I just Googled “court reporting” and “ethics” and got over seven million hits. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I did not peruse the results for more than a few pages before I reached the conclusion that the topic of this article has not bubbled to the top in the discussion of ethics within our profession, at least not on the Internet. The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. In that vein, I want to consider here whether there are limits to what we can and should do, as business men and women, in our mutual pursuit of profit and how those limits can reflect poorly, not only on us as individuals, but upon our profession as a whole.
I was recently transcribing a hearing recorded by county court personnel in my state. During a brief side discussion, two of the attorneys involved in the proceedings talked about obtaining a transcript of an extended interview one of the parties had given outside of court prior to the case being filed. Although they both agreed they needed the transcript, when the subject of the cost to obtain it came up, they balked at contracting for its transcription, marveling at how transcribers use larger print, include fewer words per line, and put fewer lines on each page than ever before, all in an effort to squeeze more money from their clients.
Just as President Clinton once temporized, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is,” when asked what the cost of our transcription services might be, those of us who charge by the page of transcribed text should, if we are honest, respond, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'page' is.” By fiddling with the margins, the size of the fonts, and even the amount of space some transcription software inserts between letters, it is possible to increase the length -- and the consequent cost -- of any transcript. Although the Supreme Court in my state has established formatting requirements for transcripts prepared for the courts, many freelance reporters and transcribers don't observe those standards when transcribing other types of proceedings. I recently compared the transcript of a deposition prepared by one of my local competitors to the same document I transcribed using the Court-established standards. My competitor's transcript was 25 percent longer than the one I prepared and, assuming we charge the same page-based rate, hers would be 25 percent more expensive than the one I produced with identical content.
To quote another Clinton, “What difference at this point does it make?” I contend it should make a great deal of difference to our profession as a whole. We here at AAERT are concerned that we set high standards for the skills of those who would seek certification from our body in order that their technical performance reflect favorably upon us collectively as electronic reporters and transcribers. Certainly, accuracy in transforming the spoken word to text is critical. But where clients do not directly dictate what constitutes a “page,” shouldn't we encourage some consensus about that as a professional association? Otherwise, I fear in the not too distant future seeing transcripts that bear a greater resemblance to the top of an eye chart from an optometrist's office than a legal document.