“How do you use that thing, anyway?” Most freelance court reporters have heard that question…
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When you work for yourself, anything can happen. If your clients like your work, they’ll frequently let you know by coming back for more. They might even give you a compliment. If they don’t like your work, you’re probably not going to hear from them again. And you’ll likely never learn exactly why they dropped you.
It is pretty rare (maybe even very rare) for scopists to receive feedback from their clients. Court reporters either send their scopists more transcripts or they don’t. I’ve been on both sides of the transcript, as a court reporter and as a scopist, so I know what court reporters like and I understand that scopists may not know any of this. So I’ve written up 10 things court reporters want scopists to know.
10 Things Court Reporters Want Scopists to Know
1. Your Job is Important. People’s lives and money are at stake in the work we both do. Not every court case is a double homicide or a $750 million corporate merger gone wrong. In fact, a huge abundance of cases are car accidents worth $2,000. No matter how great nor how small, though, the parties involved and their lawyers expect accurate transcripts of everyone’s testimony.
While in court or at depositions court reporters try their hardest to do a good job, believe me. Please know that your job of scoping these transcripts is likewise important. A lot of people are counting on you!
2. We Want to Keep Our Clients. We have attorneys who are regular clients, and (if we like them 😉 ) we want to keep them. Even if they are not our regular clients, we see the same attorneys over and over (and over) throughout our careers, and we want them to be happy to see us walk in the room, not concerned that that day’s transcript might not turn out well.
Court reporters do the best they can at their end during legal proceedings, and they need you to do your best at your end too.
3. Accuracy is Incredibly Important. The accuracy of a transcript is the most important part of a transcript. It is actually the only important part of a transcript. Transcripts contain only words, and if they are not accurate, what else is there? Be careful while scoping so the final product will reflect exactly the words that everyone spoke.
4. Focus on Content, if Possible. In addition to listening to individual words and sentences, try, if you can, to pay attention to the testimony as a whole. This is not always possible. Many times testimony is from witnesses such as molecular biologists testifying about nucleotide structure, recombinant phages and ATG translation initiation codon.
Of course no one understands what they are talking about, so never mind. However, plenty of testimony involves concepts familiar to everyone, such as stopping at a red light before being rear ended, or falling down a long flight of stairs. So if you’re working on a transcript with intelligible testimony, try to pay some attention to the context. If you find a spot that doesn’t quite make sense, let your court reporter know so they can take a second look.
5. Timeliness is Key. As life spins faster and faster, so does the legal world and, thus, the world of scopists. Companies that freelance court reporters work for need them to turn in transcripts pretty fast, usually in either 10 calendar days or 10 business days. Court reporters who work in court have different, but also tight, turnarounds. So scopists usually need to return completed transcripts to court reporters in about five calendar days.
If your client gives you a hard deadline, such as by noon on the fifth day, you do always have to meet that exact deadline because the legal world is serious business. On the up side, if one of your clients gives you a really fast deadline to meet, less than the typical five-day turnaround, you get to charge more because this is an expedited transcript. So it will be worth it.
6. Clear and Quick Communication is Critical. In the frenzied legal world, quick and clear communications with scopists really helps things run efficiently. When court reporters ask you if you can work on a transcript, they may have asked other scopists too. If you want the transcript, let them know immediately, because being the quickest scopist to respond means money will be in your bank account shortly.
Clear communication is also key, as there can’t be any misunderstandings about transcripts. If you can’t return a transcript by their deadline, or if you simply don’t want to work on a day they ask you, just tell them you can’t handle that particular transcript but you are there for them when they send the next one. Life will be good for both of you.
7. Spellings are One of the Most Important Things in the World. Spelling words correctly is important all the time, everywhere, but is extremely much so in the world of legal document production. During or after depositions, most court reporters will ask the witness and/or lawyer how to spell proper names and other words. Still, when you receive the transcript, there may be words which are only phonetically spelled.
It’s not mandatory that scopists look up spellings, as the court reporter can take care of it when you return the transcript to them, but it is always appreciated if you do look up and fill in even some of the correct spellings. Someone has to do it so that, one way or another, that transcript is going to be spelled correctly when it hits the lawyers’ desks.
8. Details, Details, Details. Details are more important in transcripts than in any other aspect of life I can think of. Not only the details of what people say but the details of the appearance of the transcript – specifically punctuation and formatting. You may say no one cares about punctuation and formatting, and that is almost entirely true. However, court reporters are taught the importance of proper punctuation in their schooling, and they really do care.
9. We Never Know What Tomorrow Will Hold. As a self-employed location-independent scopist with a varying workload, every day of your life is different. The same for court reporters, at least freelance court reporters.
This can be crazy making, as they are in far less control of their work schedules than scopists. They usually don’t know if tomorrow they’ll be struggling through an eight-hour-long deposition of a heavily-accented neurosurgeon in a tiny, freezing cold conference room or if they will be sitting on their living room sofa working on transcripts in their pajamas while munching on candy. So they’ll rarely know in advance what transcripts they’ll ask you to scope – the length, difficulty, turnaround time, or anything at all.
10. We Care About Our Careers. Some court reporters like or even love their careers. The court reporting profession has always struggled to be respected, and most court reporters would love to be thought of more highly. By producing quality transcripts, scopists can help with the image of court reporters.
Why should you care about that? When you make your clients look better, they will send you more work. Then you’ll be earning a higher income, you’ll feel good, your clients will feel good, and the whole world will be a better place.
Okay, the whole world is not going to improve at all. But at least your own world will be a better place.
To hear the other side of the story, read 10 Things Scopists Want Court Reporters to Know.
Sabina Lohr is a lifelong freelancer turned entrepreneur who created World of Freelancers to help others discover how to work for themselves online and live the freelance lifestyle. She’s always really enjoyed the freedom that freelancing brings, including several years on and off of working online while traveling and living abroad.