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Wanna scope?

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 phonetics.

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 the way.

"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 self-discipline."

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 e-mail."

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 base.

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 profession
Scopist employment information, links and journals

Scopist Support Group
Learn more and network with peers

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