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Automatic Speech Recognition in Court Reporting—It’s Toast!  

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By Steve Townsend, TheRecordXchange

This article is Part 3 of a three-part series. 

It is safe to say that automated speech recognition systems will become the standard method for transcript production in many industries, including court reporting. Is it ready today? Not yet.

CTC 2019 was held last month in New Orleans. This biennial court technology conference is the largest conference of its kind and always a great opportunity to see where technology vendors are focused with their court offerings. This year was all about artificial intelligence. Vendors of every sort were touting their latest AI-enabled applications—some of them brilliant and some of them boring. All of the digital recording vendors were demonstrating some form of speech recognition. None of them claimed to be able to produce an acceptable transcript, much less a certified transcript, but applying speech recognition to closed captioning and assisted listening looked like some potentially viable solutions. Full disclosure: My company, TheRecordXchange, also offers a speech recognition solution called VoiceCopy. We do not claim that the technology can produce an adequate transcript yet either.

How Good Is the Technology?

I first began working with speech recognition technology in the late 1990s as CEO of FTR (For The Record). Even 20 years ago there were serious companies with plenty of cash trying to crack this nut. The technology has improved dramatically, and it continues to advance at a rapid pace.

There are two significant factors that have changed the landscape for speech recognition. First, as expected, the technologies related to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and neural networks have matured. Equally important, big tech, most notably Google, Amazon, and Apple, have created services that collect unfathomable amounts of voice data. Alexa, Google Home, Siri, and other applications amass valuable data by the second. For machine learning, data is gold, and big tech has cornered the market.

Big tech is great at solving big problems.  But it rarely tries to meet the needs of niche markets. Addressing the specific requirements of court reporting and transcription is exactly what some of the companies at CTC and a handful of innovative startups are trying to do. Google and Amazon rely on these ventures to service niche markets based on the technology they have developed. Smaller companies with domain expertise understand that transcripts must be punctuated accurately, present accurate speaker identifications, and be formatted to meet the specifications for different jurisdictions.

Most companies acknowledge that an acceptable legal transcript cannot be produced from current speech technology alone. So what is their answer? Some are promoting their solutions not for transcription but for closed captioning or assisted hearing. Some have given up on the court reporting market and focus resources on markets with less stringent accuracy and formatting requirements. But some are offering a transcription solution that combines AI with human input to produce an acceptable transcript.

AI with a Human Touch

The AI/human strategy uses automatic speech recognition to complete the first pass of transcription. Transcription is the most labor-intensive part of the process, so if that can be automated, it’s a big win. Then, a qualified proofreader, using appropriately designed tools, reviews and corrects the transcript. The review process will take longer than if the proofreader were reviewing a transcript produced by a qualified transcriber, but any additional time and money spent on the proofing process is more than made up for by the savings achieved from the automated transcription.

Today, the transcription providers may be benefiting from this cost savings, but savings may not be passed on to transcript purchasers. But if transcript users are getting an accurate transcript, they probably don’t care.

The big beneficiary of this model is the technology provider. Remember my comment above about data being gold to AI developers? This is equally true for these startups chasing opportunities in the court reporting market. These companies will never be able to collect as much data as Amazon can, but they don’t need to.

Machine learning, a subset of AI, can be divided into two types: supervised learning or unsupervised learning. When you ask Alexa a question or give it a command, if you accept the response, then Alexa “infers” that its recognition was accurate. If, however, you repeat the request after a response, then the system may infer that its recognition was incorrect. This is an example of unsupervised learning; there is no established truth to be fed back into the system, only inference. Unsupervised learning can take a long time and requires a lot of data.

Supervised learning is based on the idea that there is a known truth. With a transcript, there is something close to a known truth. Accurate final transcripts can be fed back into the system for learning purposes. The system can compare the automated results with the “truth” of the final transcript and make adjustments for future processing. Supervised learning can achieve results much faster and requires far less data to get meaningful improvement. So an AI/human process that results in the technology provider having access to final transcripts can also result in a significant competitive advantage. Eventually, improvements will certainly benefit transcript users, but in the meantime…

So with AI/Human Processes, Can I Get Good Transcripts?

Probably not. And, here’s why.

When you receive an accurate, certified transcript today, that transcript was likely produced by a qualified transcriber and reviewed by a qualified proofreader. Think of the proofreader as the quality assurance step in the process. Good transcription firms have well-developed processes using qualified and efficient teams of transcribers and proofreaders producing quality results. Quality does not happen just because the individuals are good; it happens when qualified individuals follow a good process.

Harold F. Dodge, one of the original architects of the science of statistical quality control stated that “You cannot inspect quality into a product.” And, to paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality control science, proofreading does not improve the quality of the transcript. The quality, good or bad, is already in the transcript.

As a practical matter, what this means is that a qualified proofreader can consistently review and complete accurate transcripts when receiving quality work from transcribers. The lower the quality of the original content is, the lower the quality of the finished product will be. Automated transcripts are of far lower quality than those produced by qualified transcribers. Proofreaders cannot consistently turn them into high-quality transcripts. As of today, you will be disappointed in the results.

To quote W. Edwards Deming, this AI/human combo is a “system of make-and-inspect, which if applied to making toast would be expressed as: ‘You burn, I’ll scrape.’”

If Not Today, When?

Predicting that something is going to happen is easy. Predicting when is not easy—timing is everything. It is safe to say that automated speech recognition systems will become the standard method for transcript production in many industries, including court reporting. Is it ready today? No.

Will it be ready in a year? No.

Will it be ready in five years? Maybe.

Ten years? Probably.

If you are a classic early adopter and want to live on the bleeding edge, go for it. If you want to go into court with an accurate transcript from a witness deposition, hire a qualified court reporting firm and make sure your transcript is produced by a qualified transcriber and proofreader.

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Steve Townsend is CEO of TheRecordXchange, a webbased platform for court reporting professionals. He has extensive experience in courtroom and hearing room reporting and transcription. He was CEO of FTR from 1997 to 2007 and CEO of AVTranz from 2008 to 2015. Townsend is a cofounder of the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers.

 

 

 

 

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: September, 2019

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By Janet Harris, CER, CET

It’s Back to School wherever you look these days.  Summer is over and a slow August will typically be followed by a very active September for our members. AAERT’s Education Committee has seen an uptick in schools requesting assistance and approval of digital reporting and transcription programs.  We’re very excited to be involved in these efforts to expand educational opportunities and programs to members and those interested in the court reporting industry. Certification registrations are also increasing. Congratulations to our recent newly certified members!

Education can never be taken away from you. It is the foundation for success, personally and professionally. In the past year, AAERT has seen developments in technology occurring so quickly, it is challenging to stay up-to-date and understand how the developments in artificial intelligence will impact our industry, our work life, and our personal lives.  I know I appreciate the AI in my vehicle for safety, and in my cell phone to help manage my life more easily. AI is playing a role in medical diagnoses and nearly every facet of life. The Natural Language Processing (NLP) branch of Artificial Intelligence is what we are concerned with when we discuss automated speech recognition (ASR).  This area is known to be especially difficult due to the nuances in language, how it changes, semantics and syntax.  Unfortunately, fear of the unknown breeds speculation of the future and not necessarily accurately. It is Back to School time for the association as well — a time for informed discourse and critical thinking. Many may recall when digital reporting threatened the steno industry with “replacement of jobs.” However, the shortage of court reporters exists in great part because the profession could not produce the numbers needed to supply the ever growing need.

Digital reporters and transcribers are in great demand. The technology we use today is far superior to the technology we used to capture proceedings 20 years ago on cassette tapes. We strive for efficiencies in all aspects of our lives, to maximize our earning potential, and improve our productivity.  AI/ASR tech blogs may tout all kinds of promises, but we have yet to see a product that produces a verbatim transcript with the accuracy of a certified reporter/transcriber or stenographic reporter or verbatim voice writer. The technology shows impressive development over the past decades and will likely get better over time, but the need for certified reporters and transcribers to produce the final certified transcript remains necessary.

When you are learning about a new technology, it’s important to ask questions. Educate yourself, reach out to subject matter experts, and try it out for yourself. Allow yourself time to read, discuss, evaluate, witness, share, and formulate your opinion based on facts and actual experience, rather than falling prey to hype based on fear and speculation.  In all your professional interactions, remember to be respectful because no one knows everything.  This industry needs all of us now and for a long time in the future. Collectively, we can learn a great deal from each other. Don’t let a single voice drown out the wisdom of the group..

AAERT is committed to providing members with access to differing opinions and subject matter experts from various perspectives. We hope you will join the discussion for a positive outcome for all.

Janet Harris is the President of AAERT

 

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: JULY, 2019

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By Janet Harris

Welcome to our new board members, Jennifer Burke and Jay Gross!  Though both are newly elected directors, each has a long history with AAERT as active members.  I’m happy to serve with them as AAERT’s new president, along with members Betsy Ertel, Vice President, Jennifer Razzino, Secretary, and MaryBeth Burke-Dring, Treasurer.  Thanks to Geoff Hunt for his service to AAERT as president and a director.  Geoff worked with our Conference Committee to ensure a wonderful time was had by all in Kentucky where members were “Keeping on Track with Technology.”  Though Rick Russell is leaving the board as a Director, he will continue to serve as Government Relations Chair. Rick served on the Board as Treasurer and Vice President. I am glad Rick will continue to be actively involved.

For me, it was a reminder of the track we’ve been on as technology has changed our industry.  Over the past 25 years, we witnessed the transition from analog to digital systems.  The day I transferred data electronically, rather than burning a CD to ship to a client, felt like magic!  The first time I used a noise reduction filter was a thrill.  Technology has allowed us to become more effective and efficient, when you take the time to learn how it works and are willing to adapt to the changes it will bring.  Digital reporting and transcription needs reliable technology as well.  If you missed this year’s conference, many of the sessions discussing these topics and more will be posted on our LMS for CEU credits.  Even if you are just looking for answers about the latest features available to digital reporters and transcribers and their users, check out our Learning Management System videos on AAERT’s LMS page.

This year featured ASR (automated speech recognition) technology and exhibitors showcased live transcription.  We visited the Jefferson County Courthouse and viewed a courtroom where a video recording system is used to capture the court record.

Regardless of the blend of technology we each use, we gathered as a group of committed individuals who are intensely interested in the process of capturing and producing verbatim records.  For some, the track of technology offered new options and for some, it generated some uncomfortable feelings about their future.  How do I fit in?  Will there be a job for me with ASR or if a video courtroom comes to my town?  The feeling in the room was a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, and open discussions on how the court reporting industry is changing.  We are seeing significant developments in new technology and we’ve arrived at a juncture for change in our industry.  In preparation for my first board meeting as president I reviewed several organization documents and found the following:

“All industries face disruptive forces from time to time. However, it is not often that an industry faces a confluence of forces that all point to rapid and dramatic shifts such as we expect in the court reporting market. Technology improvements combined with long-term demographic trends and a sudden change in the economic imperatives for courts, law firms and private litigants will accelerate the adoption of digital recording in all traditional court reporting markets. These forces are highly disruptive and will create both huge risks and huge opportunities. Individuals and companies prepared to take on the challenges will thrive in this new competitive landscape. Those that are not prepared will struggle.”

This was written seven years ago in AAERT’s 2012 Strategic Plan, predicting this shift in 2018.

More recently at the AAERT Executive Forum the well-known Marty Block, our keynote speaker said, “A Paradigm Shift is underway in the verbatim text industry, and as a result, you shall share many additional mutual issues.”

It’s 2019, folks, it’s here and we’re in the midst of it.  Our members are used to change and know how to adapt.  We welcome you to learn about new opportunities with digital court reporting, so we can meet the needs of the industry.

This year the board is working on increasing educational opportunities for you by approving online programs and brick-and-mortar school curriculums offering digital reporting and transcription.  We are reviewing the Strategic Plan, planning for the future to increase our membership, and updating our certification testing programs.  Join us and let’s work together for a successful future for us all.

Janet Harris is President of AAERT

 

“THE GIANT KILLER AMONG US”

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An Interview with Lee F. Miller, CER, CET LeeMiller

By Gail Malm Armstrong, CER, CET

Give us some history please, Lee. I was born in Concordia, Kansas in August 1960. I was the first “preemie” the doctor had ever delivered, but I made it! We moved to California when I was 4 years old. My uncle was a Marine, stationed at Camp Pendleton, and would write home about how great California was. The whole family moved to California. He moved back to Indiana!  I grew up in Orange County. My dad was a pastor and my mom was a school district administrative assistant. I’m pretty sure I got my love for the keyboard from my mom.   

 How did you enter the legal profession? 

I began working on newspapers in high school. That continued as I majored in Communications and graduated from Orange Coast College and the University of Washington. My professional career began as a sports reporter, working for a couple local newspapers and the Los Angeles Times.   

I took a ten-year detour to coach college rowing. The newspaper industry was dying a slow death, so I returned to school and attended South Coast College of Court Reporting. I found that my journalism skill set fit well with court reporting. I was introduced to a court reporting firm that was getting into the law enforcement transcription business. I thought I would just do police transcription until I became a court reporter and moved on. That was 23 years ago, and I’m still working with the police!        

Did you have a mentor or coxswain, so to speak, who helped you set the pace to success? Who and how so?

I’ve been fortunate to have many amazing mentors in my life, both in sports and business. A member of my dad’s church took me under his wing as his assistant baseball coach when I was in high school. He was a National Basketball Association referee at the time and later became the head of NBA officials. He was the first person who taught me that I could do big things if I set my mind to it. 

My rowing coach at Orange Coast was a huge influence on my life. I will never forget the day he referred to Tom Wolfe’s book and told me I had “The Right Stuff.” I learned from him that if you are going to do something, excel.     

I also had great mentors at The Los Angeles Times, and I thank them to this day for being sticklers and teaching me to pay attention to detail. That is where I learned the value of proofreading, as I was responsible for proofing the galleys of the sports pages before they went to press at night. It still drives me crazy when I see a typo in the newspaper! 

Tell us something unusual and unique about your experience as a reporter and transcriber. What is a normal workday for you?

The police transcription side of our business runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I’m always on call in case things get really crazy. One of the cases I worked on made the cover of People Magazine and another became an episode of CSI. As a digital reporter, I once took down the testimony of an actor from one of my favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Sitting next to him, I kept wondering if he was going to say his famous line from the movie:  “Bueller…Bueller.”              

Where do you see technology taking us in the next 5 or 10 years as far as digital recording, use of transcripts, and other technology?

We are in the midst of a technological revolution right now. For instance, I got into live-streaming rowing events a few years ago because I wanted to be able to see the crew races that I couldn’t attend. It was a novelty. Now it is so common that it is expected! I am seeing the same trend happening with court reporting. Traditional video conferencing has given way to more affordable streaming technology. I see that becoming more and more prevalent as budgets are stretched thin.

Do you think the reporting and transcribing roles will exist in the future? Will they exist as they do now or do you foresee a different scenario?

It’s like the Wild, Wild West out there right now, but I do think reporting and transcribing roles will both exist in the future. There will always be the need for a human’s touch in the transcript business. I have experimented with AI on some of my work. It has come a long way in a very short time, but it is still nowhere accurate enough to replace us, especially when it comes to multiple-voice transcription.    

Has AAERT opened up any new horizons for you as a professional?

Mary Ann Lutz, one of the original members of AAERT, introduced us to digital reporting and AAERT. I am glad she did. Reporting has taken me to a lot of places that I would never otherwise visit, and it has always proven interesting. 

Do you believe certification in a profession is important? Why or why not?

I do believe certification is important. However, I don’t feel that certification is the be-all, end-all. Just as important as certification is ongoing professional training and just plain taking pride in your work. I have seen too many certified court reporters turn in subpar work. Again, if you’re going to do something, be excellent at it.

You recently received the prestigious 2019 Oarsman award from Coast Crew in recognition of your extraordinary contribution to rowing at Orange Coast College. Tell us about your history as a rower.

I discovered rowing in college. Orange Coast is the only community college rowing program in the nation, and we had to go up against teams from four-year universities.  Our crew earned the nickname Giant Killers by upsetting many of the established powers over the years. 

After two years, I transferred up to the University of Washington in Seattle, home of one the best rowing teams in the world. You may have heard of the best-selling book, “The Boys in the Boat,” which tells the story of how nine working class boys from Seattle represented the United States and won gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I was lucky enough to meet almost all of the “boys” in their later years while I was the coxswain of the Husky varsity 8.  I can’t even begin to tell you how impactful that was!

Rowing took me all over the world. I raced at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in England and on the Nile in Egypt. And, much like the Boys in the Boat, I got to represent the United States in the World Championships in Germany as a member of the National Team. I was asked a few years ago to serve as a member of the Board of Stewards for the Coast Crew, and I’m grateful to be able to give back in any way I can.   

What makes a great coxswain?

From the moment the shell is launched, the coxswain is in charge. The coxswain steers the boat while the oarsmen row, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. The boat is 60 feet long and the coxswain steers with a rudder about the size of a credit card.  The coxswain is also an extension of the coach in the boat — mid-management, so to speak.  The coxswain has to manage the personalities of all the oarsmen so that nothing gets in the way of the boat going fast. 

It is the coxswain’s job to implement the race strategy — and they never say, “Stroke!”  The good ones learn to have a feel for the boat, when to seize on the momentum in a race. Almost every race has a moment of truth, that moment when your opponent can be broken. It is the coxswain’s job to be able to tell when that time comes and to take advantage of it.      

What has been your greatest accomplishment against all odds?

I think I’m most proud of my ability to just keep grinding, even in the face of utter disaster going on around me.  I know that my experience in rowing has helped me with that.   

What do you plan to do after you retire?

My wife and I plan on moving to Maine in a couple years when she retires from teaching. I plan to keep on grinding!

Gailnew

Gail Malm Armstrong is an AAERT-certified reporter and transcriber and Chair of the Communications Committee.

A SUPREME VICTORY

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SUPREME COURT OF WISCONSIN
In re amendment of SCR 68.10, 68.12, 70.01, 70.245, 71.01, 71.02, 71.03, 71.04, 71.05, and Wis. Stats. §§ 751.02, 751.025, 757.46, and 757.57, relating to making the record

On January 25, 2019, the Honorable Randy Koschnick, Director of State Courts, filed a rule petition asking the court to amend a number of court rules and procedural statutes to address the ongoing anticipated shortage of stenographic court reporters and to deem monitored digital audio reporting an accepted court reporting method, in order to permit a blended system of stenographic and digital audio reporting.

Supreme Court Rule 71.01(3) is amended to read:
(3) The director of state courts shall develop policies for the use of alternative means of making a verbatim record. The verbatim record may be made by stenographic reporting, voice reporting, monitored digital audio recording, or other means approved by the director of state courts.

Read the entire Rules Change at:
https://www.wicourts.gov/sc/rulhear/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=239632

 

“THE CHOICES YOU MAKE”

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By Martin H. Block, AAERT 2019 Executive Forum Keynote Speaker
NCRA President from 1989-1990 and history’s first on-air real-time captioner

Good morning to all.  I am delighted to be here.  Verbatim reporting will change more in the next 5 years than it has in the last 100 years!   AAERT President, Geoff Hunt, has correctly identified this period as our industry undergoing a Paradigm Shift.

Today is the “Someday” that people in our industry have talked about for more than 30 years…

It is a time of rapid change;

It is a time of new technology;

It is a time of new paradigms and new methods.

It is a time when we must change our thinking and redirect our focus.

In 1989, when I was installed as the President of the National Court Reporters Association, I addressed the members at the Annual Convention telling them, if the railroads only realized they were in the transportation industry instead of the railroad business, where would they be today?

It is no secret that today that I tell my colleagues if we only realize we are in the verbatim text industry and not the shorthand reporting business look at where we can be tomorrow.

To those of you recovering from the winter’s ravages welcome to the Sunshine State of Florida.  We have an expression down here:  If you do not like the weather at any moment just give it an hour and it will change.

I grew up in a tenement neighborhood in Da Bronx not very far or different from the setting for the play and movie, “A Bronx Tale, and like its central character, who we first meet as an eight-year-old boy growing up in the wonderful Italian-American neighborhood on Arthur Avenue, I grew to learn that “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.”

After spending some time wasting my undefined talent at Long Island University, I attended shorthand reporting school and upon graduation, I began a 40-year career as a shorthand reporter and eventually business owner.

After a stint as a freelance reporter, I  became an official reporter in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, where I met a very different breed of shorthand reporters, some of the last of the Gregg and Pittman reporters, men and women who set a high standard for comportment and excellence.

As I watched these manual shorthand writers gradually exit the business through retirement and attrition, to be replaced by stenomachine reporters, it did not occur to me to reflect on the impermanence of systems nor to recognize that the day would come when for the very same reasons that the manual shorthand writers were fading into history, technological advances, availability,  and commoditization, so would stenomachine writers someday begin to fade into history.

By the early 1970s, a new technology, computerization, began to take hold with court reporters, both official reporters, and freelance. While I foresaw it as permanently changing court reporting, I did not understand that it also represented a step towards the further commoditization of the reporting business.  Computer-aided transcription would play a vital role in extending the viability of shorthand reporting and also prove to be the springboard for new opportunities.

In 1981 I served as a consultant and then later as an employee at the National Captioning Institute, in Falls Church, Virginia, where we were developing real-time closed captioning.   I became history’s first on-air real-time captioner when we used the technology to close-caption the spontaneous portions of the 1982 Academy Awards Presentation, on ABC.  On October 11, 1982, I captioned the first regularly scheduled news program, the ABC Evening News, which is now the longest continually running real-time captioned program on television.

Initially, the only computer-aided transcription system capable of producing real-time closed-captions relied on a universal dictionary and one disadvantage is you were never certain what was in the dictionary.

The afternoon of December 20, 1982, I learned that the renown pianist Arthur Rubinstein had passed away at age 95 so I made certain that piano and pianist, would translate correctly, knowing that Rubinstein’s death would be a lead story.  I was mindful that there was one trap waiting for me; the word “pianist” was awfully close to another word.

Rubinstein’s was a long, but colorful life, that began as a child prodigy in Czarist Russia. The anchor Max Robinson had a limited time slot, and with great rapidity began, “World renown pianist Arthur Rubinstein passed away today at the age of 95, in Geneva, Switzerland.”  As the word, “pianist” was left in the dust I realized I misstroked it.  That evening the deaf audience learned that a world renown penis was dead.  There was no escape once sent off to the encoder.  It was as though I was tied to a railroad track and a train was bearing down on me.  I just had to keep plowing along and hope not too many people would notice the horrendous blooper.

Fortunately, while the story focused on Rubinstein’s piano virtuosity the anchor spent more time on his many affairs with Europe’s most elegant women, because this great virtuoso of the piano was also a master in another art.  I was saved.  Not one complaint.

In life and in business nobody can predict every possible outcome.  Life is a series of interacting events.  You can prepare and you can think you have all the answers and most often things will turn out fine.  But on occasion, they will turn out to be a disaster.  You best be flexible if you want to both survive and prosper.

Following several wonderful years at NCI, I returned to the freelance reporting world and formed a reporting company, in Washington, DC.  Almost simultaneously, Joe Karlovits, Ed Fulesday, and I formed the company that would someday grow into the giant of the closed-captioning sector of our industry, VITAC.

Block Reporting began as a traditional shorthand reporting freelance company largely covering depositions and occasional court hearings utilizing shorthand reporters.  Over time our range of services expanded and we morphed into a company that, like others in the Washington, DC market, utilized the services of shorthand reporters, voice writers, videographers, and transcribers.

In 1984 I was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Shorthand Reporters Association, beginning my service during the presidency of one of the most remarkable leaders I have encountered, the late Raymond F. DeSimone.  Ray exemplified the philosophy that you either lead or get out of the way.  He led and continued to lead the industry through massive changes for the balance of his career.

It was during the years of Ray’s leadership through the early 1990s that NSRA grew to its greatest membership and influence, during an era when the organization was viewed as an engine of change and adaptability.

Raymond understood before most others that commoditization was coming to the reporting business and that major consumers of reporting services, such as the insurers, viewed the industry differently than traditional consumers such as attorneys.  The transcript and any ancillary services, in their view, was no different when purchased from one supplier as from another, though some managed the process with greater efficiency.

From the viewpoint of the major consumers, particularly the insurers, the only critical element that differed among suppliers was the cost of the service.  The singular goal of these major consumers of reporting services was to achieve the lowest price point for the services rendered.  They were largely unconcerned how that was accomplished.

In 1989, as the newly installed President of NCRA, I asked a question of the members of that organization, “Who are we and what are we about?”

I emphasized that change is a constant within the universe and that it was impacting society at an ever-increasing pace, and that each change creates many other changes.  Technologies are born virtually obsolete.

I further stated that to merely survive was unacceptable.  That remains a fact 30 years later.  Your business must do more than merely survive.  It must grow and prosper, and to do so you must control and manage your industry as you individually and collectively define it.  There is no standing still.  Either you grow your business or you shrink, and shrinking is unthinkable.

The companies you represent are each a part of what I prefer to refer to as the “verbatim text industry.”

Identifying your industry is the key to controlling the scope of what the industry and your company is and what it can become.  You may make it as broad or narrow as you desire, but finding a balance between where you are and where you want to be is going to help you decide which technologies you need to incorporate to take advantage of the opportunities that shall present themselves.

What the industry will someday look like and just who among the current players are to be the masters or holders of the keys to the gateway into that future has yet to be revealed, but hopefully, your company shall be there.

Each of your companies has an opportunity to play an expanding role in the future of the verbatim text industry provided you fashion your business to address the future in an unbiased and objective fashion.  Getting it right is mandatory if your company is to grow its role within this evolving and expanding industry.  How you respond to the challenges now will be critical to shaping your business model in the coming years.  “The choices that you make will shape your life forever.”

It was the failure of the shorthand reporting community and particularly the leadership of NCRA to objectively comprehend and adjust to the changes impacting the  industry wherein they held a dominant position for so many years that was the reason why they have come to be viewed by those who are the decision-makers in the courts as the unyielding defenders of the status quo in the face of the clear-cut evidence of broad changes that are impacting their industry, the nation, and world.

Like an ostrich, they continue to bury their heads in the sand.  NCRA Past President and educator, Dr. William Oliver, has often reminded us that those who bury their heads in the sand forget that a big vulnerable target remains to stick up.

One key to success in any endeavor is not to repeat the failures of the past.  It is not by mere coincidence that a great many court systems moved from shorthand reporting to digital reporting of the proceedings.  It is not because a shorthand reporter cannot produce an excellent transcript of a juridical proceeding.

There is epistemological evidence that the juridical environment changed simultaneously with economic, educational and technological changes, which combined to bring new pressures upon and opportunities to court systems.

Two significant factors, above all others, motivated many court administrators to make the move from shorthand reporters to digital reporting, either partially or completely: availability and cost control.  It became blatantly apparent, supported by the outcome of NCRA’s own published studies, that stenotype reporters were becoming an endangered species, just as occurred with their manual shorthand predecessors, at the same time that digital reporting technologies became available and had overcome many of the disadvantages inherent in earlier analog technologies.

Additionally, when installed, court administrators were convinced that digital reporting would gradually reduce the impact that preserving the record of proceedings had on court budgets.

To utilize digital reporting in a traditional courtroom required some fundamental changes in the basic concepts and practices that existed for a century, what Thomas Kuhn defined as a paradigm shift.

The gains by digital reporting in court systems have expedited the movement of the aging population of shorthand official reporters either into retirement or into the freelance industry, where shorthand reporters remain dominant, though still in short supply, even with the influx of former official reporters.

The duties of the stenographic court reporter in the digital courtroom have been supplanted by a digital reporter, whose responsibilities include ensuring that the proceedings are being clearly recorded and to produce a log that serves the needs of a future transcriber should a transcript be ordered.  Digital reporters should — and sometimes they do —  fulfill those duties, but oftentimes they do not.

While there are courts in the United States and elsewhere where one person monitors multiple courts simultaneously or where there is no digital reporter, I am of the firm opinion that every digital reporting system should be monitored individually by a trained digital reporter, and even better, one who possesses AAERT certification.

It is in the ownership of the transcript where there has been a noticeable change.  In courts, copies of the digital audio record are now made available from the  Clerk of Court.  Transcription is generally performed at the expense of the party requesting it,  by a  transcription service that often is approved by the court.   The transcriptionists or transcribers are frequently at-home workers, just as transcribers working for shorthand reporters have largely been for years.  In fact, often they might be the same individuals. Many are AAERT Certified Electronic Transcribers or CETs.

Where a weakness exists in digital reporting in the courthouse is not at the front end.  Unlike a shorthand reporter or voice writer, the digital reporter’s role largely ends when the recording ends.  The digital court reporter often bears no role in the production of a transcript and does not have to certify the transcript.  As a result, unless the digital court reporter is particularly diligent and responsible, they have no stake in the quality of the recording or in the thoroughness of the log they maintain, and it shows in the quality of the audio in many of the files that end up in the transcription queue.

This should never be the case with digital freelance reporters.  It is critical that you, as a business person, place the burden of responsibility for the quality of the deposition transcript produced by digital audio recording on the digital court reporter.  It will become doubly important when you utilize automated speech recognition as a tool in the transcription process.

In 2013 the National Court Reporters Association published the results of a study by Drucker Worldwide and publicized the fact that with an average age for shorthand reporters estimated to be 56, retirements, and other factors were resulting in far more people exiting the industry than entering it. By 2018 there would be a shortage of approximately 5,500 shorthand reporters.

There remain fewer than 30 NCRA Approved Training Programs in North America, far less than once existed, of which four are not accepting new students — I assume they are going to eliminate the program after the last student either graduates or drops out of the course.  Only one program is being taught in a school that issues a four-year undergraduate degree.   Approximately eight programs are either distance learning or offer distance learning along with onsite programs.

It takes most students between two and four years to develop their shorthand skills to the level where they can pass the NCRA Registered Professional Reporter examination.  Historically, the dropout rate from shorthand reporting programs is in the area of approximately 90 to 95%, a fact that is hardly a secret, meaning that to fill those 5,500 empty positions within two to four years would require upwards of over 100,000 or more students, something that is not quite as likely as a snowstorm in Key West.

How many of you have children who you encouraged to enroll in shorthand reporting school rather than attend a university in pursuit of a baccalaureate degree?

It is obvious that if your reporting company is looking to service your current book of business and hopefully grow that you cannot do so should you continue to rely exclusively on shorthand reporters.  Voice writers are an option, but they are not exactly pouring into the market at an adequate rate to fill the demand.

Even if you are looking to simply tread water it is unlikely you shall be able to do so long term if you rely on shorthand reporting and voice writers.   The resources are simply not there and there is very little likelihood they shall ever again  be.

Digital reporting provides you with a fairly simple and reliable solution that gives your company the opportunity to continue to grow your business by incorporating it into your company’s operations along with your existing shorthand reporters and voice writers, but alas, you are unsure of how your current reporters might react.

As somebody who owned a reporting company for many years, I can sympathize with your concern, but I also know that it can be managed.   In Washington, DC there are reporting firms that utilized multiple methods of reporting very successfully for many years because the reporters were confident and secure in their positions.

Change is a constant in our society.  But more significant than change itself is our expectations and acceptance of change.  A person who casually utilizes digital audio every day of their life, particularly those under 40 years of age, expects this reliable technology to be the standard for recording legal proceedings, whether in a courtroom or deposition suite.  Little wonder they might question why someone in 2019 would be tapping keys on a bizarre little machine to record the proceedings.

A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.  Henry Ford  was probably the most successful person in the history of the automobile world not because Ford Motor Company built the most luxurious, fastest, or best quality automobile, but rather because Ford figured out how to build a vehicle that fulfilled the needs of the broadest range of consumers and then reproduce it en masse at the lowest cost.

Henry Ford caused a paradigm shift in manufacturing when he invented the assembly line, thereby shortening the time it took his company to build a vehicle which reduced the per-vehicle manufacturing cost and allowed Ford to make a small profit on each of an awful lot of Model Ts.

This past February the Deposition Reporters Association of California held their three-day annual conference in Santa Barbara, attended by three NCRA Board Members where the agenda included a session devoted to the future impact of technology on deposition reporting.   When the conference degenerated into an anti-digital reporting demonstration, Jade King, a well-known shorthand reporter who currently covers the Asian market from Hong Kong, told those in attendance, “In Australia, I have worked side by side with digital reporters since the 1990s.  If you folks do not learn to work with digitals and other technology, you will be rolled over.”

Just as once existed with voice writing, the latest boogieman instilled by NCRA in the minds of many shorthand reporters is digital reporting, and the fact that some courts have in a few instances replaced shorthand reporters while installing digital reporting has encouraged that fear.  What NCRA fails to tell its members is that there are many freelance companies and courts where shorthand reporters, voice writers, and digital reporters are all working together just fine, just as manual shorthand reporters and stenotypists did.

As managers, your first obligation is always to your company and its owners or shareholders, and within that framework, you owe an obligation to your customers and staff.  Before incorporating new technology such as digital reporting make your customers aware that due to a growing shortage of shorthand reporters you are incorporating a new reporting technology that shall afford you the ability to continue to seamlessly service their account.

It is important that you make your staff comfortable with any new reporting technology that your company incorporates.  Reassure them there is nothing to fear and that their position is secure well into the future, but be honest and explain that that for all to prosper it is critical that you must always be able to service your customers and that can no longer be accomplished by relying exclusively on the shrinking supply of  shorthand reporters.

I want to turn now to where I see the future of the verbatim text industry — your company’s future.

Transcripts are now being produced every day by digital reporters and transcribers using automated speech recognition and then scoping or editing the first pass.  Just as with CAT, to get the most out of ASR you need quality input or audio.  ASR represents a major transition for your industry.  However, to maximize the effectiveness of ASR we return again to the importance of a high-quality recording of the deposition.

Cloud computing that utilizes ASR and digital audio and/or video can now provide a time-coded real-time translated deposition.

We are now on the threshold of the 5G evolution which promises to be truly game-changing.  5G will be a truly transformative technology, enabling new services, businesses, and opportunities, while ultimately reaching over one trillion connected devices.

The future 5G network will lead to a ten-fold increase in connectivity, a ten-fold lowering of latency, and 100 times faster speeds compared to current technology.  The  5G roll-out is predicted to lead to trillions of dollars being invested into the global economy and millions of jobs being created.  The massive, super-fast connectivity of 5G will mean a substantial increase in the economy of scale, massive innovations such as smart cities, smart homes, and smart agriculture.

Everything will have the potential to be connected once 5G is deployed and with the near-zero latency of 5G, the boundaries of industry shall be extended beyond imagination.  Anyone who does not believe 5G computing shall absolutely revolutionize the verbatim text industry as never before is delusional.

I said at my opening that the industry will change more in the next 5 years than it has in the last 100.  A Paradigm Shift is underway in the verbatim text industry, and as a result, you shall share many additional mutual issues.

AAERT, NCRA, and NVRA each strive to address and represent their members, but who is representing the unique interests of the businesses that are vested as stakeholders in the verbatim text industry?

NCRA and NVRA have exhibited little interest in the success or failure of your companies beyond advertising in their publications and exhibiting at their conferences.  NCRA  recently canceled its Corporate Sponsorship Program and ten days ago formed a task force to campaign to challenge your right to use digital reporting, positioning itself in direct opposition to the interests of your companies.

AAERT has a broader model for membership than NCRA or NVRA,  which includes membership categories for corporations and sole proprietorships, and vendor membership for service or goods providers, but AAERT is primarily concerned with the training and certification of digital reporters and transcriptionists and their needs — which is as it should be.

I ask you again, who is representing your interests, the interests of the various businesses that are vested as stakeholders in the verbatim text industry?

Just about every industry has a trade group funded primarily by the businesses in that particular industry, organizations whose primary purpose is to establish guidelines and provide learning tools for companies within the industry to help transition it into a vastly changing world while serving as an external voice on behalf of the industry.  The businesses work together to help solve problems and come up with solutions to industry-related issues.

Now is the moment to recognize that there exists as never before a need for an association of companies vested into the verbatim text industry.  It could be as broad in scope as the founding members decide, but it seems natural that it would initially include the companies that currently provide verbatim reporting services to the legal, communications, and other industries, as well as hardware and software providers and other suppliers to the industry.

A verbatim text industry association would provide the means for the industry to take a stand from a position of greater influence on issues affecting its member companies.  In so doing, it could play a critical role in tearing down the walls existing between methodologies of reporting that serve as anathema to your businesses.  It will strengthen the industry, improve communications across the industry, identify common issues,  and provide a flexible tool to protect and defend the industry’s interests.

By acknowledging a greater view of the industry in which you share a mutual interest you will collectively direct and control the expansion of that industry and share a mutual concern for its well-being.  In so doing all shall share a stake in the immense opportunities for growth, security, and greater success and wealth.

It gives birth to an entity that will not serve as a limited guild-like builder of walls restraining the industry, but rather one that will expedite its expansion far beyond its current boundaries and help guide its transition into an exciting and opportunity-rich future.

The future is very bright for the verbatim text industry.  Digital reporting and automated speech recognition represent a solution to the shortage of shorthand reporters and voice writers and a pathway to expanded opportunities.

Again, I do not mean to diminish the importance or capabilities of any of the methods for preserving the verbatim record.  They all can perform the functions they are designed to perform very well.

There is no logical reason why shorthand reporters, voice writers, and digital reporters cannot work side-by-side in the same courthouse or reporting firm.

Our companies and our mutual industry can no longer tolerate the practitioners of any one technology discrediting the other technologies purely to advance their own self-interest.  The courts will not long tolerate it nor shall our customers.  We are one industry with shared values and a common history — yes, a common history.

There are those among us who fear change, question change, are unwilling to change.  I say to you that we cannot fear.  We must push forward and conquer our fear.  We must be the masters of our fate.  We must control our industry, the verbatim text industry, or others will come in and assume control.

Our industry has evolved many times over and shall evolve again.  Technologies come, technologies evolve into new forms, technologies disappear, but our dedication to perfection in the verbatim record must never be abandoned because that is our mutual lodestone.

We can learn to adapt, to manage change, to accept differences, and to pass on to future practitioners of verbatim reporting the great traditions of professionalism and excellence that have earmarked those who came before us and ourselves.

I believe, as deeply as I have ever believed, in my very heart of hearts, that our industry has a great destiny and that together we can put aside our differences and fulfill our destiny.

Remember, “The choices that you make will shape your life forever.” That is why you are here this day and that is my message to you.

M.Block

Martin H. Block & Geoff Hunt, President, AAERT, Orlando, Florida, 2019

 

AAERT HITS IT OUT OF THE PARK WITH 2019 EXECUTIVE FORUM!

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The Paradigm Shift Continues: Orlando, Florida

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