Orange Legal, A Veritext Company, May Share Location with BlueLedge

To preface this post, I do not suspect the previous owner of Orange Legal of anything untoward at this time. Some in our field disagree with selling small businesses out to large national firms, and I understand why, but I am personally ambivalent to the sole act of “selling out.” The only time that I grilled someone for “selling” was Rick Levy, and that was because he lied to me.

I previously explained that BlueLedge appeared to be using CourtReporterEDU to siphon stenography students to Ed 2 Go and digital court reporting. This was followed by explaining the connections or general friendliness among BlueLedge, Veritext, and Stenograph.

BlueLedge was voluntarily dissolved in 2019 even though it still appears to be in operation. Its address? 101 E Kennedy.

Orange Legal has the same address.

So this strengthens the evidence that Veritext and BlueLedge are close.

As previously posted, BlueLedge was voluntarily dissolved in 2019. Coincidentally, after over 30 years of keeping its regular filings, Orange Legal was administratively dissolved in 2020*. It apparently failed to file its annual report. Dissolution is not a permanent thing. Corporations can remedy that and become “active” again.

But the dissolution issue is not entirely without its problems. According to various sources online, contrary to my previous belief that inactive corporations should not be doing business in a state, it appears that dissolved or inactive corporations may generally continue to operate. It is notable that liability may spill over to corporate officers of inactive corporations and that corporations that are inactive may not be able to defend themselves in court.

In short, the dissolution angle does not appear to be the game changer I thought it was. It’s still pretty interesting and puts any dissolved company that’s breaking the law at a serious disadvantage. For example, in a state like mine, a consumer can bring a deceptive business practice claim. If a consumer were to do that against an inactive corporation, it is apparent the corporation would have to solve the dissolution before it could even begin to defend itself in court. And in New York, where lawyers can cost $400 an hour, that’s a lot of money.

Addendum:

Shortly after release of this post, a reader pointed out Benjamin Jaffe of BlueLedge worked for Orange Legal.

Addendum:

*On 11/28/21, well after publishing, I realized that the holding company for Orange Legal came up in place of Orange Legal and I have now added images for both entries. Note that my original line about when the dissolution took place may be off, but the images of the publicly-available info are exactly what I saw.

BlueLedge Connected with Veritext and Stenograph

BlueLedge is the digital reporting training company that apparently dissolved two years ago in Florida that I suspect is behind CourtReporterEDU. BlueLedge, as far as I can tell, continued to operate after its voluntary dissolution in 2019, because in August 2020, it entered a strategic partnership with Ed 2 Go.

Many reporters reached out to let me know that Veritext used or uses BlueLedge, but I didn’t have time to look into it. Finally, someone sent me the Google search. Step A, if you want to complete Veritext’s digital court reporter partner program, is to register with and complete the BlueLedge program.

This, by itself, isn’t much of a problem. But it strengthens the argument that the court reporting shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext. If the company was genuinely interested in recruiting stenographers, it might have constructed such a detailed pipeline for the education of stenographers. Instead, the company routinely tells stenographers what they want to hear and pours its resources into expanding its digital business despite the potential harm to minority speakers. One reporter brought up to me that Veritext has some involvement with a school in Maryland. I have even reported on its scholarship activities. I’m happy about those pro-steno activities. But at a time when 50% of our field, according to Ducker, is in California, Texas, Illinois, and New York, and while Veritext is working with BlueLedge, a company that has hooked its claws into national recruitment using Ed 2 Go, it remains clear where Veritext’s priorities are — expanding digital recruitment not as a supplement to our shortage, but at the direct expense of stenographic court reporters.

Telling consumers/attorneys that no stenographer is available while taking steps to alienate practicing reporters and undermining our industry’s intense recruitment efforts is just wrong. It’s like Burger King lighting cattle fields on fire and yelling about a beef patty shortage. The only difference is we would all immediately identify the arson as criminal, whereas here, if you hide the dishonest, anticompetitive, and potentially criminal behavior behind layers of dissolved companies and corporate paperwork, you get people defending the bad behavior. What would we do without Veritext? Probably be a lot better off!

Less importantly, Stenograph was getting cozy with BlueLedge as early as August 2021.

So let me add that to Stenograph’s PR problem. We need to boycott the company until it sells for stenography and voice writing only. We want no more expansion of digital court reporting. Keep hard on that line and it will happen. Consider Stenograph an arms dealer. It thinks it will sit there and sell to both sides. Except, in this very particular case, our field of stenographers has far more customers and most of our money is earned as opposed to being “borrowed” from investors. We are in a much stronger position financially even if we believe digital reporting has more actual dollars down on it. A lot of people in our field became CaseCAT trainers. They’re killing your industry and income to build digital. I want to grow stenography so you have more business. So even the CaseCAT trainers have a reason to stand up in defiance here, let alone the rest of us.

Succinctly, the money being sunk into digital reporting is money that investors will be expecting back. When it does not make the returns promised, and we have good reason to suspect it won’t because of companies like VIQ Solutions giving us a window into digital reporting financials ($10 million in losses June 2021), the faucet will turn off. All the companies relying on investor cash flow instead of company profit will start to decline. It is in our best interest as a profession to take the power of our good money away from it. The digital money will dry up on its own. If Stenograph is smart, it will cave to our demands. If it is not smart, we can crowdfund, buy it when it goes bankrupt, and put its employees back to work for us like I’m sure many of them want to be. We can even divvy up what Dutta’s salary would’ve been and give them a raise.

Stenograph, at this point, is relying on our nostalgia of it being “our company” and assuming we will not turn our backs on it. I’ve got some nostalgia of my own. There’s a scene in the original StarCraft that sums up my feelings well. Acting predictably is our enemy. We predictably divide and conquer ourselves time and again. Stand together on this one and watch things roll our way. It’s really that simple.

“An illusion? Are you afraid to face me, Templar?”
“So long as you continue to be so predictable, O Queen, I need not face you at all. You are your own worst enemy.”

This continues to be a profound moment in our field where we must choose between loyalty to each other and loyalty to companies whispering “trust us, trust us” while they systematically work to reduce our numbers and undermine our judicial system for profit. Not the hardest decision in history.

U.S. Legal Support Charged the Equivalent of $4.90 on a Copy Sale in CA

Thanks to my amazing network of sources, I got my hands on another document that gives us a more complete picture of what attorneys are dealing with.

In brief, US Legal wanted $550 for a 112-page transcript copy. That boils down to the equivalent of $4.90 a page. The lawyer wanted to pay $0.25. The court more or less split the baby and said $2.50 was reasonable.

Three major highlights: Herein it talks about US Legal charging for things the attorney did not explicitly order. I cannot think of anything that would support my contention that the company has an honesty problem more. But since over a thousand people have liked my Tweet about Giammanco, I guess that’s old news.

But more than that, reporters making less than $2.50 on a copy should realize that a court just came to a conclusion that $2.50 is reasonable. Guess what New York companies have been paying reporters for the last decade? About 25 cents. Hey, New York, it’s time for a raise. Even our court copy rate of $1.00 falls well short of what California calls reasonable. This isn’t greed, it’s basic math and economics.

But more than that, we now have good evidence of the cost shifting I wrote about. By undercharging original clients and inflating copy costs, the larger companies in my field are overcomplicating the market. Add that to the despicable lies of Veritext and US Legal, and you have a pretty compelling reason to never do business with either.

And in its own defense, US Legal wanted to make the argument that all the court reporting companies charge inflated prices, an argument which was, thankfully, flatly rejected.

They’re not alone though. I’ve reviewed documents showing Naegeli attempted to charge about $11.50 a page on a copy sale in Washington State. But that story is for another day. In the meantime, court reporters, remember that your worth is what you are able to negotiate. It is not tied to what anyone dictates to you. Don’t believe me? There are plenty of other role models to look at.

Though not too many of them are fighting for you the way you could.

PS. For anyone feeling a little lost, court reporters tend to charge by the page. Original transcripts tend to be more than copies of that same original. Depending on the market, we are about 30 years behind inflation. So while systematically underpaying court reporters, companies like USL are actually charging ridiculous amounts to satisfy their bloated management overhead. Because we stenographers are a heavy ethics culture and fairly connected to each other, the companies have an interest in breaking us and replacing us with digital reporters despite evidence that utilization of digital reporting disproportionately impacts minority speakers.

Tipping Points Are Hard!

After my accusation that Veritext and US Legal appear to be colluding to sell the inferior digital court reporting service to attorneys despite clear evidence that the market preference is stenography, I took an entire day off blogging and looked up exactly how to get this information to the FTC.

Then I did it. I sent them a nice email laying out my thoughts. Because given all the information I have, who wouldn’t? I had filed a weaker attorney general complaint in my state, but the FTC is an agency that needs to know.

Then I gave them my contact info.

This is in addition to the social media pressure I am exerting on the company.

And you know what? There is plenty of pressure to apply there. Not only was L. Freiler accused of slander, this looks like Giammanco’s MO, accuse women who are a threat to him.

And you know what, court reporters? People are on your side. This is what they have to say about Giammanco’s actions.

I make it no secret that I think US Legal is despicable. I tag Rick Levy occasionally to let him know. Partially because it’s hilarious and mostly because I want every court reporter in this country to see with their own eyes that the companies pushing us around all these years are weak. How many months of watching Chris Day do whatever he wants will it take for court reporters to realize that they are each individually just as powerful? Because that’s how many months we’ll be experiencing this together.

I don’t just scream out to the void, I let people know when their employers are hurting society.

My frustration isn’t misplaced. After I explained that digital reporting would hurt minority speakers, USL increased digital court reporting recruitment. I’ve gotten a notification from LinkedIn every day about joining USL as a digital.

But now other companies have realized the lie and are now openly announcing they will do what USL cannot and provide stenographic court reporters. Lexitas has jumped in on the LinkedIn game, and instead of pushing the word digital, they are looking for court reporters in New York City.

I have to point out that US Legal is on real shaky ground. If you’re working with them it’s time to ask for a raise. Tell them you’ll walk if you don’t get it. They’ll give it to you or they’ll be swept away by their own incredible incompetence. Everybody from the production people to the court reporters needs a raise right now. Anything less is disingenuous braying by US Legal and I urge my colleagues not to fall for it.

Mary Ann Payonk, a popular realtime reporter, has a saying. “Tipping points are hard.” The idea was that the field was headed more and more towards AI and digital. We were at a tipping point, and once things started sliding against us, it wouldn’t stop. Only good court reporters might survive. Keep improving or be replaced. A wonderful message insofar as it encourages reporters to be better and do better. But that was before all my research into how bad digital reporting is for the public, consumers, court reporters, investors, and people in general. That was before the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study. That was before Bloomberg broke the news that much of AI was people behind screens. Now we know our value. Now we know that there is a place for every stenographic court reporter. Now we see that by advocating for ourselves, we can change the course of history in the same way that computer programmers did.

Tipping points are pretty hard. And since a small fraction of us just tipped things in our favor and the others are getting motivated to jump in, I can’t wait to see what happens next. It is time to get involved with stenographic nonprofits and associations. Together, we will take what was an industry in decline and create a paragon of success and morality that will ensure the safety and quality of America’s legal records and captions.

My plan for the blog is pretty simple. I am going to continue to use donations that come in in whatever way seems appropriate and keep publishing for our field. If the people that have not donated to me yet donate about $300 to me, I will have about $3 million and I will retire so that I can be a full-time steno advocate and set up funding programs for stenographic nonprofits and associations. I can’t help but float the suggestion. You know who you’re hiring for the job and you’ve seen what I can do with a sensible budget set by the good will of court reporters. I have proven that for the working reporter there is no better friend than Christopher Day.

And as always, thank you to all of you that made this possible. To people that have donated already, I have to ask you to share this with at least one court reporter. You will be helping them overcome the fear so prevalent in our field. There’s no greater honor.

Veritext and US Legal Lied to the Public About Stenographer Shortage

Veritext, through its puppet Cooper, and US Legal, have both been lying about the stenographer shortage. How do we know? Cooper claims the problem started 8 years ago. This is objectively false. Firms 8 years ago were saying they could not pay better rates because there was a glut of reporters. Even if you don’t believe that, stenographers are 30 years behind inflation, which does not happen if a field is experiencing a shortage.

But they’ve made it even easier to tell they are lying and committing a fraud against the legal profession. Let’s see what Cooper has to say.

As you can see, Cooper claims you would need 82,000 students to enroll in court reporting training programs nationwide in 2019 and each year following in order to overcome the deficit.

What does US Legal say?

Wow. 82,000 enrollments needed and only 2,500 enrollments occurred. Sounds like a death knell for stenography. Right?

Liars. How do we know? In 2014, BLS told us there were 21,000 court reporters. From my own independent analysis of the numbers and NCRA statistics, there are actually closer to 27,000 or 28,000 court reporters. It does not matter whose statistics you use, the conclusion they’re lying remains the same. There was no shortage crisis in 2014. We have roughly the same number of court reporters today as we did back then. The 2013 Ducker Report told us that 70% of court reporters would retire over the next 20 years (2013-2033). 70% of that 28,000 is about 20,000 reporters. Succinctly, the retirement cliff we are trying so hard to fight is about 20,000 people if you trust NCRA and about 15,000 people if you trust the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About 10% of people that start steno graduate. So if we had 82,000 enrollments a year, that’s 8,200 new stenographers per year. But look at what US Legal wrote again. “We needed 82,000 new students to enroll in court reporting training programs nationwide each year to overcome the impact.” If we, in fact, have 82,000 new students each year from 2019 to 2033 (15 years), we would have 1.23 million enrollments or 123,000 graduates. Our field would be quadruple the size it is today, and if you go by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly six times larger than it was in 2014.

To combat our retirement cliff of 20,000 people between 2019 and 2033, we need a total of 200,000 enrollments. That’s about 13,400 enrollments or 1,340 graduates a year, a number six times smaller than the one proffered by US Legal and Veritext/Cooper. If you’re six feet tall, that’s like me claiming you’re 36 feet tall. If we required 8,200 stenographers per year, about half of all depositions would be going uncovered right now (8,200 x 3 years 2019-2021, a gap and demand for 25,000 stenographers by 2021.)

If you accept Owler’s revenue numbers, Veritext controls about $490 million in revenue and US Legal controls about $100 million. That’s a combined total of $590 million. If you accept the Kentley Insights 2019 Stenotype Services market research report, that’s about 20% of our field, and they are using their power to destroy it.

590 million divided by 3 billion is almost 20%

Some have said: They’re lying. So what?

Well, the market preference is stenography.

Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014 Ducker Worldwide

We know from nonprofits like Protect Your Record Project that attorneys are being told they must accept digital because no stenographer is available even after attorneys order stenographers. So we know there’s some serious false advertising going on.

Previously, I was unsure if there was collusion between major players in the field. Considering that both are using similar language it seems unlikely that both have come independently to the same incorrect conclusion. It’s not like the two firms are enemies. They’ve lobbied together before.

It seems much more likely that following fraudster Jim Cudahy’s lead via the Speech-To-Text Institute, the two companies are involved in a plot to hurt the market and rob consumers of their choice. Quite frankly, Cudahy uses his ex-NCRA credentials to lend credibility to this fraud. After all, STTI has been instrumental in creating the propaganda ruining our field. STTI was, without a doubt, created for the sole purpose of promulgating propaganda and facilitating the ongoing fraud, against its stated mission of representing all modalities in speech-to-text transcription. STTI’s lies are also easy to see through.

Virginia Lawyers Weekly

A gap of 11,000 predicted by 2023 according to a recent study. What study was that? None. The year 2023 doesn’t appear in the Ducker Report. At best, these numbers are extrapolated from an outdated report that could not account for the positive recruitment impact of NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Stenoinitiatives that Jim Cudahy should have known about in 2019.

Unless you believe 2 + 2 = 24, the stenographer shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext and US Legal Support. And now you have a brief video to help explain it directly to attorneys.

Veritext “Provides More Work To Stenographers Than Any Other Firm In The Country”

“We are committed to our entire network of independent contractors, including the stenographic reporting community, as they provide an integral and necessary service to our legal system,” states Tony Donofrio, CTO of Veritext. “Technology has become an integral part of practicing law today, and while it will not take the place of the stenographer, it will continue to evolve to provide the profession with a broader toolset to aid them in their commitment to transcribing the spoken word efficiently.” – passed to me by Senior Vice President Valerie Berger on February 4, 2021. Again, these are the words of Veritext’s CTO, Tony Donofrio.

How’d we get here? Not long ago, I was performing some research on where students could find scholarships and grants. It wasn’t long until I came across the Veritext Scholarships page. It struck me as odd that I had gotten eight LinkedIn notices for the company looking for digitals in my area, but not a single one for stenographic reporters. I did what many of my readers do. I kept an open mind. I reached out, and I asked, in spirit “why bother with scholarships for stenographic reporting if you’re going to press so hard on digital reporting?” I had an e-mail exchange with Ms. Berger where I shared many of the things I’ve reported on in the past and seen in the media recently. I got to explain that to many reporters, this kind of stuff comes off kind of like business “stashing,” a term I borrowed from the dating world where a partner says they love and support you in private, but doesn’t do a lot to broadcast that relationship, usually to maintain a relationship with another partner.

The message I got back, in sum and substance, was that Veritext supports all of its independent contractors. They said they find their own network a better way of finding stenographic talent than LinkedIn. Ms. Berger told me that Veritext provides more work to stenographers than any other firm in the country, and took the time to link me to some things that Veritext is doing or has done to support the stenographic community:

  1. Pre-pandemic fundraisers for Project Steno.
  2. The Veritext Peer Advisory Council (VPAC) and its mission to mentor students and individuals considering a steno career in North America in addition to collaborating with Veritext on education for the stenographic community. VPAC also has a student resource center, where the advice column has scores of reporters saying what I often tell students, “find a mentor!” As a matter of fact, there is an old quote from me right on that advice column, “know your market and seek many mentors.”
  3. The webinar A Collaborative Effort: Investing in the Future of Our Profession. In celebration of Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, the webinar will be held again on February 11, 2021.
  4. Monthly newsletters featuring reporters and stories.
  5. A Court Reporting Training Program through Maryland Community College System.

I was positively surprised by a lot of what I saw. Our lives and careers are so busy. It can be hard to keep track of all the information out there, and though I was tangentially aware of some of these endeavors, a lot of it was news to me. Let this mark the first time that I have seen such a definitive statement from Veritext. Technology will never replace stenographers. I’ve alluded to that. Many industry leaders have said that. Now Veritext, through its CTO, says that. This is serious vindication for all the times we’ve pressed to correct the news media. This is truth that can be brought to the media’s attention by any one of us for years to come. What better time for such a declaration than CRCW 2021?

What I need from readers is a commitment to keep sharing information and supporting stenography. There are so many programs that have opened up to beat the shortage and for stenographic court reporters to meet the demands of the legal field. There’s so much media about such a small field that it becomes impossible for one man to keep track of. As we march through the year, please feel empowered to send me things that support this article, contradict it, highlight the work of other agencies big or small, or give a totally different point of view on a totally different topic. We’ll keep building information and work to keep the public record accurate, and court reporting will carry on as the fantastic career it has always been.

Trust Issues, Brought To You By Veritext

There was a pretty serious open letter posted by Veritext this month. It basically goes into their stance on digital reporting. I try to be fair in all things, but looking at Veritext’s history, and the general direction of the field, I don’t really find the letter reliable. I’ve reported on the good that Veritext has done with offering scholarships, and I hope that continues. I hope it doesn’t turn out like US Legal and Stenotrain, where it was apparently bought, paraded around for a bit, and mothballed.

Given all I know, I can only assume that there are people at the company with different directions or management styles. Beginning of last year, Veritext stood proud for steno and wouldn’t cross the picket lines in California. That was followed by the revelation that they were coaching clients to amend their deposition notices to allow for digital reporters. Almost immediately after that, their then VP of Sales wrote a very pro digital article that got shared wildly on social media before its deletion, and Veritext response was, more or less, that it was done by a “former employee.” I think it’s infinitely more likely that the culture at Veritext at the time was looking at digital. Realizing that they can’t compete with tens of thousands of stenographers, they backed down.

I view Veritext through a lens of cynicism for all the above reasons. For a long time in this field it was rumored that digitals were being sent instead of reporters by various companies, and that was often denied. Then we started to have hard evidence of it, and the message pivoted to the shortage and how companies can do nothing about it, they just have to use digital. When grassroots groups of stenographers can start putting together things I could only dream of, and they can do that ostensibly faster than the million-dollar companies, there’s a willpower problem, not a resources problem.

Let’s push into the specifics of the Veritext letter for why it screams BS to me. When someone wants something from you, they play good cop, bad cop. The good cop starts out in the Veritext letter by saying how committed to court reporters they are and going on about how they provide more work to stenographers than blah, blah, blah. It’s very disarming language. The letter then pivots to the bad cop. Remember, stenographers, we have a shortage problem in the thousands! Disarmed, you, the reader, is then hit over the head with some purported factoids to fill you with a sense of hopelessness.

As best I can tell, most of what they state is extrapolated from the Ducker Report from 2013 or 2014 data. They don’t cite any sources at all, so the accuracy of the bad cop statements is tough to gauge. Yes, stenographers are looking at a bit of a battle. Over the next 13 years, a large percentage of this field will retire. Yes, there was a forecasted supply problem for court reporting. But let’s set the record straight. By far, the largest supply gap was California, which is also a state where the stenographers are best positioned to deal with the heavy burden of recruiting new talent. There are several reporting associations and independents who are going to fight the good fight to close the gap. Additionally, Ducker came before we had Project Steno, Open Steno was far smaller, NCRA’s A to Z didn’t exist yet, Katiana Walton’s Steno Key wasn’t being tried yet. Ducker was a good warning bell, and we listened.

This idea that our schools closing is a problem is laughable. I think it opens up the possibility for entrepreneurs to jump in and start schools or present new ideas. I also think it’s really shortsighted and maybe willfully ignorant to talk about steno schools without again mentioning that AAERT only has 4 or 5 approved schools. Said another way, if we want to only look at approved schools, we have six times the chance at filling the reporter shortage. Any gamblers in the audience? If your payout was roughly the same, would you bet on something that has a 1 out of 7 chance of winning or a 6 out of 7 chance of winning? Bet sten, people. Stenographers, be encouraged to recruit people and tell them about our work, that is how this field will survive and thrive. What we do today will change the outcome 13 years from today. Our action or inaction writes this story.

I have no idea if Veritext reads my work, but if I could give them one piece of advice it would be to stop waffling around this issue, look at the numbers as they are and not as they want them to be, and see that as long as stenographers don’t completely drop the ball our prevalence and resurgence is borderline inexorable. Take advantage of that. If you’re seen to be a company that is actually on our side and not just hedging, you’ve got thousands who probably wouldn’t mind taking their work through you. If you keep down this road of dishonesty and lack of commitment, you’ve got tens of thousands of heavy hitter competitors. Stop trying to convince us with “there’s nothing we can do” while throwing resources into building digital reporting. Nobody’s fooled. Even your most loyal stenographer resources don’t buy that there’s nothing you can do. The famous cliche is the people you step on going up the ladder are the same faces you see when you take a fall. Anything less than commitment to the stenographic court reporting community is going to lead to a fall, we won’t catch you, and it’ll cost the shareholders big time.

Addendum:

This site and its public face as of March 2020 are a good indicator of why stenographers have a hard time trusting. We can get all the open letters in the world about loving stenography, but in the end we really need companies to put down those resources they’re throwing out the window for digital into our field.

For the sake of completeness, I am adding an image of the letter.

And, to be even more fair, they have added stuff from our community to their reporter corner. But that’s different from actively advertising stenography.

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.

Can’t Outspend? Outsell.

When many of us were in school we were given a line, steno sells itself. Many of us can probably relate to that. Most steno companies, upon hearing you’re a professional stenographer, will give you a shot. Many of us in New York came out during a big slump (2010) where steno wasn’t selling itself, but even then, it was trivial to get work. All we had to do was say we’d been working three months, and “they’d” go from sorry no work for you to “oh, here are the keys to the kingdom.” Not all of us knew it, but that’s how it was. Agency owners are good at reading confidence, and what we’re offered is often linked directly to our confidence level.

Of course, the following may be an incorrect assumption on my part, but bear with me: We have entered an era where steno is not selling itself. Company owners are being pulled into the mindset that the voice recognition is “good enough,” and some of the major players, like Veritext, have been pushing recording.

I should note, in full disclosure, that I have not been able to corroborate what I’m about to say with documents or pictures as I usually do. It’s pulled from the social media sphere, so consider it anecdotal for now, and do not be surprised if agencies start railing against social media. Even as some claim that Veritext sent an email stating they were not using recording in states like New Jersey, others have come forward across social media to say yes, this is being done behind our backs. Many of us are reportedly asking lawyers what they’re seeing, and they are seeing digital getting peddled to them relentlessly.

So what do we do when we have major players putting their resources into our replacement? Who here thinks they have more money that Veritext or their owners? Hopeless, some would say. But there is something that many reporters are realizing: This alleged shortage is a great time get private clients and begin new businesses. If Veritext or some entity swears they can’t get a stenographer, some lawyers have allegedly called their insurers and gotten authorization to use a local stenographer or stenographic firm. All their marketing moves and salespeople count for nothing if a stenographer finds themselves in the right place at the right time.

We’re the boots on the ground. We have more contact with law office staff and employees. We have the keys to the kingdom. But the people at the top have made it very clear that they’ll do whatever is convenient for them. It’s time we do the same for the survival of our industry. We don’t work for them? Try it. It might just give us access to their clients. We work for them? Guess who already has access.

Even if we don’t want to handle private clients, we could always network with an existing firm owner out there and get them clients in exchange for the work or a share. If we’re even moderately successful, big companies will be offering to buy back their business from us in a few years, and the field will be a lot healthier once the market share is spread out. Our actions determine the future. The conversation today is steno or digital. Tomorrow it just might be stay steno or slam sand.

Shortage Solutions 8: Retirement

The document that alerted us to an impending shortage was the 2013 Ducker Report. In there, it told us that in about 20 years from then, a very large percentage of reporters would be retiring. Off the top of my head, I think it was as high as 70 percent, but you’re free to read it. That point is about 10 to 14 years from today.

Obviously, this brings great opportunity, because if supply can’t meet demand, the price for the service should rise. In many markets, it has risen, especially where reporters have pushed to be paid more. Some reporters are getting out there and grabbing their own private clients because it’s a seller’s market. In response to the shortage, the field had a great many recruitment ideas including A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno, and many schools got online to reach a larger pool of students.

A big issue for us has been if enough jobs go completely uncovered, there are interests in the market ready to jump on that and say we don’t need stenography. We can use digital recording. We can use AI transcription. We can use whatever. Veritext, from my perspective, led this charge. Notably, they’re also putting money into stenographic initiatives, but this seems to be a clear case of hedging bets in case our commitment to what we do beats the money being poured into our replacement.

So here’s where we stand: We have a large group of people slated to retire. Do we tell them not to retire? No chance. But we can collectively start spreading the word that the retired are valuable. We had this push maybe a year ago in New York. Our Association, NYSCRA, didn’t give retired reporters or educators power. Not because of any ill will or resentment, but because of a simple bylaws issue. As luck had it, who had the most time to take part in and help shape up ideas? The educators and retired! So we took a stand and voted to give them equal voting power and right to be on the board.

Let’s face facts. If we are working 9 to 6 and then going home to transcribe for an hour, it leaves us very little time to advocate for this field. We may not be able to financially take time away from work or training to be a recruiter or voice in support of this field. We may not be able to advocate for others or mentor students. It’s a great time to consider forming programs and workshops for the retired who want to remain in the field as advocates. Look at the lobbying industry. Somebody works in a field for 30 years, a private interest or association grabs them up, and then they are the spokesperson who goes out and educates politicians on the issue — sometimes for big money.

If you’re retired, if you’re about to retire, or if you know someone about to retire, and especially if you’re somewhat of an altruist, you’ve got a chance to make a difference. Anything from a kind word to a student to full-blown involvement on a board or in a professional management corporation can change outcomes. As a matter of fact, a lot of these large corporations keep veteran stenographers at the head of their court reporting programs. Even traditionally transcription-oriented companies, like Escribers, had a stenographer in management. There’s no reason why the retired can’t, if they are so inclined, put down the machine, pick up the phone, and continue to make money from this field, for this field, and grow it in a way that keeps the career bridge they just crossed standing firm.