We’ve received a lot of questions regarding scoping, so this week I got the chance to talk with, Linda Evenson who has been a scopist for almost 37 years and who has taught scoping online for nearly 20. She’s been active in the profession through speaking, writing articles, and serving on committees. She was once dubbed the “Scoping Cheerleader” and loves that nickname!
She currently lives in the beautiful state of Montana with her husband of 32 years (who is a retired deputy sheriff); three dogs; and a mouthy parrot. She has four children but only two grandchildren and is considering renting more. And best of all, she still loves her job!
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What is scoping?
Scoping is editing transcripts for court reporters. The court reporter types the transcript on a steno machine and uses CAT (computer-aided transcription) software to translate it into English. Not to be confused with proofreading — which happens after the transcript has been edited — a scopist reads that transcript (on a computer screen) and edits the text for accuracy.
Major tasks include filling in missing words, researching spellings, and adding or correcting punctuation. It’s an important job because you need to make sure the transcript is word-for-word exactly what was said during the proceeding. A scopist also needs to know how to read steno notes (machine shorthand); how to put a transcript together; how to use CAT software, how to format a transcript; proper ethics; ergonomics; medical and legal terminology – and much more – as well as how to market him/herself to reporters in order to find clients.
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What personality types are good for this job?
People who love words tend to make excellent scopists. They got good grades in English, love to read, and enjoy crossword puzzles and word games. Dependable people who are task-oriented, can sit in front of a computer for hours at a time, and meet deadlines are likely to succeed. Folks who are self-starters, service-oriented toward their clients and perfectionistic are ideal candidates. Scoping isn’t for everyone, but for those who are willing to put in the time to master the skill, it’s a challenging and rewarding career.
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How much can a scopist make per hour or annually?
Scopists are paid by the page, so the hourly rate is highly dependent on the scopist’s speed, the difficulty of the material, how well the reporter wrote the job, and if s/he needs to listen to full audio with the transcript. With an average writer, a scopist should be able to make a minimum of $20/hour, or the equivalent of $1.00 or more per page.
With excellent reporters and a proficient scopist, that can go up to $35-45/hour. Working three-quarter time or so, I used to make 30-35K/year. If you get into rush work, which pays quite a bit more, your annual salary can rise to 50K or more.
My personal record was when I earned over $500/day doing an immediate-delivery transcript. That’s where the attorneys want the transcript ASAP after the close of the proceedings. My client was in California, and I was editing closely behind her — courtesy of the Internet! — here in Montana. How cool is that technology? The pressure can be high sometimes, but the hard work paid off.
How do scopists get clients and/or find jobs?
ISS includes intensive marketing training to help our graduates succeed in finding clients. In these Internet days, it’s easier than ever to connect with court reporters. Everybody and their dog — literally! — are online. There are many court reporting websites where you can get to know reporters; there are scopist websites where we can post ads; ISS passes on contacts to its grads that we receive; there are even several job boards online where reporters and scopists can post.
A word of warning to those itching to get paid: Scoping is not a get-rich-quick job — it’s a real career that requires real skills in order to succeed. No matter how badly you may need to earn money, resist the urge to seek out work before being fully trained.
The scoping and court reporting world is reputation-driven, so if you skirt real training and don’t really know your stuff, you’re almost guaranteed to fail. “Fake it till you make it” doesn’t fly in scoping. Trained scopists, on the other hand, have several things going in our favor: There are fewer reporters coming out of school; there are more lawsuits than ever; and attorneys are pushing for tighter deadlines.
Because court reporters are in higher demand, scopists are too. Reliable scopists help busy reporters manage their ever-increasing workload. Talk about job security!
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What advice do you have for a newly trained scopist?
Do whatever you can to put your name/face in front of reporters. Network with them online, always being careful to word things well and spell everything correctly. It is your word skills you’re marketing after all. Join your state, national, and/or local reporting association and attend conventions. That personal meeting is worth its weight in gold. And members get listed in their directories which can result in work coming your way. Don’t work when you are overly tired or stressed. Put your heart and soul into doing the best job you possibly can. Earn a great reputation. Always be ready to go the extra mile for your clients. They won’t forget it — and will often tell their friends!
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What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a scopist?
While working from home is one of the best things about scoping, having relatives who think they can call you and gab during work hours can be frustrating! I have three dogs who also think they should go outside every 15 minutes because Mom’s just sitting here! And I once had a kitten stand on my keyboard and erase a bunch of text. Thankfully, I am a very good note reader, so I was able to add it all back in.
Some of the not-so-pleasant challenges can be reporters who don’t want to pay you (I have written a series of tips on how to prevent that); unethical scopists who might help you with one of your clients and then try to steal them (which is why I recommend my students get to know their ISS peers); and although reporters make wonderful clients 99.9% of the time, some of them are horrible writers, and there will be an, erm, cantankerous one now and then. Some people are just miserable to work with, but don’t let them get you down — your success doesn’t depend on them; it depends on you!
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What are some of your favorite time management tips and tools for being a scopist?
I highly recommend that scopists always make time for networking. Even if it’s only 5-10 minutes, make it an every-single-day thing. If some of your clients aren’t great writers (whose work takes longer to do, thereby lowering your hourly rate), start scouting for some clients who do better work. In one fell swoop, you can give yourself a several-dollar-an-hour raise.
Try to train your friends and family not to call you during work hours; if they do, let it go to voicemail or, if you answer, hang up as soon as possible. If it’s a marketer, say “no” once, then hang up on them, and don’t feel guilty! Treat your job like it’s a job.
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Even though the hours are flexible and buildable around your schedule, the more available you are, the greater your chances of receiving higher-paying work will be. Set up an efficient office space. Learn early on to organize your information so you can find it quickly. Track incoming/outgoing jobs and deadlines. And don’t let your dogs out every 15 minutes!
Originally published in July 2014. Content updated September 5, 2016.