Steven Lerner, by my count one of the first journalists to acknowledge the court reporter shortage debate, appeared on the Pro Say podcast Episode 248. The beginning talks about the Major League Baseball wage lawsuit and recent settlement. About 20 minutes in, we get to the DR segment and the Glitchy Rollout article.
Mr. Lerner notes that there’s a disagreement between stenographers and the court reporting companies pushing digital court reporting. He notes the 2020 Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, and how automated solutions can have error rates higher than 40%. “Now, imagine unleashing this faulty tech in the US legal system, which has historically been unjust for people of color, in particular, black people. This speaks to the problem of having diversified data sources.” This is certainly a problem for any digital reporting method implementing automated speech recognition.
Asked why this is a problem for everyone, Lerner summarizes, “so even if a person is operating the new tech, there could still be glitches, so that’s why it matters, because it’s just going to disrupt the entire legal system.”
The only major missing piece is that the digital reporting method is not new. The ability to record and transcribe testimony has existed for decades and yet digital court reporting has not supplanted American stenographers. If it were truly cheaper or an innovation worth implementing, implementation would have started sooner and not the better part of a decade after the release of the Ducker Report.
I continue to believe it is quite suspicious that Jim Cudahy utilized his position of Executive Director of the National Court Reporters Association to get the shortage forecasted. Jim later surfaced under Speech-to-Text Institute, an entity claiming the stenographer shortage is irreversible.
For a long time on Stenonymous I’ve covered digital recording and its encroachment on stenographic reporting business. From an economic perspective, I see digital reporting as a way for companies to drag more people into the industry, use them to increase labor supply in the industry under the falsehood that the technology is equivalent, and then use the increased labor supply to force reporters to accept less money or fewer pay increases without passing savings, if any, to the consumer. I’ve pointed to the fact that the stenographer shortage being used to justify the expansion of digital court reporting is exaggerated and the entities that pull from the Ducker Report conveniently ignore the age of the report and routinely fail to adjust for real-world events after the report. A lot of the news around the shortage has been based around convincing people that the stenographer shortage cannot be solved through recruitment, leading me to the conclusion that the shortage is being pushed in order to push the digital service against consumer choice.
From a social perspective, I’ve extrapolated from the Justice Served (2009), Testifying While Black (2019) and Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition (2020) studies that on average digital is going to be less accurate than stenographers and not cheaper. While no methodology is perfect, recording and transcribing creates more room for errors because audio monitors are listening for problems — questions of spelling and audio overlap — that they anticipate the transcriber will have. Stenographers, on the other hand, are listening for problems the stenographer will personally have. It really puts us in a league of our own and is a good anecdotal reason for why stenographers and voice writers are not easily replaced by a Mechanical Turk transcription army.
I’m not alone. For months, stenographers have been attempting to educate attorneys on the differences. From Protect Your Record Project to NCRA Strong, there are lots of players helping to define and share what steno brings to the table. I am at a point where I occasionally get messages from people who are exploring the potential of a digital court reporting career. They want to know what they’re signing up for. In some cases they’re being asked to shell out a few thousand dollars in equipment and they want to know if it’s worth it. I generally explain why I believe stenography has more career options or opportunities.
I also explain to digital court reporters or prospective students that we are fighting against a world of inaccuracy. National Court Reporters Association President Debbie Dibble’s recent message about the article “Make sure your court reporter is really a court reporter” really drives this home. 55 missing pages of testimony in a single proceeding. The importance of having a live stenographic court reporter for proceedings is on full display, and NCRA is up to the challenge of letting the bench and bar know the truth.
Ultimately, stenographic reporting has the larger market share and the stronger lobby, something that digital proponents don’t seem honest about when it comes to introducing this work to jobseekers. As I see it, jobseekers left in the dark make excellent candidates for enlightenment. We may well be heading into a period where tons of resources are put down on attracting digital court reporters —
— and digital court reporters turn things around and pick up the stenotype.
Collectively, we have made sure there are numerous resources out there. NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno to name a few. The last frontier seems to be taking people who are being sold a career in digital and pointing them to the words of people like NCRA President Dibble and the ongoing shortage debate. Digitals will work out pretty quickly that they’re being sold on something less rewarding than promised, and stenographic market share will keep growing.
Last week word spread that a ruling had been made that the Judicial Branch Certification Commission (JBCC) in Texas should investigate StoryCloud. From my outsider point of view StoryCloud was or is one of those companies obsessed with cutting corners and/or cutting the stenographer/court reporter out of the deal. That business model is flawed not only because stenography is the most technologically advanced method of taking and transcribing the spoken word, but also from a legal standpoint. In some states, pretending to be a court reporter is simply illegal.
A great big thank you to Jo Ann Byles Holmgren, who initiated the lawsuit that led to this moment. She tells it better than I ever could. In short, the JBCC refused to investigate alleged violations of law. A writ of mandamus was filed to make the government do its job. A judge ruled the JBCC should investigate. StoryCloud more or less deleted its website. Perhaps this will be a roadmap for California, where the California licensing board refuses to protect court reporting consumers and regulate digital court reporting.
I’ll be adding a transcript of the hearing as soon as it’s available.
Following the ruling, most of the StoryCloud site was trashed in favor of a little blurb.
StoryCloud’s demise is not the only good news out of Texas. Mark Kislingbury claimed the new world record at Shaunise Day’s Fearless Stenographers Conference with 370 words per minute (WPM) for one minute at 95.4% accuracy.
I am always saying that if stenographers fight, they will win. Look no further than Jo Ann Byles Holmgren telling the government they’re wrong and winning. Look no further than Shaunise Day’s masterfully done and widely-acclaimed conference — a feat rarely pulled off by an individual unless it’s an industry veteran like Marc Greenberg (StenoFest) or MaryAnn Payonk (Empowerment). Look no further than Mark Kislingbury’s own personal triumph, defeating his former world record of 360 WPM. True failure is making no attempt to meet your goals. Until one is a true failure, one has a real shot at success.
To the lawyers and support staff reading, all you really need to know is that your consumer choice is under attack. Available data says consumer preference is solidly for stenographers and/or voice writers.
In spite of this, a small number of court reporting firms and the nonprofit Speech-to-Text Institute have published bad data to get you to believe stenographers are not available despite there being a free national directory of stenographers. This bad data is then pushed by “reporters” like Victoria Hudgins and the Legaltech News outfit, whose primary purpose is to convince you to buy into their BS. You all have the power to fight against this attack on your consumer choice by sharing this blog with your colleagues. I have been a stenographic court reporter for the last twelve years. All I know is how to make an accurate record. With that, let’s set the record straight:
Victoria Hudgins has come up in my blog before. I wrote to her about some inaccuracies or issues with her past articles back when I believed she was an honest analyst or journalist. I let her know that Stenograph used a stock photo to represent its offices in one of the articles, and to this day the article still says “Stenograph offices” under the picture. In short, she does not seem to care about the accuracy of what is published with her name on it.
Now she’s come out with this article in Legaltech News. “There’s Fewer Small Court Reporting Agencies — But Don’t Blame Technology for That.” It’s very easy to see what’s happened. The shortage claims are falling apart, and the next move is for the private equity brigade (MAGNA, Veritext, and US Legal) to pivot to “we can provide investment in technology that small shops cannot.” As told by stenographer social media, that’s not even true, with small firm owners writing things like they have been proudly providing for all of their clients’ needs since the 90s.
This pivot is an admission that Veritext knows we can’t be beat. The big companies are having a hard time convincing stenographers and consumers the shortage cannot be solved, so it’s onto the next spin. They’re having that hard time because the propaganda they’re using is mathematically unsound. For example, in the linked JD Supra article, U.S. Legal Support uses an equation where we would have negative stenographers in about 30 years. That can’t happen if we’re getting new stenographers every year. How did the company fail to adjust for that? It’s not information being given, it’s an agenda being pushed.
U.S. Legal Support was giving off the same vibes just last week as far as not being able to defeat the stenographic legion. It’s actually kind of comical. The lack of serious and sustained antitrust enforcement for the last 40 years has caused the corporate types to realize we are a nation of unenforced laws. So we’re in a weird game of incongruence where the corporate types have been blatantly violating the law, and the workforce, namely stenographers, have been conditioning themselves to believe that even the tiniest appearance of antitrust infraction must be avoided at all costs, even to the point that our trade associations do not or did not collect and publish rate data despite being entitled to.
As for Hudgins herself, I would be shocked to learn she’s not taking money under the table. She ignored my comments in the past. She doesn’t seem to do any digging beyond getting a story to sound tech friendly. It’s all a media game of getting lawyers to buy into the hot new thing. It’s a hearts and minds game of getting people to repeat the same useless drivel so that everyone starts to believe it, because once people believe something, they hold onto that belief thanks to confirmation bias and/or post-purchase rationalization. Maybe that’s all Legaltech News itself actually is, a marketing piece to convince lawyers to buy, buy, buy into the next “it.” But if I were a lawyer, I’d be mad as hell when I figured that out that something labeled as news was being heavily skewed to influence me and my business. I’d be mad that the data and news showing “technology” would hurt my clients was being swept under the rug and routinely ignored. After all, Hudgins writes about the stenographer shortage woes.
But Hudgins doesn’t bother to mention the undeniable fact that there’s a debate about the shortage where, as I am quoted saying, 16% of all depositions in this country would be going uncovered if the shortage was as bad as claimed. That’s not something we are seeing anywhere in the country, not even in California, where the shortage was forecasted years ago to be far worse than anywhere else in the country. Hudgins doesn’t bother to mention that the shortage numbers have never been adjusted to account for increased recruitment over the last decade. Hudgins doesn’t bother to give facts, so I have no problem putting it out there: Victoria Hudgins is a liar by omission and Legaltech News seems all too happy to host the incomplete reporting. So says the largest commercial blog in the court reporting industry, Christopher Day, Stenonymous, which again, somehow flies under Hudgins’ radar.
The explosion in popularity came after I came forward about the dishonesty and pricing games permeating my field. I have risked my entire professional career to tell the truth. Lawyers, paralegals, and court reporters simply respect that.
Just for the record, stenographers utilize a lot of technology. Just about every single one of us invests a ballpark of $5,000 on a stenotype and a ballpark of $4,000 in software. The software has the capability to take our notes and stream them just about anywhere in the world with an internet connection. This idea that stenographers are still running old school with the paper tape manual machines is a fiction promulgated by propagandists. That’s in the ballpark of a $252 million investment in technology that the current workforce has made and not counting a single stenographer that is no longer working. How much money are the bigger companies saying they’ve invested directly on hardware and software?
Since it’s a media game, I’m ready to play. I’m going to advertise this on Facebook to the tune of $100 today. If you’d like to join me in an amount of your choosing, please head over to the home page at Stenonymous.com and use the donation box. All of my campaigns are public on the Stenonymous page and/or my Twitter, so you can see the kinds of comments we’ve gotten on past campaigns.
Apparently even Victoria agrees because she liked my retweet on this.
There are a slew of New York State Court Reporters Association webinars coming up that you can register for here. I’d like to point out two of them in particular:
How to Stay Relevant in an Industry at Risk of Disruption by Dr. Erika Jacobi. I want to hone in on one line from the flyer, “empower reporters, captioners, and individual business owners to thrive despite adversity.” The more of us that learn to do this, the more of us that can then turn around and share that knowledge or even sell the knowledge through educational events. By attending, you’re basically becoming a part of the first wave of stenographers that will teach the next waves ways to think which will culminate in an ocean of us all armed with the knowledge not just to survive, but to prosper.
Speech Perception, from Spoken Word to Written Text by Culture Point. The data available today says that stenographers are the best there is, but that there is room for improvement. This is part of that improvement. Through academic understanding of linguistics, we can improve how we hear. I’ve spoken to a stenographer with linguistics training about this, and her thoughts were that these types of classes are very important. Again, the first wave of us that learns these concepts can teach the next waves and increase our own personal value and our skills. I know this because I was a ripple sharing what I learned and it landed me on TV. I was on NYSCRA’s board when the first discussions about this workshop were had, and I have a firm belief that the education will help stenographers, both newbies and masters.
NYSCRA has put a lot into this. A press release was drafted and republished to various sites across the web like Daily Ledger, American Tech Today, and The Business Gazette Online. We all have an individual choice to make. Do we take that effort and toss it away, and allow these opportunities to pass unnoticed, or do we take charge of our profession and turn the first wave of stenographers to learn these concepts into a mile-high tsunami?
Recent events have made it very clear that you, reader, are in charge of what happens next in our profession. I hope that you will join me on those webinars and that we will march into the future ready to help others thrive and close the narrow gap in our stenographic linguistics training. I know that together we can make our gold standard shine brighter.
One of the many ways we can market our profession is through props. It’s something nonprofits and for-profit businesses are very aware of. I’ve done it with my sad iron stenographer mug. But today I’ve got some news to cheer everybody up: We’ve got a fun and easy way to communicate our importance on our Zepos.
Consider this mug a conversation starter and get yours today. Purchases will also help me keep Stenonymous running strong!
You can now purchase StenoKeyboards products through my affiliate link. If you do, send me a picture with your product(s), a receipt, and your preferred rebate method, and I will give you 2% of your sale price back by PayPal, Zelle, or Venmo. This rebate is being offered by me as an incentive to use my affiliate link and is not backed by StenoKeyboards.
*Offer is only good for as long as my affiliate link is active.
In a bid to help unify the field, Shaunise Day is holding the Fearless Stenographers Conference in Texas. It’ll be at the Omni Houston Hotel, 4 Riverway, in Houston, Texas, from March 24 to March 26. Stacey E. Raikes, Mark Kislingbury, Allie Hall, Lillian Freiler, Jessie Gorry, and so many others are scheduled to speak. It’s a lineup that’s hard to miss. Texas CEUs are available. NCRA CEUs are pending.
In recognition of Shaunise’s accomplishments with the Confessions of a Stenographer podcast, and with full confidence in her organizational abilities, I have donated $1,000 of my own money to help with the associated costs. She’s got a media talent & personality that cannot go unsung. I hope that if you are able to make it, you’ll buy a ticket today.