Scoping: What’s It All About?

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.

 

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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.

Scoping Services and their Partnership with Court Reporters

The Successful Partnering Between a Court Reporter and Scoping Services

As we all know, court reporters can have a very heavy workload, not only with depositions in the courtroom, but the work doesn’t stop there.  The court reporter is responsible for taking testimony, then transcribing into a formalized, precise and accurate document.  Nowadays, it is not uncommon for court reporters to subcontract out much of this transcription work to scoping services.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A scopist is the court reporters’ partner that will take the transcribed document and check for misspellings, punctuation, mistranslates and format the transcript to the reporter’s specifications.  This entire procedure starts when the scopist gets an electronic version of the translated steno documentation, which may or may not have audio or other additional documentation.  The role then of the scopist is to carefully correct any errors in the original document and verify that it follows the audio transcript exactly.  After this process is complete, the updated document is sent back to the court reporter for the final proofreading and approval.

In addition, the very important value-add that the scoping services provide is partnering with the reporter to learn their specific needs, translates and overall working idiosyncrasies.  Many times this allows for updating the reporter’s translation dictionary and suggesting new keystroke combinations for easier and faster transcription in the future.  

Scoping Services – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Obviously finding and keeping a good scoping service that can build a strong business relationship with a reporter is invaluable.  When a court reporter finds a scopist with these skills, it’s definitely to their advantage to continue with this strong relationship!  

Inevitably, as in any other business, there are some scoping services who simply are unable to deliver the high standard of results that is demanded of them.  Such an unskilled scoping service would clearly be a liability to a court reporter by not only costing the reporter money but also valuable lost time due to an additional round of corrections.

The reality is that the vast majority of scoping services do indeed have all the skills needed to complete the job successfully.  With the technology required and the internet, there is no need to be restricted by geography.  In fact, a good working relationship can be established with a scopist who may be living on the other side of the country.  Many times you’ll find the most experienced scopists in your area are in very high demand and may not be taking on new clients but it is worth continuing the search.  There are many new scopists to the profession that are talented, eager to please, and “coachable”.  There are a few caveats to hiring a newly qualified scopist, for example, the court reporter would be advised to start out very gradually with a such an individual, giving them simpler transcriptions and making sure they have plenty of time to complete them.  An experienced court reporter will very quickly find out if it’s worth the investment to keep the new scopists after seeing the results of their first transcription.  

Teamwork!

A reporter and scopist are much more than just two people working together.  With this team, two is better than one.  In other words, working together as a team there is a synergy that would otherwise be missing.  The reporter can offload much of the more tedious work, and yet no less important, to their trusted scopist and there truly is a comfort in knowing the work will be done correctly and on time.  And, the reporter now has extra hours in their day.  In fact, the additional time that they save can be used to build on their existing court reporting business and help generate more revenue for them in the long run.  Alternatively, some court reporters simply use the additional time to enable them to wind down from the high pressure workload that a typical reporter faces everyday.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the occupational outlook for court reporters, stenographers and transcriptionists is “excellent”.  Given the interdependency between court reporters and scopists, the partnering aspect is essential for both to succeed.

If you have any questions on our Scoping Services, please contact us here.

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If you have any questions on our Scoping Services, please contact us here.