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Read Letter from NCRA President on Writing Our Future Project

July 20, 2011

An Open Letter from NCRA’s President

I’m pleased to share with my fellow members the initial outcomes from our ambitious, all-inclusive Writing Our Future project. As you know, a year ago the Board embarked on this effort with no preconceived ideas, promising that we would follow the will of the members. We were committed to listening to you and to “Writing Our Future” – together.

We invited every member to participate in the discussion. We conducted town hall meetings with state associations and with many of you at Baltimore’s Midyear Conference and Tucson’s Firm Owners Conference. We spoke one-on-one with more than 200 members in conversations that lasted as long as an hour at a time. The freelance and officials communities of interest conducted online chats, after which ideas were discussed on our Forum and on Depoman. In the meantime, we fielded two surveys and received responses from more than 3,000 individual members to verify and refine what we learned and advance our discussion and debate of four potential scenarios for NCRA’s future. The process was sound, with thousands of members contributing and thousands of hours invested.

The data is clear. Sixty percent of you agree that NCRA should remain an association by and for stenographic court reporters. Scenario 1, “Status Quo,” is the direction by which NCRA will proceed, remaining an association whose primary focus is on advocating for, certifying, and serving the needs of stenographic court reporters.

Although 45 percent of you supported Scenario 3, “Association for All Methods,” that result doesn’t begin to approach the two-thirds majority of voting members that would be required to approve such a change, and no further efforts will be focused there. Scenario 2, “Steno Only Membership, Certifying Body for All Methods,” garnered 38 percent agreement, and Scenario 4, “Consortium of Associations,” had 32 percent agreement. As you may recall, Scenario 5, a “Realtime Only Association,” was discarded from consideration earlier this spring. You can view the entire Writing Our Future survey results here.

While members were genuinely accepting of having the conversation about engagement with other methods - and we very much appreciate the dialogue - in the end your decision as a group is that NCRA should make no major changes in membership or certification offerings, but remain focused on the needs of our current core membership, stenographic reporters. Those questions are now behind us. You spoke; we listened. But Writing Our Future isn’t—and never was—intended to be just another conversation about NCRA’s membership. It’s about our future as a profession. Ninety-one percent of you said you are comfortable having a discussion at our all-members meeting in Las Vegas and using the upcoming year to discuss what, if any, subsequent changes are needed to our constitution and bylaws. We continue to need your input and ideas.

The six largest factors influencing our profession over the next 15 to 20 years were identified, in order, as: 

  1. The shrinking population of reporters; we must support our schools.
  2. Enhanced/improved ER/DAR; their advancements are not waiting for us.
  3. Market demand for paperless court reporting, courtrooms, and e-filing.
  4. The market accepts ER/DAR as steno’s equal.
  5. Continued proliferation of ER/DAR in courts and depositions.
  6. Larger population of court reporters providing realtime.

Let’s flesh out some of the largest lessons learned.

External forces will continue to drive our market, and NCRA’s role is to prepare our members to meet those changing demands. Realtime is the brightest line of demarcation between steno and other methods. It is no longer the gold standard to which all steno reporters should aspire, but must become our de facto minimum standard.

What should NCRA be doing? Where can we have the largest impact? 

  • 53 percent of you said we can address the shrinking pool of reporters by creating a stronger demand from the public, courts, attorneys, and end consumers through a sustained, concerted campaign to attract students, while working with our schools to increase graduation rates.  
  • 52 percent said we can offset the impact of enhanced/improved ER/DAR by promoting realtime as the clearly superior method, providing tools to individual reporters to promote our value, and conducting studies to show the detrimental effects of ER/DAR.  
  • 82 percent of you feel that holding all methods to a single set of standards will better delineate steno as the premier method for making the record, and 62 percent of you feel that allowing other methods to pursue our same standards will give those methods too much credibility as legitimate.  
  • While there is a desire to have all methods answer to the same standards, there is no consensus on who should be responsible, even whether at a state or national level.  
  • 49 percent of you feel NCRA can have a strong impact on the future demand for paperless reporting by engaging in a sustained campaign to increase realtime preparedness and proliferation, establishing certification and education programs to prepare and encourage reporters to move to and help manage paperless systems, and to promote such systems to consumers.

In addition to those six large factors, the Writing Our Future process revealed several areas that also need attention, including, but not limited to, NCRA’s nomination process and board structure, third-party contracting, realtime certification standards, and increasing membership. These matters will be addressed in our next year’s scope of work with results reported back as they’re developed.

I’m pleased that NCRA’s Marketing & Communications Plan, adopted last year, is in sync with member priorities identified through this process, especially “building a wider appreciation of steno reporters among key influencers” and “helping schools recruit more students” to repopulate the profession. We must continue this work on a sustained basis, part of which encompasses PROPS - Promoting Reporter Opportunities, Professionalism, and Service - which is where you come in. NCRA cannot do promotion alone; we need every reporter in the field recruiting students and providing exceptional service to our “customers,” be they private litigants, attorneys, CART hiring authorities and consumers, television stations, or the courts.

While the Board has preliminarily identified the five priorities listed below, we remain eager to hear your input about the process, the outcomes, and for your continued assistance as we move forward in our new fiscal year, putting more “meat on the bones” from your point of view. 

  • Getting all reporters to write realtime should be a major focus for our profession. NCRA will engage in a concerted effort to encourage all stenographic reporters to become realtime capable, our most important distinction.
  • NCRA will engage with laser-type focus in a sustained, multifaceted campaign to promote the value of stenographic court reporters to key influencers, end consumers, and the legal community, with realtime capability obviously vital.
  • NCRA will also engage in a systematic and sustained campaign to get more qualified students and teachers into court reporting programs, with newfound purpose placed behind raising graduation rates.
  • NCRA will work to cultivate a spirit of cooperation and innovation to make court reporters the agents of change from a technology perspective, which is key to our future security and prosperity. The world is moving toward a paperless court system, and NCRA members must be leaders in this regard.
  • While recognizing that NCRA will exist as a stenographic-only association, nearly 90 percent of you feel that establishment of a single set of standards to which all methods must adhere is important to ensure the integrity of the legal system. Whether this is explored through strategic partnerships with other organizations or the creation of some sort of oversight body is not clear; the issue deserves further study.

Please join us for our all-members meeting on Saturday, July 30, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Pacific time. For those at the Convention in Las Vegas, I hope to see you in person, and you need not be registered for the Convention to attend. We will also provide a streaming realtime feed over the NCRA website. Come one, come all, in person or remotely!

Although I recognize that not everyone is going to be happy with the findings I’ve shared, it is my strong belief that our membership has spoken and our leaders have listened. 93 percent of you agree that Writing Our Future has been a constructive exercise for discussing the direction of our profession and NCRA’s role therein, and I thank each of you for the passion, enthusiasm, and level of engagement you’ve demonstrated. We’re all in this together and, together, we have Written Our Future. We have made a decision. We have made a plan.

I look forward to continuing our discussions in Las Vegas and working through the implementation of the work you’ve directed, helping NCRA remain dedicated to promoting excellence among those who capture and convert the spoken word to text, an organization focused on protecting and advancing the needs of stenographic court reporters.


Melanie L. Humphrey-Sonntag
2010-2011 NCRA President