Did you know that editing legal transcripts is an in-demand service that can bring in an average of $4,000 a month for full-time work? Did you know that you can do it anywhere and anytime?
After the court reporter gets up from the stenograph machine, the transcript they produce needs to be translated into a form that can be submitted as a legal document. And that’s where scopists come in.
Using the same software the court reporter uses for the translation, scopists are responsible for editing legal transcripts to be sure they’ve translated correctly. It’s a scopist’s job to catch any errors on the part of the software or the reporter, making sure a clean copy is presented.
Scopists save court reporters time. While a court reporter can certainly proofread and edit their own legal documents, doing so will keep them from being in court. They will be spending time on the part of their work they can hire someone else to do, and missing opportunities to do the portion only they are qualified for.
Since there is a current shortage of court reporters, it is even more important to pass editing legal transcripts to a reliable scopist. This makes scoping a sought-after service, and good scopists often have clients they serve steadily.
But how does someone become a scopist? I chatted with Darcy Thornburg of Thornburg Writing and Editing, LLC, to learn more about her journey to scoping.
Darcy began her freelancing career the same week she gave birth to her daughter after completing the Proofread Anywhere course. She began working with court reporters as a legal transcript proofreader while attending graduate school, and learned she could earn more per page as a scopist. Her explorations led her to Internet Scoping School, which she completed during her third semester of studies toward a master’s degree in 2018.
Hi, Darcy! Tell us a bit about yourself! How did you get started working from home?
I'm 38 years old, a mother of 1 (so far), and married. Back in 2015/2016, my husband and I were in South Carolina (we moved there for his job), and thinking of starting a family. I knew I'd want to be home with little ones for at least the infant/toddler phase, but I also wanted to contribute financially to the household. I found a list of legitimate work-from-home jobs online, and one was proofreading for court reporters. I took the Proofread Anywhere transcript course, and graduated the same week that our daughter was born — the first week of January 2017.
From there, I started my proofreading business, which was very slow for a while, and then I started graduate school that fall. I had to turn down a lot of work to do research and homework, so I wasn't making much.
What led you to decide to enroll in Internet Scoping School? Do you feel that ISS prepared you well for your career?
I am part of the Proofread Anywhere graduates' group on Facebook, and I had heard a lot about scoping. I looked into it, and found out that I could make more for the same amount of pages by scoping instead of proofreading, so I looked into scoping schools.
Eventually, I decided on Internet Scoping School, rushed my way through the course while doing graduate research and proofreading, and graduated late 2018. I had a couple of proofreading clients who were only too glad to take me on as a scopist as well–or instead of–as a proofreader.
I wouldn't say that I've ever had a “career” per se; what even is that anyway? I've just had a series of jobs that eventually led to this work-from-home opportunity.
Can you explain in a nutshell what scoping is?
When a court reporter (the stenographer variety) takes a job, they upload their stenographic notes to a special software program called a computer aided transcription program and format it into transcript form. There are various different ones, the most well known being Stenograph's Case CATalyst and Advantage's Eclipse.
Such software is not perfect, however, and neither are stenographers. So they have to go through and edit their transcripts to make sure the correct punctuation, formatting, and homonym/homophone use is there, look up spellings of proper names, etc. Sometimes, in order to be able to take more work (and make more money), the court reporter will send a particular transcript to a scopist who does the same thing the court reporter would do to prepare the transcript for turn-in.
There are also proofreaders specifically trained to proofread these transcripts, and a court reporter might hire a scopist and proofread the transcript themselves, hire a proofreader and scope the transcript themselves, or hire both a scopist and a proofreader.
What is your favorite aspect of scoping?
I like using the software–I'm a minor tech geek–as well as figuring out the challenging words that my clients either missed or couldn't figure out. For instance, one client did not know the word “panoply,” and another took down “bunch housing” instead of “Münchausen.”
I also like being able to read steno and understanding how it's written, as that helps me to figure out what “typos” could have been meant to be.
If you could change one thing about scoping, what would it be?
I'm not sure I would change anything about scoping. At least, I can't think of anything to change at this moment.
What skills or characteristics make for a great legal transcript editor?
If you're scoping in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, or any other country where the main language of legalese is English, then fluency in English is a must. Countries with other official languages (like French in Canada or France, for instance) would require fluency in the language of that country.
Attention to detail is a big must, and it doesn't hurt to have a language background such as the English literature and linguistics degrees I have.
Is it ever a challenge to find clients/steady work?
There is a high demand for scopists everywhere, at least in the U.S. Because there is a shortage of court reporters; those court reporters who are out there are having to take on more work to make up for the shortage, and they need scopists to free up time for them to take those extra jobs.
How many hours do you spend editing legal transcripts, or how many clients do you serve, on average? Do you keep that constant, or vary it by week?
I have about 7 hours a day blocked out for possible work time. If something comes up and I don't get finished at least 100-150 pages (scoping) per workday–on days I have work to do–then I have what I call my “emergency” work time after my daughter is in bed at night or while she's having her afternoon “quiet” time during the weekends. I try not to use those emergency hours very often though.
Whether my regular hours get filled or not is dependent on if my clients have anything for me to do. I have two long-term regular scoping clients, 3 or 4 semi-long-term semi-regular proofreading clients, and a few clients who just reach out every now and then for either proofreading or scoping.
The workload varies based on a couple of factors:
1. The things I have going on in my life such as doctors' appointments, family trips, or my weekly meetup with my local crafting group; if there's more going on, I may turn down jobs that won't fit in my schedule between the time I'd receive the files and the deadline given to me by the client.
2. How much or how little work my clients have for me; my clients have vacations and slow/busy weeks just like I do.
3. Whether my daughter is home or not; I can't work for very long while she's home and awake because she gets into everything and keeps asking if I'm done yet, which just makes the work take longer.
Scoping can provide a solid income if you work diligently at improving your skills.
What are your income goals for your business? Do you feel you are meeting them, or can you see a point when you will?
My goal is to make at least $25,000/year before expenses to supplement our family income. I put $1,500/month into our joint checking account and keep the rest in the business accounts to cover the few business expenses I have as well as to pay the CPA at tax time.
This year, I've made about $20,000, so it may not happen this year, but next year is looking quite possible.
How has starting a home business changed your life? How about your family life?
I'm not dreading going to work anymore, and I haven't had a commute (unless you count from bedroom to home office) since early 2015, so that's a plus. I can also be home with my daughter if she gets sick and can't go to daycare for a while.
Is scoping a good career option for stay-at-home parents?
I know a few scopists who are stay-at-home parents whose children aren't yet in daycare or school, so yes. Once my daughter is older, she'll understand about Mama's work time too.
Any advice for someone who’s thinking about editing legal transcripts?
1. Have a plan for what you're going to do with the money you earn before you earn any. For instance, you might save 1/3 for business expenses, 1/3 for savings, and the other 1/3 could go to your personal accounts/expenses. Or you could just keep enough for the regular business expenses for the business and keep the rest for personal stuff. I have an LLC, so I do monthly owner's drafts of $1,500, and the rest stays in the business accounts.
2. Don't just take every single transcript your clients send you; that's a fast way to burn out from bad work-life balance. Set the hours you're going to spend working and take jobs based on whether or not you can fit that work into those hours. It will help to time yourself, at least at first, so you know how long, say, 25 or 50 pages takes to scope (or proofread).
3. It's okay to say “no,” and you don't have to give a reason if you don't want to (your reasons for being too busy aren't technically your clients' business anyway). But if you need to say no but want to avoid saying it outright, it's also okay to try to negotiate the deadline on any given job if you think you could do it if you just had that one more day/few hours/whatever. But in the end, if your client's deadline is set in stone and you still can't shuffle anything around to accommodate it, you'll need to say “no.”
4. If you must say no and you don't know if your clients have backup scopists/proofreaders, offer to get them the contact information for other scopists/proofreaders (there are various groups on Facebook full of them, for instance). You'll be helping out your client as well as your colleagues, and your client will be more likely to seek you out for future work if you do something that will still get their work done, even if it means you're not getting paid for that particular job.
5. NEVER “farm out” jobs to other scopists/proofreaders yourself; that is extremely unprofessional. The court reporter's name is the one that ultimately goes on the transcript filed with the court, and they need to know everyone who “touches” it, just so they can count on the quality and that they won't have their license revoked for some error that was not fixed by the farmed-out proofreader/scopist.
6. Invest in a good scoping school, and the software the school teaches (ISS uses Case CATalyst, and I think Best doesn't teach a specific one).
7. Learning to at least read steno is a big plus, even though a lot of court reporters rely on audio as backup for their notes these days. ISS has a note reading module, and I think the other scoping schools might as well. You could also learn it from the Open Steno Project, which uses Plover.
Thank you, Darcy!
Had you heard of scoping before reading this article? Does editing legal transcripts sound like a business you could enjoy while earning a good income on your own schedule from anywhere with an internet connection?
Are you interested in learning more about what it’s like to be a scopist? This is the third in our series of interviews with Internet Scoping School trained scopists. You can read our first group interview with three scopists here, and our recent chat with scopist Chelsea Stock here.
If you want to begin your anywhere and anytime scoping career, but need training before you’re ready to edit court documents, check out our review of Internet Scoping School’s online scopist training program, recommended by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). ISS can help you transition from a novice with no experience to a professional scopist editing legal transcripts for appreciative court reporters, all at your own pace.
ISS also has a thriving online community which is included in your tuition. Current students and past graduates are there to support and celebrate together. Course creator Linda Evenson, who has been a professional scopist for over four decades, is active in the group and available by email, ready to share her accumulated wisdom and experience.
Ready to go all-in and take the leap?
Interested, but not sure you’re ready to be a scopist? Sign up for the free seven-day ISS email mini-course! When you’ve finished, you’ll have a better understanding about what editing legal transcripts requires and whether it’s something you want to pursue.
Have questions or thoughts about scoping? Want to learn more about how others make good incomes and maintain their work-life balance while editing legal transcripts? Pop a comment in the box below, and check back for our next scopist interview, coming soon.