Do you have good language skills? Do you like research and solving puzzles? Would you enjoy the challenge of “translating” court reporters' puzzling notes into understandable documents (otherwise known as scoping)? And at the same time turn the time you have while the kids are at school or napping into additional income? Have you ever heard of scoping before? Are you wondering if scoping for court reporters could be a rewarding career for stay-at-home moms (or dads) like yourself?
I'm happy to introduce Linda Evenson, the creator of the Internet Scoping School, who has been a scopist for more than 35 years. In this interview, Linda answers many basic questions about scoping and the possibilities it has for stay-at-home parents.
1. Linda, could you give us a little history and tell us how you ended up scoping?
When I was a young mother, I heard that a friend of mine was making money by typing from home. I thought, “Well, I wouldn’t mind bringing in some income while I’m raising my kids,” so I called her and asked her about it. She told me about typing from dictation for court reporters and also about a thing called “note reading,” which was learning to read the machine shorthand that reporters wrote on their machines — kind of like a secret decoder ring! I was intrigued!
I did a little research and found a correspondence course in note reading and bought it. Not long after, I was hired by a local reporter to start typing up transcripts from his notes. After that, I started working in-house for a reporting firm when they got their first mainframe computer that translated reporter notes into English. Hot diggety dog! I was hooked. Who would have thought that it would turn into a lifelong career that I still love?
2. What exactly is scoping? How is it different from editing and proofreading?
When a court reporter takes a job, her computer matches the strokes she writes to ones she has preprogrammed into her dictionary. Think of the possibilities: A reporter can define the sound “lurge” as “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” and write six words in one keystroke. Talk about a time-saver! Now you know how reporters can write well over 200 words per minute. Cool, huh?
If a word isn’t in her dictionary or she doesn’t write it perfectly, it will show up in the transcript as an untran (in steno notes). I love figuring those out! I also need to know how to punctuate, paragraph, format, research spellings, fill in missing words, and make the transcript as close to a final product as possible. I love being a word sleuth; I feel like a real Sherlock Holmes!
After that, it goes to a proofreader or back to the reporter to proofread before being produced to the attorneys. Both professional proofreaders and scopists are in demand, and both must have excellent word skills. For myself, I like scoping because there is more editing to do, and I really like the note reading and research aspects. It’s kind of like taking pieces of a puzzle and making them fit perfectly together. I guess I’ve never outgrown it — and it keeps me young!
3. Do you need to be familiar with the legal system?
One does not need to have previous experience with the court or legal system to learn to be a scopist. I didn’t either, but, boy, I have sure learned a lot! We cover some common legal terminology in the course I created to train scopists, and most spellings are easily found online, as are case cites and legal decisions.
I think good word skills are probably more important than almost anything else. And ISS (Internet Scoping School) provides lots of training in word usage: commonly misspelled words, hyphen rules, capitalization, apostrophes, British vs. American spellings, one word or two words, plus a lengthy section based on Morson’s English Guide for Court Reporters, a long-used authority on the English rules.
4. Can you learn the required skills in a short time, say a couple of months?
There have been scoping courses that espoused that theory, but I don’t believe it. That’s why, by design, Internet Scoping School has two to three times the training material of other online courses. I wanted to thoroughly cover every skill and all the knowledge that a professional scopist needs to be successful.
Back in the day when I learned scoping, I had to teach myself on the job. When creating this course, I spent a lot of time trying to think of every single thing I wished someone had told me back then.
I have seen many simplistic questions posted by scoping students on the scopist boards online. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why didn’t you learn that in your training course?” You won’t see questions like that posted by ISS grads because they are extraordinarily well prepared.
5. Is this something that a stay-at-home mom can do in her limited amount of time? Is the work flexible?
A work-from-home mom can easily scope part-time and bring in some nice extra money working around nap times, school activities, and other parenting responsibilities. Some reporters require scopists to listen to a full audio recording of the job as they edit. Even though this work is slower going (and higher-paying), a scopist could work two, two and a half days a week and bring in more than $1,000 a month. Especially since daycare has become so expensive, many moms find it difficult to make more than what she has to pay the babysitter. What’s the point?
Since regular turnaround time is about a week, it is easy to fit work in around other obligations. And even if a lot of work comes in at one time, I always recommend that every grad “buddy-up” with another grad or two so they can help cover each other’s clients when necessary. As long as work goes in on time, scoping can be wonderfully flexible.
6. Realistically, what is the minimum amount of time you would need to devote to this on a daily basis? What if you can only work on it late at night or early in the morning?
Time investment is highly variable depending on how many clients a scopist takes on and what kind of money she wants to make. A busy mom might make all she needs by working with just one reporter maybe 15 hours per week. Most folks can fit that many hours into a week.
7. Is this a real career, even if you only work for a little while each day?
Absolutely! A good scopist is indispensable to a busy reporter. This means a person who not only does a stellar job of editing but who is dependable, prompt, and who shares with the reporter the goal of putting out the most perfect transcript possible.
8. Can you make a decent income doing this part time?
I suppose that depends on one’s definition of “decent.” Compare making $20/hr and giving half or more of it to daycare vs. making $25-35/hr or more (with some experience) and not giving any of it to daycare. Um, let’s see…that would be…okay. So I’m horrible at math, but I’m a whiz-bang at words!
9. Is this a job that a stay-at-home mom could make into a full-time job once the kids are older and she has more time on her hands?
That’s what I did. Once my kids got into school and I had more time, I built up my clientele and started making a lot more money. ISS teaches its students how to market and find reporters, and from what I’ve seen over the last 17+ years, they get out there and do pretty darn well for themselves.
10. Is it hard to get clients and have a steady workflow?
ISS grads usually start working right after graduation and are able to build their clientele and make money as a scopist. I am actually amazed at what good money some of them make! Of course, they do a lot of high-pressure rush work and they work more than 40 hrs/wk, but they make lots of money! I’m trying to adopt a couple of them now…
11. Do you ever have to go meet clients or can you do everything from home?
Since scopists often work via the Internet for reporters all over the country, you may never meet some of your clients. If you are someone who likes to attend conventions like I used to do, I did get to meet some of my reporters face to face. (It was the only thing that kept me from lying about my age, my weight, my looks, etc.) And I do recommend that scopists get involved in their state/local associations because reporters are impressed by scopists who care enough about their profession to participate. But if you want to stay in your office and be a house mouse, you have that option as well.
12. What kind of previous experience and skills do you need to succeed in this field?
You do need to know how to type, but since most of the transcript is already in English, you don’t have to type a million words per minute. Having some internet/computer experience is helpful because you will have to know how to get around your machine. And the better your word skills, the faster and easier the training will be for you.
13. What kind of office equipment do you need besides a laptop and an internet connection?
I advise my students to have a good word-processing program such as Word to use for business communications. You will want to have a printer, but with email, you don’t need a fax like you used to. So your initial investment will primarily be your computer (if you don’t have a relatively current one), your CAT (computer-aided transcription) software in which you will edit files, and your training. Compared to starting a retail business, for example, your buy-in is relatively small.
14. What is the best part of this career for you?
I love words: I like to read, I like word games, I enjoy learning new words and their meanings. I was always very good at English and correspondingly appalling at math, so this profession fits my natural aptitudes. Here I am 37 years later and I still love my job. I’m sure that’s why.
I also really like having my own business and being my own boss. My three dogs are my daily companions – and we all know dogs are nicer than a lot of people. If I ever want conversation, it’s only a few keystrokes away. I am mistress of my own world…at least till my husband gets home.
And I enjoy always challenging myself to be better, faster, and more accurate. I want the day that my clients started working with me to be one of the best days of their lives.
15. Any advice for moms (or dads) who want to give it a go?
If you are a self-starter, able to organize and motivate yourself, you enjoy the challenge of being the best you can be at what you do, and especially if you have a love of language, scoping is an amazing and fulfilling career. I highly recommend it! Dip your toe in with the free 7-day intro course for scoping newbies — we’ll get to know each other better, and I’ll give you a thumbs up or thumbs down for scoping based on your current skills and schedule.
Thank you, Linda.
So what do you think? Does scoping for court reporters sound like a rewarding career for you? Had you ever heard of scoping before? Do you have any questions about it? Or, on the other hand, have you tried it? Do you have any experiences you want to share?