As a stenographic court reporter, I have been amazed by the strides in technology. Around 2016, I, like many of you, saw the first claims that speech recognition was as good as human ears. Automation seemed inevitable, and a few of my most beloved colleagues believed there was not a future for our amazing students. In 2019, the Testifying While Black study was published in the Language Journal, and while the study and its pilot studies showed that court reporters were twice as good at understanding the AAVE dialect as your average person, even though we have no training whatsoever in that dialect, the news media focused on the fact that we certify at 95 percent and yet only had 80 percent accuracy in the study. Some of the people involved with that study, namely Taylor Jones and Christopher Hall, introduced Culture Point, just one provider that could help make that 80 percent so much higher. In 2020, a study from Stanford showed that automatic speech recognition had a word error rate of 19 percent for “white” speakers, 35 percent for “black” speakers, and “worse” for speakers with a high dialect density. How much worse?
75 percent word error rate in a study done three or four years after the first claim that automatic speech recognition had 94 percent accuracy. But in all my research and all that has been written on this topic, I have not seen the following point addressed:
What Is An Error?
NCRA, many years ago, set out guidelines for what constituted an error. Word error guidelines take up about a page. Grammatical error guidelines take up about a page. What this means is that when you sit down for a steno test, you’re not being graded on your word error rate (WER), you’re being graded on your total errors. We have decades of failed certification tests where a period or comma meant a reporter wasn’t ready for the working world yet. Even where speech recognition is amazing on that WER, I’ve almost never seen appreciable grammar, punctuation, Q&A, or anything that we do to make the transcript readable. It’s so bad that advocates for the deaf, like Meryl Evans, refer to automatic speech recognition as “autocraptions.”
Unless the bench, bar, and captioning consumers want word soup to be the standard, the difference in how we describe errors needs to be injected into the discussion. Unless we want to go from a world where one reporter, perhaps paired with a scopist, completes the transcript and is accountable for it, to a world where up to eight transcribers are needed to transcribe a daily, we need to continue to push this as a consumer protection issue. Even where regulations are lacking, this is a serious and systemic issue that could shred access to justice. We have to hit every medium possible and let people know the record — in fact, every record in this country — could be in danger. The data coming out is clear. Anyone selling recording and/or automatic transcription says 90-something percent accuracy. Any time it’s actually studied? Maybe 80 percent accuracy, maybe 25; maybe they hire a real expert transcriber, or maybe they outsource all their transcription to Kenya or Manila. Perception matters; court administrators are making industry-changing decisions based on the lies or ignorance of private sector vendors.
The point is recording equipment sellers are taking a field which has been refined by stenographic court reporters to be a fairly painless process where there are clear guidelines for what happens when something goes wrong, adding lots of extra parts to it, and calling it new. We’ve been comparing our 95 percent total accuracy to their “94 percent” word error rate. In 2016, perhaps there were questions that needed answering. This is April 2021, there’s no contest, and proponents of digital recording and automatic transcription have a moral obligation to look at the facts as they are today and not what they’d like them to be.
If you’re somebody in the United States, United Kingdom, or Canada who’s sold on a career as a digital court reporter, or even if you’re just passing through looking for a new career, I’d like to introduce you to stenographic court reporting in a way that you have not been introduced. Just to get this out of the way, in very general terms, court reporting is taking down the legal record and providing an English transcript for judges, lawyers, litigants, and the public. Stenographic “court reporting,” can also be used to caption live shows and events, or transcribe recorded material when needed. The big difference between “steno” and digital is that digital court reporters record testimony or proceedings, usually on multitrack audio equipment, and take guiding notes as the proceedings go on. The stenographic reporter uses a stenotype to take verbatim notes of what’s being said. In our industry today there are a few big companies aggressively marketing to young people looking for work. Those companies insist that digital court reporting is an opportunity for them. There have even been journalists picking up these misconceptions without realizing they’re being misled. It’s time to dispel those myths, tell you a little bit about who we really are, and get you resources you can use to explore a career as a stenographic court reporter.
We Are Digital! One of the most interesting claims I’ve seen from digital court reporting proponents in the press is that “this world isn’t digitized.” We’re old-fashioned. The implication is that stenographic court reporting is a dying art with very little time left as a viable career. Every time you see a representation of us in the media, you get a stenotype from 1983! The truth is that we’ve been digital for decades. Most working reporters today roll with a stenotype that is more like a minicomputer than a typewriter. There’s software onboard transcribing the machine shorthand stenography as we go. So that’s a big red flag, right? There’s a CEO making a major statement who’s clearly lying or completely ignorant. Don’t bank your future on the words of people who are lying or wrong. Not only are we technologically advanced, we’re extremely adaptable. When the pandemic struck, court reporters were in a jam for a month or so. The field quickly adopted remote reporting and now reporters are talking about having more work than they can handle right from home. If you like tech, steno is for you.
We Are More Efficient! I know that this can come off as a loaded or insulting statement, so let me just get this out of the way. There’s nothing wrong with believing that technology improves efficiency. What’s often ignored in this discussion is that stenographic technology is evolving right alongside audio capture tech. There have been trials of automatic speech recognition in stenographic software. There have been leaps in text-to-text prediction and some software even attempts to guess what we meant when we mess up a stenographic stroke. Recording a proceeding generally entails the front-end recording and the back-end transcription. Machine shorthand stenography, on the other hand, loads the transcription on while the proceedings are going on. The most skilled stenographic court reporters can walk away from a proceeding and press print. The more average ones, like me, are able to reduce the transcription time so much that one person can do the entire job. You can also see this in the numbers. The average court reporter types (we call it writes) at 225 words per minute with a 1.4 syllabic density, so probably about 200 words per minute. The average transcriber types at about 100 words per minute. The average person hovers around 50 words per minute. So just by the numbers, you can see that stenographic reporting can get a job done twice as fast, four times as fast, or with far less manpower. Machine shorthand stenography is also much easier on your hands. We have the capability of getting down very large words or large groups of words with one movement of our hands. As an example, it took me over 18,000 hand motions to get this post down on a QWERTY keyboard. It would have taken about 3,000 hand movements on the stenotype that I was too lazy to plug in. If you’re a transcriber, imagine reducing the stress on your hands to a sixth of what it currently is.
We Have More Support! Some of the court reporting or transcription companies I mentioned before are riding on another misconception regarding our stenographer shortage. About 8 years ago there was an industry outlook and forecast by Ducker Worldwide that told us there would be a higher demand for court reporters than supply. That part is absolutely true. A shortage was forecasted. Some companies were having severe coverage issues. We saw the number of applicants for licenses and civil service jobs plummeting to about half the usual levels. This can lead to the implication that there are not many stenographers left. It’s an easy myth to propagate. How many of us have you seen recently? Unless you’ve been stuck in a lawsuit, been prosecuted, or seen me on TV, you haven’t seen a court reporter. The truth is that we knew the shortage was coming. Many initiatives popped up to begin recruiting stenographers or helping people get into the field. Depending on whose numbers you’re looking at, there are 10,000 to 20,000 of us working. That means that if you have a problem or a question, you have potentially thousands of people around to assist you. You have a nonprofit in almost in every state devoted to stenographic court reporters. Those nonprofits pull in cumulatively millions of dollars a year with the objective of promoting the welfare of stenographic court reporters. To put this into perspective, a popular stenotype manufacturer, Stenograph, recently donated $50,000 to Project Steno. Nobody’s dumping millions of dollars on nonprofits in a career that has no future. Why aren’t some of these “employers” telling you about this vast support network? Because if you join it, you will have sharper skills and better bargaining power.
We Have Options! There are freelance, part-time, and full-time positions available dependent on where you are and what you’re looking to do with this wonderful skill. Maybe you’re someone who needs to work from home and “just” do transcription — I know a mom just like that. Maybe you love the law and want to see the process of law firsthand. Maybe you want to caption live events over the TV, internet, or in person, via stenographic CART & captioning. Maybe you want to travel internationally and take work around the world. There are even reporters who have taken the general skill of stenotype stenography and applied it to computer programming, such as Stanley Sakai. The limiting factor is how much time you put into hunting down the type of work you want!
We Are Equality! If you clicked the link for my TV appearance, you saw that stenographic reporters got some really bad news stories run on them because while our certifications are 95 percent, we only scored about 80 percent in a study where some of us were asked to transcribe a specific English dialect sometimes referred to by linguists as African American English (AAE). VICE News filmed me for about two hours. They cut the part where I talked about the pilot studies. In pilot study 1, everyday people were tested and scored 40 percent. In pilot study 2, lawyers were tested and scored 60 percent. In a completely different study, automatic speech recognition was tested. It got white speech right 80 percent of the time. It got black speech right 65 percent of the time. It did worse when it was tested on AAE! What does this mean? It means that young people that want to ensure equality in the courtroom need to join up and become stenographic court reporters. I’m not gloating about 80 percent. But with no special dialect training, we’re the closest to 100 percent understanding on this dialect, and that was ignored by the media. I am proud to be one of the people fighting to bridge that gap and spread awareness on the issue. Beyond that, in the captioning and CART arena, stenographic court reporters are pushing to bring access to people for live programming and in classrooms. So if you choose this wonderful career you are not “doomed” to sit in legal proceedings for the rest of your life, you can also make a career out of taking down what’s being said and bringing it to the screens of millions of people who need that support. If you’re a person that believes that court records should be 100 percent accurate, someone that believes appeals shouldn’t be thwarted by missing court audio, or someone that believes that deaf people deserve real access, and not “autocraptions,” you’re somebody that needs to join up and be part of the team steno solution.
We Are Waiting For You! Remember that shortage I mentioned and the resources waiting for you? I have an easy list you can use to get a jumpstart, find the right level of training for your financial situation, and get involved with our field. This is not an exhaustive list, so if you find something online that seems better for you, don’t hesitate to give that a chance. To help you understand some jargon in our line of work, “theory” is a method or system of using the stenotype and its letters to take down English, often phonetically. “Speed” is taking everything you learn in theory and learning to do it fast. Speed is by far the longest and hardest part of training. “Briefs” are stenographic outlines or strokes that do not necessarily resemble English words phonetically in theory, but we use them to get down large words fast. “Phrases” are stenographic strokes or outlines that collapse multiple words into one line of letters. Generally you will “learn theory,” then you will start “building speed,” and then you will use briefs and phrases to reach those very high levels of speed that we work at. It is physically possible to write everything out phonetically, but it will be more stressful on your hands.
Try court reporting for free. NCRA A to Z and Project Steno’s Basic Training are both free ways to try out court reporting and learn basic theory at low or no cost. Both are great ways to jump into the field without blowing $2,000 on a student stenotype only to find out you don’t like steno. On the topic of finding stenotypes to practice with, there are vendors such as StenoWorks, Acculaw, Stenograph, Eclipse, and Neutrino. You can also search on eBay for old Stentura models at a discount, but do not go outside eBay’s buyer protection or you will get scammed.
NCRA-approved schools. There are several NCRA-approved schools across the United States and one in Canada. These are worth looking into if you are serious about making court reporting a career because of the quality of the education. Please note that not all NCRA-approved schools are accredited.
Online, self-paced, or programs not approved by NCRA. There are numerous programs for stenographic reporting. There are programs to teach theory like StarTran. There are programs like Simply Steno that focus on building speed after someone has learned the basics of theory, and there are programs like Court Reporting At Home (CRAH). You can also see if the court reporters association of your state has any advice or school listings. All of these things also have a great deal of social media support. There are lots of Facebook groups like Encouraging Court Reporting Students or Studying Court Reporting At Home. There are students and professionals online right now who are there to help with the journey.
Open Steno. I have to put Open Steno in a category by itself because there’s just nothing like it. It is a free, active, and open online community with Google Groups, a free way to learn theory, and its own Discord chat. There are enthusiasts that build stenotype keyboards from scratch. This is the community responsible for Steno Arcade. This is the community responsible for Plover, a free steno-to-English translation software. It was all started by Mirabai Knight, a CART writer in New York. If you’re motivated to teach yourself for free, Open Steno makes it possible in a way that it simply was not a decade ago.
Christopher Day. Chances are high you’re here because you saw an ad on social media. I’ve been a court reporter for almost eleven years. I’ve been funding this blog and keeping it an ad-free experience (with some very appreciated help!) just to help stenographers and people that aspire to be stenographers. I know people that have transitioned from digital (and analogue!) court reporting to stenographic reporting and become real champions of and voices for our field. Every reporter I know is supportive of stenography students and fellow professionals. You’ll rarely hear one of us refer to another one of us as being “low skill.” Compare that to this marketing infographic from Verbit. They said digital solutions do not require a highly-trained workforce. Do you really want to work with people that downplay your work when it’s convenient for them? These folks are setting themselves up to make money off you. I have no such incentive or financial ties. I’m a guy with a squid hat and a blog who fell into this wonderful career by accident, and I’d love for you to be a part of it.
So if you need more guidance, reach out to me at Chris@stenonymous.com. Do yourself the favor of getting involved with stenographic reporting. If sitting there hearing testimony is something you can see yourself doing, you’ve already got a whole lot more in common with us than half the world. Give our profession some consideration. It’s easy to learn, it’s hard to do fast, and though it takes 2 to 4 years of training, it really can be your gateway to an exciting front-row seat to history and a rewarding lifelong career. If that doesn’t sell you, we also have some top-quality memes.
During our Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021 there were a couple of press releases and some press releases dressed up as journalism all about digital recording, automatic speech recognition, and its accuracy and viability. There’s actually a lesson to be learned from businesses that continually promise without any regard for reality, so that’s what I’ll focus on today. I’ll start with this statement. We have a big, vibrant field of students and professionals where everyone that is actually involved in it, from the smallest one-woman reporting armies to the corporate giants, says technology will not replace the stenographic court reporter. Then we have the tech players who continuously talk about how their tech is 99 percent accurate, but can’t be bothered to sell it to us, and whose brilliant plan is to record and transcribe the testimony, something stenographers figured out how to do decades ago.
You know the formula. First we’ll compare this to an exaggerated event outside the industry, and then we’ll tie it right into our world. So let’s breeze briefly over Fyre Festival. To put it in very simple terms, Fyre Festival was an event where the CEO overpromised, underdelivered, and played “hide the ball” until the bitter end. Customers were lied to. Investors were lied to. Staff and construction members were lied to. It was a corporate fiasco propped up by disinformation, investor money, and cash flow games that ended with the CEO in prison and a whole lot of people owed a whole lot of money that they will, in all likelihood, never get paid. It was the story of a relative newcomer to the industry of music festivals saying they’d do it bigger and better. Sound familiar?
As for relative newcomers in the legal transcription or court reporting business, take your pick. Even ones that have been incorporated for a couple of decades really aren’t that impressive when you start holding up the magnifying glass. Take, for example, VIQ Solutions and its many subsidiaries:
VIQ apparently trades OTC so it gives us a rare glimpse of financial information that we don’t get with a lot of private companies. Right off the bat, we can see some interesting stuff. $8 million in revenue with a negative net income and a positive cash flow. Positive cash flow means the money they have on hand is going up. Negative income means the company is losing money. How does a company lose money but continue to have cash on hand grow? Creditors and investors. When you see money coming in while the company is taking losses, it generally means that the company is borrowing the money or getting more cash from investors/shareholders. A company can continue on this way for as long as money keeps coming in. Companies can also use tricks similar to price dumping, and charge one client or project an excessive amount in order to fund losses on other projects. The amazing thing is that most companies won’t light up the same way Fyre did, they’ll just declare bankruptcy and move on. There’s not going to be a big “gotcha” parade or reckoning where anyone admits that stenographic court reporting is by far the superior business model.
This is juxtaposed against a situation where, for the individual stenographic reporter, you’re kind of stuck making whatever you make. If things go badly, bankruptcy is an option, but there’s never really an option to borrow money or receive investor money for decades while you figure it out. Seeing all these ostensible giants enter the field can be a bit intimidating or confusing. But any time you see these staggering tech reveals wrapped up in a paid-for press release, I urge you to remember Fyre, remember VIQ, and remember that no matter what that revenue or cash flow looks like, you may not have access to the information that would tell you how the company is really doing.
This also leads to a very bright future for steno entrepreneurs. As we learn the game, we can pass it along to each other. When Stenovate landed its first big investor, I talked about that. Court reporting and its attached services, in the way we know them and love them, are an extremely stable, winning investment. Think about it. Many of us, when we begin down this road, spend up to $2,000 on a student machine and up to $9,000 on a professional machine and software. That $11,000 sinkhole, coupled with student loan debt, grows into stable, positive income. So what’s stopping any stenographic court reporting firm from getting out there and educating investors on our field? The time and drive to do it. Maybe for some people, they just haven’t had that idea yet. But that’s where we’re headed. I have little doubt that if we compete, we will win. But we have to get people in that mindset. So if you know somebody with that entrepreneurial spirit, maybe pass them this post and get them thinking about whether they’d like to seek investors to grow their firm and reach. Business 101 is that a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar tomorrow. That means our field can be extremely attractive to value investors and be a safe haven from the gambling money being supplied to “tech’s” habitual promisors.
Know a great reporting or captioning firm that needs a spotlight? Feel free to write me or comment about them below. I’ll start us off. Steno Captions, LLC launched off recently without doing the investor dance. That’s the kind of promise this field has. I wish them a lot of luck and success in managing clients and training writers.
While we’re on the subject of court reporter humor, a best friend sent me this video from Andy Bajaña. Steno students, somebody understands! Andy says on the post he wrote this song when he was in school and didn’t think he’d graduate. So students, if you’re watching and you feel the same, just remember it can be done!
One of the biggest challenges of any professional’s career is time management. There are so many things we need to find time for. We need to find time for our families, our friends, and ourselves. We need to meet deadlines. We need to remember important events and time-sensitive information. Below are some really basic tips for finding time and staying organized in my words and style. If you want a much more professional look or if you’re a visual learner, you may actually benefit greatly from skipping my blog post and checking out Lauren Lawrence’s Stenovate Time Management Master Class.
Most of you hold in the palm of your hand a tiny supercomputer capable of wonderful things. Any time you schedule something, stick it in that phone calendar. There have been times where I’ve double-booked friends, work obligations, and life goals because I failed to make a calendar. I failed to take that extra step every time someone said “save the date.” I failed to take scheduling seriously and it bit back hard. If you have Gmail connected to your phone, it’ll even automatically update your phone with Google Calendar invites when you send or receive them. A calendar is a simple extension of your memory and you are ten steps ahead of the game when you start using yours. You can even even stylize it to be as neat or cluttered as you want. For example, my mind works best when it’s in a constant state of chaos:
Whether you want to take a nap or get a full night of sleep, waking up is pretty important. Getting out the door is pretty important. Hitting whatever goal you want to hit is pretty important. There have been a few times in my life where I’ve suffered a night of bad sleep and had to take a snooze on my lunch hour. This stuff isn’t ideal, but it can help you get through rough days. Whether you use a loud and obnoxious alarm like Online Alarm Clock or select custom alarms by hand in your phone, setting alarms can mean the difference between getting in on time and having to explain to your boss why you’re habitually late.
Long used by fitness enthusiasts as a way to measure time and progress, the stopwatch is an incredible tool for the court reporter. At least once in your career, sit down before you transcribe a job and start running the stopwatch for an hour while you’re transcribing. At the end of an hour, see how many pages you’ve transcribed. In my own career, dependent upon my layout and the subject density, I found I was able to transcribe between 20 to 60 pages an hour. If I had a really bad day, that number could drop to ten pages an hour. This isn’t just useless trivia, it allows you to mentally gauge how much time you need to set aside to complete your work. Let’s say I went to an afternoon deposition and that was 120 pages. I knew that if I got home and sat down at 5 p.m. to do it, it would be done between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. This helped me schedule stuff around my transcription habits. I was able to avoid scheduling recreational time that conflicted with transcribing time because I knew roughly how long almost every transcript would take.
If you use Gmail, you might be surprised to learn you have the option to schedule e-mails. This is helpful if you have a situation where you find time at 1:32 a.m. to draft an e-mail but don’t want to look crazy. You can click the little arrow next to send on the Gmail e-mail on your computer and schedule to send it tomorrow morning, Monday morning, or any time you want. If you’ve ever gotten an e-mail from me at about 8:00 a.m., responded, and then gotten no response from me until about 11:00 a.m., it probably meant that I was unconscious somewhere and had thoughtfully scheduled the e-mail to send to you regardless of what I was doing. I haven’t figured out a way to do this on my phone, but I spend so much time at my desktop / laptop it hardly matters. An additional benefit? The e-mail goes to your “scheduled folder,” so you can cancel it and edit it any time before it sends. If you’ve ever thought “wow, I come up with my best work right after I click send,” e-mail scheduling is for you.
Coincidentally, if you have a WordPress blog or its equivalent, you also have access to a scheduler. Many people have asked me where I find the time to write. Magicians and salespeople don’t reveal their tricks because they want to stay in business. I show you how the magic works and ask you to believe in it anyway. A scheduler will let you do stuff on your time and send it off when it needs to be sent. A two-hour bus commute can turn into a two-hour writing project that launches by itself without any further input from you. Automating broadcasts through a scheduler means productivity gains!
Your Word Processor & Spreadsheets:
The most famous example of a word processor is Microsoft Word. It helps you type notes, letters, and express yourself in many different ways. Keeping accurate notes on a meeting or situation is vital. It saves you an incredible amount of time and energy trying to remember things. Spreadsheets, like Microsoft Excel, also work this way. You can use spreadsheets as a budget, database, a calculation tool, or even just a list of ideas. The best thing about these tools is that they are so necessary that there are alternatives for people who cannot afford or do not wish to pay for Microsoft products. As of today, I know that Apache Open Office has a Writer and Calc version, which are akin to Word and Excel. Google also offers Google Docs and Google Sheets, also akin to Word and Excel. For the average user, any of these will likely suit your needs, especially if you’re starting from the position of having no word processor or spreadsheets. Personally, I am a fan of Google, because their phone apps allow me to access my documents anywhere with cell service or wi-fi for free.
Your Case Naming Convention:
Many reporters today struggle with naming their cases and folders appropriately. You can burn hours of time looking for a case if you are not careful about how you organize cases. My personal suggestion with regard to standard case naming? Use the date. When you use the date to name a case, if someone places an order, you do not need to know anything else about the job except what year, month, and day. I do not disparage reporters who like to name things by last name, location or any other naming scheme, but the date has always been incredibly effective. If you ask me whether I took court notes on any particular day, I can tell you almost instantly, because it’s all neatly sorted by year, month, day.
In my particular case, I have a “COURT” folder. That folder then has two folders inside it named “TAKEN” and “TRANSCRIBED.” “TAKEN” contains all the notes taken and not yet transcribed. “TRANSCRIBED” contains all the finished transcripts ordered by anyone ever. Inside “TAKEN” and “TRANSCRIBED” there are year folders for each year, and inside the year folders are month folders with the number of the month and the name of the month. Inside each month folder is a file named after the date, the courtroom, and the judge. For “TRANSCRIBED” these files also include the defendant’s name so that they are easily identifiable. If you have the date, I know where the notes are, and I know whether the transcript has been transcribed before. If you’re going to use “my” naming scheme, you must put a zero before single-digit numbers because otherwise the computer will not sort them correctly when you sort by name. This is idiot-proof. I know that because I am an idiot.
Your Ability To Stop Fooling With Tooling:
I think I’ve made my case for all the tools that can help you become better at time management. But to echo the work of Euan Williams, beware of busywork. The more time you spend trying to find the perfect tool, develop the perfect routine, or think about how you will manage your time, the more you will watch time slip away without accomplishing much of anything. Your ability to stop fooling with tooling combined with your ability to identify and use the tools at your disposal will find you the time you need to succeed and get to the things that matter most.
There are several opportunities available to stenography students this month, and students should be on the lookout for opportunities whenever possible. There are a number of NCRA scholarships, including the Milton H. Wright scholarship, with a deadline of March 1.
California Court Reporters Association has announced the chance for students to win a free membership. The deadline is much tighter, February 14, but it’s a chance to get connected with just one of the many professional associations that cares about court reporters. Rumor has it that it’s open to students anywhere in the country, so court reporting and captioning students interested in CCRA membership, jump on this. CCRA’s contest highlights something very important in the stenographic reporting world. Students are making a big difference. Whether it’s creating new and amazing podcast content or creating TikTok sensations, you can be a part of making that difference and bringing attention to our field in a way that old people like me can’t. And remember, age is a state of mind!
Project Steno’s Merit Award Program is also available. If you are hitting speed goals rapidly and meet the requirements, you could be eligible for up to $2,000 according to their website.
New York students, please keep an eye out for more information on the Horizon Scholarship Fund. There are reporters donating every single year to ensure there is money set aside for students just like you. The website has not yet been updated, but there is no doubt in my mind that updated information will be available soon.
Anyone that attended the NYSCRA Student Panel, in addition to hearing me ramble, got to hear from Meredith Bonn, a past NYSCRA President. She’s the embodiment of her workshop, Power of the Positive Attitude, and she made an important point. These scholarships, grants, and programs, can sometimes have very few applicants. You could have as big as a one out of thirteen shot at money for your stenographic education. For some perspective, the odds of winning the lotto can be as low as one out of 300 million. So do yourself a favor, have a positive attitude, take some time out to check whether or not you are eligible, and make an entry in some of these programs. Worst case scenario, you’re just about where you started. Best case scenario, hundreds or thousands of dollars in aid that you don’t have to worry about!
Telling grown professionals what to do and how to conduct themselves online is generally not in my business plan. But I know that some of us are not 100 percent caught up with techy stuff, and I feel obligated to write this one.
2FA is a creative shortening of “two-factor authentication.” You may also hear it referred to as multi-factor authentication. No matter who you are, you’ve probably heard these words. Maybe you looked into it and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe it looked too complicated and you said “not for me, thanks.” Whatever the case, I can show you in one image why you need two-factor authentication.
We’re in a hacker’s world now. Hackers will get your passwords. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. As a matter of fact, Google now has this handy feature to show you how compromised your passwords are. Want to guess how many times hackers have gotten their hands on my password?
In its early days, even this blog got hacked into! 2FA prevents that every day. 2FA, at its core, means you sign in with your password, and then the service you’re logging into sends you a numeric password via text message or it sends a numeric code to an authenticator app on your phone. This numeric code changes every minute or so, so somebody who wants to log into your stuff without your permission needs to get your username, password, and be tapped into your phone OR have physical possession of your phone. It doesn’t matter if they’re trying to hack in from India, China, Beirut, or next door, they’re not getting in without very substantial access to your personal life.
PRO TIP WHERE APPLICABLE: Put 2FA for your e-mail, link that to your phone, then use 2FA and link everything else to your e-mail. The result? Every time someone tries to hack you, you get an e-mail about it.
There is one major exception to this, and the most common way that you will be hacked using 2FA: You. Hackers and scammers may send you a site by e-mail that looks legitimate. If you go to log in, they will record your login details, and they will record the numeric code that’s sent from your authenticator if you give it to them. Always double check that you’re logging into the correct site, because if you don’t, you’re going to end up giving away valuable information to people that don’t deserve to have it. So, for example, let’s say you get an e-mail saying it’s from Chase Bank. They’re going to close your account unless you act now. Don’t click anything in that e-mail. Go to your browser and type in the Chase website that you know and love. Scammers and hackers design stuff to make you feel rushed and fearful because that’s when you’re least likely to think about a minor decision like logging into a site. Any time you’re feeling rushed or fearful, take some extra time to think before you act.
That’s really it. I have countless old accounts and usernames that I opened as a kid, before the age of 2FA, and they’ve all pretty much been taken over by bots and spammers. Given the importance of our work and the transcripts we produce, we can’t afford to let our clients down and let the bad guys seize information. 2FA for most services is free. Google Authenticator is free. “Free” is a great price for peace of mind, so check if the services you use have 2FA today.
“We are committed to our entire network of independent contractors, including the stenographic reporting community, as they provide an integral and necessary service to our legal system,” states Tony Donofrio, CTO of Veritext. “Technology has become an integral part of practicing law today, and while it will not take the place of the stenographer, it will continue to evolve to provide the profession with a broader toolset to aid them in their commitment to transcribing the spoken word efficiently.” – passed to me by Senior Vice President Valerie Berger on February 4, 2021. Again, these are the words of Veritext’s CTO, Tony Donofrio.
How’d we get here? Not long ago, I was performing some research on where students could find scholarships and grants. It wasn’t long until I came across the Veritext Scholarships page. It struck me as odd that I had gotten eight LinkedIn notices for the company looking for digitals in my area, but not a single one for stenographic reporters. I did what many of my readers do. I kept an open mind. I reached out, and I asked, in spirit “why bother with scholarships for stenographic reporting if you’re going to press so hard on digital reporting?” I had an e-mail exchange with Ms. Berger where I shared many of the things I’ve reported on in the past and seen in the media recently. I got to explain that to many reporters, this kind of stuff comes off kind of like business “stashing,” a term I borrowed from the dating world where a partner says they love and support you in private, but doesn’t do a lot to broadcast that relationship, usually to maintain a relationship with another partner.
The message I got back, in sum and substance, was that Veritext supports all of its independent contractors. They said they find their own network a better way of finding stenographic talent than LinkedIn. Ms. Berger told me that Veritext provides more work to stenographers than any other firm in the country, and took the time to link me to some things that Veritext is doing or has done to support the stenographic community:
The Veritext Peer Advisory Council (VPAC) and its mission to mentor students and individuals considering a steno career in North America in addition to collaborating with Veritext on education for the stenographic community. VPAC also has a student resource center, where the advice column has scores of reporters saying what I often tell students, “find a mentor!” As a matter of fact, there is an old quote from me right on that advice column, “know your market and seek many mentors.”
I was positively surprised by a lot of what I saw. Our lives and careers are so busy. It can be hard to keep track of all the information out there, and though I was tangentially aware of some of these endeavors, a lot of it was news to me. Let this mark the first time that I have seen such a definitive statement from Veritext. Technology will never replace stenographers. I’ve alluded to that. Many industry leaders have said that. Now Veritext, through its CTO, says that. This is serious vindication for all the times we’ve pressed to correct the news media. This is truth that can be brought to the media’s attention by any one of us for years to come. What better time for such a declaration than CRCW 2021?
What I need from readers is a commitment to keep sharing information and supporting stenography. There are so many programs that have opened up to beat the shortage and for stenographic court reporters to meet the demands of the legal field. There’s so much media about such a small field that it becomes impossible for one man to keep track of. As we march through the year, please feel empowered to send me things that support this article, contradict it, highlight the work of other agencies big or small, or give a totally different point of view on a totally different topic. We’ll keep building information and work to keep the public record accurate, and court reporting will carry on as the fantastic career it has always been.
Some will remember that in 2019 I put together a list of associations that offer mentoring. I now took the time to create a list of New York court reporting agencies and their office locations. Generally I erred on the side of inclusivity and pulled names and numbers mindlessly off Google. Please feel free to let me know about more firms that have New York coverage. I envision this as a resource for students and working reporters. Back when I was in school, we tended to gravitate towards a very limited selection of agencies, and it was probably to the detriment of some of us. Here’s the list. It’s available to share or download. You cannot edit my master copy, but you can edit any copy you create.
I put aside my personal feelings and included anything that came up as advertising court reporting services. Some entries on there are not stenographic-reporter friendly. Hope springs eternal that they’ll change their tune and embrace the unmatchable efficiency of stenographic reporting. Great example, stenographic reporting could probably bring up Cutting Edge Deposition’s rating from 1 star to 5. Our stenographic reporters across the state are going to be competing directly with the businesses that don’t use steno, and this is really a golden chance for those businesses to turn things around. Regardless of how that goes, let this stand as a reminder to students how valuable your skills really are. There would not be over 200 offices for over 150 businesses across the state if there was not money there. The vast majority of these are stenographic reporting agencies or utilize primarily stenographic reporters. Hone your skills and get ready for a bright future not only in the courts, but in freelance and the private sector.
Also a tip for students, if someone says they can’t afford XYZ but they have 9 different offices, they might be pulling your leg.
Interesting trivia, Southern District Reporters is actually a corporation for the officials of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York. Last I checked, you need Eclipse to work there. I’ve heard great things.
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.
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.
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.
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?