Let’s jump right into it. We’re talking New York City, but it’s probably applicable to any chronically-depressed market. I haven’t been in the freelance game for five years. But I care a whole heck of a lot about it. Why? The health of the field is a lot like the health in your body. If you’ve got a powerful left leg, but your right leg is falling off, can you walk?
Let’s face some realities. Reporters are doing most of the work when it comes to reporting. We often give the agencies a lot of praise for marketing, production, and the logistics when work takes place somewhere that isn’t counsel’s office, and I’ll even go so far as to say agencies deserve that praise because it’s not insignificant work. But the reality is the reporter is doing the vast majority of the work on any individual transcript.
So what we’ve been seeing in New York is offers of hundreds of dollars in “bonuses,” which is basically an extra appearance fee. This is an indicator to me that agencies could stand to raise their appearance fees a bit. In my freelance life I had a pretty crazy range of appearance fee, from $15 to maybe $60. Honestly, it might not be such a bad idea for reporters to start asking for $100 or even $200, dependent on the client and work. It might not be such a bad idea for agencies to start offering that standard.
Everybody’s trying to get stuff covered. It’d be a huge incentive for reporters to take more depositions per year if that appearance was higher. Let’s say you get somebody who works like a madman and takes a job every weekday, about 260 weekdays by a nice appearance of 120, that’s $31,000 a year compared to the paltry 4K I would’ve made doing the same exact thing. You’re going to get people out of bed pretty consistently for an extra 20 or 25 thousand dollars a year.
Markets shift. When you see agencies whipping out bonuses of $400, $500, it’s a sign that you can all raise the floor on your rates so that they don’t have to bankrupt themselves covering individual jobs. And for the agencies who resist raising the rates, it’s a sign that they are ready to be defunct and you shouldn’t feel bad about taking a client or bringing a client over to an agency that treats you better.