Documents purporting to be US Legal and Lex Reporting rate sheets were passed to me by a source recently.
To be honest, these rates seem very New-York-City competitive. There are some stenographers out there making $4.50 on the originals. I will say that as a young reporter I only got paid $1.00 for roughs, and with the amount of work that goes into those, it would put me off to learn the agency was making exactly what I was for essentially a finder’s fee. The bust I used to make was something like $75. The minimum fee was the bust fee. So there are definitely cost savings to be had for attorneys that go agency or reporter shopping.
But the surprising part of all this was my Stenonymous source stated that copy attorneys were charged the same.
Now, the breadth of my information gathering is limited, because I have a full-time job and this citizen journalist stuff is on the side. But it really may be true. Years ago, I staged a call-up to Diamond Reporting (New York City, later bought by Veritext), and they told my caller that they charged the same copy and original.
Not these specific companies listed above, but in general, I have always thought that companies play games with some invoices and the attorneys they don’t regularly do business with. Charge ultra high. No complaint? Payday. Complaint? Cut the bill in half and make out like a bandit while looking like a hero to the client. That said, it’s actually nice to see that not be the case here.
That’s all I have for this one. Feel free to pass it around.
Given the nature of the action, in my view, it would be wrong for Stenonymous to publish the full transcript. But I have personally reviewed portions of the transcript. The certification, errata, and all that ends at 149, then the word index begins, totaling up to the 181 pages. It kind of goes to what the court was saying in that class action link I just posted. Paraphrasing heavily: “It would not be deceptive business practice if a restaurant did not itemize every item in a cheeseburger.” Basically saying that the word index can be viewed as part of the entire transcript or product and therefore need not be itemized.
But it is really an add-on, isn’t it? My whole career as a freelancer came and went without ever being paid for a word index. Other court reporters report not being paid for their word indices. Word indices are not a required part of the transcript in jurisdictions I’ve read about. It’s a convenience feature. A convenience feature usually added by “the agency.” The agency that is supposed to be a separate and distinct entity without direction and control over “the freelancer.” The agency that is supposed to be a litigation support service and not a court reporting firm, but flip flops whenever it’s convenient for them in court and/or makes them more money. Yeah, that agency.
Certainly, the word index has some value. But is it quite the same value as a caption page that often needs to be filled in manually? Is it quite the same value as a transcribed page? Those can have a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio with time “typing” versus time “transcribing” (typing/writing : transcribing). Said another way, there’s a lot more time and effort going into each page of the rest of the transcript. Not so much with the word index. It’s literally what we accuse the digital reporters of doing, button pushing. In my guesstimate, it takes about as much time to generate an entire word index as it does to produce one page of a transcript. So back to the judge’s cheeseburger statement, it’s more like if the restaurant subcontracted out their cook, and the cook said, “yeah, I’ll make this hamburger for you.” The cook does the laborious work of cooking the hamburger, which in our completely screwed up analogy takes about 5 hours to make on a good day. The agency takes the hamburger, adds a slice of cheese, which takes it a minute or two (0.67% of the time it took to make the hamburger), and charges around 20% more for the now-completed cheeseburger — and that’s on top of their cut from the hamburger itself*.
*Which has me thinking, maybe I could be a judge. Sometimes I read these decisions on the internet and I think to myself, “wow, this can easily be argued both ways and the court just happened to agree with the wealthier side of the equation.”I could do that(joke).
The funny thing about this is court reporters were so paralyzed by fear that none of this would have ever broken if the larger corporations had just been honest. It wasn’t until they started surreptitiously siphoning stenographer work to digital court reporters that people started to feed me information and stand up against the gouging of attorneys/consumers.
If anybody from U.S. Legal Support is reading, your staff asked me not to contact you anymore, so I generally do not, but you’re always free to leave a comment explaining your position. I do not censor unless something is clearly spam, abusive, defamatory, or impersonating someone else. We’re playing an interesting game of incongruence where you all have a lot more money, but I have a growing movement of people — small business owners, court reporters, attorneys, and members of the public — that believe it really does matter if things are done legally and ethically. That’s not even counting the people that follow and support me out of their own self-interest. I’ve seen firsthand how our message resonates with real people. Accountability media matters™️.
God forbid the New York Times figures out that people love this stuff or blog supporters start passing posts to journalists. If you believe in what’s happening here but can’t contribute financially, please consider passing a tip to your favorite news outlet. It’s a free online action you can take to support the cause. My suggestion is to use the post about the court reporter / stenographer shortage fraud. The more people we have standing in unity and saying this is a problem, the less likely we will be ignored.
P.S. I have a lot of posts to write and publish over the coming week(s). Please forgive me if something you’ve sent or we’ve spoken about hasn’t been featured yet. Feel free to double check with me that it’s in the pipeline.
I’m pretty sure all this speaks for itself, but I’ll point out that court reporters across the country are doing their part to educate attorneys on the actual status of the field. It’s not just New York, California, Illinois, and Texas. Every state has their leaders and activists, and as more of us stand up and say “this is wrong,” it will become an untenable situation for the organizations that lied to the public about the overall availability of stenographers, such as Veritext, US Legal, and Planet Depos, all of which were represented on the Speech-to-Text Institute board, the vehicle they used to lie to the public and make localized shortages out to be impossible-to-solve national ones. They used a simple trick. Knowing attorneys want stenographers, they told them we were unavailable to get them using digital court reporters.
If anyone would like to help advertise this post to attorneys, please donate whatever amount you feel comfortable donating at the front page of Stenonymous.com. Be advised that I do not receive your credit card info when you do. You can also PayPal ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, Zelle ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, or Venmo @stenonymous.
Years later, as it turned out, some of the largest court reporting companies would get together using a nonprofit called the Speech-to-Text Institute (STTI). That nonprofit would go on to mislead consumers about the stenographer shortage to artificially increase demand for digital court reporting. Tellingly, while a U.S. Legal Support representative had no problem using the word “libel” on one of the female members of my profession, USL and the other multimillion dollar corporations never dared utter a word about my eventual fraud allegations. The companies wanted to trick consumers into believing stenographers were unavailable due to shortage and force digital court reporting on them, where matters are recorded and transcribed.
This set off alarm bells in the world of court reporting. Stenotype manufacturing giant, Stenograph, also represented in STTI’s leadership, shifted from supporting realtime stenographic reporters to shoddy service, and began to call its MAXScribe technology realtime. Realtime, as many attorneys know, is a highly trained subset of court reporting that often comes with a premium. These bait-and-switch tactics on the digital court reporter side of the industry caused a nonprofit called Protect Your Record Project to spring up and begin educating attorneys on what was happening in our field. But as of today, the nonprofit has not reached a level of funding that would allow it to advertise these issues on a national scale — this blog’s in the same boat.
So as more of the workforce is switched to digital reporters / recorders and transcribers, we’re seeing companies use influencers and other media to lure transcribers in for low pay. In short, digital court reporting is now synonymous with side hustle. These companies are going to take the field of skilled reporters that law firms and courts know and love, replace them with transcribers, and go on charging the same money. For the stenographer shortage, these folks were dead silent for the better part of a decade. Now that they need transcribers to replace us, they’re going all out to recruit.
“What do I care?” That’s what a lot of lawyers and paralegals might be asking at this point. Well, I may not write as well as Alex Su, but I’ll do my best here. First, there are egalitarian concerns. In the Testifying While Black study, stenographers only scored 80% accuracy on the African American Vernacular English dialect. This was widely reported in the media, but what was lost by the media was the reveal of pilot study 1, which showed everyday people only transcribe with an accuracy of about 40% (e226). When we’re talking about replacing court reporters with “side hustle technology,” we’re talking about a potential 50% drop in accuracy and a reduction in court record quality for minority speakers, something courts are largely unaware of. According to the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, automation isn’t coming to save us either. Voice writing is the best bet for the futurists, and it’s being completely ignored by these big companies.
There are also security concerns. When we’re talking about utilizing transcribers, we’re talking about people that have an economic incentive to sell any private data they might gain from the audio or transcript. If transcription is outsourced, a bribe as low as $600 might be enough to get people acting unethically. Digital court reporting companies have already shown they’re not protective of people’s data — in fact, companies represented in the Speech-to-Text Institute. This also leads to questions about remedies for suspected omissions or tampering. Would you rather subpoena one local stenographer or teams of transcribers, some possibly outside of the jurisdiction?
Finally, there’s an efficiency issue with digital court reporting. Turnaround times can be much slower. Self-reported, it can take up to 6 hours to transcribe 1 hour of audio. By comparison, 1 hour of proceedings can take a qualified stenographer 1 to 2 hours to transcribe. That’s 3 to 6 times faster. Everyone here knows stenographers aren’t perfect and that backlogs happen. Now imagine a world where the backlog is 3 to 6 times what it is today. In one case, a transcript took about two months to deliver. If we’re going to hire teams of transcribers to do the work of one stenographic court reporter, aren’t we going backwards?
Consumers are the ones with the power here. They can demand stenographers, utilize companies that aren’t economically incentivized to lie to them, and spread awareness to other consumers. Consumers, lawyers and court administrators, decide the future. Knowing what you do now, do you want a court reporter or a side hustler at your next deposition or criminal case?
Written by Christopher Day, a stenographic court reporter in New York City that has been serving the legal community since 2010. He is also a former board member of the New York State Court Reporters Association and a former volunteer for the National Court Reporters Association STRONG Committee. Day also authors the Stenonymous blog, the industry’s leading independent publication on court reporting media, information, data, analyses, satire, and archiving of current events. He also appeared on VICE with regard to the Testifying While Black study and fiercely advocated for more linguistics training for court reporters in and around New York State.
Donations for the blog will help run advertising for this article and others like it, as well as pay for more journalists and investigators. If you would like to donate, you may use the donation box on the front page of Stenonymous.com, PayPal or Zelle ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, or Venmo @Stenonymous. Growing honest media to combat misconceptions in and about our marketplace is the premier path to a stronger profession and ultimately better service to the legal community.
As reported by the New York Law Journal and Emily Saul, and shared by Paul Lucido publicly on LinkedIn, a suit has been filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, the state’s highest trial court, alleging that U.S. Legal Support managers would game software to “underpay commissions owed to salespeople and divert sales to certain friends or favored coworkers.”
Executives are charged with creating a “fake employee” in order to illegally retain profits for themselves, reports Saul. It boils down to a claim that the founder, Charles Schugart, undermined Lucido’s earnings and lied about stock options. The claim further alleges that managers Amy Williamson and Carrie Cosenza would divert sales by gaming the HubSpot tracking software. It’s claimed that over $150,000 in commissionable revenue was lost, according to the report.
Lucido’s lawyer is quoted, in part, as saying “only discovery will reveal how widespread US Legal’s fraudulent practices were…” As of writing I could not locate the case on WebCivil Supreme, so I have no idea whether a Request for Judicial Intervention or Answer has been filed.
Needless to say, I emailed Emily Saul. We’ll see if anything comes of that.
This comes over a year after my public complaints that US Legal was part of a scheme to defraud jobseekers and consumers by supporting the Speech-to-Text Institute’s bogus claims that the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve, and the post where I revealed U.S. Legal Rep Peter Giammanco’s comment, “does it really matter if done legally and ethically…?” This is how these people think. They don’t care about ethics. They care about winning money.
That leads me to my next ask. If you disagree with the corporate fraud rampant in our field, please consider funding media like mine that supports exposing and purging it if you haven’t already. My donation box is right on the front page of Stenonymous.com. I can also receive Venmo @Stenonymous or PayPal at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com. I promise that once we’ve defeated the foul play, we can turn to what truly matters, enhancing stenographic education and expanding opportunities for stenographers. Serving the public through production of the legal record. How long do you think the shortage would last if a guy like me had a fraction of the money all these other players have? That’s what I bring to the table.
Alternatively, to the corporations of the STTI Bloc, you have a chance to buy the blog for $10 million. That way I get to ride off into the sunset and you get to continue your fraud completely unopposed by anybody with any kind of power in this business and the government. I feel bad selling out for so little, but I have to be realistic about the amount of work it’s taking to take you guys down with my current bank balance of $59.95. If you do buy it, I hope you will still consider the points I’ve made in the past about potential harm to minority speakers. I would never even do what I’m doing if not for that unexplored harm. Also, if you buy me out, consider making Joshua Edwards an offer on creating a corporate training arm for stenographers. With the right resources, he could revolutionize stenographic education and breathe new life into the realtime initiatives we have fought so hard for. We could train stenographers in sales, marketing, and steno, set them loose on the market, and watch them produce revenue streams that never existed before. EVERYONE wants to be heard. Who better to listen than your local stenographer? Even if it’s an upper middle class hobby, shouldn’t those dollars be captured, shouldn’t those voices be heard? If any of you care, my math says $360 an hour will obtain, retain, and retrain talent.
I’ve been through lots of market research in the last year. Just to connect a few dots, we know two of the largest companies in our industry, Veritext and US Legal, are merely investments in the portfolios of larger holding companies, Leonard Green and Abry Partners. Those larger companies are invested in the private equity game, a game of buying, holding, and flipping (BHF) companies for profit in the same way someone might BHF houses, stocks, or bonds.
Approximately one out of every four court reporting companies are unprofitable. Combine that with the knowledge that in order to BHF companies, holding companies often load up the investment company with debt in what’s called a leveraged buyout. Veritext and US Legal may be servicing huge debts that the smaller shops don’t have. Their seemingly endless cash flow and price warfare over the last decade may have been at a loss. They wouldn’t be the first. VIQ Solutions has a bunch of transcription subsidiaries and operates with losses in the millions.
Anecdotally, multiple sources have reported lawyers are unhappy with both Veritext and US Legal, and it appears both corporations are increasing their rates faster than smaller court reporting companies, something they wouldn’t be doing if they were not feeling some financial strain.
This is probably the decade and the next golden age for court reporting. The behemoths are likely weighed down by debt and a management structure that cannot be supported without ridiculous prices. Smaller, more efficient firms will be able to rise up and take back all of the business that was gobbled up. I don’t need an anecdote for that one. The latest from MAGNA, Veritext, and the Big Bully Brigade was “waaah we’re bigger and can provide things little people can’t. Just believe us! Because bigness!” A lie so unconvincing that I think a six year old could’ve figured it out as long as that six year old was not Victoria Hudgins.
Stenographers need a pat on the back. The increased competition over the last few months alone has the larger corporations showing signs of strain. US Legal, still terrified to mention court reporting’s biggest commercial blog, has appointed Sara Giammanco as the Director of Reporter Engagement.
I wonder why they needed one of those. Could it be because Peter Giammanco supports digital court reporting? Does anyone really believe they’ll stop acting passive aggressively toward court reporters until court reporters put the company down a la some increased competition and bankruptcy? It’s very simple. People say what they’re paid to say. We’ve seen it with Stenograph. We’ll see it here too.
Maybe I can help the big boxes. Here’s some free consulting for them: Cudahy lied. The stenographer shortage can be solved by recruitment. The science and data available today, namely the Testifying While Black 2019 and Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition 2020 studies, show that alternatives to stenography aren’t as accurate. They aren’t cheaper. The market preference is stenographers. So basically you morons threw out the fundamentals of business by ignoring consumer preference, service quality, and cost of revenue, a blunder from which I doubt you’ll be able to recover, given the only thing you’ve ever been good at is wrongfully convincing stenographers they’re overpaid. People are prone to confirmation bias, and the business types have allowed their belief in technology™️ to rob them of all common sense. It would’ve been a lot smarter to turn stenographers into salespeople and train them to sell upcharges like expedites, roughs, and realtime instead of beating us down on price and constantly putting us in a state of feeling unworthy. You know, maybe I’ll start a company here in New York City and do just that.
Knowing that the big boxes are probably servicing big debts and seeing how they’re now scrambling to appease the profession that months ago they were claiming was dying no matter what™️, I think it is incumbent on every reporter to realize a single truth: If you fight, you will win.
I am happy about this. I am hopeful that it will be a change in direction for USL. I am wary of heaping on praise because companies in our field often do symbolic little gestures to appease us, only to turn around and continue to try to tread on the stenographic legion. It’s kind of like if someone smacked you every day for about half a year and then on day 181 apologized. Sorry doesn’t cut it. Continued recruitment and support of our existing profession is the only thing that will really mend US Legal’s image in the eyes of court reporters. The only court reporters I’ve met that disagree with me are friends of Rick Levy or among the precious few that USL treats well, and I’m not about to let the opinions of two people dictate the future of 30,000.
In many ways I feel vindicated. A few have balked about my methods or beliefs. But we have all collectively shown each other that we have the power to change things. If you follow me on social media, I said as much yesterday:
I remind every court reporter that while U.S. Legal, according to Owler, controls an estimated $100 million annually, court reporters control an estimated $1.7 billion. Over the course of my blogging and ads, you’ve all chipped in about $15,000 (guesstimate). About 0.0009% of stenographers’ annual revenue was able to meet the threshold for change. If you’d like the fight and my media work to continue, then I have to ask for donations at the Stenonymous.com home page.
My personal feelings are that we should turn our attention toward our treatment and end disparity in treatment. For example, if we look at USL’s cancellation policy, canceling a court reporter can be done at 5:00 p.m. the day before. Canceling an interpreter must be done 24 to 48 business hours ahead of time, which I’m going to take to mean 1 to 2 business days, since 24 business hours is a whopping 3 days.
Why does such disparity exist? Because we allow it to. Another example? Videographers, interpreters, and captioners all operate on a two-hour minimum. Court reporters are the only ones that have yet to figure out the value of their time and demand it. But it’s not long before people estimate how many pages they usually get in an hour multiplied by their page rate and realize that that is the true value of their time. Once stenographers know the true value of their time, they will start asking for it, and the shortage will take care of itself.
For anyone that hates math, as a young reporter that was being taken advantage of, I made about $3.25 per page and the layouts at that time gave me about 40 pages per hour. That’s $130 in 2011 money. That’s about $164 in December 2021 money. That would be $328 on a two-hour minimum. I was making $75 bust fees. This is simple economics. When we are busted on, we’re often scheduled at the exclusion of being elsewhere. We cannot have a functional field when people are being paid 22% of what they should be making, and this has arguably driven our shortage more than the games being played by USL and Veritext. Less money in our pockets means we cut expenses, like associations, and then our associations are in famine mode. A vicious cycle ensues and our death as a profession becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only way out of that is to break the cycle and admit to ourselves that we have a problem with pricing. Our race to the bottom comes at a cost, the loss of integrity of the legal record. Are we willing to accept such a loss simply because corporate entities claim we are not worth more? And do not give me the false narrative that we would price ourselves out of the market. The rapacious behavior of multiple companies has not priced them out. It is a lie sold for one purpose: To keep the working reporter down.
A dozen years in the industry have given me the courage to stand up and say enough is enough. Demand more of the companies. Where they refuse to do better, compete with them. That is the way forward now that everyone knows that they can be beat.
A source that shall remain anonymous passed me information that NYPTI prosecutors were being given education about stenography and court reporting that doesn’t match up with reality. During the presentation, stenography was made to look as old and outdated as possible when in actuality it is top-of-the-line tech in speech-to-text transcription. This supports my belief that the stenographer shortage is being intentionally exaggerated and exacerbated.
Let it be known that yesterday morning both Veritext and US Legal launched arguably pro-steno emails. Veritext supported becoming a court reporter.
US Legal supported giving to Project Steno for Giving Tuesday.
Can’t say much about it. This is exactly the kind of stuff I like to see. My general problem is with the frequency of support. I have personally witnessed digital court reporter ads through LinkedIn just about every day for US Legal Support since September. So for them to spam “high priority digital court reporter” ads for 60 to 90 days on social media, turn around and say “oh yeah, and Project Steno is cool too,” doesn’t impress me.
For the sake of honesty, let it be known that the companies did something nice for us. There is not yet evidence that this will be a paradigm shift. And, in fact, past nice things said about us were simply followed up by the continued expansion of digital court reporting.
Previously I pointed to similar exaggerated shortage claims between the two as one reason for why I believe there may be collusion to sell the inferior digital court reporting service to attorneys. I now have to point out how comical it is that the two release this pro-steno corporate appeasement on the same date and nearly the same time. Thank you to all the readers that made sure I didn’t miss it!
Stenographers across the country should be feeling confident. It’s time to ask for a raise. We were barraged by false claims that the shortage could not be solved. It has been about two months since I first pointed out there was an honesty problem with the company. The company’s response to the social pressure? Run, hide, and hope no law enforcement comes knocking. Prior to my allegations, Rick Levy from US Legal spent a good amount of time trying to convince reporters that the company was on our side.
What is he doing these days? Pretending that I don’t exist. That’s a perfectly normal thing to do when someone is accusing your outfit of fraud. Right?
It is not my actions alone that are making the difference, but the actions of court reporters across the country. It is all of you educating each other and sharing my posts. It is all of you continuing to supply me with information and monitoring questionable behavior in our industry. It is all of you sending donations so that we can spread word of what’s happening in our field. It is all of you that have filed complaints where appropriate. It is all of you that are bringing my research to attorneys. We are collectively making a difference just like I said we could.
As of today about $6,751 has been spent. Over 260,000 impressions have been made. About $2,800 from donations must still be allocated. Seeing how we are changing the course of a $3 billion industry with less than $10,000, I must ask my colleagues that have not donated to consider doing so. Financial security for me would only free up my time to fight for your financial security and the future of working reporters across the country. In two months you have seen the shortage go from impossible to solve to an expansion of the USL partnership with Project Steno. Trust that every single dollar will make a tremendous impact and that I will not stop until every last one of you has the respect you were robbed of these last two decades.
To my friends in US Legal Supportleadership, you can still start recruiting stenographers and paying them fairly. If you do not, you risk 30,000 court reporters making me a millionaire and a full-time advocate. Abuse thrived in silence and now yours has told us all that we will ever need to know about you.