The term Scoping began in the days when the court reporting profession made the first steps toward automation.
Their services were performed on large (Smart Car size) minicomputers which had very small phosphorescent-green video screens which would show approximately 80 characters and just 20-24 rows at a time. These screens looked a lot like oscilloscopes. Hence, the term “scoping” performed by a scopist who supports court reporters.
There are two types of court reporters: official and freelance. An official reporter is one that works for a court in state, district, circuit, federal, or similar jurisdictions. They take down court testimony like trials and hearings, arbitrations, as a full time profession. If a hearing is held or a verdict is reached that requires followup, as in an appeal or additional testimony anticipated, or in response to motion hearings, the lawyers will usually order one or several copies of the transcript.
Freelance reporters are available for hire by attorneys for depositions, statements, and occasionally trial testimony.
When a court reporter takes a job, he/she will write down the testimony on their steno machine. These machines are now all computerized, storing their notes digitally as well as on paper. Reporters write in machine shorthand, hitting key combinations in “strokes,” or multiple keys at a time, to record the phonetics of the conversation. It’s important to note that reporters all have their own shorthand “styles,” so a scopist has to learn, be aware of and practically become symbiotic with their reporter. No two reporters are alike!
After the job is written by the reporter, they transfer the steno file to a CAT system (Computer Aided Transcription). This CAT system will compare the steno notes which are digitally retrieved from the steno machine against a personal dictionary that the court reporter maintains. This system will convert most everything to English words – you then have a document to work with and this is where the scopist begins the task of scoping!
A scopist will receive a rough translation, usually along with audio tapes. A scopist will use whatever resources are provided, as well as any they have at their disposal, to produce a clean transcript for the reporter. What did we ever do before the Internet for research?
In this process, a scopist will help maintain a court reporter’s CAT dictionary by making “global” entries. A reporter may make a typo, or write something several ways, or may take new terminology, and none of this will exist in their dictionary. As a scopist edits a transcript, they can replace bad strokes with the correct record, or they will “define” these strokes on the computer by making a “global,” or global replacement. This tells the computer to add this stroke or combination of strokes into the dictionary, as well as throughout the transcript. This drastically speeds up the reporter’s work and the scopist’s work.
Note that a scopist should produce the cleanest possible transcript, but in the scheme of things a scopist is the midline of the process. After scoping, a transcript will usually go to a proofreader for final editing. Nevertheless, a scopist wants to absolutely minimize the need for final corrections; that’s what they’re hired for.
There are several characteristics that define a successful scopist: first, the job itself must hold your interest. The topics are broad and far-reaching in the litigation world and the variety of topics must be to your liking.
This interest is important for a good scopist because, without following the lines of thought being discussed in the testimony, a scopist can miss the subtle nuances of the conversation, and often use the wrong words in the context. Also, most reporters are very preoccupied with getting the phonetic record on their machines, so they may sometimes mishear testimony. It is probably the single biggest responsibility of the scopist to lend a second “ear” to the testimony (if audio backup is available) and make sure it is correctly transcribed.
Another important characteristic is flexibility. There are rules of grammar that apply when producing transcripts of depositions, court testimony, etc., but these rules are very basic. Grammar and grammatic use is actually very flexible, although most people do not realize that. Reporters tend to fall into one of several grammatic style categories, but all will have their own nuances. A scopist working for more than one reporter must be able to “tune in” on each customer’s style as easily as changing hats.
Another acquired trait that is necessary is the persistence of research – looking things up. A good scopist looks up anything that they’re not positive about, including name spellings, locations, medical/legal terminology, etc.
Finally, a good scopist must be able to read steno machine shorthand. Machine shorthand is the language of the court reporter, and knowledge of shorthand theory is mandatory for a scopist to effectively assist court reporters with their dictionary maintenance, which in turn provides a permanent return of higher efficiency for both the court reporter and the scopist.
There are probably only several thousand scopists in the U.S. today, but the trends in reporting tend to be twofold: larger firms which are keeping a minimum number of reporters as busy as possible; and independent reporters who tend to have large “spikes” of backlog and quiet. In either scenario, the scopist is a tactical advantage for a reporter, and therefore a favorable environment for the scopist exists.