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Chapter 6: The Current State of Affairs

As you can probably see, court reporters and legal scopists operate in a fairly dynamic environment. Current equipment allows for audio to be stored digitally with its steno notes, kept synchronized so a scopist or reporter can play the underlying audio for a section of transcript. This one feature makes scoping via telecommunication much more feasible.

Court reporting is branching out as an industry, finding new niches to occupy and new features to offer. For example, real-time transcription for depositions was originally offered for only very complex proceedings, but many court reporting firms offer it as a valuable timesaving feature when working with interpreters for foreign-language speakers because the interpreter can have long, difficult questions to interpret to the witness; real-time transcription displays the pending question on a video monitor, so the parties are assured that the interpreter gets the question correct without having the questioner ask the question in short bursts, waiting for each burst to be interpreted. This not only saves time during the litigation process but helps questioners retain their train of thought. And of course, the reporter and scopist receives a nice markup for the service.

Scoping as a profession exploded onto the scene in the mid '80s, but there have been some trends in the past decade that have had a dampening effect on the profession. Court reporting has become adversely affected in past years, mainly by limiting statutes and partly because of the economy in general. In the late '80s and early '90s, because of the acceptance of the CAT system, court reporting became possible as a so-called "cottage industry," where reporters could actually work on their own, entertaining only a handful of clients. This made for competition that many large firms couldn't tolerate, as well as causing a general dilution of client base industrywide. In many cases, the trend was to cut overhead while trying to maintain the largest number of reporters, and scopists were considered overhead.

Unfortunately, this also meant that reporters were underworked, so they had time to do their own scoping. Next came the price wars, and court reporting has effectively been suffering a price freeze ever since.

Don't get the wrong impression, though. Remember that all the new technology on the scene makes scopists and reporters much more productive than they were in the past, effectively creating periodic increases in income overall, so it kind of balances out. Currently court reporters' transcripts can now by synchronized with video, and exhibits are digitally stored, so everything can be integrated digitally into what attorneys refer to as "case management systems," thereby streamlining the attorneys' workups and providing a high degree of organization to a complex legal process. 

When court reporting took its hits in the '80s and early '90s, another trend occurred that set the scopist back. Court reporting curriculums started popping up in community colleges nationwide, which should be a good thing, but many of these programs placed emphasis on court reporting as a one-man show: "Get rich quick working part time." Many programs didn't even mention scopists.

Over time, probably a quarter of the court reporters in the field forgot the benefits of using scopists, while half the new reporters that have entered the ranks are completely unaware of the benefits of using a scopist.

An interesting example of all of this exists starting from the late '90s. In court reporting in the United States, there are currently large companies, and at least one a public corporation, that are gobbling up reporting firms and implementing a business strategy that incorporates low pricing and contracted clients. This indicates that the large reporting firm is potentially a workable business model again. However, scopists are not incorporated in their entire business strategy, probably because their principals are unaware of the increase in per-reporter productivity when their reporters are backed by a scopist pool. I imagine they'll be catching on soon, though.

There has been a general growth in court reporting volume since the mid '90s, largely due to increase in litigation during a robust economy but also because many jurisdictions that have tested alternatives to court reporters or overzealously limited discovery through tort reform and litigation reform have been unsatisfied with their results and have reverted back to using court reporters. Also, with the advent of closed captioning and other things, court reporting will continue to find new avenues, many of which will require scopists.

Scopists are particularly fortunate if they're on the lookout for opportunity because not only is the current trend on the rise for court reporting volume but even the alternative methods are a potential profit item for the scopist.

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