In our court reporting field today, there are a number of roles that need filling by caring, competent people. There is a constant need for good stenographic court reporters and scopists. If one doesn’t care about the work, it taints the work itself. You can see this in anything; news articles that don’t bother to use spellcheck, contractors that get drunk on the job, or waiters that “Frisbee” food plates at you are all good examples of work tainted by laxity. In some circumstances, there are opportunities to check the licensing and/or certification of the service provider or vendor. In other instances, a license may not be necessary or a certification may be misleading.
Even honest recommendations or reviews can go wrong. In our world, there can be a lot of “guess and check” when it comes to the people we work with and rely on. Great working relationships have been forged on giving someone a chance or taking a shot in the dark. But this can also lead to a lot of unexpected or undesirable outcomes. As an example, a long time ago, I sought out scopists for help on a large amount of work that I was hit with unexpectedly. I reached out to at least four scopists, two of which were recommended to me. The first recommendation dragged their feet on what I sent them and later admitted they were too busy to do it. The second recommendation told me my writing was “too confusing and labyrinthian.” The other two powered through what I sent them without any problems. This doesn’t mean anyone in the scenario was a bad person, but it does stand out as a great example of how recommendations can go south.
In another situation, a friend needed a scopist and/or transcriber. An individual reached out to my friend to get the work and said “I know Christopher Day and Joshua Edwards.” I expressed some skepticism then, and I pointed out that most everyone knows us, for better or worse. At the time, I was a New York State Court Reporters Association board member, and Joshua Edwards is, as of writing, the president of NYSCRA. I also let my friend know I didn’t know that person, with the caveat that I don’t know many scopists because I scope most of my own work. As it turns out, the work was done inadequately. Letters were where words were supposed to be, the work was unfinished, and incorrect words were found throughout. It was disastrous.
There are even situations where ostensibly respectable people will lie to you. There is a court reporter in my state that, from all I know, is doing fine. They have built a nice book of business and command good rates. Some time ago, they contacted me, telling me that a reporter in another state was telling others that my writing was horrible and to never scope for me. That would be believable enough, but I had never hired the accused to scope for me, and the accused and I were and are pretty friendly. We had just gotten to meet in person at Empowerment 2019. In short, I knew that the accuser was lying, but if things had played out differently, I might not have.
Finally, there are situations where someone looks great on paper, but there are other factors that make them impossible to work with. In one instance, I was asked what I knew of another reporter, and I admitted that I did not know much, but they had several certifications, including realtime certification, and I felt at that time that they must be a great reporter because they had acquired so many certifications. That certified reporter ditched a job early without obtaining any backup reporter or alerting the agency because they didn’t like the job they were on. Prior to that day, such a situation was unfathomable to me. So even where someone has the skill necessary to do the work, they might possess traits that make them a bad fit for our wonderful field.
All this is to say I have seen, heard about, experienced, and even created some tough professional situations. In an effort to help others avoid having to live through the same, I’ve got some general advice and flags to look out for that one can apply to court reporting, scoping, and beyond. There are rarely hard deal breakers, but there are certainly some situations that may make you want to put brakes on the deal. Just keep in mind that though this post focuses on vendors/sellers, clients and buyers can have similar traits that make them bad for your business.
From all I have seen, when someone starts namedropping, it’s something the purchaser of the goods or services needs to take note of. Sometimes people are just proud of who they know or what they do, and that’s okay, but sometimes people drop a name or title to create an air of credibility. So don’t be a sucker. If somebody tells you they’ve worked for the president or that they know some other recognizable figure, take it with a grain of salt and consider verifying where possible. Giving the benefit of the doubt to the wrong person can be incredibly damaging to your wallet and/or reputation. The namedrop is also closely related to people that advertise skills and services that they don’t have. Be skeptical.
The Sad Story (SS)
If somebody approaching you for work is telling you a very sad story, you may want to consider it a flag. In life there are people that share too much. It’s a natural human response to feel empathy and even want to help. Unfortunately, when someone is telling you the sad story™️, you can’t tell if they’re genuinely over-sharing, a con artist, or simply have habits that put them in the position they’re in. A friend hired a scopist who complained that they couldn’t get work anywhere. Nobody would work with them. In typical sad-story fashion, the friend gave them a chance, they stopped communicating on the status of the job, and eventually turned over substandard work. The sad story doesn’t always have to be sad. Any story that’s engaging your emotions can be someone trying to manipulate you. SS is also linked to making excuses or apologizing instead of improving. Hiring people that do not take responsibility for their actions or people that “take responsibility” but make no attempt to improve is a sure way to ruin your business. It’s as bad as hiring someone who has a bunch of sad stories and no skills. Remember that you don’t have to light yourself on fire to keep others warm.
The Uncertified Certholder
Anybody can stick the letters RPR or CSR after their name in an email or transcript. There’s no Court Reporter Bureau of Investigation to bust down the door and arrest an offender the second they attempt to deceive someone. Luckily, you can often pull up a certified reporter in Sourcebook and check their certs on the spot. In places with licensure, you may also be able to do a license search. Trust, like empathy, is a fundamental part of being human, and therefore a major target for con artists. Trust, but verify.
The Unknown Certholder
Even where a license or certification is verified, one must have some understanding of what a license or certification is before purchasing a good or service. As an easy example, in our field, there are NCRA, NVRA, AAERT, and many other certifications. There are practical and knowledge components to certification exams, but they stand for very different things. AAERT’s CER seems to focus on multiple choice questions with regard to knowledge about court procedures, annotations, and vocabulary. It requires 80 percent to pass. Then there is the CET. In addition to its multiple choice questions, it presents a practical portion where the transcriber must transcribe audio and create a transcript in accordance with federal guidelines. The transcription portion requires 98 percent accuracy. Compare that now to NCRA’s RPR, which has a knowledge portion and three skills portions where a reporter has to create transcripts at 95 percent accuracy. A buyer that does their homework knows the RPR is sitting there getting 95 percent accuracy with no chance to interrupt or repeat. The CET is being given 150 minutes to listen to and transcribe audio files given to them. The uninformed buyer might just assume 98 percent accuracy is better than 95. The informed buyer understands there are different skills being tested here; be informed.
Even when one understands the nuances of the different available certifications, one must be sure to remember that certifications are not testing for every skill that might be relevant to a job. Billing, binding, and disposition are all things that can seriously impact a job or project. Nobody tests for those! Certifications can be a great starting point or strong indicator that someone is serious about their work, but buyers must be aware that until they’ve built a relationship with a service provider, the service provider is an unknown, and certifications won’t change that. Don’t rely exclusively on certification.
The On Again Off Again (OAOA)
Like any toxic relationship, somebody that is only there for you when it’s convenient for them is a problem. If you can’t get a hold of someone for weeks at a time and then they turn up when they need money, you’re not important to them. Chances are high you don’t want someone who doesn’t care about you working on your stuff. Dealing with the OAOA can be as simple as having an honest discussion with them or cutting them off completely, but it’s not often a problem that resolves itself. The hardest part of dealing with this is setting the boundary that their behavior is not acceptable. The OAOA may try to guilt you, may have a sad story or great excuse™️, or there may be any number of factors, such as a friendship in common, that make you hesitate in having a discussion about how you feel. OAOA’s nature is not always conscious or intentional and can arise from things like substance abuse or mental health issues. Ultimately, if someone is treating you in a way you do not like to be treated, it’s up to you to take action to stop it.
The Big Threat (TBT)
You’ve just hired someone to provide a service. Suddenly, without any arrangement or discussion, they’re demanding payment upfront. If you don’t pay right now they’re going to tell everyone on Facebook you don’t pay your bills. The big threat people™️ solve problems through anger. They want what they want, and they’ll threaten you with whatever they can to get their way. Most people don’t really like conflict, and TBT largely takes advantage of this by applying pressure. “If you don’t do what I say, X will happen.” This could come in the form of threatening to file a lawsuit, threatening to damage your reputation, or in extreme cases threatening to harm you in some way. These conditional threats are designed to make you afraid and get you to do what TBT wants you to do, and often the way to deal with it is to call the bluff. Just like sextortion scams, if TBT carries through on their threat, they no longer have any leverage over you. If they do not carry through, then you get to see firsthand that their threats are empty and you will feel that much stronger and certain the next time someone tries to use threats against you. Let go of fear.
One major exception to the “ignore it” strategy is when threats are illegal. If the threat itself is coercive or otherwise illegal, it makes good sense to cut contact and alert the authorities. Do not wait until the threat is carried through. While I haven’t personally run into this in the court reporting world, I know that victims of crime often feel embarrassed or scared. A victim dealing with a violent or malicious TBT might very well blame themselves for getting into the situation. Police and district attorneys often publish resources about what to do if you are the victim of a crime or believe you may be the victim of a crime. Remember, the perpetrator is doing it to you because it worked on somebody else. Break that cycle and remember you are not alone.
The Buy Now
We usually see this more in the timeshare business than the court reporting business. Anybody using high-pressure sales tactics to get you to commit to something is likely under some kind of quota or is not being upfront about what they want from you. If they’re under a quota, they do not care what they sell you, they care only that they sell it. If they don’t care, it calls into question the quality of the work or product that will be produced. As far as not being forthcoming, you might see that in the shape of “order a depo today, get one on us.” Free is never sustainable, and if someone offers something for free, the buyer needs to start questioning what’s sustaining those giveaways. Is the firm selling your information? Is the firm cost shifting? Is the firm going to hit you with lots of hidden fees and charges that they just forgot to mention™️? What are they getting from you and do you want to give it to them? It can get a little tricky differentiating regular sales and someone trying to rope you into a service you don’t need, but buyer beware the “buy now.” Ask questions.
Regularly you want someone confident to handle whatever you’re paying them to handle. The Sage takes that confidence to an unbearable extreme. They’ve been doing this so long that they discard your concerns out of hand. “I would really like it if you used the margins we agreed to last week” says the client. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” says the sage. This one is big in court reporting. The average age of the court reporter is around 55 and the vast majority of reporters have been doing this one or more decades. Frankly, it’s not wrong to be reluctant to cave to every consumer demand. Most of us are independent contractors and the customer is not always right. But when you have someone that’s completely unteachable or so set in their ways that they won’t hear you out, it might be time for you to wise up and hire somebody else. Note that though we often equate age with experience, the sage mentality can happen at any age or experience level. Reasons matter, and if someone is almost always answering your questions with “that’s just how it is,” it’s fair game to assume they’re a sage. Seriously, ask questions.
The Social Media Monster (TSMM)
You can usually pick up a few things about a person from their social media. When you’re considering hiring them it’s not out of the question to check. If you see rants about their former employers littering their space, it’s a good idea to pause and evaluate whether or not you want to risk ending up there as well. We often go through life with the best of intentions, and no one wants to start off a business relationship by thinking about what might happen if it goes bad, but for TSMM you might want to stop and have that thought exercise and conversation with yourself.
Note that heavy social media use is not inherently a problem. I knew a very kindhearted albeit political interpreter that would attend many rallies and marches. Their social media broadcasted this heavily. They applied to be an employee for a local court. At the interview, they were asked about their activities and social media. “Do you think you can separate your personal activities from your work performance?” The answer was yes, and to this day they serve as a shining example of what a language interpreter should be. Let social media be a part of your hiring decisions, not a manual.
Great. What Do I Do?
Now that we’ve gone through some problem personalities and things to look out for, it’s opportune to write about what to do when everything goes horribly wrong™️. But first, a word from our sponsors (WARNING, some viewers might find this unsettling or graphic. If cartoon violence bothers you, do not watch it. It’s also not really a sponsor. My only sponsors are donors.)
0. Admit there’s a problem.
For everybody who skipped that, it’s a cartoon dog, sitting in a room that’s on fire, sipping coffee, saying “this is fine.” The point of the thing is the situation is clearly not fine, and by refusing to acknowledge that there’s a problem, our cartoon hero suffers a terrible fate. Similarly, when you are looking to buy a good or service, if you refuse to acknowledge a problem, you may suffer. Solving any dilemma requires admitting there is a dilemma, and psychology tells us that once we’ve invested time, money, or effort, we’re more willing to keep sinking resources into the investment even where the cost outweighs the benefit.
Like so many things in life, how to solve a problem can be very context sensitive. Creating a guide to every possible scenario and how to solve it would be long, boring, and nobody would read it, so I’ll boil down the thought process I use for solving most conflicts.
- Assess the relationship.
After you’ve admitted to yourself there’s an issue it’s time to start problem solving. What are the power dynamics of the relationship? What do you like about it? What do you dislike or what’s the problem? Is it a relationship you want to keep? What kinds of changes would salvage it? What changes could you personally make? What changes do you need the other person to make? This first step sets up everything else. You are going to treat a longtime business partner, friend, or lover differently than you will treat someone you met an hour ago. Right at the start, you want to start forming an idea of how much the situation is impacting you, your ideal solution, and boundaries you can live with if you cannot reach your ideal. The first step is assessing the relationship because you may very well realize you don’t want the relationship.
If you take a position on just about anything, you’re going to find that you have allies, enemies, and a whole lot of neutral parties. The allies are the ones you’re going to want to spend the most time on in the context of a problem or personality conflict.
- Assess the communication.
Have you communicated clearly to the other person that there’s an issue? Have they communicated to you that they understand the issue? Have they communicated that they see the issue differently? Do you believe their communicated perception of the situation is genuine? Is it possible that there’s been a miscommunication? When young children begin to lie, it is a sign of cognitive health, because they are grasping that other people have knowledge or beliefs different from their own. As adults, we often forget that and fall into a world where we assume people have seen the things we’ve seen, know the things we know, and most importantly, know what they’re doing. “He knows what he did.” “She knows what she did.” How do they know? Telepathy? People do this all the time; It’s a logical fallacy called the hasty generalization. In fact, I just did it by stating people do it all the time. If you haven’t communicated with whoever it is that there’s an issue, then it’s generally best to start from the assumption that they don’t know there’s a problem. By assessing the communication, you’re helping to make sure you’re not the problem.
This is something I have real experience with. In the context of this blog, I once had a situation where I published a post without doing enough research and without reaching out to a party for comment. Now, I do a lot of commentary, and I do not always ask people for their comment or quote, but I ended up looking pretty stupid because my communication was lacking. Don’t be stupid, communicate.
- Assess the response.
Once you’ve opened up the topic for discussion, it’s time to see what the reply is. If the person shuts down or stops answering, is it possible they’re busy? Are they belligerent? How many times have you attempted to have the conversation? Have they brought up valid counterpoints? Does it seem like the two of you can reach your ideal solution or, at least, a solution that is satisfactory to you? If you’re at this stage, it’s worthwhile to keep an open mind, because it means the relationship is worth salvaging and you care enough that you’ve communicated to the other person there’s an issue.
Even where you don’t know someone very well, or don’t feel it is comfortable or appropriate to communicate all your feelings or knowledge, it is possible to communicate enough that you form an idea of what the person thinks. For example, I had a situation where I vehemently disagreed with the way a reporter handled something. Rather than launch into a stalwart defense of all I stand for, I said “you know, I’ve been in the business a while, and generally, it’s not right to handle things that way.” They didn’t care, and that lack of caring was enough for me to realize this was not someone I would be associating with.
Eventually you’ll have to decide what to do. You started off with a problem, got a rough idea of what you wanted to happen, communicated that to the other party, and got some kind of reply, even if the reply was silence. At this point, there are some general avenues you can take if you’re unable to reach a resolution together.
4a. Continue on with the problem.
Take all the work you did assessing and communicating and throw it out the window. People take this avenue a lot. Maybe after everything they decide the problem isn’t big enough to threaten the relationship, or maybe they’ve fooled themselves into believing it’ll resolve on its own. Whatever the case, you can always choose to not do anything, but know that it may leave you unsatisfied or resentful no matter the benefits of working with the person.
4b. End the relationship.
If the negatives outweigh the positives and the other person isn’t meeting your needs or won’t make any concessions, it’s time for things to end. This might take the form of hiring somebody else to scope or report the proceedings. This also can take the form of a final confrontation with the person where you let them know that they’ve let you down. Thanks to the sunk cost fallacy, this can be very hard to do dependent upon the situation. The relative smallness of our field can exacerbate the difficulty of letting go, since burning a bridge may mean something goes uncovered on some future date. But there are health considerations when dealing with someone who is stressing you out with no end in sight. You have to choose yourself.
4c. Be A Mentor.
Sometimes in the course of communicating you’ll find out that the person is not being difficult on purpose. If you’re close enough, you may learn that they have some other underlying issue that’s causing them to behave strangely. Substance abuse, mental health issues, changes in medication, or domestic incidents are all things that can hit hard, fast, and without warning. For many business relationships, you simply won’t be close enough to a person to learn about what they’re going through. On the rare occasion that you become aware of such deep personal issues, you can take the time to listen, understand, and perhaps even offer suggestions or help. There are many ways to be a mentor. One can just listen and let the other party vent or one can go so far as to help the other party with their work obligations or schedule appointments. The most important part of being a mentor is setting boundaries, because simply erasing the other party’s problems creates a situation where you become a de facto punching bag. Some people will use up every ounce of your kindness and simply continue on with their bad habits. Just remember, mentor, you can only bring a horse to water.
4d. Create consequences.
When someone’s bad behavior is pushing down your business, it’s fair game to push back harder than simply ending the relationship. This can take root via social media shaming, an ethics complaint, or even legal action. More often than not, my moral compass points toward compassion, unity, diplomacy, and forgiveness, and I’m sure that many of my readers cringe at the idea of “attacking” someone. But as noted above in the TBT section, there are people who will do whatever they want. Their philosophy in life is “screw you, stop me.” They will continue to crush people until somebody stands up to them. Lying, cheating, denial, and projection are all tools in the “screwer’s” arsenal.
Fiction can make very powerful statements about the real world while keeping things light and entertaining. I think the Boondock Saints movie said it best. “…We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.” Sometimes taking the path of least resistance is an admirable course of action. Sometimes doing nothing simply allows the screwer to move on and screw the next person.
Many posts on this blog are an example of consequence. By keeping a public archive of statements and events in or around the field, it creates a social pressure that makes it harder for people to misrepresent events. Two years ago I pointed out that vTestify’s calculator erroneously claimed it could save attorneys $3,000 per deposition. As of today, a lot of that stuff has been scrubbed from their site and they now advertise themselves as a platform that, to me, is more reminiscent of Zoom than a traditional court reporting agency. Can I claim it was thanks to me? No. But I had a part to play in letting court reporters know “this company is saying they can do what you do for dirt cheap, and they’re pants-on-fire lying.” Happy they made the pivot. Haven’t heard anything bad about the platform. But consequences matter, and when someone is not being honest about a product or service, it doesn’t make you a bad person to stand up and say “NO.”
In the video game world, sometimes the strengths and weaknesses of a character or situation are decided by a roll of the dice or a random number picked by the computer. You don’t like what you get? Oftentimes you can reroll. Same holds true here. Sometimes restarting the whole process of assessing your relationship, communication, the other party’s reply, and your conclusion can change an outcome. Every few years I have the pleasure of getting raving-lunatic levels of angry at something or someone in this field. Usually with some time and reassessment I am able to see things from their perspective and realize something I thought was a huge problem in the moment is actually a minor bump in the road in the context of a close business and/or personal relationship. Other times, with time and reassessment, I feel more justified.
To really drive home the power of the reroll, about half a decade ago, I received a message telling me I needed to be more involved with the field. I had just started a new job that I felt completely unqualified for. I was in the middle of a relationship with someone who was hopelessly addicted to drugs. The insulin levels in my body were about eight times more than a normal human. I blocked the person that sent me that message. Be more involved? The only thing I wanted to be more involved with was laying in bed all day hoping tomorrow would forget to come. Over a week or so, I thought the situation over and quietly unblocked them. To this day they are one of the people I look up to and love in this field. We share a love for the field that not too many can match. Such a relationship would’ve been impossible without the reroll.
There will be people inside and outside of our little field grappling with all the same pains and problems. “Why don’t we get along?” “How do I navigate this stressful situation?” None of us will have all the answers, but I hope that this one reaches people who need it. It’s okay to stand your ground. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to help people. It’s okay to help yourself. It’s okay to set boundaries. It’s okay to make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.
It’s okay to be human, because if they wanted a robot, you wouldn’t be in that seat today.