The Irreversible Institute

Speech-to-Text Institute is an association that claims it wants to define, modernize, and lead the court reporting industry. About three years ago, in the Impossible Institute post, I wrote about how it appeared that the STTI had already concluded our shortage was impossible to solve. My position was simple: “There have been no updates since Ducker. How can anyone make that claim?

The Speech-to-Text Institute erroneously claims the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve.

Several readers sent me the STTI’s newest production, a series of slides that make more claims about our industry and profession.

The Speech-to-Text Institute states there is a steady and irreversible decline in the number of stenographic court reporters even though there is no good, current data on which that claim can be made.

This is one of those times that it’s difficult to choose how to respond. Spreading their materials gives them free publicity. Being silent gives them free rein over the discussion. I think it makes the most sense to analyze the materials publicly and see what discussion springs from that.

  • STTI submits there is a steady and irreversible decline of stenographers. My feelings here are similar to the “impossible” argument. It’s a future prediction that’s not predicated on anything other than a forecast that’s been around the better part of a decade and a survey that could not possibly capture all the factors at play in our industry.
  • STTI submits digital reporting technology is “more than capable…” Arguendo, let’s say that digital IS more than capable. This is an imperfect world. Transcripts are going to be imperfect. And we’ve seen this when it’s studied. Stenographers were only about 80% accurate in the Testifying While Black (2019) study. But a pilot study from TWB revealed laypeople transcribed statements with about 40% accuracy. Half the accuracy! Not utilizing stenographers likely has a significant cost to accuracy.
  • STTI mentions the current or future capabilities of automatic speech recognition (ASR). There is a patent from around 2000 that shows 90% accuracy was thought to be possible. More recently, in the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition (2020) study, ASR from major players like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and IBM were tested. Their tech was about 80% accurate for white speakers, 65% accurate for black speakers, and as low as 25% accurate for African American Vernacular English speakers. Succinctly, the current capabilities of ASR are not very good when studied objectively. Future capabilities are another unknown, and a case of wishful thinking. Dragon remains the best ASR, and that’s the domain of another established method, voice writing.

STTI then mentions that this is an era of alternative facts in order to disparage dissenting views. But this is a clever deflection, as STTI itself is guilty of pushing alternative facts. Just look at this old STTI graphic.

Speech-to-Text Institute erroneously pushes a narrative of an irresolvable stenographer shortage so that business owners and practitioners come to its conclusion, that digital reporting expansion is necessary.

If we assume these numbers are correct and that there were 27,700 stenographers in 2018 and a supply gap of 5,500, that means that as of 2018, nearly 1/5 of every single job would be going uncovered, and it would get worse every year. It’s 2022. Agency owners may be having some trouble finding coverage, but not one has expressed that 20% of their work is going uncovered.

STTI points to how difficult it would be to recruit a large number of stenography students to make up for the historically lower graduation numbers. But a little comparative analysis is in order. Stenography has 26 NCRA-approved schools, tons of schools that are not yet approved (>100), and three separate nationwide initiatives to introduce people to stenography (A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno). Digital has BlueLedge and the few schools that can be convinced to teach stenography and digital side by side. Digital is less efficient than stenography and it’s likely that multiple transcribers will be needed in addition to each digital reporter in order to make up for the efficiency loss. When turnover of audio monitors and transcribers is factored in, we are likely talking about recruiting similar numbers of people. The difference is that stenography has more infrastructure to introduce people to it. So companies turning to digital doesn’t appear to be a legitimate shortage concern, it appears to be about making money on the “labor churn.”

BlueLedge charging over $1,500 to forget to tell students there’s a better career path with more options in steno.

STTI’s next slide continues to paint a stark picture of the situation.

Misleading claims by Speech-to-Text Institute lead readers to believe that digital court reporting is the future of the industry.
  • The slide is misleading in that it makes tactical use of the word “some.” A large percentage of firms having “some” level of struggle isn’t surprising. Firms were having “some” level of struggle to cover things before the shortage too.
  • STTI claims the majority of court reporting firms use digital. But STTI only surveyed 156 firm owners. According to the Kentley Insights Court Reporting & Stenotype Services 2019 market research report, there were over 3,000 firms in the industry. A population of 3,000 would need a sample size of 341, assuming a confidence interval of 5, according to this sample size calculator. If we wanted to be more certain, with a confidence interval of 2, the sample size jumps to 1,334. And again, there is tactical use of the word “some.” “Some” digital use could be one digital reporter sent out on one job. I can’t blame STTI for trying to collect data, but the data is not reliable for making definitive, sweeping, or predictive statements.
  • STTI mentions the widespread use of remote reporting, but fails to mention that this has increased stenographers’ coverage abilities. Many of us are no longer sitting in traffic and are able to jump job, to job, to job.

The technology slide points to how technology suppliers want us to embrace what they’re selling. It’s self-serving. “Trying to change stuff is futile, now buy my new software.” It is laughable to me that they think ASR is a future supplement for this field when they have not even worked out good and consistent cross-compatibility among softwares. Who would believe that these companies are going to succeed where the tech giants have failed?

We actually see this play out in a later slide where the technology suppliers outright admit they’re aiming for the business of digital court reporters, court reporting firms, and courts. It’s not about selling what’s efficient or best for your business, it’s about selling.

Speech-to-Text Institute survey finds massive shift in audience products are aimed at.

This is about making business owners afraid that if they do not jump on the digital/tech train, they will be left behind. We can all appreciate the importance of technology. But there is, to some extent, a practice among tech suppliers to make consumers afraid so that consumers open their wallets. Nobody wants to be Kodak, so everybody piles blindly into what they are told is the future.

Satire: Have you heard of the court reporter shortage? You have to use digital court reporters now! Many agencies report some digital reporter use!

I operate under the belief that most people seek truth. By summing up how and why these claims are questionable, I hopefully enable others to educate. If you feel there is some merit to these arguments, feel free to share, and enable more reporters and business owners to understand what’s out there, what’s being said, and why it may not be accurate.

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.