Sound like the latest minty mouthwash or magnifying lens? Think again.
For freelance folks that crave a legal career without the courtroom, scoping
can be a profitable home-based business -- and in some areas, scoping is booming!
Self-employed scopists work closely with court reporters. Unlike the dinosaur
days of taking manual shorthand (causing many a cramped finger), reporters
key in testimony on a steno machine, carefully recording a conversation's
To the untrained eye, the end result of all this careful transcription
is a bunch of gobbledy-gook -- for instance, a translation for "FURL" could
be "if you recall" and "BRUP" could be "burden of proof."
A computer-aided transcription (CAT) machine translates this alien language
to English -- and the scopist's job begins.
Computers aren't perfect -- but a strong scopist can be! A scopist reviews
the translated text, makes any changes and edits the document. It may seem
like a simple editing job, but a scopist's input is incredibly crucial.
Court reporters, no matter how experienced they are, may miss testimony
or mis-key a statement.
Scopists provide a second set of experienced eyes that can research any
discrepancies, fix any errors and provide a polished transcript.
Why hire a scopist? One word: money. "Reporters are finding they can make
more money by using a scopist...instead of doing their own editing," says
Linda Evenson, spokesperson for the Scopist Task Force.
Plus, there's the error factor. Ever work on a big report for so long that
you don't see a glaring (and embarrassing) typo? Reporters face the same problem
-- and they need scopists to catch any goofs.
"In the highly litigious atmosphere in which we live, more lawsuits are
being brought, more depositions taken than ever before. Reporters that used
to do their own editing can no longer handle the workload and are seeking
help from scopists," says Evenson.
"As the shortage of new reporters hits the marketplace, I would expect
more scopists to be able to work full time at this profession."
Scopists -- A Field Guide
Do you memorize endless factoids, irritating friends and family? Good news
-- that skill can actually make you money.
"The best scopists are those who have an excellent command of the language
and have a very broad range of knowledge," advises Steve Miller, a self-employed
scopist in Florida.
"Read everything you can, work on developing grammatical and punctuation
skills and keep your ears open. You never know when you may see or hear something
that might be useful down the road."
Miller's knowledge base and written skills came in handy after he was downsized
from a major university. His court-reporter friends suggested a career switch
from administrative assistant to scopist -- and mentored him every step of
"A friend referred me to [the] Legal Services Institute of Clearwater,
Florida, which offers a study-at-home course."
Schooling gave Miller the crucial transcription skills he needed to actually
read the alien steno-language. His computer programming background helped
him learn the CAT software.
"I only used one of their three modules and my reporter friends mentored
me and assisted me in transcript format -- and I was on my way," reports Miller.
Starting Miller's business was expensive. A good computer system with modem
will set scopists back around $1,000 to $2,000. There's also software, reference
books, training costs and professional affiliations -- which can run in the
neighborhood of $4,500.
"CAT software is expensive. I believe that most scopists have an edit-only
station, which is a scaled-down version of what reporters utilize. I have
a full translation system, and it set me back $3,500," admits Miller.
If this sounds like the business for you, start saving now. Successful
scopists require all their necessary items before they open up shop.
Miller's day can be busy. "Depending on my workload, I usually work Monday
through Saturday and take Sunday off; however, if I'm swamped, I'll work Sunday
as well," says Miller. "Overnighters" are also a possibility -- and could
happen without warning.
"A few years ago I got a call at 6 p.m. from a client who had just gotten
out of an all-day deposition, and the attorneys wanted the transcript the
next morning. If I remember, it was about 300 pages and we were up until at
least 4 in the morning getting it out," remembers Miller.
Although an entrepreneur's career can be demanding, there are some perks
-- including flexible scheduling. "Being your own boss and [having] the ability
to set your own hours is definitely a positive, although it takes a lot of
What's the future of scoping? Look no further than your computer. The Internet
is opening up markets and allowing successful partnerships between geographically
distant court reporters and scopists.
E-mail and file transfers allow quick, accurate client communication and
processing. "It is interesting to note that although all but one of my clients
are local, I have only met two of them in person," says Miller. "All of my
work, except for the client that lives where I work, goes back and forth via
Ready to start scoping? Brush up on your computer skills, save up for your
training and supplies and plan your home office. Soon, you'll be creating
your own profitable home business -- and building a satisfied, loyal client
Miller says, "My best days are those when my reporters tell me that they
couldn't do it without me, which my clients tell me with enough frequency
to make it all worthwhile." Now that's a satisfying home-based career!
National Court Reporters Association
Support and resources for the court reporting and captioning
Scopist employment information, links and journals
Scopist Support Group
Learn more and network with peers