Back in the day -- there's a phrase that makes me feel old -- attorneys and judges alike used to refer to court reporters as the most important person in the room. Yes, I still hear that phrase uttered, but today it sounds more like a throw-away line, a phrase said to placate reporters or boost our long-suffering morale.
As a point of clarification, I do not believe we reporters ARE the most important person in the room. The truth is, the witness is. Or in court, it's the judge. However, like that old saying. . .
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
. . .there is a court reporting corollary:
Likewise, if there was no court reporter present at proceedings to capture the spoken word, was anything said?
While not THE most important person in the room, most reporters are happy to take second-most-important-person status. But second-most-important-person status should not be confused with second-class citizen.
Lately, there's been rumbling among our ranks, the ranks of court reporters and agency owners, a rumbling that has grown louder because many of us feel that not only is the service we provide taken for granted, causing many of us to feel like second-class citizens, but that those who use our services think we should be working for free.
Well, I'm here to take the "free" out of "freelance"!
What you should know about your court reporter.
- Court reporters are licensed professionals who have spent YEARS learning their craft, earning a degree and taking state/national licensing examinations that have an incredibly low pass rate, tests where the standard is such that anything below 97 percent IS AN AUTOMATIC FAILURE. Education costs $$. And taking exams until you pass costs $$.
- Working reporters provide their own computers, including realtime notebooks. I personally invest more than $2,000 annually on hardware.
- Working reporters purchase their own software. In my case, my software costs $4,045.00, with an annual support contract of $1,200.
- Working reporters purchase their own steno machines. I have two in case one goes down. My machine retails for $3,995. TIMES TWO. That's nearly $8,000 in steno machines in my possession. Annual service contract for these highly sensitive machines? $379 a year for a basic plan with loaner. That means if my machine needs more than a cleaning, I'm out of pocket.
A new reporter entering the marketplace is out of pocket $10,000 before s/he makes his/her first dollar.
And there's more. Most court reporters (those of us not officially employed by the state or federal court system) are freelance. Freelance just means we're independent contractors. It doesn't mean our product should be free!
I bet you're wondering what goes into our everyday cost of doing business, because, after all, each freelance reporter is like a tiny little business unto himself/herself.
Nonfree freelance costs:
- Health insurance
- Errors and omissions insurance
- Retirement contributions (completely self-funded)
- Quarterly estimated taxes
- A good accountant to keep it all straight
- Proofreader (not optional)
- Scopist (optional)
Nonfree costs for freelance agency owners:
- Administrative staff (THIS IS WHERE WE ALL DO A HUGE SHOUT-OUT TO MONICA AND PATTI!)
- Health Insurance
- Billing software
- Electronic transcript software
- IT support, lotsa IT support
- And more!
So the next time you get an invoice from your reporter and ask, "Why does he/she make so much money?" do the math.
I'm here to tell you...
I'm taking the "Free" out of "Freelance" in court reporting!