Steno Shortage Stats March 2020

Before I begin, let me just say that I have no problem with transcribers. I do have a serious problem with companies pushing the record and transcribe method as innovation when stenography was doing that and stopped doing it because it was inefficient and costly. Digital reporters and transcribers come to steno because it is the better method for the consumer, the worker, and their hands!

We face a public relations blitz on us disguised as the “field changing.” As best I can tell, this is mostly to discourage us from recruiting for and promoting stenography. Nobody else is reading that. The easiest way to win is to get the other side to not fight, or to get it to fight itself. I’ve written about nearly all of this before, but it is nice to have in one spot. Here are some truths and concepts you should know before you buy the hype that we’re a dead field.

Conclusion: There is no reason stenographers cannot fill the stenographic reporter gap if we try.

  1. Self-reported, transcribers can take up to six hours to transcribe one hour of testimony compared to an average via steno of one to two hours. Regular transcription can take up to six times as long or require six times as many people to produce the same work.
  2. Simple math, stenographers input words 3 to 4 times faster.
  3. Assuming a stenographer workforce of 15,000 and a projected 2030 court reporter shortage of 11,000, it’ll take 78,000 to 156,000 transcribers to replace stenographic court reporters.
  4. The dropout rate before NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno, Steno Key, and other steno initiatives was about 80 to 90%. If we are looking at recruiting 100,000 transcribers, we can certainly fill a gap of 10,000 even using the terrible dropout rate from years prior to 2015.
  5. The Ducker Report, which forecasted the shortage, is about 7 years old, and predates the initiatives in point 4. To my knowledge, nearly all court reporter shortage numbers are extrapolated from that report, and there has not been a new study since.
  6. The Ducker report predates layoffs that occurred in Massachusetts and elsewhere, and happened at about the same time as a major change in New York’s Workers Comp reporting. There are likely fewer jobs and a smaller gap than forecasted, as those reporters moved to fill slots that would otherwise be empty.
  7. The Ducker Report showed California, by far, as being the state with the largest shortage. If we win in California, we can win anywhere.
  8. 70 percent of reporters are likely to retire by 2033 as of the 2013 report. This means that if the field is still ticking in 2033, it’s unlikely to go anywhere for the next 30 or 40 years while those new people move towards retirement. This means reporters today have a unique opportunity to make or break the next generation of reporters by recruiting.
  9. Stenographers are ten times more organized and equipped to handle the shortage. NCRA’s 2017 revenue was 5,926,647. AAERT’s 2017 revenue was 195,652. For the sake of comparison, if we divide that revenue by the cost of a membership, NCRA would have 19,755 members at a $300 membership. AAERT would have 1,565 members at a $125 membership. Obviously, these do not reflect true membership levels, but they give us an estimate of the relative strength and support of the two organizations, as well as the support we give to our continuing education culture.
  10. There are four AAERT-approved schools listed as of 2020. There are 25 NCRA-approved schools listed as of 2020. If we judge by approved schools, stenographers are six times more likely to close the gap.
  11. The turnover rates of digital reporters and transcribers are poorly documented. Ducker acknowledges that stenographic reporters tend to stay in the workforce longer. Proponents of transcription and digital reporting look to the faster training time, but a faster training time means nothing if you’re constantly having to train the 100,000 people mentioned in point 3.
  12. Rates for digital vary wildly, between $15 and $45 an hour. This is not so different from stenography, but we have a culture of mentorship and showing people the ropes so that they can make wise decisions. Going by the numbers in point 9, there’s just no way for them to match the infrastructure and guide new people the same way we do, and ensure that there is a balance between the worker not getting screwed and the customer getting the best value possible.
  13. Using the “guesstimate” of membership and support in point 9, there are simply more of us to recruit and promote this field.
  14. Automatic speech recognition outfits like Verbit have gone from claims of 99% accuracy in Series A funding to statements akin to “we will not get rid of the human element” in Series B funding. Automated speech proponents, time and again, have made claims they simply cannot support.
  15. Expectations can impact reality. How we perceive the situation can directly impact the situation. This is the major hope of digital proponents. They want you to expect your associations and field to fail. They want you to expect to be replaced.They don’t want you to fight. We’ve seen this from Veritext’s love letters and Cudahy’s constant droning about the shortage. By alternating between messages of “good court reporters will always have jobs,” and “it’s impossible to close the stenographic reporter gap,” people who want change in this field are hoping that you will see the change as not impacting you or inevitable, and therefore pull your support from associations and grassroots efforts to protect our field. Conversely, you can expect to win. Expect that if you put in your membership dues, or a little volunteer time, you’re setting us up on the path to remain a stable profession and a viable career.

 

 

 

Copyright and Stenography

I created a masterpiece about a week ago. On the left, a very horrifying creature that took about three minutes to create and was instantly copyrighted upon creation. If you took my creation and slapped it on a mug and started selling it, I could probably successfully sue you. On the right, a file snapshot of years worth of transcript work, which could be freely copied by anyone any time, at least ostensibly, as any court that decides this issue seems to decide that transcripts are not expressive work protected under copyright. Sam Glover also wrote about this years ago, but seems to have purged it from his blog. Some courts, like the one in Urban Pacific Equities et al v The Superior Court of Los Angeles County (59 Cal. App. 4th 688, 69 Cal. Rptr. 2d 635), have taken the step of ruling that the transcript does not have to be turned over under a business record subpoena because it is a product of business and not a business record, but this does not necessarily prevent it from being copied if counsel obtains it another way.

Here in New York, we do have guaranteed payment of an original via our General Business Law 399-cc (Transcripts and stenographic services). In that way, I feel the state and legislature has already partially acknowledged the hard work that we do. But it’s no secret that court reporter businesses, for whatever reason, have chosen to make originals cheap, and make their businesses more or less dependent on these copy sales. It’s often reported in social media circles that attorneys at a deposition will openly and in front of the stenographic reporter offer to copy and give the transcript to counsel that would otherwise have to order the transcript from the reporter. Why not? As best anyone can tell, it’s legal! There’s also a darker side to this. If you do not have a clear agreement with your agency stating otherwise, they can probably also legally copy your work and not tell you about it. Again, why not? It’s legal!

The question arises, what do we do about this? Many ideas have been floated over the years. Some say we should change our model to reflect the lost copy sales and consider charging in a different way, like hourly, per diem, or a higher original. Personally, I believe it would not be unfair to create a body of law protecting stenographers’ rights to their work. Transcribers would probably be equally in favor, and it would certainly slow the rate of copying if it were explicitly not legal.

Many ideas have been floated in this regard, including putting it under theft of services. I don’t think anyone supports throwing attorneys in jail over this. That’s unreasonable to me. But I do think it’s fair to create a civil penalty for the copying of transcribed work. Virtually everything else is protected via patents, copyright, or intellectual property laws, and it seems weirdly unfair to have a class of people whose work is wholly unprotected.

I would propose language to the effect of “No person or business entity shall copy, reproduce, publish, or dispose of to another a copy of the transcript of any matter transcribed or stenographically reported. A person or business entity that violates this must pay a copy sale to the stenographer or transcriber that created the original transcript. Such copy sale price shall not exceed the mean average of the stenographer or transcriber’s copy sales for the twelve months preceding the copying, reproduction, publishing, or disposal.”

Now, if we were to propose such law, there’s a strong possibility we would have to make some concessions. Let’s be fair, many of these matters are matters of public domain and importance. I would propose a few important carve outs, such as, “nothing in this law shall be construed to abridge the right of any person to critique, cite, discuss, parody, or utilize a transcript’s content in any expressive matter.” This punches a bit of a hole in the law, but look at fair use in copyright law, and you’ll get what I’m trying to do. Also, “nothing in this law shall prohibit any person from preparing or having prepared by another their own transcript of the same proceeding or matter.”

There are some bigger issues we’d have to deal with. Would this law exclusively cover private transcribers / stenographers and not public employees? That’s a fantastic question. As a stenographer, I’m sure everyone knows where I stand, but as someone who reads a good amount of law, I understand that government work simply works out that way sometimes. I think if we’re serious about a New York City, New York State, or even someday federal law on this, it’s entirely doable. I think the important thing is prohibiting copying while allowing “fair use” type cases that don’t prohibit freedom of speech and expression. Notably, we could always go the way of this proposed Florida rule, which states plainly, “subdivision (g) requires a party to obtain a copy of the deposition from the court reporter unless the court orders otherwise…”

As always, discuss away or email me! It’s always fascinating to see what others have researched. Hopefully, if ever it becomes a serious discussion by our lawmakers, they’ll also get a chance to consult with authorities in our field like NYSCRA, NCRA, or even ASSCR.

Shortage Solutions 12: Stenography

If you haven’t had the time to use my site’s search box for all the shortage solutions available, I recommend giving it a try. Over the last year we’ve covered some phenomenal ideas. Many stenographers across social media have internalized these ideas, talked about them, made them better than I ever could’ve dreamed.

Well, this one’s for all the non-stenographers and a look into why our shortage mathematically requires us and not other methods of capturing the spoken word. May it help some of you educate non-reporters and maybe even reporting companies on who we are, what we really do, and why we are irreplaceable. Really quickly, machine shorthand reporting gets a bad RAP because it’s “old.” The stenotype style we use today originally was invented in 1906 by Ward Stone Ireland. With over a century of usage, it’s easy for other methods to say that the technology is outdated and point to something like digital recording, originally invented in 1970 by James Russell, as a newer, “better” technology.

Objectively, when you look at both methods, they have seen vast improvements. Back in “the day,” stenographers had to painstakingly transcribe paper tape notes or even dictate their notes back to a typist using Dictaphone-type technology, who would transcribe for them while they continued to take other proceedings stenographically. Modern stenography uses advanced word processing techniques to take the input from a stenographic writer and output text. The more skillful someone is at operating a stenography machine or stenotype, the cleaner the output text is. Some reporters, reaching a 99.9% untranslate or accuracy level, can practically hit print at the end of a job and have a ready transcript.

Even those of us without such a level of skill are more efficient than the record and transcribe methodology. The average person types about 50 words per minute (WPM). The average transcriber reaches about 80 WPM. The average stenographer? 225 WPM. So while it may seem paradoxical that this century-old technology is the fastest and most efficient method available to the consumer today, it’s true.

So when we talk about shortage, numbers, and the “impossible” gap stenographers must fill to meet rising demand and replace retiring reporters, let’s talk some real numbers. There are somewhere between 11,000 and 30,000 working reporters in this country depending on whose numbers you want to use. Let’s say a healthy 15,000. If we’re inputting words 2 to 4 times faster, on average, you need 2 to 4 people to replace every stenographer. If you need another person to operate the recording equipment, that means 5 people per stenographer today. It gets tougher. Hard-working transcribers have reported it takes up to six hours for them to transcribe a one-hour depo. I’m a pretty average stenographer. I know from timing my own work that a one-hour depo is about 40 pages, and I can transcribe 40 pages in 1 to 2 hours. On a great day where my input is good, I could even do it in 30 to 45 minutes dependent on page density and subject matter. But let’s stick to average, one hour transcription for one hour of testimony for one stenographer. Now compare that to the record and transcribe method, up to six hours for one hour of testimony. That could be six to seven people to do the work of one stenographer, or it could take six to seven times as long.

What do all these numbers mean? It means whoever’s numbers you want to use, if you want to say the gap is 10,000 people by 2030, or 1,000 people, or 5 people, it means you’re talking about filling a stenographic reporter gap. Companies who are pushing digital as a solution are saying there’s no way to get stenographers, but somehow they can find, organize, train, and utilize teams 4 to 6 times larger than their current stenographic reporting assets. We complain about the lack of stenography schools. How many digital reporting or transcribing schools exist? How long have those existed? AAERT lists four. NCRA lists almost four steno schools in New York alone. Tell us again how that is the future? Seems to me that if you’re scared about filling a gap of 1,000, a gap of 4,000 is pretty terrifying. If we’re talking replacement of 15,000 stenographers, we’re looking at 50,000 people plus the gap. Even with the abominable success rates of the past, pre A to Z, pre NCRA 2.0, 10 to 20 percent, it follows that if you’re introducing tens of thousands of hardworking people to the field of reporting, and you introduce them to stenography, you can overcome any shortage you would otherwise have. Smart transcribers and digital reporters have a head start on this. They’ve switched to steno because it’s better for them, their wallet, and the consumer.

Let’s just touch on AI as it relates to taking down the spoken word. Computer programming is not magic. Despite the claims of some that technology is advancing every day, an objective look at technology shows it hasn’t advanced much at all. How much better has your bank’s voice recognition gotten in the last ten years? It was hit or miss then, and it’s hit or miss now. Look at it in big picture terms instead of the daily claims of “tech news” sources. Improvements have been made, to be sure. Open source programming projects allow virtually anyone with a little time and technical knowhow to integrate voice recognition into their product or website. Promises of a $25 billion market draw new investors every day.

But the fact remains that a lot of the buzz surrounding automatic speech recognition is just that, buzz, smoke, promises of a better tomorrow that no one can guarantee. It’s a new spin on old news. To understand this, it is important to understand what computers really are. Computers are math-solving machines. Anything you can break down into numbers can be represented by a classical computer. Video games? Math. Word processing? Math. Internet search? Math. We are spoiled. We live in a world where you click buttons and have windows. Far gone are the days when programmers had to use punch cards to operate computers. But consider that everything your computer is doing is broken down into two signals, 1 and 0, on and off. How smart do you think someone has to be to figure out an equation to account for every accent, English dialect, or circumstance? Try differentiating four different speakers using math! I’ve said it before. There’s a very real possibility that it can be solved and that perfect voice recognition can be programmed. Could be tomorrow. Could be 100 years away. Might not even happen. We don’t know. But any claim that AI is the future must be met with serious and sustained skepticism, as AI-related companies can burn through half a billion dollars in a year and still have no major profitable product. There’s a reason the public trusts stenographers and not Siri, and that’s why smart investors stick with stenographer platforms.

Companies and organizations should really re-examine their own views on this. Stenography needs all hands on deck, and they’ll have a much easier time building on our education culture and matured technology than trying to switch over the industry to something untried, untested, and less consumer friendly than the personal and proper touch of a qualified stenographic reporter. The years of training and experience we have collectively, as well as the infrastructure of our large associations and institutions, are second to none. Ultimately, it will be up to the buyers in our market to examine that and decide: Do they want to ride the wave, improve the field as it stands today? Do they want to pay the great cost of reinventing the wheel in the hopes that things will someday be better? I suspect the smartest leaders have already crunched some of these numbers and weighed these factors. They know there’s a very real truth that replacing stenography is unlikely to work. It certainly doesn’t make sense mathematically, and that is why they hedge their investments and keep all avenues open.

Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call to companies on the fence. Do not go the way of US Legal, who apparently acquired Stenotrain just to scrub its Internet presence a couple of years later. These numbers are real. The challenges faced in finding coverage are real. These challenges are far from insurmountable. But it will be about four times harder to use non-stenographic transcribers than it would be to address the stenographer shortage. Follow the recent example of companies like Lexitas. Reach out to stenographers and ask them about schools that need your support to keep supplying you with quality reporters. Your investors will thank you. Your customers will have the best service for the lowest cost. You will not be subject to the inconsistency of professional flip-floppers. Your business won’t be broken by people who have no plan for when a transcript is needed for appellate review. Your companies will thrive. You will have a better outcome than you would losing money and clients up against a superior modality like stenography. Shortage solutions? Without a doubt, the resourceful entrepreneur picks steno.

Shortage Solutions 11: Logistics

One of the highlights of the January 2020 PYRP popup in Brooklyn was talking about the local shortage. One solution mentioned on the freelance side was how stenographers and stenographic reporters can advocate for attorneys to set depositions at different times. It was explained that it can be very difficult to accommodate every deposition at 10 a.m., and how a small change in attorneys’ ordering habits might make it simpler to cover work.

This is a small thing to talk about, but would be no small feat to accomplish. It would be a serious cooperative effort for the buyers and sellers of stenographic services to come together and do something to alleviate the coverage issues faced by all companies.

This also brings to light a truism we don’t talk about often. The winners of this market will be the logisticians. Companies and entrepreneurs that master matching reporters with work are necessary. If a reporter can only work in the afternoons, or close to home, or has some other need, an agency that can satisfy those needs is going to get coverage over an agency that just doesn’t care. This is a time for companies that truly support the stenographic reporter to really shine.

Reporters nationwide are advocating for stenography. I see no reason why scheduling habits can’t be a small part of our efforts at consumer education. If it’s the difference between covered and uncovered work, it’s worth mentioning, and it’s worth getting a stenographer into every proceeding possible. There is a digital reporting proponent named Steven Townsend. He has described an idea he calls the long tail, stating that digital recording can cover matters where transcript demand is not high. So when we talk about matters of coverage and jobs that are “not good enough” for a stenographer, remember that long tail. Remember that’s a core strategy of the companies gunning to replace you. Take enough of the “easy” work, become what lawyers regard as “the reporter” and then muscle in on the so-called valuable work under the idea that stenographers are obsolete. They even tell digital reporters we’re obsolete so that they don’t realize we’re a growing and vibrant career choice. There has already been talk in Veritext-owned companies in New York about digital reporters taking over EUOs, which are insurance jobs that many reporters are hesitant to take or refuse to take. Don’t let that happen. Those jobs fuel new stenographers and stenographers with a lower skill ceiling.

Nobody becomes a USPS or UPS-type master of logistics overnight. There is a lot that goes into getting a stenographer on every job. So let’s make it a part of the discussion and grow it together. Existing companies can adapt these ideas, or stenographers can form new companies that do it better. Either way, stenography and the consumer win.

A Night In Brooklyn, PYRP 78

This past weekend 78 pop-up events across the country launched for stenographers, almost all of which were at the same time on January 18, 2020. For Sabbath observers and those who couldn’t make the January 18 pop up, Devora Hackner organized and hosted one on the night of January 19 in Brooklyn. It was a fantastic night and a good indicator of what just a little solidarity can achieve. Protect Your Record Project, started in California by Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline, has swelled to a national movement where stenographers are saying loud and clear to the consumer that we are the fastest and most efficient method of capturing the spoken word.

The Brooklyn event was a real showing of stenographic society in NY. Every attendee’s presence was important and brought something special to the table. Nancy Silberger, immediate past president of NYSCRA and host of New York’s Saturday PYRP event was there. Howie Gresh and Reid Goldsmith, both longtime working reporters and educators were there. Ellen Sandles, a reporter who has done extensive research into the Federation of Shorthand Reporters was present. Representatives and owners of Little, Lex, and Diamond were also present. NYSCRA’s President, Joshua Edwards, also made an appearance some time after the event’s start. There were over thirty decades of collective reporting experience in the room and nearly two dozen attendees.

Everyone came together to talk about how to advocate for stenography. Ms. Silberger mentioned her ability to host some meetings. Ms. Sandles talked about having potential press contacts. Jane Sackheim of Diamond mentioned that space could be offered by Diamond to teach A to Z courses, something NCRA and Project Steno advocates should definitely ask about. Mr. Gresh reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s involvement in offering free test prep classes. Rivka Teich, a masterful reporter working at the Eastern District Brooklyn Courthouse talked about doing a career night and introducing more people to what we do and different jobs in the field. Mr. Edwards reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s mentoring program and urged people to sign up as mentors or to be mentored. He also brought up that attendees were still being accepted for the NYSCRA Court Reporting & Captioning Week Real-Time events.

Many, many ideas were covered. From high school outreach and following NYS legislation to PYRP’s available resources and files, all the way to potential legislative ideas, like copy protection for reporters’ work. The importance of starting discussions on stenography was noted. We talked about the potential of changing covers, parentheticals, and cert pages to say stenographer instead of court reporter. The importance of communicating with the videographer and injecting oneself into the record when necessary to make a better record was talked about.

There is one theme recurrent in all of this. The power of the individual is undeniable. That’s everyone who was present. That’s you. Reporters are getting together and great things are happening. Maybe there’s a skill you have, or some kind of connection you’ve made that can help educate a consumer or empower another reporter. You don’t have to wait for a giant winged creature to invite you, you just have to be brave enough to jump on the wagon.

January 2020, Just Apply!

Courtesy of the links I’ve got up at Get A Real Job, here’s what we’ve got posted around the Internet at the start of the new year. Freelancers can check the bottom for some ideas. Just before we roll into that, remember that NYSCRA has a free mentoring program, and people can use NCRA’s Sourcebook for unconventional moves like finding a mentor. If you’re a student or a new reporter feeling kind of lost, you don’t have to go it alone, reach out. Even people five years on the job have said “wow, sometimes I feel like I need a mentor!”

But you’re not here for that. You’re here for the jobs, dammit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this month we have the Bronx grand jury job still posted. That’s a Reporter / Stenographer title as a City of New York employee. Side note, the Queens DA site is down so I have no idea if they’re hiring. I guess I’ll have to snail mail them. More side notes, the DCAS Reporter Stenographer application scheduled in November has been postponed, and there does not seem to be a date for it on this DCAS schedule, up to April 2020.

There’s no civil service exam out for NYSUCS Court Reporters because they just had the last test in Summer 2019. They generally hold the test every 1 to 4 years though, so keep an eye out. Even though the civil service exam is probably a little way off, Court Reporter provisional applications are being accepted continuously statewide according to the website.

In the least predictable move ever made, we move on to federal jobs. There are three Southern District postings in New York, including part time and full time work. Whether that means they need three people or one really good one, go for it! There are also a number of federal positions all around the country. Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington, Washington, D.C., and Florida. Remember what happens when they can’t get good stenographers in those positions. They settle for less. Spread these jobs around, don’t be shy.

From the freelance angle it is troubling to me that for years I rarely saw agencies advertise looking for steno reporters and yet I see many postings continue to pop up for digital reporters now. It is not inappropriate for stenographers to take this for what it is, a sign that securing private clients may be a way forward to secure future work, especially if our trade and methodology is not going to be front and center of these old businesses. Take the leap, file with NYS, get yourself on the vendor list of NYC VENDEX or NYS procurement, get on the insurance companies’ procurement lists. Navigating the business world is not an easy thing, but it is entirely possible for anyone that sits down and starts familiarizing themselves with how people buy and sell services and where to find people that buy what we do. Pricing is another monster to tackle. Depending on the contract, people might bid super low original prices just to get copies locked in. Some contracts don’t really have many copies so a high original is necessary. There’s no manual I know of, it’s all straight experience and getting yourself situated as a player in this game, not a pawn.

Let’s win it together in 2020!

Stenographers, Planet Depos Is Not Your Friend

Previously on Not Your Friend, we had our very good friends Veritext and US Legal. Today we make an entry for Planet Depos. There’s really not much to say about them specifically. They’ve been using digitals a while, and it seemed superfluous to write about. There are entire Facebook groups dedicated on social media to watching out for this kind of stuff. Where it might take one person a year and a day to find the information and get it out to a large audience, in these groups news travels fast. So if you’re not connected to something like a Protect Your Record group or a DR Watchdogs group, get connected today, or friend someone who is connected. There have been discussions of agencies that are doing this sort of thing, and discussions of how to advocate for our field and stenography.

What can we say? Veritext is still busy seeking digitals in New York City, which is about as close to stenographic fortress as you’ll ever get. PD is doing it in their markets. There are a whole bunch of companies that we were relying on to stay steno, or that were relying on us to do the good work we do every day. That’s changing. What happened? We can blame ourselves, as we often do, and say it’s something to do with our skills or habits. We can blame them, throw our hands up and say this is the end. Or we can take control of the situation. We can embrace that victory is cumulative. We can understand that there won’t be one single defining moment where someone wins or loses. What happens in a year or ten is settled on what we do every day up to that point.

I know my plan. The first step is to really get the news out that this is what’s happening. Next up, information dispersal. As we start revealing how the market works and what’s being charged, the information will be out there for everyone, and consequently, more people will compete directly. Keep in mind recruitment ideas so that the shortage doesn’t beat us via attrition.

I’ll be publishing rate sheets, client lists, whatever I find and wherever it’s leaked. Many others have taken up advocating for us on a larger stage at attorney, paralegal, and “big law” events. These are not new ideas, but the strategies at play are clear winners. Look how Veritext crumpled at the first sign of stenographers rejecting their new direction and subsequently tried dumping some money on steno to make things better. Imagine a world where there’s any sustained effort to expose shoddy business practices and compete. They just might start their own school program!

We can’t guarantee victory. The catch there is they can’t guarantee it either. And if these companies have stiff competition, there’s a good chance they’ll fall in line and use stenography in every market where it’s viable to use stenography. There’s also a good chance that if those companies don’t fall in line, they’ll go under. With websites like Owler saying Veritext has an annual revenue of 300 million, or Planet Depos an annual revenue of 4 million, and with the cold hard truth that large companies with annual revenue in the billions, like Sears, can cascade into ruin, the truth is out there. Competitors are a market force. Labor is a market force. No matter which you view us as, we have real power. Use that power, and a big box can find itself in the recycling bin.

1/13/2020 Edit.

I am made aware of Planet Institute, a mentorship program ostensibly owned and operated by Planet Depos LLC and registered by Planet Depos under the WHOIS lookup. Notably, its registration predates this article by nearly a thousand days. As always, I encourage agencies taking the jump into advocating for court reporting, specifically stenography. Every dollar spent on steno is valuable and important. In my view, every company can easily turn the ship around, get off the digital craze, and grow some value for shareholders by making stenography training and mentorship their focus. That said, I mention this out of commitment to intellectual honesty more than actual belief that PD will come out as a pro-steno player. As always, happy to be proven wrong and watch them come out as a consistent pro-steno advocate.

The Economics of Caring

A question often received is “you became an official, why do you write about and focus on freelance so heavily?” It’s usually an honest question, and there’s an easy and honest answer. Hopefully this’ll put things into perspective and everybody can embrace this kind of thought.

It all starts from my freelance experience. I was working very hard at first and making not very much money. I started as many start out, young, zero life experience. I had my mentors, but mentors can only help with their wise advice and their own experiences. They can’t change the market. And at that point the market was just unpleasant to be in if you weren’t in the very upper echelons of real-time reporting. To keep this short, all the things I talked about in my last article came from things I was told, overheard, or saw myself. I had friends leave this field because it was not treating them well. I have a mentee now whose friends are leaving in droves because the field is not treating them well. This shortage likely exists, at least in New York, because stenographers are underpaid or not treated well, and complaints by newbies are not received well. We’re regarded as complainers. Meanwhile, we were given an impossible task of putting in 150 to 200 percent of what people put in in the 90s. I have seen a lot change in 10 years though. We are much more open to discussion. And now I am not dependent on agencies for work. I can’t be fired for blogging. How could I not contribute, like many of you, to being a voice for the voiceless? How could I kick away the ladder I just climbed?

This is the isolation of freelance. It’s not like the old days where everyone sat around and transcribed at an agency. There’s little opportunity for people to say “oh, what’re you making on that job?” Between the isolation and the antitrust laws quashing any discussion of rates in our trade associations, companies were pretty much free to dictate our worth to us. On empathy alone, the right thing to do is to break this cycle by any means necessary.

But the economics of caring are even more compelling. The almighty Ducker Report tells us that the field at large was over 70 percent freelance in 2013. Maybe most places, but especially New York, the entry level job is freelance, and reporters siphon into other positions from that. So the smaller that freelance chunk is, it follows that the smaller everything else will be. Imagine the industry as one giant paycheck. Every single reporter is a dollar in that paycheck. Maybe realtimers want to count themselves as 10 dollars for purposes of this exercise. What happens to a person if they lose 70 percent of their paycheck? What happens to your reputation if you delete 70 percent of a transcript? If we lose the non-real-time work or cede more of the freelance field to other methodologies, we can shrink to a point of novelty and insignificance. If I want my job to be here, I need all of you to have one too.

This is a future that does not have to happen. This is not some inevitable end. I have already shown, using vTestify’s numbers, that we are a robust field and could beat the shortage with some tweaks to efficiency. But we cannot win if we do not try. This blog stands as one avenue for discussion and sharing. So many others are standing up and speaking out today. It’s kind of like the Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent. In brief, the main character lives the same dark and terrifying day over and over, over a billion years. At the end of each day, he’s punching away at a solid wall. One day, the wall cracks, and the monster terrorizing him is vaporized. We are in a story with thousands of protagonists. On that fact alone, I know that change can be exponential. If it would take one a hundred years to effect change, it could take one hundred a year to effect change.

Next time your anxiety is telling you the situation is un-winnable, that you shouldn’t bother to mentor someone because it won’t make a difference, you shouldn’t share something, you shouldn’t write a JCR article, you shouldn’t go after a private client, or you shouldn’t negotiate better contract terms because whatever you’re up against seems bigger, stronger, or richer than you, just remember we live in a country where people who didn’t have the right to vote secured the right to vote. People who had no workers rights fought and died for workers rights. Victims of serious crime and oppression went systemically unheard for decades — but even they got the world to acknowledge them. What are we fighting for? A permanent place in an industry we own? An industry that takes care of its newbies so they’re not dreading every depo? Not to minimize its importance, but when you look at all the fights people have won in this country, this one will be easy. History has shown us that stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging means the next generation might not have to suffer the same way. So if you’re somebody on the sidelines, or you know somebody on the sidelines, it’s time to reach out, be involved, offer suggestions. When people say Superman isn’t coming, it’s a rallying cry. We are all Superman, and this is a profession we protect together.

Pricing Yourself Out of the Market

In response to my previous articles on historic rate data in California and New York and my use of inflation to extrapolate forward what those rates should be today, a frequent-enough comment was that reporters would price themselves out of the market or somehow hurt the field if their rates were higher. I’m not blind to the realities of the market. I understand there are challenges to running a business, and a point where what we could ask for would be “too high.” I’m working on a bigger post for that too. But for now, let’s just dive into understanding how the game is played, at least in New York, and juxtapose it to the rest of the country.

Often the original is a deflated price to lock in work. If it’s Joe’s deposition, and Joe is your client, you might charge him 6, 7, or 8 dollars if he’s not a regular client. Who cares about Joe’s firm? He only has a deposition once a year. Might as well squeeze as much out of Joe as possible. But if Joe owns a huge firm and they’re involved into hundreds of suits and generating thousands of depositions, you might offer Joe $3.50, $2.00, whatever it is to lock in that work, even if you lose money on the original or don’t charge anything at all for the original. Why? Copies.

Copies are incredibly valuable. As I’ve written before, there’s no regulation in New York on them. Companies have, at least for the last decade, been offering reporters somewhere between $0.00 and $0.50 on copies. This gives the reporter the impression that they’re worthless. This gives companies an awful lot of wiggle room.

If your reporter is only taking 25 cents a copy, you can send a copy purchaser a bill for $4.00 a page. If they don’t complain and just pay it, you’ve just made a whole lot of money. If they complain, they just turned into a sales pitch target. “Oh, our agency has the highest quality standards and we do charge for that. But our reporter said you were such a joy to work with, so we’ve been authorized to cut your bill in half!” Doesn’t matter if it’s true. All that matters is they’ve just sold the person on the other end a positive feeling. “Wow! My bill is half! They like me, they really like me!” The reporter doesn’t know or care, they made their 25 cents. The agency doesn’t really care because printing copies is practically costless. Even on an inefficient home printer, the cost is somewhere in the realm of 25 cents a page, and pennies per page when you get into industrial printers.

So quite frankly, when an agency tells you that they can’t pay more on an original because that’s what they charge the attorney, they may or may not be lying. But it’s on you to understand that that does not mean that they’re doing poorly. That doesn’t mean they can’t afford to pay you better. It’s a tactic. They’re selling you a feeling too. “Wow. They’re paying me the whole O + 2. I feel greedy.” Anything that’ll get you to do the work for less without question and without competing with them directly is more money in their pocket. That’s the bottom line.

Reporters constantly berate each other too. “Why should you expect more? Have you improved your skills any?” But now it’s coming out that a brand-new startup company outside NY is ready to pay its brand new digital reporters $140 for the first two hours — which sounds a lot to me like a $140 minimum. They mention all these cities that they’re paying this in, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle. They say this is the average. Yet I keep hearing about how inexpensive digital reporting is. All the stenographers everywhere else make so much more that a $40 an hour cost to the agency is cheap? You know what all those cities have in common with New York City? They’re some of the most expensive to live in. They’re some of the most expensive to rent office space in.

We are not some anomaly where we just work for less here. You really think any of the so-called big boxes are looking at their profit and loss statements and saying “well, it’s New York, so we just work for less out there.” No. The money is coming in. It might not be coming from your original, but you can be damn sure that with a main office and 1 to 4 satellites, they’d have no problem raising your rates somewhere. But the issue is in our education. From a typical stenographic education, there’s very little business training. There’s very little market training. If you’re a kid, and this is your first real career, you’re not born with business sense. You can get suckered into a $60 bust fee (NY) because you just don’t know any better. People who had real-world experience made more starting out. If I was pulling $40k a year starting out, my best friend, a decade older, was pulling $100k. And, mind you, by all my calculations, even he was underpaid.

That’s the issue in New York, from my perspective. We lack education. We lack an appropriate model where kids out of school are shown the ropes and mentored. If you have a gaggle of agencies all saying that you expect too much or you’re only worth X, then you come to believe you’re only worth X. Yet here you are, seeing with your own eyes, that people with far less education, training, and experience in deposition reporting are being offered comparatively high rates. Remember, these folks, talented as they are, aren’t necessarily preparing the transcript. So let me ask you, reporters, is your hourly appearance fee $40? Forget real-time, rough, daily, expedite. Just for showing up, are you collecting $40 an hour?

What’s left? Talk to each other. Maybe consider pooling some money and starting a business. Make it very clear that they pay us or they compete with us. But don’t ever let me hear again that they can’t afford to raise rates. It’s a game. And the sooner you quit playing by their rules, the sooner you’ll win it. Rule one of any corporate culture I’ve ever been a part of? Don’t rock the boat. I’ve shown you that we’re better value than this digital craze. By all means, rock the boat and show them we can build better businesses too.

December Dirigibles 2019

First let me say, any student or reporter out there seeking a mentor, make sure you check out NYSCRA or any of the other associations offering mentoring. You owe it to yourself to find at least one person, but hopefully more than one, to show you the ropes and help you into and through your career.

With that out of the way, fly high in your career by checking out some of the jobs links below. Remember, you can get all of these links off of Get A Real Job.

Bronx Grand Jury Reporter/Stenographer has been up since 11/8. I hope everybody has applied, but if not, here’s your sign!

The Special Narcotics Prosecutor still has their posting for grand jury reporter up. I’d say that means it’s a great time to reapply or give them a call and make sure you know if and when they’re giving another test. Just note the DCAS test for Reporter/Stenographer is postponed.

Onondaga County Grand Jury is hiring. Thanks be to Adam Alweis for making sure every single one of us had a shot at this wonderful opportunity.

The court reporter provisional title is still up on the statewide NYSUCS postings. The list just came out last month, and if history is anything to go by the state is going to likely take people who passed the civil service test first. That said, it’s never a bad time to apply to be a court reporter today!

Southern District of New York, that’s federal court, is seeking a court reporter. If SDNY is too rich and famous for your tastes, there are over 10 postings for federal court reporters in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Washington State, and Washington D.C. It may be a misnomer, but the D.C. posting says district courts and bankruptcy courts. Bankruptcy courts had previously went the way of the recording, so every time a steno covers one of those, you’re trailblazing.

As always, the court reporter job board and CSR Nation are filled with activity. If you’re in the freelance world and having trouble finding work, these are good starting grounds. Make some connections. I’m hearing a blend of things from reporters in the freelance community. Some are thriving. Some are struggling. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you are struggling and make changes that make your life better. Whether it’s taking on more complex work or dropping an agency relationship that isn’t working for you, you can find a strategy that works for you.

Consider taking on some private clients. With some of the biggest names in the business claiming they can’t find reporters, you might very well find yourself in a position to do what they can’t do and meet the needs of the deposition market with stenographic reporters. Look at all the job postings this year that have come up and been filled. Look at supply and demand. As so many siphon off to court, freelancers are in a position to make more money and take on more business now than in the last ten years here in New York. But that’s only if they quit dancing and make money moves.

I’ll just take this time to encourage people to take up the cause. Post jobs in your state. Join groups where reporters are. Share information. Even if you’re good, you might come across a valuable lead just when someone in your life or professional network needs it most. Even if you don’t believe that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, believe that we are stronger together. Know that every single one of you who have shared something about this field have made a difference.