The vTestify Lie

I’ve often worried we too often buy into hype from voice recognition sellers. Dragon represents itself as being 99 percent accurate, but only has about a 3-star rating. Opened up to scrutiny, VR and digital recording companies don’t make the cut.

So we had a company mentioned on Facebook called vTestify. They brag about all the money they can save people on depositions. Just knowing what I’ve reported in the past, other voice recognition companies have raised a lot of money. Verbit raised $20 million. Trint raised something like $160 million. As far as I can tell, vTestify raised $3 million. Either they’re 50 times more efficient than everybody else or they’re woefully underfunded and their investors are set to lose while the company lurches along burning capital. Let that sink in for the next time somebody is trying to sell you the future, investors!

I would’ve left it there, but then another reporter brought up that they have a calculator. The claims there are laughable. They claim that they can save attorneys $3,198 per deposition. I don’t know what reporters in North Carolina are charging, but I know here in New York I could get somewhere around $4.00 a page, and maybe on a great day a $100 appearance fee. A pretty thick day is about 200 pages, only ever getting to that 300 or 400 page count occasionally. So take 200 pages multiplied by 4. 800. Add on that sweet appearance fee, and maybe it comes to 900 bucks. Even real-time reporters only charge a buck or two a hookup, so even with 6 hookups, we’re still only talking maybe a $2,000 day. We can all acknowledge that these glamorous multi-thousand dollar days exist, but the bottom line is that’s not the norm and vTestify isn’t actually saving anybody a dime. Their calculator doesn’t even make any sense. When I added the numbers they gave, I got $3,646. Somehow their calculator comes up with $4,329.

It gets better — or worse — you decide! Then we have this snippet about the court reporter shortage. Using their numbers and assuming it’s totally true, they say there are 23,000 reporters to cover 3 million depositions. What a crisis! Except when you take three million and divide that by 23,000, you get 130 and change. If every reporter took 131 depositions a year, using vTestify’s own numbers, we’d be just fine. There are about 260 weekdays in a year. Succinctly, if every reporter worked half the weekdays in a year, by vTestify’s own argument, there’d be no shortage. Let’s not forget all of the steno-centric initiatives like Open Steno, A to Z, Stenotrain, and Project Steno, that have taken place since the Ducker Report to bring people into this field. Are we really expected to believe there was zero impact and things went exactly as predicted? I don’t, and you shouldn’t either. Let’s put this another way. If the median salary of a reporter is about 57,000, reporters are only taking home, on average, 5,000 a month gross. So how can vTestify be saving anyone 3k or 4k per deposition when the average reporter is only grossing 5k per month? They can’t. But that doesn’t stop them from saying they can.

We have one decision to make in this field. Are we going to get out there and educate the consumer, or are we going to lay down and let these irresponsible companies fake it until they make it? There’s zero compunction with lying to make a buck, and customers need to know. Smart purchasers have already seen through this BS and stuck with stenographers through thick and thin, and they’ve done better for it. Tried, tested, efficient; stenographic reporters are the way to go. Maybe vTestify will figure that out and make the switch themselves!

Remember all this next time you see somebody peddling a similar product. And next time you’re making a sales pitch, ask your buyer what their monthly budget for depositions looks like. If it’s more than $5,000 a month, I have a few numbers above that say they can save a whole lot by switching to stenography.

Steno Speed and the Youtube Angle

Going back a couple of years ago, if you YouTube’d stenography, you’d get pen shorthand reporting from India. Happy to report that that paradigm is taking a hard shift. Today, at the top of the list is Stan Sakai’s Quick and Dirty Steno, with over a quarter of a million views. You’ve got way more than that, though. Today you’ve got Ken Wick’s court reporting videos, Katiana Walton’s podcasts, and content from tons of other creators new and old. Bottom line is American stenography and stenotype machine shorthand reporting is expanding its online presence in a big way. There’s also always been a healthy presence for stenography off of YouTube, including favorites like Mark Kislingbury, Mirabai Knight, or Marc Greenberg.

So many of these content creators are on my resource page, and I encourage professionals and students to write and comment if there’s a resource, blog, or content that you think should get added there. If you’re a content creator who’s like, “damn, why am I not mentioned anywhere on Stenonymous?” All I can say is the chance of that being intentional is pretty low. That all said, we’re pushing further along on the YouTube-Steno front. As some know, I have been working on my own YouTube channel in my spare time. There’s a multi-pronged goal of creating free resources for students so that they can have dictation available even when they cannot afford the amazing premium services out there and also introducing the idea of stenography to anybody who happens to stumble across a video of mine. Thanks to the generosity of Linda Fisher from StenoSpeed.com, down as of writing, I’m able to add over a hundred dictations to my YouTube. These dictations helped me very much as a student, they were free prior to StenoSpeed.com going down, and I am happy to put it in writing: They will be available and free once again. Simply go over to my playlists and look for the playlists marked STENO SPEED.

As of posting, these videos are still being worked on. Expect all Steno Speed audio to be posted by August 4, 2019. A great deal is already up, so don’t hesitate to spread the news and keep sharing resources together.

To anybody thinking of jumping into the mix of content creation, I recommend it. This is a vibrant field with a very loyal audience and a lot of people out there who just might need to read what you write, hear what you have to say, or watch how you do it!

Shortage Solutions 1: Remote Proceedings

One of the reasons given for stenographer shortage is that many reporters have a strict coverage area, and type or amount of work they will cover. Nothing inherently wrong with that. People have standards. Esquire put out a Georgia article about remote deposition proceedings. Photo archive. We’ll note that in the original article it says 70 percent of stenographers to retire by 2023, but the Ducker Report seems to suggest 2033. The basic idea is to increase the coverage area and reduce commute time by using video or audio to have the stenographer attend. We first came across that idea in SoCalReporters’s blog post, There Is No Evil Empire and mirrored it in There Is No Rebel Alliance.

Though we haven’t jumped into every state’s laws, we did spend quite a good amount of energy and time on learning our own state’s laws, and we think it would be feasible in New York. Remote swearing is allowed under the circumstances described in the CPLR. If you have a choice between agencies using digitals or patching us in remotely to these things, we hope you’re smart enough to choose being patched in. We hope agencies are smart enough to keep choosing stenographers first and coming up with creative solutions for complex problems. We hope that stenographers continue to recognize when they’re not being chosen first and go out to build bigger, better business.

We reached out to Esquire about this initiative and article, and for a brief interview with Avi Stadler, Esquire’s General Counsel, about the program.

Might be worth talking with your own agencies about these ideas. If you have or are building your own company or book of business, the investment in remote capability might be something to look at. They want stenographers. We want them to use stenographers. And the consumer pressure in many cases is for there to be a stenographer. All that’s left is for stenographers to get themselves in the mix and make sure we adapt to the market if this is how steno sells. Some important tips from an ex-freelancer:

  • Get immediate contact information from other attendees in case you’re cut off or lose contact. You need to be able to call the others and let them know you’re no longer there taking the record.
  • Learn how to hotspot your cellphone in the event of a site service disruption OR have some kind of backup plan or call service for technology failure. Adaptability can seize the day.
  • Unexpected things will happen. Let’s say an entire unrelated party gets linked into yours by mistake? Take charge. Be a leader. Explain to the other conference that they should call into the agency. Try to communicate with the agency that there’s an issue. Have emergency numbers or contacts saved directly into your phone so that internet errors don’t stop you from communicating vital information to clients and agencies.

We are thankful that there are so many entities and independents brainstorming and coming up with ideas for the field. We encourage working reporters to join the discussion. Make your concerns known. Have your ideas be heard. We understand that this isn’t the newest idea out there, and that various companies have promoted virtual depositions, even as far back as 2017. Archive. But the best we can do is acknowledge that work and ask for more promotion of stenographic services coast to coast. Hopefully in a year or two we’re eating our words on previous articles that told stenographers certain agencies were not their friends and watching the steno renaissance continue full swing.

For now, consider this one potential shortage solution in what may end up a series of many dependent upon reader feedback.