A Tale of Two Hats

I will be at the Firm Owners’ Conference next week wearing two hats: One representing The Varallo Group and one representing Project Steno. Project Steno’s mission is to build awareness of the stenographic reporting profession and to provide tuition assistance and support to court reporting students. I am excited to share this new endeavor with my colleagues. During the time I served on the NCRA Board of Directors, the dire state of court reporting education and its impact on our profession came into sharp clarity. Ultimately, a committee commissioned by the NCRA Board on which I served identified a multi-pronged strategy to address the situation.

That strategy recommended three distinct initiatives:

  1. A study to assess the supply and demand for court reporters over the ensuing five years, what would become known as the “Ducker Report;”
  2. A program that could teach simplified court reporting theory to prospective students to give them a taste of the profession before making a life commitment; and
  3. New standards for court reporting education that put a premium on the only metric that really matters, schools’ capability of producing qualified court reporters.

As you know, the Ducker Report predicted that, within five years, the profession would see a significant shortage of court reporters, a growing demand for court reporters at the same time that the supply would shrink. Over the past year, I’ve talked with firm owners across the country who are feeling that pinch, who are leaving jobs uncovered, or who otherwise now must consider alternatives to deal with the acute reality – the shortage of court reporters is upon us.

After leaving the NCRA Board, I continued to be closely involved with the aforementioned educational initiatives. Most notably, I was closely involved with the development of what would become the A to Z program. It’s been gratifying to see court reporters throughout the country step up to be part of the biggest crisis that ever has faced our profession. The A-to-Z Program has provided a wonderful, non-threatening introduction to the profession for prospective court reporting students.

But, as I talked with friends and colleagues, it became clear to me that we needed something more. We needed a full-throated, sustained marketing campaign to promote the merits of a career in court reporting and to direct would-be students to A-to-Z Programs. And we needed to create a continual pipeline of QUALIFIED students for our schools.

What also became clear to me – and then to “us” – was that this effort needed something more than the part-time attention and coordination of volunteers. It needed substantial, ongoing fund-raising capability. It needed day-to-day attention to build relationships and identify ideas and opportunities. And it needed resources to find ways to channel passion, ideas, and opportunities into action.

When I said “us” a moment ago, I meant Jim DeCrecenzo, Bill Weber, Glyn Poage, and me. Together, we put our heads together and came up with the concept of Project Steno.

For me, Project Steno is both the culmination of years of engagement in court reporting education as well as the beginning of the next chapter of my personal story. While I will continue to operate The Varallo Group, a major focus for me will be the management of Project Steno, which is now a bona fide, not-for-profit organization applying for 501c3 status. And it’s already making an impact.

Earlier this year, we awarded our first group of students who emerged from A-to-Z Programs with tuition assistance and they’re now off to court reporting school. We likewise have fanned out to meet and speak with court reporting firm owners and others with a vested interest in our great profession to get their ideas and to encourage them to support our efforts.

It has been extraordinarily rewarding to see the positive reaction from the court reporting community to Project Steno. No doubt I’ll share more information with you about Project Steno and our progress in the coming months – and I’ll solicit you for ideas. For now, let me just encourage you to learn more about Project Steno, about the A-to-Z Program, and to get involved in some way