I’m opening up a 6-question survey to the public, as well as court reporting providers, for court reporting rates.
Associations are allowed to collect and distribute aggregate rate data. I’ve provided information on how newbie court reporters are taken advantage of, sometimes working decades behind inflation, due to the dearth of data about the court reporting & stenotype services industry. It is very clear to me that we must move beyond the fallacy of being unable to discuss rates that has been drilled into court reporters’ collective conscience. We must replace it with a more nuanced truth: Discussions and historical data are fair game. It is collusion and the appearance of collusion among competitors that is problematic for those of us that are true independent contractors and associations. Failing to approach this with some nuance allows our silence to be weaponized against our new people, who are told their skills are worth much less than they actually are. They try to make it work and end up leaving because they’re working too hard for too little money.
Associations also risk falling behind if they do not have this data. A lot of players are scraping up court reporter data today, including Capvision, LEK Consulting, Dialectica, and Guidepoint. I cannot yet say conclusively say how the data is being used, but I can absolutely say that it is not in the hands of court reporters, and therefore we are once again playing “catch up.”
This survey focuses on California, Illinois, New York, and Texas. As of the Ducker Report, those states had the highest court reporting demand (page 13). If you’d like to take part in the survey, please do so. You may also submit your e-mail for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.
I am hopeful that the data collected will be a useful start to understanding the current state of the market. If nothing else, it should provide a base for discussion. Results should be announced sometime in Q3 2022.
Yesterday, many professional stenographers came together with hobbyist stenographers from the Open Steno Project. Open Steno proponents presented how they have brought the cost of trying and using steno from the thousands of dollars it used to cost down to about $100. One example of this is the Uni, which is now, according to members from the community, in mass production mode. Please get involved in the various Open Steno communities, but especially the Discord chat. For anyone that missed the meeting, you can watch it here. The entire event was put together over the course of one week by Dineen Squillante, and without her, the event would not have happened. Captioning was provided by Open Steno founder Mirabai Knight. Moderation was performed by Quaverly Rothenberg. Check out my timeline of events below:
After that lineup, the Open Steno Community members spoke and shared with us several important things.
28:30 Software Engineer (140 WPM) Sammi De Guzman gave us a great introduction. Sammi spoke about the financial barriers of getting into stenography and talked about how the Open Steno Project has eliminated or substantially reduced those barriers through cheaper hardware and free software (Plover). She also mentioned how this barrier reduction allows everyone to use stenography and not just those in court reporting and captioning. Sammi also mentioned the large ecosystem of plugins/tools available.
44:00 Peter Park from Stenokeyboards.com spoke next. Peter is currently a law student, and he designed the Uni keyboard mentioned at the top. Peter spoke about his background and how he got into stenography.
51:26 Crides, a keyboard designer, spoke about embedded steno and a custom-made steno engine that can run on keyboards, as well as its pros and cons.
54:10 Ted Morin, a software engineer and Lead Developer of Plover, was up next. Ted created Art of Chording, just one way for people to learn stenographic theory for free. Ted spoke about the challenges of people learning stenography on their own. Ted also talked about Steno Arcade!
1:00:15 Joshua Grams, hobby programmer and the creator of Steno Jig was our next speaker. The exercises create pseudo-sentences that keep users on their toes and vary what they hear.
1:03:34 Diana MacDonald (Di), creator of Typey Type, spoke about the history of tools that existed to learn when she started and her creation of Typey Type for accessibility.
1:28:13 Sammi gave us more information about decentralizing stenography and creating accessibility to more people in more places. The work of various creators was mentioned at 1:34:17, including SanSan by Sammi, Hachidori by Kaoffie, and Thai Steno by Parnikkapore.
1:41:16 Elizabeth Tremmel, an official court reporter in Ramsey County, Minnesota was the next presenter. She spoke about the Plover demographics survey. She spoke about schools and community, and how Plover helped her achieve working speed. One very important point made by Elizabeth was that NCRA’s testing policy is ambiguous.
I need to hijack the point Elizabeth made. Because of the nature of the Open Steno Community’s work, they need clarification on “special accommodations” and “stenographic writer” in NCRA testing. “Stenographic writer” is incredibly important because of the wide variety of writers that Open Steno has produced. Thanks to modern technology, people can swap out square keys for steno keys on an NKRO keyboard and perform stenography. When I took board training, I learned that associations don’t exclude vendors because that might cause antitrust complaints. If OSP has to crowdfund a lawyer to engage with NCRA to get these answers or represent people lost in the shuffle, it will be a dark day in the history of our profession. I have to ask my colleagues to help legitimize this community rather than illegally exclude it. I believe that’s where we are headed, but I must insist we be proactive: Let’s not be shy about pushing for a better, more-inclusive organization.
1:51:54 Matt “Sooty” Morgan spoke about his quest to teach himself stenography and how scarce stenographic writers are in Australia. Without Plover, Matt would not have made the professional milestones he’s made. He has hope for the future of shorthand in his country thanks to Open Steno. Knowing the
1:54:12, Stanley Sakai joined us from outer space. He talked about teaching himself stenography, the infancy of Plover, and how that evolved into work with coding an app for accessibility and captioning at Coachella with Isaiah Roberts. In Stanley’s words, any way someone can appreciate our craft is a beautiful thing.
2:07:30 Aerick came back and showed off the Discord chat, which professionals are encouraged to join.
After the conclusion of the Open Steno presentation, professional stenographers got a chance to speak.
2:13:16 Yvette Heinze spoke about Team Turtle and the importance of community. Main takeaway? Working together and surrounding ourselves with people that challenge us to learn and grow is vital to the profession’s survival.
2:19:21Rich Germosen spoke about the court reporting practice community that he runs and how they support each other and keep the drama and politics low.
2:22:18 Christopher Day got to speak about how there’s a tech buzzword going around, the democratization of technology. He pledged to use Stenonymous to boost the community. He also mentioned how dummy pages were put up to lure students away from stenography with lies published about NCRA projections.
2:26:28 Traci Mertens, a stenographer of 34 years in nearly every area of the field that works as an Official Legislative Reporter for the United States House of Representatives. We need voice writers, Plover people, and everybody on board was the core of Traci’s message.
2:30:33 Mirabai Knight was the official close to the meeting, noting how she was blown away by all of the contributions made and how she loves being able to use Plover for captioning, as she has for almost a decade.
2:32:10 Dan Glassman got to come in and explain his experiences and knowledge from the last four decades in the history of stenography. From there, the meeting floated to general discussion and Q&A.
In only one week, Open Steno pulled together this monumental presentation. That, by itself, makes it worthy of our support.
Notably, I failed to mention StenoMasters, a speech club open to everyone and run by my best friend, Joshua Edwards. For those that want to sharpen their skills in speaking, it’s worth the $146 first-year cost. StenoMasters is very much like Open Steno in its quest to be accessible and open. Most of the fee goes to Toastmasters, the umbrella organization over StenoMasters, and the rest goes to club expenses.
I also failed to mention Glen Warner’s Cheap & Sleazy blog. My blog, is the biggest blog in the industry commercially. Glen’s is arguably the best blog in the industry, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s time to take a look. His work inspired my work. I hope to inspire others the way he inspired me. His work in the Open Steno Community and promoting the Facebook page cannot go unnoticed.
Want to make a difference today? Pledge a writer to Kentucky’s upcoming A to Z class! I’ve already pledged one Diamante writer to the cause and there are several potential students in need. Please help Kentucky show them what court reporting is all about! It starts January 12th and lasts six weeks.
Delivery to students is required by the 11th. Postage can be reimbursed as needed.
-Addendum 5/20/22: Deleted contact information so that spammers/bots wouldn’t utilize it.
So I stumbled across the CourtReporterEdu.org website. A pleasant website that is facially neutral. You look at it, and it doesn’t seem to be anything “bad.” It talks about stenographers and shorthand. It has a picture of a stenotype. Looks like the kind of marketing stenographers should be doing.
Then you, reader, head on over to a magical place, court reporting info by state.
And when the reader goes to look at their state, they’ll infallibly get a long list of schools that have “court reporter programs.”
From my review of the New York schools listed, none have a digital court reporter degree. The few that mention digital court reporting sell the digital court reporting as a “continuing education” program. In short, they’re selling continuing education for a degree track that does not exist. Some of these schools have zero mention of digital court reporting on their website. Some schools, like BMCC, you reach out to admissions, and they know nothing about the program.
So, of course, I ask Ed 2 Go what the deal is, because Mark Pugal from Ed 2 Go has been trying to sell me on Digital Court Reporting for like a month now.
And of course, I trust, but verify.
BMCC asked for my concerns, so I put them out there.
Now, just to explain, in part, why I think CourtReporterEDU and possibly Ed 2 Go is being dishonest: (1) In many of the schools listed, when one goes to independently verify the existence of the program, it doesn’t seem to exist. Attempting to verify the program with the schools that actually do seem to offer it leads to this roundabout “we don’t have that program, but actually we do” response. Maybe at the point colleges are selling programs with no future and are so insignificant the admissions department doesn’t know they exist, or they don’t exist, we’ve gone too far. (2) Even where the program exists, it is selling students a course in something that is not the industry standard and does not have as many opportunities. (3) Putting a stenotype on your homepage and then diverting people to digital court reporting via esyoh.com and Ed 2 Go is just dishonest. Even if we forgive everything else, the way this page is set up is to confuse people and lend legitimacy to digital court reporting that it does not deserve.
At the bottom of this page is a video walking people through that part. Now for a bit of speculation. We know from the WHOIS lookup that the registrant’s address was in Florida. The server the site is hosted on appears to be in California, but that’s likely irrelevant.
Luckily, one of the schools actually advertising the program gives us a peek into who might be promoting it. Wagner College lists Merritt Gilbert and Natalie Hartsfield.
Merritt Gilbert is apparently in Florida and connected to BlueLedge. BlueLedge, as some may remember from a prior post, are aggressively marketing digital as the answer to the stenographer shortage exaggerated and exacerbated by STTI, Veritext, and US Legal. The author of that article stating digital reporting is the answer to shortage? Benjamin Jaffe. Who is Benjamin Jaffe? BlueLedge.
Who is Merritt Gilbert? BlueLedge.
Who is Natalie Hartsfield? Digital, BlueLedge, Florida.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Remember when I wrote yesterday that US Legal has been on inactive status in New York since 2001? BlueLedge, according to Florida Department of State, has been dissolved since 2019.
And just for anyone who thinks “maybe there are two BlueLedge companies in Florida,” take a look at that mailing address, 101 E Kennedy Blvd. Guess what the address for BlueLedge is.
How is it legal for a dissolved company to misdirect the public, searching for stenographic reporter training, to Ed 2 Go and digital court reporting? It might not be, but it’s going to depend on us asking our various government agencies to look into this as a matter of false advertising and possibly operating illegally in the state. I reached out to my New York State Education Department as it pertained to this course being sold to New York consumers. Maybe this is something the members of each state association can tackle.
This situation blew my mind. We cannot stand for this. We have to fight and understand that we are playing against people that do not play by the rules or within the bounds of our self-imposed moral code. I have collected these images and ideas in a central place. Please use them to do good. I should note that at least one consumer was extremely confused and came onto our message boards asking about how to buy a stenotype for digital court reporting. We must act with compassion. Consumers are being lied to and we are the only people with the knowledge to explain it to them. They WILL stumble onto our message boards confused because they ARE being bombarded by lies.
After reaching out to ESYOH well after this article, they took action! The scheme is now less potent because of their valiant actions.
In an effort to obfuscate its fraud and deceit, US Legal donated $50,000 to Project Steno on Friday.
Much like with Stenograph, I applaud donations to pro steno causes. But let me just say that it is an incredible coincidence that all of the entities undermining stenographers have ditched NCRF and NCRA for Project Steno. The only people that might benefit from NCRA being weaker? Digital reporting CEOs.
At this juncture, I don’t have any information that Project Steno is doing anything bad. It’s my assumption that it’s being used. The appeasement of stenographers has been a corporate tactic for a while. Given how US Legal and Stenograph both donate to Project Steno whenever there’s any modicum of political pressure applied to them, I think it’s safe to say that that’s what these “big ticket” donations are.
Just to put into perspective what stenographers are generally asked to give, NCRF asks its angels to donate about $1,000. If you make $100,000 that’s 1% of your income. If you make $200,000 that’s 0.5% of your income. US Legal is estimated by Owler to make about $100 million. 50,000 is about 0.05% of its income if Owler is accurate. To put this into better perspective, this would be like celebrating me donating $50.
So unless we are ready to celebrate me donating $50 on the same level as that $50,000 donation, we shouldn’t be celebrating US Legal. Remember that US Legal is the company that bought and destroyed StenoTrain and has advertised for a digital reporter on LinkedIn every day since I accused it of fraud, including the day of its donation. This is the company that, on multiple occasions, attempted to frame the stenographer shortage as impossible to solve despite clear evidence and math saying that it could be solved. The donation is a hedge or hedging strategy. When they fail to eradicate stenography, they hope they will get to turn around and point to their Project Steno donations to “prove” their good will towards the profession. They’re probably even relying on me doing what I usually do, backing off, and saying “wait, let’s see.”
Let me surprise everybody. Keep the pressure on hard! I repeat my words yesterday. If your profession was going extinct, they wouldn’t give a damn about you. You hold all the cards. Keep pointing out to attorneys that they are being defrauded. You can use materials by NCRA STRONG and Protect Your Record Project to do it. Digital proponents really whine when we use the STRONG stuff.
Keep starving the company pushing so hard to starve you and your families. The company does not deserve your mercy or the benefit of your doubt. The company’s Chief Strategy Officer had no problem bullying the women in our field or others. The company had no problem underpaying stenographers. The company had no problem charging unreasonable rates for services. We need to have no problem burying the company under the weight of its own dishonest, incompetent, and arguably illegal behavior.
I must urge colleagues not to relent. Every time you share my video or research and every conversation you have about it leads to a world where US Legal can no longer ignore its bad behavior. From potential collusion to operating in a state where it has been inactive for two decades, US Legal has a lot to answer for.
Seriously, it’s been inactive in New York for 20 years. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s even allowed to do business here while in inactive status.
Now here’s the hope: Your psychology is malleable. I know that because I am, more or less, an average human, and if I am able to do something, chances are good all of us can. I pulled off some major changes in my thinking. What are some bad habits I had?
Overeating. I was 290 pounds at one time, and it was physically painful for me if I did not engage in daily overeating. I forced myself to stop the behavior, and over time that physical pain went away. I’m now about 223 pounds and it’s physically painful when I overeat. The problem wasn’t me, it was the way I thought about eating. By analyzing my daily calorie intake and bringing it below what I needed to sustain my body weight, I was able to reduce my body weight by over 23%. But I had to do that against my brain throwing me headaches and temperature fluctuations to try to keep the high calorie count coming. The subconscious mind tries very hard to assert dominance over the conscious mind when a habit is being undone. Keep this in mind when you’re reading about habits of fear below.
Arachnophobia. I was terrified of spiders, even small ones. Now I capture them so I can use them in TikTok videos about court reporting. A fear I could barely live with has become a joke to me. How did I get there? I changed my thinking about spiders. I studied them. I learned that they do not perceive us in the way we perceive them. Once I understood that spiders could not “understand” me, it was easy to not be afraid anymore. They are comparably dumb and will skitter in whatever direction they think safety is in. Who could be afraid of that? They’re much more likely to feel vibrations from your movement or breath than ever realize you are a living being. For an arachnophobe, there’s no greater release than to realize that if you stay still and calm, the chances of a spider noticing you go down to basically zero. I had to change my thinking to improve my quality of life.
Alcoholism. I could function well enough, but I had trained my body to take on so much alcohol that it would kill Mr. Snuffleupagus. Alcohol was a habit I was able to break by thinking about all the things I would lose if I didn’t get it under control. Life, liberty, and happiness were all on the line, and slowly trading away alcohol so that I could keep those things was an almost spiritual experience for me. The consequences of not working on my habit were too great to ignore.
Anxiety and low self-confidence. Here’s where Robert Rosenthal’s work came in. In order to be a voice for people, I had to expect to be that voice. If we go back to 2020, I trembled at the idea of doing any kind of presentation, content, or public conclusion beyond my very comfortable habit of blogging on Stenonymous. Now I’m accusing corporations that make millions in revenue of fraud on every channel and medium I can. I had to tell myself I could do it before I did it. There were social barriers that made me very afraid to do it. Paralyzed by an endless stream of what ifs, I rarely considered the consequence of not doing what I knew was right.
Once I did what I knew was right, a large contingent of our field came out in support. It turned out that I was not the first one to have a bad experience in court reporting. It turned out I was not alone. So many have now written privately and publicly in support. I learned we had been conditioned for so many years to believe that nothing would ever change that we did not expect it to change, and so we did not fight for positive change. Abuse thrives on silence, and we were a field so resigned to silence that when the Chief Strategy Officer of US Legal, Peter Giammanco, wrote in an email, “does it really matter if it’s legal or ethical…” on NCRA’s listserv, even our own NCRA, this organization that we fund to the tune of millions of dollars a year, was silent. It felt powerless. It felt afraid. It did nothing. If our flagship was afraid to sail, what hope would there be for any one of us? If I had not published those listserv emails, we would still be in the same position, being silently abused and resigned to our fate, overblown shortage claims killing our student pipeline. The habit of doing nothing would kill an entire industry, and to the detriment of our replacements and society as a whole.
Like all my other habits, anxiety was broken by thought. I decided that if NCRA retaliated against me for releasing the emails, the organization would be effectively killing itself. Who is going to support a nonprofit that attacks its own member for exposing corporate misconduct? If US Legal or Giammanco did anything, they’d be calling infinitely more attention to my work. Sure, there are now some people in the field that don’t like me. But they do not like me because I am helping others or because they do not yet understand me. That is a flaw in their thinking, not mine. As I said in a related video, I see two futures. One where I am wholly correct in my assertion that the shortage has been exaggerated and exacerbated by these big companies or one where there really is nothing we can do and shortage will defeat us. All the available data points to the former, and the latter is basically a guarantee that our profession will not exist in ten years. The morons at the top of the USL totem pole made this an easy choice for me. Thanks, Rick.
So much of what we do and who we are is habit. Our minds will seek ways to justify our habits so that we do not suffer from an identity crisis. After all, if one embraces this idea of psychological malleability, does it not open the door to the idea that core beliefs, such as sexual preference or religion, may also be changed without consequence? I bypass this identity crisis by deciding to change what I need to change in order to accomplish my goals, learn more, be a better person, and nothing more. Again, look to Richter’s rats and the power of hope. If you use God to tap into hope, then God makes you powerful. In my case, there is a loyalty to altruism that survived my religious days. I was able to tap into that, see that I could not help anyone in my previous state of being, laden with fear and exhausted from my own bad habits, and began taking actions that would help the largest number of people possible. The idea that I can help people gives me hope. What does hope make me? Now I get to share: Anyone can do this. Anyone can be powerful.
There are still plenty of bad habits I will have to work through. But the main idea is that humans are problem-solving machines, so when we really sit and analyze the root of a problem, we find solutions. Look at me. Problems that I had for 10 or 15 years evaporated largely over the course of six months as if they had never existed because I willed it to be so. Now that I know that such a thing is possible, how could I not share it with the world? How could I leave my fellow court reporters in fear? I’m not the only one to come to such a realization. Steno Imperium just released an article about fear. Max Curry’s 2020 presentation at Stenopalooza was all about letting go of fear. We know we are afraid.
The message has not reached everyone in the industry yet. Love and support each other to the extent practicable to overcome this fear. Support systems generate hope, and hope is a huge booster to survival. For those who insist on living in fear or perpetuating it, such as Stenograph’s Anir Dutta, so convinced that we are his Kodak that he’d kill Stenograph to support his habit of fear, we have only one message: Step back, reassess, and see that what we are saying has a far stronger basis in reality than your fear. I promise to do the same always. Together, we will get the industry wherever it’s going.
Alternatively, proponents of fear can stand in my way. But just remember that there are enough court reporters in the business to give NCRA something like $3 million a year. Standing against them means running the risk they’ll start funding me and then I’ll have to kick ass all day every day instead of just doing so when my full-time job permits. I’ve already got a proven track record of defending them with the donations that have come through and my own cash. “Here’s a guy so committed he put a thousand dollars of his own money down just to help stenographers find their voice.” It’s going to be an easy choice for them. The only way to stop that kind of outcome is to accept that stenography is here to stay and get serious about funding it and recruiting for it instead of cuddling up with the disgraceful and opportunistic digital reporting propaganda outfit, STTI.
Stenograph is now trying to sell garbage to a customer base that is increasingly aware of that fact and there’s a guy on the playing field with a moral conviction to explain it to them in simple terms. Stenograph is relying on a retirement cliff that has been fraudulently exaggerated by STTI, US Legal, Veritext, and possibly others. The perpetrators of the fraud don’t actually care if Stenograph fails. They’d use it to bolster the fraud — “oh look, the leading manufacturer went under.” Not a desirable position for the company, but also not one that I put it in. So when the cards fall in exactly the way I am predicting, it’s not my problem. And if I’m wrong? Even better.
Think about it. Stenograph’s in the same boat I was. Lots of habits and a choice to make.
Then I did it. I sent them a nice email laying out my thoughts. Because given all the information I have, who wouldn’t? I had filed a weaker attorney general complaint in my state, but the FTC is an agency that needs to know.
And you know what, court reporters? People are on your side. This is what they have to say about Giammanco’s actions.
I make it no secret that I think US Legal is despicable. I tag Rick Levy occasionally to let him know. Partially because it’s hilarious and mostly because I want every court reporter in this country to see with their own eyes that the companies pushing us around all these years are weak. How many months of watching Chris Day do whatever he wants will it take for court reporters to realize that they are each individually just as powerful? Because that’s how many months we’ll be experiencing this together.
I don’t just scream out to the void, I let people know when their employers are hurting society.
My frustration isn’t misplaced. After I explained that digital reporting would hurt minority speakers, USL increased digital court reporting recruitment. I’ve gotten a notification from LinkedIn every day about joining USL as a digital.
But now other companies have realized the lie and are now openly announcing they will do what USL cannot and provide stenographic court reporters. Lexitas has jumped in on the LinkedIn game, and instead of pushing the word digital, they are looking for court reporters in New York City.
I have to point out that US Legal is on real shaky ground. If you’re working with them it’s time to ask for a raise. Tell them you’ll walk if you don’t get it. They’ll give it to you or they’ll be swept away by their own incredible incompetence. Everybody from the production people to the court reporters needs a raise right now. Anything less is disingenuous braying by US Legal and I urge my colleagues not to fall for it.
Mary Ann Payonk, a popular realtime reporter, has a saying. “Tipping points are hard.” The idea was that the field was headed more and more towards AI and digital. We were at a tipping point, and once things started sliding against us, it wouldn’t stop. Only good court reporters might survive. Keep improving or be replaced. A wonderful message insofar as it encourages reporters to be better and do better. But that was before all my research into how bad digital reporting is for the public, consumers, court reporters, investors, and people in general. That was before the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study. That was before Bloomberg broke the news that much of AI was people behind screens. Now we know our value. Now we know that there is a place for every stenographic court reporter. Now we see that by advocating for ourselves, we can change the course of history in the same way that computer programmers did.
Tipping points are pretty hard. And since a small fraction of us just tipped things in our favor and the others are getting motivated to jump in, I can’t wait to see what happens next. It is time to get involved with stenographic nonprofits and associations. Together, we will take what was an industry in decline and create a paragon of success and morality that will ensure the safety and quality of America’s legal records and captions.
My plan for the blog is pretty simple. I am going to continue to use donations that come in in whatever way seems appropriate and keep publishing for our field. If the people that have not donated to me yet donate about $300 to me, I will have about $3 million and I will retire so that I can be a full-time steno advocate and set up funding programs for stenographic nonprofits and associations. I can’t help but float the suggestion. You know who you’re hiring for the job and you’ve seen what I can do with a sensible budget set by the good will of court reporters. I have proven that for the working reporter there is no better friend than Christopher Day.
And as always, thank you to all of you that made this possible. To people that have donated already, I have to ask you to share this with at least one court reporter. You will be helping them overcome the fear so prevalent in our field. There’s no greater honor.
Following my exposition of US Legal’s deception regarding the stenographer shortage and Verbit’s complete lack of professional standards, it seems companies are dropping the ruse and just pressing onward with digital despite the fact that it is less efficient and will hurt minorities. They continue to assume that the legal profession will turn a blind eye to this assault on a field of 88% women, the legal profession’s consumer choice, and the rights of the legal profession’s clients. They continue to assume lawyers aren’t intelligent enough to catch onto the cost shifting game. They continue to assume that court reporters will sit back, shut up, and let it happen.
Naegeli wants to pay you $1.75 per page even though you are almost certainly already working for less than you were 30 years ago adjusted for inflation on the east coast and west coast.
US Legal, continuing with its blatant dishonesty, advertises that it uses CSRs, CERs, and CVRs. The CSR is typically a license which is required in some states. The other two are certifications by AAERT and NVRA. This seems to be a deliberate, subtle move to take attention off the NCRA. Their contempt for the NCRA is obvious to the industry expert, but their website looks nice and probably fools the uneducated consumer into feeling like there’s an equivalency. Remember, NCRA is larger than the other two. You can look up the tax returns on Pro Publica. there’s no reason to omit the RPR, and they did.
Planet Depos, like the rest of the liars, claims that its use of digital reporters is out of need.
Yet they cannot be bothered to post a single stenographic reporter position.
Even Esquire wants to see us relegated to the role of transcriber rather than spend any real time or effort recruiting for the field.
Veritext can’t decide if it does or doesn’t want digital reporting to replace stenography.
But I have to be honest, the materials they’ve produced for digital reporters seem far more expansive and professionally done than anything I got from an agency as a freelancer. 20 year old me got told “go into the room, take the job” by Jaguar Reporting in 2010 for a “luxurious” $2.80 a page. Compare that to the handholding companies are now willing to do to build digital.
This situation is so dire that a Nebraskan reporter sent me a chart of page rates compared to the consumer price index for urban consumers. The blue is what YOU are paying to BE ALIVE. and the ORANGE is what you are being paid.
There is hope. Many of these are likely zombie companies. They probably aren’t making a profit. They are propped up by investor money, loans, or other cash flow. You are probably a normal person who thinks about money and success linearly. “Look how many companies they’re buying or how big they are. They must be doing really well!” But there is far more to money and success in this modern world. Let’s take a company that we know makes millions of dollars on the digital side, like VIQ Solutions.
With $8 million in revenue in a quarter and $12 million in cash on hand, they’re a real beast. None of you has that kind of money, right?
But they’re losing between $1 million and $8 million a quarter. That’s kind of like paying a reporter $8 a page and charging a lawyer $4 a page. If you made a dollar in profit this year, you’re operating a more stable model than them.
Right out of the gate, we have evidence that this digital stuff doesn’t work out too well. It’s a money pit for investors. And we are not alone. real estate, driving, and interpreting are all industries under pressure from irresponsible companies.
Want more hope? They’re all barreling into a shortage situation of their own. With Verbit’s admissions that it could take 3 to 8 transcribers to fulfill the role of one stenographic court reporter, I had theorized that it would be very difficult for companies to find the manpower they need for the digital transition. We now know that’s true because the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity said as much in their FAQ. Thanks, AHDI!
But the beautiful thing about us as people is that we do not have to be complicit in this investor fraud and attack on justice. I asked for help to create a consumer awareness campaign, and all of you put down cold, hard cash to get our issues in front of 100,000 people and many news outlets. We are not going unheard. This issue is not going unnoticed.
Look at what you were all able to do in one week.
Look at what the people that you work with every day really feel about you when they hear about what you are being subjected to.
Now I have to ask for some more favors. You can do any of it or all of it. But I can just about guarantee that if enough of us take part, our timeless profession survives this decade and perhaps emerges stronger than it was in 1993when there were reportedly 6,000 certified reporters and 40,000 unlicensed reporters in the State of California alone.
Get into NCRA and PRO Link. I understand people’s gripes about the organization, but right now having a robust national directory of stenographers will blow away shortage myths. Members also need to push to get the organization to open up its wallet and do some serious advertising on our behalf. To put this into perspective, there are only 364 New York reporters listed in PRO Link. Meanwhile, I happen to know there were over a thousand reporters employed by NYSUCS as of 2019. We’re not shrinking THAT much, we’re separated. The apathy is really killing us, and we are quite frankly in a position where we must stand together or be hung separately.
2. Tell people about this field. Point them to NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno. Tell them about CRAH, StarTran Online, Simply Steno, or whatever program you happen to favor. Just to give you an idea of the kind of impact you can have, one unpopular answer on Quora can get 85 views. Multiply that by 27,000 stenographers on all the different platforms we use and people we speak to.
3. Support your state associations. NCRA simply does not have the resources or willpower to have a presence in each state. They are our national unifier, but for state issues, we need state associations to be powerful. As a board member of New York State Court Reporters Association earlier this year, I was constantly perplexed by how to make an impact with basically no funding. Management cost was somewhere in the range of $30,000 annually plus overages. There were only maybe 300 members. It was like trying to buy a $2 stick of gum with $1. This is in the context of a state we KNOW has at least 2,000 stenographic court reporters. That’s kind of like walking into the store with your rich uncle and him going “oh, you don’t have money for gum? That’s too bad.” The NYSCRA board of 2021 showed everyone what an association can do with almost no moneywhen it joined forces with New York unions and got word to the courts that utilizing automatic trial transcription would implode the access to justice. Imagine what will be possible in every state with more participation and funding. Board members are generally reporters just like you, and they need your support to make the right call, which is why I did not encourage people to abandon PCRA months ago despite all my frustration with that situation.
4. Support a nonprofit like Protect Your Record Project. Their consumer awareness work has been an injection of pure courage into a field that was terrified of speaking out. There was a time where I was very uncomfortable suggesting that. I thought “if we divide the dollars, we divide the strength.” I was wrong. Slimmer nonprofits serve an important role. They can do, say, and commit to things that member associations simply do not prioritize. There is no doubt some similarity in the consumer awareness work of STRONG and PYRP, but I’ve come to realize we are all basically on the same side, and that realization is why I am unafraid of using this blog to promote whatever’s clever for all of us.
5. Entrepreneurs, give these businesses some competition. Verbit can’t decide if it’s based in New York, Delaware, or Israel and still managed to get over $100 million in investor money. It’s time to let investors know not only are they backing a losing horse, there’s a stable return waiting for them in stenography. This is a $3 billion industry and it’s time we took this fight to the funding arena. Once the faucet starts pouring on steno, investors will get wise to what a sham digital reporting is today, and the people responsible will be held accountable go on to attempt to wreck some other industry.
6. Share the press release with news people. I can only reach so many by myself.
7. Make complaints where appropriate. Where companies are violating the law, we need attorneys general and executive bodies to know about it.
8. Share this article with lawyers and local bar associations. They deserve at least some small warning that they are being duped.
9. Share this article with your fellow reporter. A lot of them will have the same misconceptions about success that I mentioned earlier. If reporters feel hopeless, they won’t take action. It’s a different world when you expose the card house and tell them “blow a little bit and it might fall over.”
11. Send me data. The more I publish, the less likely your fellow reporter will be taken advantage of. This blog is possible thanks to contributions of money and information. Do not ever think that I view myself as independently successful. I am very aware of how much Stenonymous relies on all of you.
12. Reach out to young reporters and students, and let them know you are available to help. Despite the shortage claims, professionals sponsored and bought lunch for an unprecedented number of students at our 2021 convention. This is a scary time for them. They’re largely going to be relying on you to do all the things I just mentioned and hand this field to them intact. Add to that the general stress of steno school and we have ourselves the perfect storm to scare people away from this field. We need them to know we are fighting not just so they have a job but that it will be the best damn decision of their lives just like it was for so many of us.
This is an ongoing situation. It’s not resolving in a day or week. If you feel yourself slipping into an uncomfortable place, take some time off, don’t worry about it, and come back when you’re ready. That’s pretty much the advice two reporters I love gave me when I was feeling low. Now I get to thank them by sharing it with everyone. Take care of yourselves first. We’ll keep this ship sailing till you get back.
In my Collective Power of Stenographers post, we explored how court reporters collectively out-earn every company in business today. In Aggressive Marketing — Growth or Flailing, we took a look at VIQ Solutions, parent of Net Transcripts, and saw how a transcription company could be making millions in revenue but be unprofitable. This all set me down a path of learning about zombie companies, companies that are not making enough to meet debt obligations, or just barely enough to make interest payments. You can watch Kerry Grinkmeyer describe how that happens here. This isn’t very rare. A Bloomberg analysis of 3,000 publicly-traded companies found one in five were zombies. The main takeaway? Companies can make lots of money and still be taking losses.
I had the pleasure of looking through the Kentley Insights June 2019 Court Reporting and Stenotype Services market research report. I do want to be upfront about it: I have some reservations about the methodologies and some of the reporting. Very much like the Ducker Report, as best I can tell, it’s based off a sampling of respondents from in or around the field. There are parts of the report that are arguably a little incomplete or unclear. For example, being industry experts, we all know the vast majority of the work is done by independent contractors. Independent contractor isn’t a term that appears in the report. Unsurprisingly, when we reach the job pay bands and employment section, it says there isn’t detailed data on the industry and compares us to the telephone call centers industry. So this report is not a must-have for court reporters, but it does have some interesting insights.
Those remarks aside, when we get to the profitability section of the report, we get to see something pretty striking. Based on their data, more than 1 in 4 court reporting companies are not profitable. Average net income as a percent of revenue for the ones that are profitable? About 9.3 percent. For the ones that are not profitable, a loss of about 9.6 percent. And a pretty chart that says as much.
On the following page, there’s a forecast for operating expenses and industry revenue. That’s summed up in another pretty chart.
If we look at the trends here, it’s pretty clear that the forecast is for expense growth to eclipse and outpace revenue growth. If that keeps up, the unprofitable companies are going to be looking at bigger losses year after year. Given all the information I have today, I surmise that the smaller court reporting companies are the more profitable ones and the bigger ones are the ones struggling. There are sure to be some outliers, like small court reporting shops that go bankrupt and leave their independent contractors unpaid. But overall, the smaller companies can’t afford to remain unprofitable for very long, so it’s probably the “big dogs” eating that 10 percent loss. If I’m right, that may also mean the push to go digital is the dying breath of companies that can’t figure out any other way forward. In February, I wrote “…we only lose if we do not compete.” That is becoming more evident with time and data. It is a great time for the stenographic reporter to open up shop and be a part of the 74%.
Speaking of data, if everybody that read this blog donated $1.50, we’d have enough money to stay ad-free for the next two decades. To all donors we’ve had to date, thank you so much, put your wallets away. To everybody else, check out this cool song from M.I.A. about taking your money.
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.