Need A Court Reporter? Check This Out.

Nearly a decade since the stenographer shortage was forecasted, some states and municipalities are feeling the squeeze due to a shortage of qualified court reporters. While the severity of the shortage is a matter of debate, digital court reporting alternatives are proving glitchy.

The available data shows a majority of consumers want a qualified stenographic or stenomask reporter. As I’ve published on this blog in the past, not all court reporting firms are making best efforts to meet demand. So here are an industry insider’s tips for lawyers, law firms, paralegals, and secretaries on finding a stenographer.

  1. NCRA PROLink – The National Court Reporters Association is our industry’s largest trade association and maintains a free national directory of qualified court reporters.
  2. State associations – Many state associations keep “Find A Reporter” tools on their website. Some examples include New York, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, and California. Even states without a Find A Reporter tool, like Texas, have a number you can call or an email you can write to.
  3. Protect Your Record Project – PYRP is a consumer education nonprofit that has a Find A Stenographer feature.
  4. Ask your court reporting firm if they’re using CoverCrow. The firm may simply work harder to find you a stenographer once it sees you know a thing or two about our field.
  5. Check out stenographer social media. There are public communities where you can ask questions and someone will point you in the right direction. Ask if anyone has a list of court reporting services, like the one I am maintaining for New York.
  6. Some firms, like REC, will attempt to help you find coverage even if they can’t cover. Don’t be afraid to ask your firm for a referral.

Anyone looking for more information on stenography as a career should see National Court Reporters Association A to Z, Project Steno, or Open Steno.

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NYSCRA’s Upcoming Webinars Can Shape Our Profession

There are a slew of New York State Court Reporters Association webinars coming up that you can register for here. I’d like to point out two of them in particular:

How to Stay Relevant in an Industry at Risk of Disruption by Dr. Erika Jacobi. I want to hone in on one line from the flyer, “empower reporters, captioners, and individual business owners to thrive despite adversity.” The more of us that learn to do this, the more of us that can then turn around and share that knowledge or even sell the knowledge through educational events. By attending, you’re basically becoming a part of the first wave of stenographers that will teach the next waves ways to think which will culminate in an ocean of us all armed with the knowledge not just to survive, but to prosper.

Speech Perception, from Spoken Word to Written Text by Culture Point. The data available today says that stenographers are the best there is, but that there is room for improvement. This is part of that improvement. Through academic understanding of linguistics, we can improve how we hear. I’ve spoken to a stenographer with linguistics training about this, and her thoughts were that these types of classes are very important. Again, the first wave of us that learns these concepts can teach the next waves and increase our own personal value and our skills. I know this because I was a ripple sharing what I learned and it landed me on TV. I was on NYSCRA’s board when the first discussions about this workshop were had, and I have a firm belief that the education will help stenographers, both newbies and masters.

NYSCRA has put a lot into this. A press release was drafted and republished to various sites across the web like Daily Ledger, American Tech Today, and The Business Gazette Online. We all have an individual choice to make. Do we take that effort and toss it away, and allow these opportunities to pass unnoticed, or do we take charge of our profession and turn the first wave of stenographers to learn these concepts into a mile-high tsunami?

Recent events have made it very clear that you, reader, are in charge of what happens next in our profession. I hope that you will join me on those webinars and that we will march into the future ready to help others thrive and close the narrow gap in our stenographic linguistics training. I know that together we can make our gold standard shine brighter.

Black Friday Sale — Verbit News for Free

Thanks to a posting by Cassandra Caldarella from Cover Crow, I stumbled across a November 23 article by Verbit. They’ve got another round of funding (series E), and the valuation is upward of a billion dollars. But before my general critique and news, let me just share that I shared all we’ve uncovered with the author of that November 23 article, Rhys Dipshan. Verbit claims it serves the court reporting industry.

“Verbit Secures $250 Million Series E Funding With Plans for Europe Expansion” 11/23/21

I object. In reality, the court reporting industry largely rejects Verbit. It’s only die-hard digital proponents like Kentuckiana and shops mired in controversy like US Legal Support that continue to support Verbit’s revenue stream, ostensibly through business-to-business transactions. The mainstay of the workforce, stenographic court reporters, have largely rejected use of Verbit because automatic speech recognition in its current form disproportionately harms minority speakers while we stand for an accurate record no matter who is speaking.

There’s a hint that Verbit may not be in a rush to go public.

This is likely a ruse. There isn’t a real reason to delay going public. If it was a good company with solid financials, an underwriter would jump on it, buy the shares, and sell them to the market. Verbit, despite all its investor money, may not be as healthy or strong as it attempts to portray in the media. This is similar to VIQ Solutions, the digital recording company with the transcription subsidiaries that lost $13 million this year.

Let’s not forget that in July, Verbit was floating the idea of going public in 2022. I laughed at it and gave some predictions. Now the company does seem to be pedaling back some on that front.

And we’re just getting started. We know that Verbit’s technology isn’t very good because it’s previously admitted it takes 8 hours to be ADA compliant. But now that they have millions of dollars, perhaps that will be used to massively expand their programming team and make a massive technological leap that has somehow been undiscovered by IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Google.

NOPE. They’re expanding sales and marketing.

A “plan” for a feature does not constitute a feature. It’s an easy way to generate buzz without doing anything.

This gives us, the court reporters, two nuggets of information. 1. The idea that technology is always improving is illusionary — if a breakthrough technology was almost ready to disrupt us, they’d be putting the finishing touches on that, not hiring people to sell what they’ve already got.

2. My idea to make me the “universal salesman” for stenography is exactly what these businesspeople are doing and we should totally copy it. Count all the times Livne has been in the news or media since 2020. He’s never had anything particularly important to say, but he gets in there because he’s in control of a lot of investor money. At least at some media outlets, it is not ideas or truth that control, it is wealth and power. Special thanks to my donors over the last few days — and a very special $1,000 donor — you have all allowed me to run another advertising campaign, starting in a few hours.

Finally, Verbit gives us an idea of our own collective power by referencing the $4 billion addressable market. We know the median pay for us is somewhere around $61,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If we believe BLS and assume there are 21,000 of us, that’s $1.281 billion. I’ve argued that BLS statistics are inaccurate and it seems more likely there’s about 28,000 of us. That’s $1.7 billion. If we trust Tom Livne that there is a $4 billion market, we control roughly half of it — roughly half the market is going directly to stenographers in the form of income. Verbit, on the other hand, has previously stated its revenue is in the millions. $1.7 billion (stenographers) versus “in the millions” Verbit. Why does Verbit get more attention? Because the money and power is centralized.

But why trust Tom Livne? The market research reports I’ve perused, and particularly a 2021 report by Anything Research, put our market at more like $3 billion.

2021 Premium Report on Court Reporting & Stenotype Services, by Anything Research.

So while our market is likely to grow, it seems well behind previous five-year forecast of $3.157 billion provided by Kentley Insights in 2019 — though we will see where we are in 2024 or 2025.

A $3 billion market where ostensibly 57% goes directly to stenographers. Court reporters, do you see now why everyone is so interested in telling you that your job is defunct? Your existence is holding companies and CEOs back from having a larger slice of the pie — a $1.7 billion slice — and if doing away with you means minority speakers might go to jail on a botched transcript or captioning consumers might be in physical danger, who cares? You should just give up and let it happen.

Alternatively, realize that you are just as smart as the businesspeople and start acting like it. They’re riding off of your ignorance. They’re riding off of your unwillingness to look at the numbers and see what they say. Everything seems so scary and uncertain when others write about these issues. But the issues are not so hard to understand when Christopher Day writes about them. That’s because my goal is your enlightenment. The goal of salespeople is to keep you from questioning the purchase.

Day 1 of Stenograph Boycott, Company Releases Pro-Steno Teaser

My Facebook page has become the steno channel. If it’s good for the working reporter, it’s on my page.

And though it may be difficult to read, I do try to keep it entertaining.

Christopher Day calls for Stenograph boycott, November 2021

For anyone that doubts calling out the bad customer service and horrible PR blunders is having an impact, you can stop doubting now. For the first time since March, Stenograph threw up a pro-stenographer image on its Instagram.

Stenograph Instagram, 11/17/21

Truth be told, I still view this sort of thing as corporate appeasement. They hope you will forget that they are screwing the students you mentor and continue to purchase their products and services. It’s a great sign that the Stenograph company wants to appease stenographers, because it means that we represent a large enough part of their customer base that pulling out would hurt. Withdrawing our support would matter. If more reporters heed my words and pull out fast and hard, we’ll be able to end this a lot sooner.

But seeing that image got me curious. I rolled through the Instagram to see the last time a comparable image was posted. There are some nice pictures advertising Q&A by Cyndi Lynch (who is awesome) and some marketing stuff, but nothing nice like this. While that’s a somewhat subjective measure, you can go through all the images yourself and see that the company hasn’t featured a person paired with a stenotype since about March.

The top left is November 2021, the bottom right is March 2021, Stenograph’s Instagram.

I will be covering the STTI podcast with Anir Dutta, Stenograph’s president, soon. In the meantime, if you’re completely confused, just see what I wrote to a student asking about my shenanigans on Reddit.

Follow me and our field gets results. Stenograph is eager to jump into a technology that will disproportionately hurt minority speakers. We are in a unique position to stop that.

Court Reporters Speak Up For The Record On Future Trials

The New York State Unified Court System commissioned the Future Trials Working Group to look at many possibilities for use of technology in the courtroom. In April 2021, the Future Trials Working Group released a report with recommendations for the court system. On page 13 of that report, there was a section regarding the possibility of automatic transcription, and specifically automatic trial transcription.

The report had a strange view on the possibility of automatic transcription. In one area, it noted “the most foreseeable endgame in the evolution of trial transcription likely is full automation.” In another part just down the page, it stated there were “…obstacles to the use of such technology on a fully automated or even predominantly automated basis for the foreseeable future”, going on to note “…automated transcription — at least at its current stage — could threaten access to justice if widely employed.” The most foreseeable endgame is automatic, but in the foreseeable future, the technology is unreliable. This is, in my view, a strange view to take. The report goes on to recommend that the court system study outside vendor offerings for automated/remote transcription or translation.

Court reporters and the people that represent them did not sit in silence. A response was prepared by the New York State Court Reporters Association and the Association of Surrogate’s and Supreme Court Reporters. Several unions supported the response, and the full letter and list of supporting unions can be read below. My personal favorite quote? “…use of automated speech technology for trial transcripts, by all available information, would not threaten access to justice, it would implode it.” We have, as a profession, put our foot down and said “we are here to guard the record, we have been guarding the record for over a century, and we will do all we can to educate the system on why other technologies are inadequate.” State and national association membership has never been more important. Union membership has never been more important. When you contribute to these organizations, you give them strength to advocate for you.

In full disclosure, I did contribute to the letter. But without the work of ASSCR President Eric Allen and NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards, this would not have been possible. Again, it all points to the importance of association and union membership. Members empower leaders. Leaders fight for an advocate on the behalf of members. It’s a symbiotic relationship that, if you are not currently a part of, you certainly want to be.

Addendum:

A response was received by the court system and is featured below.

Thank you Eric Allen and Joshua Edwards.

How We Discuss Errors and Automatic Speech Recognition

As a stenographic court reporter, I have been amazed by the strides in technology. Around 2016, I, like many of you, saw the first claims that speech recognition was as good as human ears. Automation seemed inevitable, and a few of my most beloved colleagues believed there was not a future for our amazing students. In 2019, the Testifying While Black study was published in the Language Journal, and while the study and its pilot studies showed that court reporters were twice as good at understanding the AAVE dialect as your average person, even though we have no training whatsoever in that dialect, the news media focused on the fact that we certify at 95 percent and yet only had 80 percent accuracy in the study. Some of the people involved with that study, namely Taylor Jones and Christopher Hall, introduced Culture Point, just one provider that could help make that 80 percent so much higher. In 2020, a study from Stanford showed that automatic speech recognition had a word error rate of 19 percent for “white” speakers, 35 percent for “black” speakers, and “worse” for speakers with a high dialect density. How much worse?

The .75 on the left means 75 percent. DDM is the dialect density. Even with fairly low dialect density, we’re looking at over 50 percent word error rate.

75 percent word error rate in a study done three or four years after the first claim that automatic speech recognition had 94 percent accuracy. But in all my research and all that has been written on this topic, I have not seen the following point addressed:

What Is An Error?

NCRA, many years ago, set out guidelines for what constituted an error. Word error guidelines take up about a page. Grammatical error guidelines take up about a page. What this means is that when you sit down for a steno test, you’re not being graded on your word error rate (WER), you’re being graded on your total errors. We have decades of failed certification tests where a period or comma meant a reporter wasn’t ready for the working world yet. Even where speech recognition is amazing on that WER, I’ve almost never seen appreciable grammar, punctuation, Q&A, or anything that we do to make the transcript readable. It’s so bad that advocates for the deaf, like Meryl Evans, refer to automatic speech recognition as “autocraptions.”

Unless the bench, bar, and captioning consumers want word soup to be the standard, the difference in how we describe errors needs to be injected into the discussion. Unless we want to go from a world where one reporter, perhaps paired with a scopist, completes the transcript and is accountable for it, to a world where up to eight transcribers are needed to transcribe a daily, we need to continue to push this as a consumer protection issue. Even where regulations are lacking, this is a serious and systemic issue that could shred access to justice. We have to hit every medium possible and let people know the record — in fact, every record in this country — could be in danger. The data coming out is clear. Anyone selling recording and/or automatic transcription says 90-something percent accuracy. Any time it’s actually studied? Maybe 80 percent accuracy, maybe 25; maybe they hire a real expert transcriber, or maybe they outsource all their transcription to Kenya or Manila. Perception matters; court administrators are making industry-changing decisions based on the lies or ignorance of private sector vendors.

The point is recording equipment sellers are taking a field which has been refined by stenographic court reporters to be a fairly painless process where there are clear guidelines for what happens when something goes wrong, adding lots of extra parts to it, and calling it new. We’ve been comparing our 95 percent total accuracy to their “94 percent” word error rate. In 2016, perhaps there were questions that needed answering. This is April 2021, there’s no contest, and proponents of digital recording and automatic transcription have a moral obligation to look at the facts as they are today and not what they’d like them to be.

If you are a reporter that wants more information or ideas on how to talk about these issues with clients, check out the NCRA Strong Resource Library, and Protect Your Record Project. Even reporters that have never engaged in any kind of public speaking can pick up valuable tips on how to educate the public about why stenographic reporting is necessary. Lawyers, litigants, and everyday people do not have time to go seeking this information; together, we can bring it to them.

Aggressive Marketing — Growth or Flailing?

During our Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021 there were a couple of press releases and some press releases dressed up as journalism all about digital recording, automatic speech recognition, and its accuracy and viability. There’s actually a lesson to be learned from businesses that continually promise without any regard for reality, so that’s what I’ll focus on today. I’ll start with this statement. We have a big, vibrant field of students and professionals where everyone that is actually involved in it, from the smallest one-woman reporting armies to the corporate giants, says technology will not replace the stenographic court reporter. Then we have the tech players who continuously talk about how their tech is 99 percent accurate, but can’t be bothered to sell it to us, and whose brilliant plan is to record and transcribe the testimony, something stenographers figured out how to do decades ago.

Steno students are out there getting a million views and worldwide audiences…
And Chris Day? He’s posting memes on the internet.

You know the formula. First we’ll compare this to an exaggerated event outside the industry, and then we’ll tie it right into our world. So let’s breeze briefly over Fyre Festival. To put it in very simple terms, Fyre Festival was an event where the CEO overpromised, underdelivered, and played “hide the ball” until the bitter end. Customers were lied to. Investors were lied to. Staff and construction members were lied to. It was a corporate fiasco propped up by disinformation, investor money, and cash flow games that ended with the CEO in prison and a whole lot of people owed a whole lot of money that they will, in all likelihood, never get paid. It was the story of a relative newcomer to the industry of music festivals saying they’d do it bigger and better. Sound familiar?

As for relative newcomers in the legal transcription or court reporting business, take your pick. Even ones that have been incorporated for a couple of decades really aren’t that impressive when you start holding up the magnifying glass. Take, for example, VIQ Solutions and its many subsidiaries:

I promise to explain if you promise to keep reading.

VIQ apparently trades OTC so it gives us a rare glimpse of financial information that we don’t get with a lot of private companies. Right off the bat, we can see some interesting stuff. $8 million in revenue with a negative net income and a positive cash flow. Positive cash flow means the money they have on hand is going up. Negative income means the company is losing money. How does a company lose money but continue to have cash on hand grow? Creditors and investors. When you see money coming in while the company is taking losses, it generally means that the company is borrowing the money or getting more cash from investors/shareholders. A company can continue on this way for as long as money keeps coming in. Companies can also use tricks similar to price dumping, and charge one client or project an excessive amount in order to fund losses on other projects. The amazing thing is that most companies won’t light up the same way Fyre did, they’ll just declare bankruptcy and move on. There’s not going to be a big “gotcha” parade or reckoning where anyone admits that stenographic court reporting is by far the superior business model.

This is juxtaposed against a situation where, for the individual stenographic reporter, you’re kind of stuck making whatever you make. If things go badly, bankruptcy is an option, but there’s never really an option to borrow money or receive investor money for decades while you figure it out. Seeing all these ostensible giants enter the field can be a bit intimidating or confusing. But any time you see these staggering tech reveals wrapped up in a paid-for press release, I urge you to remember Fyre, remember VIQ, and remember that no matter what that revenue or cash flow looks like, you may not have access to the information that would tell you how the company is really doing.

This also leads to a very bright future for steno entrepreneurs. As we learn the game, we can pass it along to each other. When Stenovate landed its first big investor, I talked about that. Court reporting and its attached services, in the way we know them and love them, are an extremely stable, winning investment. Think about it. Many of us, when we begin down this road, spend up to $2,000 on a student machine and up to $9,000 on a professional machine and software. That $11,000 sinkhole, coupled with student loan debt, grows into stable, positive income. So what’s stopping any stenographic court reporting firm from getting out there and educating investors on our field? The time and drive to do it. Maybe for some people, they just haven’t had that idea yet. But that’s where we’re headed. I have little doubt that if we compete, we will win. But we have to get people in that mindset. So if you know somebody with that entrepreneurial spirit, maybe pass them this post and get them thinking about whether they’d like to seek investors to grow their firm and reach. Business 101 is that a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar tomorrow. That means our field can be extremely attractive to value investors and be a safe haven from the gambling money being supplied to “tech’s” habitual promisors.

Know a great reporting or captioning firm that needs a spotlight? Feel free to write me or comment about them below. I’ll start us off. Steno Captions, LLC launched off recently without doing the investor dance. That’s the kind of promise this field has. I wish them a lot of luck and success in managing clients and training writers.

How To Spot More Better Marketing

Count out how many times in your life you’ve seen a product in advertising that was similar to something you already do, have, or want. Did the advertiser tell you it would do more stuff? Did the advertiser tell you it was better at doing stuff than its competitors? Did the advertiser try to make you feel good and confident about a purchase in this product? February of last year, I touched on the magic of marketing. Today, we explore marketing that takes aim at us, how to identify it, and how to tell our students not to be swayed by it.

The genesis of this post is actually a marketing blitz by Transcription Outsourcing, LLC. Their ad boldly starts off “Tired of waiting for your court reporter?” They claim their prices are “up to” 50 percent less expensive than a court reporter. Guaranteed accuracy, 3 to 5 day turnaround. Among their many claims are reporters won’t format your documents, send back errors, have overseas teams that are hard to contact, take weeks. For most of us in the business, this is laughable, but we have to take ourselves out of our skin and hop into the skin of a potential client or a stenography student that has zero experience in sitting at a stenotype or desk transcribing legal proceedings. As far as identifying and helping students identify “more better marketing” I’d propose watching out for four red flags:

  1. It’s cheaper than you.
  2. It’s faster than you.
  3. You still have a job.
  4. It promises.

One, if it’s cheaper, why isn’t everybody using it? For this, you can look into your own life experience. Why don’t you buy cheaper food or a less expensive product? Usually doing something cheaper means sacrificing quality or training somewhere in the process. Two, if it’s faster, again, why isn’t everybody on it? Are there problems scaling the product, does the service provider not deliver, or are the costs of being faster too high? Three, you still have a job? Look, Company XYZ says they’re cheaper, faster, better, more better, amazing, and yet the clients are still using stenographic court reporters. This is not to say these types of services could not, through their marketing, supplant reporters. But flag three is all about acknowledging that at least some what they’re selling is hype and hope to customers. Four, it promises. That’s probably the biggest red flag you can get in this type of marketing. We saw it with Theranos, Project Natal, Solar Roadways, Waterseer, Hyperloop. People love to sell things whether they’re possible or not. They promise their solution is the solution. Theranos was going to test extraordinarily small amounts of blood and administer treatments through patches. It had a $9 billion valuation. Didn’t exist. Project Natal and Milo were going to revolutionize gaming. There were videos advertising it! Didn’t exist. Solar Roadways was going to solve America’s energy crisis by throwing out everything we know about efficient solar power generation. It raised millions of dollars. Didn’t work. Waterseer was going to solve the world’s water crisis and forgot to mention that dehumidifiers have the same basic function. The Hyperloop routinely ignores that a single break in the loop or tunnel could implode the entire thing and kill everyone in it. Promises are part of human interaction, but buying into them without reservation is dangerous and expensive. If it promises but doesn’t deliver, take note.

That’s identification in a nutshell. And at this point many are probably saying, “Chris, you’re just picking on these guys because they’re taking a swipe at court reporting. You don’t actually have anything that shows their promises aren’t the real deal!” This is where experience as a court reporter comes in. Take a look, again, at the things they said about court reporters.

  1. They won’t format your documents. Well, in some jurisdictions, we have a prescribed transcript format. Even here in New York City, where there’s virtually no such mandate for freelancers, I know many freelancers who do or have worked for agencies that work with the New York City Law Department or MTA, and both like transcripts formatted a certain way by contract. Bottom line is if you can’t find a court reporter that’ll format your document, it’s either not proper in your jurisdiction or there’s some other stenographic court reporting company that will do it.
  2. They send you back errors. I consider myself an extremely average reporter. I’m so average it took me ten years to finish off my RPR. In that ten years, I can recall exactly once that an error so egregious made its way in that it needed to be corrected and was serious. Humans make errors. News articles make errors every day. I’ve hired a lawyer that made an error. Guess what happens? It gets corrected. The world keeps turning. But, these people guarantee accuracy. I’m sure that means if a client find an error, they get the whole transcription for free, right? Right?! It promises, but there’s nothing really backing that promise. Students, ask your mentor how many mistakes they’ve made in their career. Ask them how many were serious. Mistakes are a non-issue in the context of a larger career if you learn from them.
  3. Their overseas teams are hard to contact. With the majority of court reporting firms I know and have worked with being US-based or having US-based management, I find this an odd claim. Even Israel-based Verbit, to the extent you can consider them court reporters, never came off as particularly hard to contact. Even the smallest firms I’ve ever worked with have a dialing service that makes sure the customer can get in touch with someone or leave questions or comments for the owner.
  4. They aren’t secure. I’ve found the word security to be kind of a red herring in our business. What kind of security are we talking about? SSL Certificates? Haven’t seen a reporting firm without them. Secure repositories? If you spend about sixty seconds Googling reporting firms, you’ll find security. It’s a comfort word at this point.
  5. They take weeks. Six-hour service is available. Interesting. I wonder if Transcription Outsourcing provides six-hour service on eight-hour depositions like many of my colleagues do with their dailies and their immediates. For those not in the business, for a reasonable cost, a properly trained and skilled stenographic reporter can work with their team or scopist to deliver a transcript immediately at the conclusion of a deposition. I am sure that once time travel is developed, court reporters will be the pioneers in producing transcripts before proceedings actually occur, too.

The point is to look at the millions and millions of dollars that have went into ideas that had little chance of succeeding. Look how long it takes to verify that these ideas are scams or false hope. How many people do you think are fact checking transcription and court reporting companies? Even this idea that the service is cheaper is knocked right out of reality by their own rates. Between $1.50 and $5.00 per minute. When I was in the business of freelance court reporting and transcribed audio, I charged somewhere in the realm of $100 an hour, which is about $1.67 a minute. If you take their best rate, by their own advertising, they’re at best 10 percent cheaper. They had no problem making that 10 into a 50 in their advertising. Looking at some of their other rates, you can save yourself 30 percent by switching to steno. If any of this “better, cheaper” stuff was true, why would reporters use scopists? Sorry scopists. We can just send our work into Transcription Outsourcing, LLC, take our 30 percent, and let them do all the work. Doesn’t happen. They don’t care about burning an entire bridge of potential customers because there’s no savings to be had there. They want what our clients are paying today in their pockets, and they’re hoping lawyers fall for it.

The bottom line is we’re going to be seeing more and more puffery and opinion enter our field masquerading as fact. We will be inundated with it. It’s much easier to make up falsehoods or questionable claims than it is to fact check those same claims. So when you see, for example, Protect Your Record Project fighting to raise awareness about our services, it’s a win. When you see state associations fighting to raise awareness about our services, it’s a win. When you see professionals donating their time to help encourage students and mentoring new reporters, it’s a win. When you see Open Steno, NCRA, and Project Steno advertising this field and ways to get in, it’s a win. Our strength is that there are thousands of us in the field practicing today, and so one minute from each of us amounts to a lot more time and effort than companies can spend on making up BS. Keep taking advantage of that and working together to educate. Keep hitting up social media platforms and making sure people aren’t misled about who we are and what we do. The last ten years have built an impressive online community of reporters. The next ten will be a test of getting that community’s knowledge out to clients and potential stenographers.

What Verbit Investors Need To Know

I had touched pretty gently on Verbit when its series A funding came in at $23 million. The series B funding is in at about $31 million earlier this year. Now Verbit’s announced a strategic partnership with the STI and professional flip flopper, Jim Cudahy. Migliore & Associates already came out with the hard truth of what this means: ASR doesn’t make the cut for the production of legal transcripts without a qualified court reporter no matter what you name it, NLP, ASR, AI, computer magic, automated transcription.

Do I come off as angry? I am angry. I’m angry that investors are being led down a path of burning capital where there’s just not a bright future. When the series A funding was happening, Verbit used words like automated, “save an enormous amount of manual labor.” “Adaptive speech recognition” with over 99 percent accuracy. Series B is out. They “would not take the human transcriber out,” “the AI will enhance the human.” So investors are fundamentally paying millions of dollars so that they can be another Rev. I doubt very much that that’s what was sold to investors. I don’t think anybody would be putting down millions on that.

Then the partnership with STI? A complete joke. I have already gone into how, without any doubt, stenographers and NCRA are by far the best equipped to deal with the court reporter shortage. AAERT and the STI just don’t have the funding, infrastructure, or experience to tackle the problem, and it shows in their data. By their estimates, court reporting companies stand to save $250,000 over the next decade by adopting digital tools. First, I would love to know if this is individual savings or cumulative. We don’t know because there are no sources linked or cited. If this is cumulative, it’s embarrassing that they would even post that. That would mean 25,000 in savings a year across all companies. If that’s the projected individual savings per company, only slightly less embarrassing. That’s less than the average annual salary of a single court reporter. This may come as a shock to Jim Cudahy, but court reporting companies adopted digital tools throughout digital’s birth in the 70s and into the 80s and 90s. Stenographers are already a part of the Information Age, utilize AI, and produce quality records daily. The idea that investors are going to dump $50 million into “technology” expected to save $250,000 over 10 years and expect a return is terrifying. “Most courts are digital,” again, assuming everything they have to say is true, and yet judicial candidates show a preference for stenographic court reporters and returning them to courtrooms. The growth here is in stenographers, stenography jobs, and stenography schools, and Verbit’s current leadership is missing this boat completely.

Let’s just tell it like it is. When a grassroots-funded stenography blog can give you some pretty solid reasons you’re backing the wrong horse, it’s time to give investors nothing less than what they deserve. Open up a Steno Department, throw down some money on us, and we will make sure you’ve got real and steady returns. Verbit, with proper leadership from Tom Livne, can still save the day. Just not with this bait and switch technology-to-transcription model that amounts to little more than a repackaging of old tech. The only other viable alternative I see is buying this blog for a good $8 million and hoping investors don’t see it before then. Not a difficult decision. Come on over to the winning team. Vote for sten!

July 18, 2021 Addendum:

I reread this article for the first time in a while and I feel I did an inadequate job of explaining just how pathetic the cost savings promoted were. I took to social media to spread the word, and I am copying and pasting what I had to say below.

“I’m slowly reconstructing the table of contents on my blog, and I came across an old article I did on Verbit. In that article, it mentioned a blurb by STTI that, using AAERT info, estimated $250,000 in savings over a decade for companies that switched to digital tools.
The reason I’m bringing it up again is this is a time where a lot of court reporters are kind of concerned. “Is this stuff better than I am?” And I pointed out in the article how I think some $50 million was sunk into Verbit at that point. $250,000 over a decade breaks down to $25,000 a year. So even if it’s assumed that that information is completely factual and that the savings is for every individual company in the field and NOT cumulative across the industry, they were advertising savings equivalent to less than the average salary of a single court reporter.
Is this stuff better than you? They need to sink millions of dollars into it to “maybe perhaps” save $25,000 a year. Remember, these are companies that boast millions in revenue. I think you have your answer.
And for anybody that doesn’t, I have a handy chart here.
If they make $1 million, they save 2.50%
If they make $2 million, they save 1.25%
If they make $3 million, they save 0.83%
If they make $4 million, they save 0.63%
If they make $5 million, they save 0.50%
If they make $6 million, they save 0.42%
If they make $7 million, they save 0.36%
If they make $8 million, they save 0.31%
To put this into perspective, a company like VIQ Solutions, parent of Net Transcripts, that posts something like $8 million a quarter (not profitable), would save 0.08%.
A company like Veritext, which Owler claims has revenue in the $400 million ballpark, would save 0.007%
Just to put some more perspective on that, if Stenograph were to offer you 0.007% savings on the purchase of approximately $4,000 CaseCAT, you would save $0.28. ($100 at 2.50%)
Would you pay anyone millions of dollars to “maybe perhaps” save 0.007% to 2.50%?
This situation is very good for us, but we do need more reporters, so in this coming school year, if you can make a visit to your local high school, please do.”

Buying Hype

Seems like every day now there’s a new article talking about the great advances of AI transcription. Notice in what I just linked, the author is “Wire Contributor,” which to me means that it’s probably a Trint employee. The September 2019 article goes on to link an April 2017 article where the Wire apparently said something they did was unprecedented.

If you’re not looking at dates and glancing over it, it looks like AI transcription is making leaps and bounds. It’s coming. Their app is to be released at the end of 2019! What will we do? I am here to hopefully get everyone thinking critically. Why are these articles always sporting a technology that’s critically acclaimed but not ready to be publicly released? Because it’s a pitch. It’s an effort to get more investors. It’s a bid to get more people to throw money at it.

Not to get too controversial, but I’ve long watched a YouTuber scientist named ThunderF00t (Phil Mason). He’s made many videos to raise consumer awareness on products including inventions like the Free Electric, Solar Roadways, Zero Breeze, Fontus. All of these amazing things have a common theme: They sound cool. The media doesn’t understand the concepts behind them. Their creators make positive claims about them. These inventions have had millions of dollars put into them only for kickstarters and stakeholders to be let down. This is despite walls of positive press from various sites and media forums.

What can we learn? Sellers sell. That’s what they do. When there’s millions of dollars to be made, does the seller really care if the product only meets 90, 80, or 70 percent of the buyer’s needs? Will most buyers spend more time and money holding the seller accountable, or will they eat the loss or attempt to justify the purchase to themselves? That’s why you see claim after claim and never a bad word unless you have colossal levels of fraud, like Theranos. What else can we learn? These things can raise millions of dollars and never hurt a market, Solar Roadways raised over a million dollars and never threatened existing energy companies.

Buying hype can only serve to dampen our morale and make us cede market share. It can only serve to silence us. You don’t have to be a computer scientist to investigate claims about computer science. Let’s start selling facts and raising consumer awareness. If nothing else, remember: If their product worked, you would be using it.