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Want to know how to become a scopist? Keep reading and you will definitely find out. This is the ultimate guide for learning everything you need to know about how to start working for yourself in the lucrative career of freelance scopist.
How to Become a Scopist
The Ultimate Guide
In this guide I’ve written up details about several personal characteristics and skill sets, six training methods as well as three pieces of tech and gear that you’ll need to become a scopist for court reporters. I originally wrote How to Become a Scopist in August 2018 and now have updated it now for 2022.
FIRST, WHAT IS A SCOPIST?
Scopists have been around since the 1980’s, but most people have never heard of this job. Even those who have heard of it don’t understand at all what scopists do.
What does a scopist do? In short, a scopist is a person who creates final transcripts of trials, depositions and other proceedings, both legal and non-legal, which are typed onto a steno machine by a court reporter.
After each proceeding, the court reporter will send a rough draft of the transcript along with its audio recording to a scopist, who then listens to the spoken words while reading through and polishing up the written words to ensure that the final written transcript is completely accurate and has correct spellings, punctuation and formatting. Here is a more comprehensive answer to the question what is a scopist.
Scopists are self-employed freelancers. They do not work for court reporters; they work for themselves. Scoping is a location-independent job, which means that as a freelance scopist you can work anywhere in the world. And scopists can make very good money.
Helpful Personal Characteristics for Scopists
Just like any job, scoping is perfectly suited for some people but is not for everyone. If you have the following qualities, you would be a good scopist for court reporters.
You Are Good At:
Working on computers
Crossword puzzles and other word games
You Want To:
Work at home
Work wherever you want
Be self employed
Knowledge of medical and/or legal and/or technical terminology
Experience working in a law firm or some other legal setting
Bonus Points If You Are:
Greatly annoyed by misuse of its, it’s, there, their and they’re
6 WAYS TO LEARN HOW TO BECOME A SCOPIST
I’ve organized the following six ways to learn how to become a scopist from most common to least common based on a September 2019 Facebook poll I took in which 214 people responded.
1. Be a Court Reporter
(34 percent of scopists polled received their training in court reporting school.)
All court reporters know how to be scopists because scoping their own transcripts is a big part of their job. So if you’re currently in court reporting school or you’re thinking about becoming a court reporter, realize that as a court reporter or even a student, you will have the skills necessary to be a scopist. All you’ll have to do is get your name out there so people will hire you to do your work. You have already done the rest.
Pros of Scoping as a Court Reporter
- Effortless – all court reporters know how to scope transcripts
- Ability to switch back and forth from court reporting to scoping when you want or need
- Potentially more clients because of your court reporter credentials
Cons of Scoping as a Court Reporter
- Probable drop in income due to lower per-page rate
- Potential difficulty in adjusting to only scoping and no court reporting
2. Learn From a Court Reporter or Scopist
(24 percent of scopists polled received their training from court reporters or scopists.)
All court reporters know how to scope, as scoping their own transcripts is a big part of their job. They use court reporting software, which is more involved than but has the same functionality as scoping software.
If you know a court reporter, you can ask them if they’d be willing and able to train you on how to become a scopist on their software program. Likewise, if you know a scopist, you can ask them to train you.
Pros of Learning from a Court Reporter or Scopist
- One-on-one training
- Low cost or no cost
- Will learn the fundamentals of scoping
Cons of Learning from a Court Reporter or Scopist
- No option as to which software you buy, as you will need the same software as your court reporter or scopist trainer
- Will not have the comprehensive, quality education offered by scoping courses
3. Learn in a Scopist Training Program
(19 percent of scopists polled received their training from online scopist schools.)
Scopist training programs are the most comprehensive and in-depth way to learn how to become a scopist. You can obtain official scopist training through both online courses and brick and mortar institutions.
Studying online is becoming more and more popular and common for many reasons. One reason is because this means of learning can be very effective. There are three online scopist schools which specifically teach people how to become scopists, two of which want to be mentioned in this article.
Internet Scoping School – This online scoping school is owned and operated by Linda Evenson, who has over 35 years experience as a scopist for court reporters.
You can read my interview with Linda about Internet Scoping School here, where she lets you know what her scoping course is like and talks about the future of scoping post-2020. You can also take Internet Scoping School’s free mini-course here to get excellent insight into what it’s like to earn money as a freelance scopist.
Internet Scoping School offers:
- Lifetime access to future bonuses and updates
- Lifetime access to private scopist students Facebook group
- Several payment plans
BeST Scoping Techniques – This online authorized scopist training program is owned and operated by Judy Rakocinski and Cathy Knox, who together have over 40 years of experience as scopists.
BeST Scoping Techniques offers:
- Training on more than one scoping software program
- Online networking group
- Lifetime access to trainers and some coursework
Pros of Online Scopist Schools
- Specifically geared to scopists
- Comprehensive and in-depth training
- Courses developed and taught by scopists
- Official scopist school training could help attract court reporter clients
Cons of Online Scopist Schools
- Online scopist training can cost around $2,500
- Complete training can take several months to complete
4. Study at a Brick and Mortar School
(14 percent of scopists polled received their training from brick and mortar schools.)
Studying at traditional brick and mortar institutions gives you an education as well as an educational experience that you can’t get by any other means.
There are no physical schools which have dedicated scoping training programs, that I know of. But there are community colleges that award court reporting degrees which also have courses on how to become a scopist.
There were more in the past, but as far as I know the only brick and mortar school which teaches scoping currently is Baton Rouge School of Court Reporting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. If you happen to live in or can move to Louisiana, this is an option for you.
Pros of Studying at Brick and Mortar Scoping Schools
- In-person networking opportunities with current, past and future court reporter and scopists
- Hands-on help and advice from teachers and students
Cons of Studying at Brick and Mortar Scoping Schools
- If you don’t live near one of these schools, this is not an option for you
- Time and effort spent in transiting to and from the school
- Must take classes when they’re offered
(Fun fact – Scoping is sometimes called scopistry but scopists are never called scopitrists)
5. Learn Through a Combination of Methods
(6 percent of scopists polled received their training by using a combination of methods.)
Sometimes no one way is the best. It might take two ways. To learn how to become a scopist you can use a combination of methods. For example, you could teach yourself some things and line up a scopist or court reporter to help in other areas and answer questions you have. Or could you can take a scoping class or two at a brick and mortar school, then train yourself all the rest of the way. Or any other combination of methods.
Pros of Learning Through a Combination of Methods
- Training will cost only as much as the courses you want to pay for
- Partially self paced
Cons of Learning Through a Combination of Methods
- Might not be as thorough as formal scopist training programs or learning from someone else
- Spotty – Possible to miss important aspects of training by the inconsistency of multiple learning methods
6. Train Yourself
(3 percent of scopists polled are self taught.)
It is possible to teach yourself how to do many things. It is also often better to let someone else teach you some things.
I do not recommend trying to teach yourself to be a scopist. Scoping is very involved and legal transcripts are very important. It is really best to receive professional training or be trained by someone who knows what they’re doing.
You could, however, possibly teach yourself how to work as a scopist by buying the scoping software, reading the accompanying user’s manual, and just doing it. This may sound like the easiest way to train as a scopist, but because you would be going it alone it could actually very likely be the hardest.
Legal transcripts are very important documents, and it is very important to transcribe them correctly. You need to have a solid understanding of how to scope before you start doing it. There is a lot more to learn than just how to use the software.
Pros of Training Yourself
- Self paced
Cons of Training Yourself
- No foundation – you won’t learn why you need to do what you are doing
- Teaching yourself can be difficult, inefficient, time consuming and incomplete
- Training will be very sparse compared to other scopists’ training
- Miss out on learning scoping software program commands, transcript formatting, typical court reporter preferences and other things that make scoping go quickly and efficiently and give court reporter clients a quality product
Tech and Gear for Scopists
Scopists need stuff in order to scope. Not a lot of stuff, but stuff. There are two tech items you must have, one piece of gear you should have, and many others items you can have if you want to make your work life easier and more enjoyable.
Must-Have Tech for Scopists
The two must-have items in order to work as a scopist are scoping software and a computer.
Scoping software is the biggest expense you will have as a scopist. But this is a one-time expense, you have to have it and, once you have it you can earn good money with it.
There are several companies that produce and sell court reporting software and supplies, and these companies also sell software for scopists. Because the job of a scopist is not as involved as the job of a court reporter, the scopist version of these software programs is much less expensive than the full court reporter version.
The costs of scopist software varies, but it does cost around $1,500, an expense which can be offset by the money you earn as a scopist.
What software you want to buy depends not so much on what software you think sounds best for you, but what software you think can help you get the most work and, therefore, the most income.
There are two primary court reporting software brands and several smaller brands. The two biggest brands are the two I have listed first in this article.
A benefit of buying from one of the bigger brands is that you will have the potential for a lot of clients because so many court reporters use the big brand software. However, you will also have a lot of competition from other scopists using this same software. If you buy from one of the smaller software companies, you will likely not run into many other scopists using the same software, so court reporters who do use that software will probably be happy to find you.
Scopist Software – Top 5 Brands
Stenograph – Stenograph is a well-known software company which offers scopist software with features especially valuable to scopists, as well as proofreaders, to help make working on transcripts go as smoothly and quickly as possible. Stenograph is the brand I used for my entire career.
EclipseCAT – This software is good for court reporting students because if you buy the scopist version and later decide to purchase certain of their court reporting versions, you’ll get a 100% credit for what you already paid as long as you have a current support agreement.
StenoCAT – Unlike other scopist software programs, you not only can buy StenoCAT, you can lease it on a yearly basis.
ProCAT – ProCAT is a well-known court reporting software company which has been around since 1982. Although not specifically listed on their website, ProCAT does have a scopist version, with one year of support and updates included. If you want to learn more, you can call ProCAT at (818) 222-5010.
DigitalCAT – Stenovations, the company which sells this software, says that “scopists using StenoCAT report that our product is easier to learn than any software they had used in the past.” If you want to inquire about their scopist software, you must call them at (304) 346-8363.
(Fun Fact: The “CAT” in court reporter and scopist software products stands for Computer Aided Transcription.)
Computers for Scopists
The only other tech product you must have in order to work as a scopist is, of course, is a computer which, of course, you already have.
Because scopist software and scopist school (if you choose that method of learning) can be expensive, I’m listing some inexpensive computers here to offset those costs.
Of course you use computers for almost everything, so when you invest in a good computer you will be buying not only on a product for your work but a product for your life.
In case you want and can afford a computer solely devoted to your work, or if you just need a new computer, I have researched and am listing here two desktops and four laptops.
The only computers I’ve used in my life are HP and Dell (and IBM back in the day) so because I don’t personally know anything about any other computer brand I will mention here only HP and Dell. These brands work great with scoping software and in general. The following computers I have chosen based on cost as well as positive independent reviews.
I’ve categorized these computers into desktops, laptops and lightweight laptops with one HP and one Dell in each category.
Desktop Computers for Scopists
Laptop Computers for Scopists
Lightweight Laptops for Traveling and Working
More and more people are getting into working while traveling, and if that is the case for you (or you hope might be the case someday for you), you may want a smaller and lighter-weight computer, a laptop of course. Here are two laptops under $270 which are good for traveling as a scopist.
Must-Have Gear for Scopists
The one piece of must-have gear for scopists is audio gear. When scoping transcripts you need not only to hear the testimony, you need to hear it well. Most scopists prefer headphones in order to listen to testimony, although external speakers can work as well.
Headphones for Scopists
Noise canceling headphones are by far the most popular headphones with scopists. Specifically, many scopists recommend and buy Bose noise canceling headphones – either the Bose wireless headphones or the Bose in-ear headphones.
Headphones for scopists need not be expensive, though. Some other examples of headphones are:
Speakers for Scopists
If you have other things that you need to hear while you’re working, such as your phone, doorbell or kids, or you simply don’t like the idea of wearing headphones, you might prefer speakers instead. Here are three speakers suitable for scopists.
Foot Pedals for Scopists
Many scopists choose to use foot pedals to help them do their jobs. Foot pedals allow you to focus on typing on your keyboard while your feet control the audio speed as well as reversing and fast forwarding when necessary. Foot pedals are not completely necessary in order to be a scopist, but they are very popular with scopists and they do help a lot.
The most popular foot pedal for scopists is the Infinity USB foot pedal. In fact, I conducted a Facebook poll in 2018 in which all scopists who use a stand-alone foot pedal said the Infinity USB Digital Foot Pedal is the one they use.
Headphones/Foot Pedal/Audio Software Bundle
For a long time I’ve heard scopists talk about using Express Scribe, also called XScribe. This is a very popular combination of headphones and foot pedal (and audio software if you need it) to help you do your work quickly and efficiently. In the Facebook poll I conducted in 2018, I learned that all scopists who use any type of headphone/foot pedals bundle at all use the Express Scribe headphones/foot pedal/audio software bundle.
Now that you’ve read the ultimate guide for how to become a scopist, you know everything about freelance scoping as well as what method of learning scoping would be the best for you. Start your scoping training now by taking the free scoping training course from Internet Scoping School here.
(This post was first published on June 11, 2018.)
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.