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WHAT IS A SCOPIST?
Before we talk about the role of the court reporter assistant (AKA “scopist”) and how they, too, play an important role in our judicial system, let’s first shed some light on the role of a court reporter. I’m sure that all of you reading this will agree that litigation is certainly here to stay; therefore, more often than not, a court reporter is a very busy individual who is in great demand. Attorneys, court reporting agencies, courthouses and even agencies such as the Workmen’s Compensation Commission and large law firms all across the United States will seek out and depend on court reporters to produce verbatim transcripts of formal and informal proceedings. Needless to say, after spending hours and hours a day taking down testimony, a court reporter will often enlist the help of a trained legal scopist to assist them with the editing process and to produce a final (or very close-to-final draft) verbatim transcript. A growing number of court reporters and court reporting agencies (nationwide) are looking for skilled scopists who they can feel comfortable contracting this work out to because; one, they are oftentimes much too busy taking down testimony and they are just simply unable to devote the necessary time to edit their own transcripts fully; or two, they would rather use a scopist to edit their transcripts so they can continue to take on additional court reporting assignments -- or -- just to have a bit of downtime and relax before the next rush of assignments start up again. Because a scopist uses a computer (along with specialized CAT software) and the internet, you can easily see why your potential clients do not have to be local when it comes to marketing your services; indeed, you can advertise your scoping services to court reporters who are located in every single state if you wish to!
USING CAT SOFTWARE, A TRAINED LEGAL SCOPIST WILL:
(Here is a short list of just a few of the basic duties of a scopist.)
l. Edit/format legal transcripts using the court reporter’s steno notes and audio files
2. Research terms and spellings when necessary
3. Maintains communication with the reporter at all times and keeps the court reporter updated during the editing/formatting process of all transcripts
4. Delivers all transcripts on time/NO EXCEPTIONS
Legal depositions and courtroom testimony are produced on double-spaced pages (estimate – 25 to 28 lines per page). A scopist charges by the page. Depending on how busy your court reporter clients are -- along with how much you wish to work -- will determine your income. A trained and detailed-oriented scopist who strives to produce quality work can usually take on as much work as they wish to; again, as long as they are confident that they are able to meet all deadlines outlined by the court reporter. (It’s best to strive to meet these deadlines ahead of schedule if at all possible.) Page rates will vary. Each court reporter or court reporting agency will inform the scopist of the page rate they are willing to pay for each specific assignment and then negotiations can ensue from that point forward in reaching an arrangement that will work for both parties.
Another factor to consider when invoicing your client(s) will be turnaround time. The faster a transcript has to be turned in, the more a scopist can charge the court reporter; i.e., daily and rush jobs are jobs that need to be produced within a few hours or a couple of days, respectively. Your client’s (clients’) needs and how much you are able to work will, of course, determine the amount of income you can make.
A court reporter trains for a number of years to become adept at his/her court reporting skills. They must take the necessary tests (through the NCRA – National Court Reporters Association) in order to become a court reporter who is authorized to produce an accurate record of legal proceedings. The court reporter’s assistant, however, is not required to go through years of training -- nor is the scopist expected to take these very challenging tests that court reporters must pass; rather, a scopist must offer their clients not only a very good understanding of the English language and posses above-average spelling skills, but they also should be familiar with and able to read steno notes, trained in the use of CAT editing software and understand the steps on how a court reporter’s steno notes become a final and legal document. A scopist will also want to become better acquainted with some legal and medical terminology; especially when editing expert testimony. It is possible to acquire these editing/scoping skills in a rather short period of time. Dedication, professionalism, attention to detail, good communication skills and meeting ALL deadlines are absolutely essential in becoming a skilled legal scopist who is always in demand. I made my decision to study to become a legal scopist over 20 years ago…and I have never regretted it – no, not once!