If yes, I think a valid argument could be made that the company does, as it has stated in the past, support all its contractors. Please throw it up in the comments.
But if not, let me humbly suggest that Veritext is clearly expanding digital over steno because it likely has financial interests in digital court reporter training. If successful, it means fewer opportunities for our stenographic students.
This goes to my previous comments, that their actions can exacerbate our stenographer shortage. When you put a spotlight on the demand for something, you pull attention from other things. We now have evidence on this blog of constant digital reporting spotlighting from companies that claim to want and need stenographers. Other than supporting that school over in Maryland, I rarely see stenographic support from Veritext. This is why the shortage exists. There’s not a clear strategy beyond hedging.
When the available evidence suggests digital technologies are not up to the task of reliable transcription and these folks are all piling their effort and money into it, I really think it’s fine to stop supporting it. If you’re somebody that’s got to work for them, I get it. Otherwise, why contribute to stenographers’ elimination? Perhaps if the company were to just be honest, “this is the direction we’re going,” I’d feel differently. But it’s been a complicated maze of claims and actions.
While we’re on the topic of Veritext, let’s talk private equity. There were a number of research firms looking into our field recently. It’s possible that one or more of the PE giants was looking for a buyout and buyers were looking into the field. Though this is mostly speculation on my part. It is still a mystery how profitable those PE giants are. The whole thing is troubling because in the event one or more of them are zombies they’ll be able to operate until cash flow is a problem, all the while influencing the market. That would be like stenographers being able to operate at a loss for multiple years — we could all offer $1.00 per page if big money was subsidizing us.
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 was passed a transcript excerpt by a source that wishes to remain anonymous. As a note, the redactions weren’t done by me. It was a short deposition, and looked like any other.
There were three parties and a videographer.
Now, maybe some of my Texas audience can fill me in on this, but apparently there’s a certificate in Texas that tells us how much the deposition officer gets. I do not know for sure if the deposition officer is verbiage for the reporting company, the reporter, or something else. I tried to connect to the court reporter on LinkedIn, but she didn’t respond. This certificate listed, on a 39-page transcript, a grand total of $1,457.31. That’s about $37.37 a page. Even if we assume the videographer took half, that’s about $18.69 a page.
I can’t figure out how the cost gets that high. I have to look at New York officials for comparison. Assuming a daily of $6.50 and two copies of $1.25, they’d be looking at $9 per page. Freelancers out here have been doing about a dollar a hookup, so even if we assume there were three hookups, we’re still talking about $12 a page — and there’s no evidence to suggest any of that is true. I’m just trying to add calculations to get to $37 a page.
If nothing else, I hope this annihilates the argument that court reporters are in danger of pricing ourselves out of the market. Such a thing is often said to break our newbies into accepting very little money for the important work that they do. It’s a disgusting corporate tactic to make the bottom line look better. Maybe the middleman model has outlived its usefulness to our profession.
Notably, Veritext also seems to be normalizing adding a kind of corporate certificate that doesn’t actually certify anything. What’s the point of this?
I’m done chasing people and companies for answers. If they care to comment on the blog, I don’t censor comments. But good luck explaining $37 a page to a field of stenographers that are often told lawyers won’t pay more than the measly $4 or $5 we pull in.
I am beset by claims that I do not believe there is a shortage. Then, in a recent social media post, a court reporter came on stating that she felt hopeless and that she felt the companies are gaining ground. Below is what I wrote. It is a summary of all my research as of today.
“There is a shortage. It’s being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext, US Legal, and the Speech-to-Text Institute. Digital is not cost effective. The companies are picking up speed because they literally have no choice. We blew open their deception of student consumers and started reporting it to the FTC.
We are solidly more powerful today. The reason we feel smaller is because we are fragmented and operating on incomplete information. What do I mean by that? Well, we are by best estimates about 28,000 strong. All told, by 2033, we probably need to be about 30 to 33,000 strong. When you multiply that 28,000 by the median stenographer salary of 61,000 you get about 1.7 billion. We represent $1.7 billion of an industry that is approaching $3 billion. The goal of the companies is to encroach on that $1.7 billion.
There is hope. The companies may be operating at a loss on the premise that they can jack up the rates when we are defeated. The concept of a company operating at a loss is called a zombie company. A lot of big names you know are zombies or have made massive blunders. Uber’s a zombie. Zillow burned billions in market capitalization believing it could trust its algorithms to buy homes. These big companies don’t sound scary when you realize they can make simple mistakes that cost them large percentages of their value, do they?
But this requires our continuous recruitment and training of stenographers. We should band together as a field and start talking about things like relocation funds where necessary. There are many creative things we can do with the power that we have. But it requires talking to each other and keeping hope.
We know from Richter’s rats that hope likely makes people superhuman. I suspect that’s why we get stories like the mom who fought the mountain lion off with her bare hands. Physically impossible, but apparently happened? And compared to things like that, our problems are easy to solve.
We’ll win if we try. The dirty tactics being used against us wouldn’t be necessary if our fate was inevitable.”
This is also why I revamped the payment system on the Stenonymous.com home page. The fact remains that if each reporter made the suggested monthly $5 donation or annual $60 donation, by best estimates, this blog would have a larger annual budget than Veritext and US Legal combined. That’s enough money to end the shortage (assuming $1 to $2 per engagement) and advertise what’s happening to about half the lawyers in the country. I’m grateful for the outpouring of support and the people that have spent well over the suggested donations.
I still have cards up my sleeve. So, even assuming the blog receives not a single penny more, thank you all for your trust in me. Stay tuned for big news expected the weeks of January 24th and January 31st.
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!
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.
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.
Shortly after release of this post, a reader pointed out Benjamin Jaffe of BlueLedge worked for Orange Legal.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
Then I did it. I sent them a nice email laying out my thoughts. Because given all the information I have, who wouldn’t? I had filed a weaker attorney general complaint in my state, but the FTC is an agency that needs to know.
And you know what, court reporters? People are on your side. This is what they have to say about Giammanco’s actions.
I make it no secret that I think US Legal is despicable. I tag Rick Levy occasionally to let him know. Partially because it’s hilarious and mostly because I want every court reporter in this country to see with their own eyes that the companies pushing us around all these years are weak. How many months of watching Chris Day do whatever he wants will it take for court reporters to realize that they are each individually just as powerful? Because that’s how many months we’ll be experiencing this together.
I don’t just scream out to the void, I let people know when their employers are hurting society.
My frustration isn’t misplaced. After I explained that digital reporting would hurt minority speakers, USL increased digital court reporting recruitment. I’ve gotten a notification from LinkedIn every day about joining USL as a digital.
But now other companies have realized the lie and are now openly announcing they will do what USL cannot and provide stenographic court reporters. Lexitas has jumped in on the LinkedIn game, and instead of pushing the word digital, they are looking for court reporters in New York City.
I have to point out that US Legal is on real shaky ground. If you’re working with them it’s time to ask for a raise. Tell them you’ll walk if you don’t get it. They’ll give it to you or they’ll be swept away by their own incredible incompetence. Everybody from the production people to the court reporters needs a raise right now. Anything less is disingenuous braying by US Legal and I urge my colleagues not to fall for it.
Mary Ann Payonk, a popular realtime reporter, has a saying. “Tipping points are hard.” The idea was that the field was headed more and more towards AI and digital. We were at a tipping point, and once things started sliding against us, it wouldn’t stop. Only good court reporters might survive. Keep improving or be replaced. A wonderful message insofar as it encourages reporters to be better and do better. But that was before all my research into how bad digital reporting is for the public, consumers, court reporters, investors, and people in general. That was before the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study. That was before Bloomberg broke the news that much of AI was people behind screens. Now we know our value. Now we know that there is a place for every stenographic court reporter. Now we see that by advocating for ourselves, we can change the course of history in the same way that computer programmers did.
Tipping points are pretty hard. And since a small fraction of us just tipped things in our favor and the others are getting motivated to jump in, I can’t wait to see what happens next. It is time to get involved with stenographic nonprofits and associations. Together, we will take what was an industry in decline and create a paragon of success and morality that will ensure the safety and quality of America’s legal records and captions.
My plan for the blog is pretty simple. I am going to continue to use donations that come in in whatever way seems appropriate and keep publishing for our field. If the people that have not donated to me yet donate about $300 to me, I will have about $3 million and I will retire so that I can be a full-time steno advocate and set up funding programs for stenographic nonprofits and associations. I can’t help but float the suggestion. You know who you’re hiring for the job and you’ve seen what I can do with a sensible budget set by the good will of court reporters. I have proven that for the working reporter there is no better friend than Christopher Day.
And as always, thank you to all of you that made this possible. To people that have donated already, I have to ask you to share this with at least one court reporter. You will be helping them overcome the fear so prevalent in our field. There’s no greater honor.