives such as National Court Reporters A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno.

Attorneys, courts, and support staff can attempt to find stenographers or stenographer-run businesses through their state court reporting association or NCRA Pro Link.

The FTC has stated it will crack down on companies taking advantage of gig workers. It is unknown how this will affect court reporting, a field that is approximately 70% independent contractors according to available data. It is also unknown how rampant misclassification may be in the field.

Stenonymous (Christopher Day) is dedicated to informing the court reporting and legal community and has faced legal threat for accurate reporting in the past.

Does this look like they’re looking for stenographers?

Members of the community that wish to support advertising for this bulletin may send money through the donation box at Stenonymous.com.

Readback Seeks Reporter in Charge After Smashing Steno Machine

Readback, the company most known for declaring it’s going to do away with steno and making bogus claims, is on the hunt for a reporter in charge in California.

Active Readback seeks stenographer after bashing steno.

I cannot think of a company that has made it more clear that they hate stenographers, and stenographers would do well to lock them out of the California market’s whole licensing scam by just not working for them. It’s very simple. The data we have today is that stenography is more accurate. They effectively advertised wanting to be less accurate. In a field that’s all about accuracy, consumers and court reporters are going to run the other way. As for this game of “oh, your poor joints…” Maybe we were gullible enough as an industry to believe such a thing half a decade ago, but not now.

One has to wonder if the business types have taken notice that we are allegedly on our way out and have this massive retirement cliff, but we are able to organize, get legislatures to act on our behalf, and just generally be a pain in the ass of anybody that wants to eliminate positions for our students. It’s almost as if the data they were relying on is wrong. I wonder who could have predicted that?

Perhaps this message goes beyond the businesses and meets us directly. We have value for as long as accurate court records have value. A major part of the game is learning and pricing that value. Another part of the game is communicating the value of accuracy in a way that only we really can. A third piece is realizing that organization constitutes part of our value. The more we are able to organize and fund associations or entities that will advertise and advocate for the profession, the more collective benefit we pull.

One thing is clear: Stenographers will not let the shortage be the scapegoat for our replacement. Readback, what’s your next move?

Veritext Partners with John Jay College on Digital Court Reporting

I’m informed that John Jay is now partnered with Veritext.

Of course, I object to this for many reasons. I still believe that stenography will lead to better accuracy outcomes, particularly for minority speakers. In the Testifying While Black study, stenographers were only 80% accurate taking down African American Vernacular English. Laypeople were 40% accurate (pilot study 1). Since emphasis in the above examples is on short-duration training, which accuracy level do we expect from digital reporting?

If Veritext wasn’t threatening the futures of our students with its lies and misinformation, I’d admire the company for its brilliance. It’s set up to earn money from digital, at least according to Twitter.

“They require you to buy their equipment…”

Of course, we still have the fact that we are honest, hard-working people on our side. We still constitute the majority of workers in this field. Our collective voices can still win this. We have a choice to remain silent and resign the future to the agendas of others or resist and lead this field into its next iteration.

Link 1, Link 2, Link 3

Thank you to my readers for informing me of this development. Without you, what am I?

If you have ever doubted that we are under attack as a profession and that the incomes and outcomes of our students are at risk, here is your sign. It is time to be bold. It is time to stand up for the profession that has given us so much. Share this with your fellow colleagues so that they know what’s happening and can begin to talk about solutions.

Shortage Solutions 14: Migration

I recently had an exchange on Facebook where I had to explain my stance on the shortage. For those that don’t know, the Speech-to-Text Institute has weaponized the shortage against stenographers, claiming it is impossible to solve or irreversible. Their statistics ignore the recruitment over the last decade and use the shortage to say that digital court reporting must be used. They also ignore that we have survived shortages before. Basically STTI is marketing for digital court reporting masquerading under the banner of supporting all three modalities of spoken word recordation.

What inevitably happens is that my nuanced stance on shortage gets lost. People see me speaking against the current industry paradigm and it confuses them. The reason for this confusion is simple. As of the Ducker Report, more than 50% of court reporting was estimated to be in California, Illinois, Texas, and New York. Those states all had a forecasted supply gap in the hundreds or thousands. Reporters that come from those states, possibly the majority of reporters, will be noticing the shortage more than other states.

I believe one additional way to solve our problem is to begin cross-state recruitment. My financial resources are tapped at the moment, but this is something any association or organization with some time and money could try. Basically, when Ducker came out, it told us some states would be facing surpluses, some states would be facing a one-digit supply gap as of 2018, some states would be facing two or three-digit supply gaps. Then California was in a league of its own, with a supply gap of over 2,000 predicted in California.

Stated another way, the states with bigger shortage concerns can begin a targeted campaign to bring reporters from states with smaller shortage concerns. I pledge to use Stenonymous to make announcements for any association that wants to put out a press release or post along those lines. I can also help with crafting a social media ad for an interested organization. I’ve built this thing out and I have readers in many states. Stenonymous is an avenue to get stenographic news out. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at contact@stenonymous.com. Consider the blog a resource for you.

Here is a list of the states and where they stood on the forecast. You can get this information from page 14 and onward of the Ducker Report.

Surplus:

Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Wyoming and Vermont.

Single Digit Supply Gap:

Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island

Double Digit Supply Gap:

Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia.

Triple Digit Supply Gap:

Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin.

Quadruple digit gap:

California

Conclusions:

California and the triple-digit states should make efforts to advertise to reporters in the surplus and one-digit states. Notably, some of those states have a very low overall forecasted supply. Going by the forecasted supply, it would make sense to prioritize recruiting from Florida (915), Louisiana (750), and Kentucky (330). Recruiting from Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wyoming might not be viable because all of those states were forecasted to have a supply under 100 and very small surpluses. Obviously, the surplus states were not forecasted as having a large enough surplus to cover the shortage, so recruitment is still important, but a bit of migration might solve more immediate staffing needs.

Again, this particular idea cannot solve the shortage by itself. It is just one idea in the sea that is court reporting recruitment, and I hope sharing it helps spread ideas.

Our Shortage is Not the Only One Being Exaggerated

A good friend passed me this New York Times opinion article, “We Know the Real Cause of the Crisis in our Hospitals. It’s Greed.” In brief, nurses are being pushed out under the guise there’s a shortage. In truth, their working conditions are just horrible and they’re moving on for greener pastures. This blurb from the article says it all.

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Nurses are fighting the same war as stenographers. If that doesn’t give you pause, keep reading.

Funny enough, this is happening in emergency medicine too. Emergency physicians are being pushed out for nurse practitioners, as told to me by Dr. Mitch Li of Take Medicine Back. TBM’s rallying call? “Taking back contracts, livelihoods, and our values.” There are even two holding companies with investments in the emergency medicine staffing business helping drive out working physicians. Sound familiar?

In social work, I’m told by my mother, Dr. Dawn Picone, that at least in New York City, psychologists were pushed out for LCSWs and LCSWs are now being pushed out for BSWs. We often think of ourselves as unique. But knowing that other professions are under the same corporate corner-cutting attack leads me to a conclusion: We are not alone.

Why is this good news for the stenographic legion? It means that the playbook being used by the Speech-to-Text Institute camp and their new pet Stenograph isn’t new. Claim shortage, make the shortage seem much worse than it is, and get customers to accept lower quality under the false premise that there’s nothing else to be done. This a plan copied and pasted from other industries, meaning they don’t have the creativity or intelligence to deal with the massive counter-push of stenographers nationwide. We, on the other hand, emanate creativity. Faced with what we were falsely told was an insurmountable shortage, we took immediate steps to beat it. We created and continue to nurture a bonding, organization, and community that other professions are jealous of. I suspect we are on track to recruit enough court reporters to not only cover every deposition in this country, but also to retake our courts one by one. We truly are guardians of the record, and our guardianship extends well beyond what we’re paid to protect. The digitals are joining us and leaving their corporate masters in the dust. It’s a beautiful thing.

As a musing, I love StarCraft. At the end of the first chapter, the fictional megalomaniac, Arcturus Mengsk, gives one of the best speeches in video game history. I’d like to parody/steal the end of it: “And to all the enemies of stenography, seek not to bar our way, for we shall win through no matter the cost.”

On the issue of video gaming, I’ve reviewed the Readback video starring Bottles the Mole. I’ll be making a fuller post on that sometime within the next seven days, and explain why several things he says are wrong, stupid, or generally shortsighted like Bottles. Until then, enjoy Googling Bottles the Mole.

Shortage Explained

I am beset by claims that I do not believe there is a shortage. Then, in a recent social media post, a court reporter came on stating that she felt hopeless and that she felt the companies are gaining ground. Below is what I wrote. It is a summary of all my research as of today.

“There is a shortage. It’s being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext, US Legal, and the Speech-to-Text Institute. Digital is not cost effective. The companies are picking up speed because they literally have no choice. We blew open their deception of student consumers and started reporting it to the FTC.

We are solidly more powerful today. The reason we feel smaller is because we are fragmented and operating on incomplete information. What do I mean by that? Well, we are by best estimates about 28,000 strong. All told, by 2033, we probably need to be about 30 to 33,000 strong. When you multiply that 28,000 by the median stenographer salary of 61,000 you get about 1.7 billion. We represent $1.7 billion of an industry that is approaching $3 billion. The goal of the companies is to encroach on that $1.7 billion.

There is hope. The companies may be operating at a loss on the premise that they can jack up the rates when we are defeated. The concept of a company operating at a loss is called a zombie company. A lot of big names you know are zombies or have made massive blunders. Uber’s a zombie. Zillow burned billions in market capitalization believing it could trust its algorithms to buy homes. These big companies don’t sound scary when you realize they can make simple mistakes that cost them large percentages of their value, do they?

But this requires our continuous recruitment and training of stenographers. We should band together as a field and start talking about things like relocation funds where necessary. There are many creative things we can do with the power that we have. But it requires talking to each other and keeping hope.

We know from Richter’s rats that hope likely makes people superhuman. I suspect that’s why we get stories like the mom who fought the mountain lion off with her bare hands. Physically impossible, but apparently happened? And compared to things like that, our problems are easy to solve.

We’ll win if we try. The dirty tactics being used against us wouldn’t be necessary if our fate was inevitable.”

This is also why I revamped the payment system on the Stenonymous.com home page. The fact remains that if each reporter made the suggested monthly $5 donation or annual $60 donation, by best estimates, this blog would have a larger annual budget than Veritext and US Legal combined. That’s enough money to end the shortage (assuming $1 to $2 per engagement) and advertise what’s happening to about half the lawyers in the country. I’m grateful for the outpouring of support and the people that have spent well over the suggested donations.

I still have cards up my sleeve. So, even assuming the blog receives not a single penny more, thank you all for your trust in me. Stay tuned for big news expected the weeks of January 24th and January 31st.

Becki Joins the Stenographic Legion!

At the end of August I posted Becki’s video and wrote about the importance of social media. I also pointed out the preposterous equation that US Legal posted on JD Supra. It was a defining moment for this field. Somebody on the internet who saw us in court was doing a better job at promoting us than the $100 million corporation. That gave me the courage to publish some very heavy content.

In Becki’s video, she talked about jury duty and her observation of the stenographers. In another video recently released, she unboxed what appears to be a student stenotype and revealed she was going to try out NCRA A to Z.

Similar to the way she taught me courage, Becki is teaching us all another important lesson. What if we, as a profession, hadn’t shared her initial TikTok? What if Regina DeMoville had not taken the time to talk to her? What if we all just sat back, said “that’s nice,” and went on to the next thing? People like Hauntie, Regina DeMoville, and Becki’s mom changed the future because they cared enough to try. I don’t know Becki, but she also deserves a lot of praise. In a world full of propaganda, she saw truth and picked up the tripod.

By treating people like people, we come that much closer to solving our stenographer shortage. Similarly, by continuing to support our students and people that try out steno, we’ll drive down the failure rates. Please do the decent thing; take the time to sign up as a mentor or take an interest in what students are doing. A word of encouragement or lack thereof can make or break a career.

Those that refuse to treat stenographers as people? They will be dealing with me.

And I am hardly alone. The businesses that support stenographers are ready to grind the ones that don’t into dust.

Upcoming Appearances with Stenographers World and PYRP

Tomorrow at 10 EST I’ll be on Stenographers World. Stenographers World has got lots of continuing education webinar offerings. From Bookkeeping to American Sign Language, there’s something for everybody. My segment tomorrow is likely to focus on the Stenonymous blog itself, some of the items I’ve recently covered, and my career generally. Maybe I’ll say some controversial things. Guess you’ll have to tune in to find out.

Following that up, Sunday, at about 1 p.m. EST, I’ll be on Zoom with Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline from Protect Your Record Project. Maybe I’ll say some controversial things. Guess you’ll just have to tune in to find out.

But in case you haven’t got the patience to wait for me to say something controversial, I’ll write something down. Last night I was pleasantly surprised, my whole “recruit digitals and make them more money” strategy is starting to pay off. A brave digital reporter on Reddit is making the switch and reached out to Redditors for advice.

Why would a digital’s fingers hurt? They make them type tag files. The one I saw was a completely useless one from Verbit.

So of course, I used this to tell Rick Levy from US Legal that US Legal’s digital recruitment strategy is doomed™️.

I’m not even bluffing him. They really have run an ad every day this week.

I really did accuse USL of lying to consumers.

I really do hope they’re all too stupid to listen to me. The longer this circus goes on and reporters see me doing this —

— the more likely they’ll join in. And when that happens, the numbers say we’ll win.

Remember, when the shoe was on the other foot and we were under attack, they had quite a lot to say.

So it’s quite telling that the company has no response now. If you want to capitalize on USL’s impotence and incompetence, pass my article to a lawyer or two. It’s lawyers’ clients that will suffer if USL’s shortage dream comes true. It’s their businesses that will get jerked around by bad business practices. Least we can do is let them know about ten years before it happens and see what they do.

Happy Friday.

How We Discuss Stenographer Shortage

There is a small, loud contingent in the private sector that describes our stenographer shortage as mathematically impossible to solve. Years ago, the Court Reporting Industry Outlook by Ducker Worldwide, in a nutshell, forecasted the demand of stenographic reporters eclipsing the supply of stenographic reporters. At that point in the 2013-2014 report it was forecasted that about 70 percent of existing reporters would retire over the next 20 years. It was forecasted that in 2018 there would be a gap of about 5,500 court reporters due to increased demand and retirements. In a breakdown by state, it was clear that California, Texas, Illinois, and New York would have it the hardest, but the prediction was a gap of at least 100 reporters in several states by 2018.

This is but one of few bold arguments put out by digital recording proponents as to why the modality of taking the record must change away from stenographic reporting. As reporters and committees like NCRA Strong started to push back against the myth that digital was better or cheaper, and developed resources to help others explain the truth, the stenographer shortage became the last bastion of hope for recording equipment to take reporter seats.

It’s a simple message that’s easy to digest: “It takes too long to train stenographers and the failure rate is too high, therefore we must change.” This argument is even embraced by CSRs working for larger agencies that have actively promoted digital reporting as the way forward, such as Veritext or US Legal. I take umbrage with this simple message because it’s a lie. This idea that there is nothing we can do is a lie by omission, and it ignores any and all progress we’ve made in recruitment. Since the Ducker Report, Open Steno has expanded exponentially in introducing stenography and free resources to learn it to people all over the world. Its Discord channel continues to grow and has hundreds of users online each day.

8:00 in the morning and 300 online. It takes a remarkable person to build a community like that. Thanks Mirabai.

Also since the Ducker Report, NCRA A to Z was born. Project Steno began heavy recruitment activity. Independent actors such as Allison Hall have worked in their own communities to get programs started and flourishing. Again, all things generally ignored by the we-must-record crowd. It’s only business, right? If they can’t fill the seats, it’s not their fault! But it’s painfully obvious that digital recording proponents are not attempting to build interest in stenographic reporting. We are a community, and some members of our community are obsessed with spouting the shameful idea that there’s just nothing that can be done while watching everyone else do.

But even those of us who know all about the shortage and have worked in some capacity to fix it have overlooked some important industry comparisons. In the tech world, there’s a forecasted need of some 1.4 million workers and an expected graduation of 400,000 workers. If our 5,000-person shortage is mathematically impossible to solve then tech must be absolutely doomed, right? It takes a whole four years to get a computer science degree! Time to replace all the programmers with robots, right? Nope. Instead, the argument is made to look at the number of self-taught people or people that do not have a traditional degree. The argument is made that programmers should be paid more to entice workers. Even in fields of “unskilled workers”, when there is a shortage, they don’t sit around and whine about there being nothing they can do, they jack up the prices to reflect demand.

What? Businesses can create a problem by understaffing and then charge 40 percent more? Where do I sign up?

Compare this to our field, where freelance reporters in New York are currently working for less than 1991 rates adjusted for inflation and companies still aren’t happy. At a certain point, there’s simply no more we can give. We’d each do better taking our own customers and binding our own transcripts than continue to forfeit large percentages of our money just so we don’t have to handle clients. To illustrate this better, the following is a chart for the average US worker hourly pay adjusted for inflation.

Wow! Over a decade the average US worker wage became 58 cents more per hour! Bring on the steak and lobster!

If we were to have an identical chart for reporting in New York, for reporters making under $5.50 a page on their original, the number would be decreasing. We’re not just behind the average US hourly worker, we are steadily losing ground and the gap is widening. It’s not really surprising we’re having trouble filling seats. It’s good money for what we do, but the great money in the private sector has been quietly locked behind roughs and realtime, forcing reporters to work harder and write more to have the same buying power.

The above notes on pay come with a caveat. I’m not a stupid man. I know the money in this field comes from the copy sales. I know that’s very unlikely to change in the near future. But for an honest comparison, I’ve examined the original prices, and if the original prices are that deflated, reporters have to ask themselves if copy rates have budged when adjusted for inflation, and there’s no evidence to suggest they have.

So when we are discussing shortage, I hope there are four points everyone will remember and educate fellow reporters on when they buy the line that there’s nothing we can do.

1. The number of self-taught reporters is not counted, making our shortage forecast larger than it is.

2. There are many more programs and resources for people who want to learn about stenography today than there were when the stenographer shortage was forecasted. Some examples include NCRA A to Z, Open Steno, and Project Steno.

3. Companies that genuinely care about the shortage can directly impact it by promoting steno, relaxing deadlines, or increasing reporter pay, which is in line with other industries.

4. With an estimated 30,000 stenographers, if we each spent an hour a year on recruitment activity, it would be the equivalent of 82 hours of recruitment a day, far more time than any company is spending promoting or recruiting for other modalities.

August Asterisks 2020 (Jobs)

One thing I’ve learned in this business is never be too predictable, and that’s why I completely skipped July. Before we get to actual jobs posts that have popped up in the last two months, we’ll get down to something for our freelance friends. and people looking to make a difference in this field. NYSCRA is promoting no fewer than three online sessions that should have a little something for everybody. First, on August 16, there will be a session with Jason Wisdom on freelance success. On August 24, Jessie Gorry and Joshua Edwards are presenting Zoom for Freelance Reporters and will be talking, as I understand it, about best practices and hardware stuff you can do to make your life easier. Finally, for those of you seeking to build some skills and confidence in making a difference, Project Steno will be hosting courses on clean writing, developing a high school program, and conducting a training course. Even more for people looking to make a difference, you should see NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards’s message in the Summer 2020 Transcript. Without further delay, in steno, if we want to change something, we hit the asterisk, right? So change the job up with August Asterisks.

Onto the jobs. First, a very special posting. Eric Allen, President of ASSCR, was kind enough to post this excerpt from what I believe to be the Chief last month. In my very first post about finding a job in New York City, I talked a little bit about Workers Compensation and how they no longer seemed to be hiring even though the application was up. So to see these very recent, current postings for Verbatim Reporter 1 in New York State is very comforting. It should be a clear message to every jobseeker and our employers that what we do has a lot of value. We will rise to the challenge of filling these positions, but we need the shotcallers to keep the demand for court reporting steady so that people are not scrambling in and out of jobs. Every former Verbatim Reporter 1 that I have ever spoken to has told me that it was an amazing job that they really liked. If you’re a reporter looking for change, this just might be your sign. Also, if any legislation comes up regarding that position, as it had in the past, I urge every reporter to support it, because you are supporting the stability and sustainability of your field. Thank you, Eric Allen, for bringing this job post to everyone’s attention.

For the first time in a while, there do not seem to be any grand jury reporter jobs open in New York City. I’m actually happy to say that because it shows that we can absolutely fill vacancies. We can beat the reporter shortage. Please, take my advice seriously when I say if you want a grand jury job with New York City, check the district attorney sites of every borough every single month, including the SNP, and check DCAS. It is very easy to miss these postings. If you need the links, they’re under the grand jury section of Get A Real Job.

The statewide provisional posting for court reporter is still up. This should surprise no one. We need stenographic court reporters. If you’re waiting for the civil service exam to come out so that you can get a permanent position, make sure you’re checking the exams page every month. You don’t want to miss out on a test that, by law, can only be held every 1 to 4 years. If you’re interested but want more information, why not reach out to Michael DeVito? His contact information is at the bottom of the posting, and it just might help you make your decision.

For the reporters out there looking for a spot in the federal judiciary, there’s plenty for you. We are looking at open spots in New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Illinois, Arkansas, and California. The federal judiciary jobs page remains a great resource for finding these job postings, and every reporter out there should take the time share it and familiarize themselves with it.

For those looking for a little more, NCRA’s got a jobs page too. As of today there are 87 results to flip through. Alternatively, if you’re looking to put down the machine for a little while but stay employed “in the field,” you could apply to become an NCRA Content Specialist. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with NCRA staff before, and it’s always been really positive. I can only hope whoever fills that spot is just as positive, dedicated, and wonderful as the rest of the team. I have a lot of faith in Dave Wenhold and the current Board of Directors. There’s good leadership. There’s good staff. There are good committee volunteers. There are great general members. There’s a real chance for stenographic reporting to prove its adaptability, superiority, and technological advancement despite all the world has gone through in the last six months. Humans have known for a long, long time that when there’s a chance of something happening, it can happen. There’s even a latin phrase for it, a posse ad esse, which translates roughly to “from possibility to actuality.” So let’s take that chance, hold onto it, and make sure that our markets know stenographic reporting is here and ready to do the job.