Newly Certified Reporters: Finding the Right Agency Fit
By Cynde Gregory with Rebecca Rodgers
For many newly certified court reporters, the pride of having successfully passed the national examination is balanced by an equal weight of anxiety. Newbies know their ability to accurately take down is strong and they’ve got a better understanding of the legal system than most folks, but the thought of competing for jobs with reporters who have years of experience can be enough to make them fear for their futures.
Fortunately, many of Georgia’s court reporting agencies welcome newly certified reporters. As Julia J. Scarborough of Macon’s Hawthorne & Webb Court Reporting & Video Conferencing points out, “Everybody has to have a starting point.” She has no problem working with reporters who have little or no experience as long as they are certified, professional and willing to accept oversight and guidance along the way. Many other agencies feel the same. After all, there are pluses to new hires who bring enthusiasm and new blood. Reporters with little or no working experience are typically eager to tailor their work to the specific needs and wishes of the agency that welcomes them aboard; not only that, but they also bring a boon of gratitude and loyalty to the firm. “We are happy to give an inexperienced reporter a chance,” says Rich Baker of Janice S. Baker & Associates, which offers services throughout North Georgia. “We will begin slowly with fill-in work and provide enough oversight to ensure the client will be happy with the results.”
Of course, newborn court reporters and those at the toddler stage must understand that while many firms offer training and support as they learn the ropes, the reporters’ successes (as well as the agency’s satisfaction) are ultimately up to them. Newbies need to rapidly absorb the tips and guidance they are offered, because an agency that has given them a chance expects to see steady improvement in the quality of work they produce. New reporters must also bring their most qualified selves. Professional appearance, good grooming, promptness, and heeding deadlines are all essential because anything less reflects negatively on the firm. Rich Baker explains that his agency expects newly certified candidates to possess the kind of professionalism that is status quo for seasoned reporters. They must have equipment that is in good working order and sufficient to handle a job. Voice writers, for example, must own powerful computers, good masks and the latest software; they must also have logged in enough time with their own equipment to be able to use it with confidence.
Rookie reporters should also understand that training and supervision isn’t free to the firm. The adage “time is money” speaks volumes, and less experienced reporters should expect lower splits to compensate for the additional time firms devote to helping them get up to speed. Joyce Frassrand-Curl of Atlanta Peach Reporters, LLC, puts new reporters through a full year of training; for an exceptionally capable reporter, that time might be reduced. Gainesville’s North Georgia Court Reporting Pavon Bohanan reports that her company also works with newly certified reporters and like most others, “The split will be lower at first.” Exceptions, such as Hawthorne & Webb Court Reporting & Video Conferencing, which takes 15% from any reporter regardless of experience, are few. Reporters who have completed certification and are ready to get to work really do need to realize that they will encounter all kinds of issues, questions and situations they aren’t ready to fully handle on their own. Continuing support through training and oversight is as valuable and as essential as the hours these new reporters have already spent in the classroom.
When asked what agencies look for in their new hires, the answer is the same across the board. Whether a reporter is seasoned or recently certified, focus, efficiency and careful attention to the myriad details involved in producing quality transcripts are essential traits. Rich Baker notes that “We look for reporters who come highly recommended, and we are likely to be more interested in new reporters who are involved in organizations such as the Georgia Certified Court Reporters Association.”
One question many new reporters have is the business nature of the professional relationship an agency offers. Most agencies work with reporters who are independent contractors. Among other things, the reporter is responsible for paying her own taxes and maintaining functioning equipment, but these expenses and others can be deducted at the end of the year. Working as an independent contractor allows reporters the opportunity to put out feelers to a number of agencies at once in order to keep up steady demand. There is a fine balance, though; while large agencies using dozens of reporters might only offer work on occasion, many firms depend upon their reporters to be fairly reliable. A reporter who turns down several work requests in a row because she has obligations to other agencies will find those offerings will trickle or stop altogether. Smaller firms, such as Janice S. Baker & Associates, prefer to develop long-lasting relationships with reliable reporters who consistently produce quality work. “Most of our reporters have been with us for five to 20 years,” he says. “We’re really like a family here. We know we can count on our reporters, and they know they can count on us.” Agencies do understand that when less work is available, reporters are more likely to cast wider nets. As a result, some agencies, such as North Georgia Court Reporting, reward exclusive reporters with preference on jobs and reserve freelancers only for overflow work.
While a few court reporting agencies in Georgia still depend exclusively on machine writers, most agencies today open their doors to both machine and voice reporters. Ultimately, the product must be accurately produced, of course. More traditional clients may prefer to work with machine writers, but fewer agencies are limiting themselves to just one method.
With realtime reporting becoming an increasingly important part of the court reporting conversation, some new reporters wonder if agencies will even consider reporters who are not yet realtime certified. The answer depends upon the agency, and who that agency largely serves. Reporters with realtime experience and those willing to pursue real time training will find that some agencies see themselves moving in that direction while others are less concerned. North Georgia Court Reporting, for example, would like their reporters to be pursuing realtime certification; they point out that most Georgia State courts request it. Others, such as Hawthorne & Webb, really don’t get client requests for realtime reporters, although those who explore new technology will always be in greater demand.
Working with a mentor or attending classes is an important part of becoming a qualified court reporter, but simply earning national certification is only the beginning. True success depends not only upon finding work, but finding the right kind of work with the right kind of employer: one who understands you can’t possibly know everything, is willing to train, and believes in your future as much as you do.