As a student of court reporting back in the early ‘80s, there wasn’t much discussion among students about where we would go to work, other than whether we would choose to be a freelance reporter or an official reporter. I knew immediately that freelance was where I wanted to be, even though my internship hours at the courthouse proved incredibly fascinating as I sat for a week and wrote all the details of a murder trial. But I just knew that the environment of the courthouse was not what I wanted.

As graduation from school drew near, it was time to start reaching out to freelance agencies to get my name out there. I was lucky and got picked up immediately by an agency. However, as my time with that agency moved along, it became clear to me that we were not a good fit for one another. And so I began to look for other agencies, knowing that I needed to perform better due diligence this time around.

What type of agency is right for me?

For obvious reasons, it’s important to know an agency’s reputation in the court reporting community. And you owe it to yourself to form your own opinions once you’ve gathered sufficient information. Sometimes that means disregarding every rumor you’ve heard and getting some firsthand experience.

You will encounter the smaller agencies that work with only a few reporters to cover their calendars. They will be either employees or independent contractors, depending on how the business is set up. And you will also find large agencies servicing clients nationwide, and some globally, with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of independent court reporters working with them. Here are a few particulars of each business model:

  • Smaller agencies lend themselves to a more personalized environment with local clients and court reporters.
    • Large agencies typically have a large presence in the major markets and every town in between.
      • Of both sized agencies, ask if they will mentor you with such things as reading your transcripts initially, making sure you get off to a good start.
    • While some smaller agencies may be able to provide you with the amount and type of work that you desire, others may not, and you may need to make yourself available to other agencies. It can be challenging to manage your calendar if you are working with multiple small firms.
      • Large agencies typically have sufficient work to keep you as busy as you’d like since they’re drawing on litigation from across the nation. And it helps if you live in a major market. You may decide to work for multiple large agencies, or possibly both large and small agencies. It’s a matter of personal choice.
    • Smaller agencies usually pride themselves on maintaining long-lasting relationships with their clients. They may not have many clients, but the ones they have are typically very loyal and send all of their work to that agency.
      • Large agencies also enjoy long-term relationships with their clients. They can typically offer more attractive rates to their clients because of the volume and scope of work they can offer.
    • Smaller agencies enjoy being called “boutique” firms, which can be attractive to reporters. But be sure to do your due diligence with these boutique firms because they may assign jobs on a seniority basis, and this practice could result in a reduced amount or type of work that will impede your professional growth.
      • Large agencies create an environment for reporters where you will feel compelled to bring your A game every day, a result of their ability to secure high-level work, including multiple-day jobs and value-added services such as realtime, rough drafts, daily copy, etc.
    • Smaller agencies may require you to do your own production simply because they don’t have a production department. A process that is both labor- and time-intensive; think twice about doing the production yourself and stick to doing what you do best – court reporting.
      • Large agencies typically run their own production teams. You simply provide them with an ASCII or .txt file of your job and they do the rest. When your pay is directly tied to the number of pages you write, it’s easy to see why it’s far more profitable to outsource transcript production.

That’s a lot of due diligence!

If you’re thinking this seems like a lot of work, you’re right! But it’s work that you’ll need to do. Don’t let other reporters decide what avenue is best for you. There are reporters all around the country working with small/boutique agencies and very content in doing so. The same can also be said for those who work with larger agencies. Again, it’s a matter of personal preference.

Can social media play a part in due diligence?

I think we all understand that just because we see it on the web doesn’t make it true. You should definitely read what others post, but then find out for yourself what is the truth. Just because Reporter Y tells a chat group that Agency Z took advantage of them on a job, whether it be over the page rate, or something else, you’ve only heard one side of the story. There can be a myriad of reasons why Reporter Y had a bad experience with Agency Z, but you won’t see Agency Z responding on social media; they simply will not use Reporter Y going forward. Keep in mind that one day you may find yourself wanting to work with Agency Z. It’s likely Agency Z knows nothing about you, but they have instant access to your social media. Agency Z will likely practice their own due diligence and at least see what your online footprint reveals. Remember, court reporting is a very small community. Even the mere “liking” of an online rant about a court reporter or an agency will reveal a lot about you, your character, and your integrity.

I found the right agency, but will they find me qualified?

Many things can factor into whether an agency will find you qualified enough to reach out to you in the first place. To start, when you e-mailed the agency about working with them, was your e-mail properly constructed? Did you spellcheck the e-mail before you hit the send button? Did you include a professional-looking resume, again, free of typos and grammar errors? Agencies are looking for someone who is responsive to their calls and/or e-mails; someone who demonstrates confidence but not cockiness; these are a few traits that can open doors – the rest is proving you’ve got what it takes on a daily basis.

While some agencies’ work consists primarily of medical, workers’ comp, and personal injury, others may focus on intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, and other complex litigation. Either way, agencies will not want to overwhelm a beginner reporter and will assign you only to those jobs they feel you are qualified to cover as a new reporter. That doesn’t mean you won’t find these jobs difficult, because you will, and that is because you are a new reporter.

Adding credentials behind your name on your business card offers credibility. And having committed your time and energy to obtaining those credentials is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. Though remember this: You can have all the credentials in the world, but if you are not reliable, if you are not diligent in producing a complete and accurate record and on time, your credentials offer no value to any agency small or large. As mentioned, it’s a small community out there, and word travels fast, so keep skill development and professionalism top of mind now and throughout your career. Agencies not only use social media platforms to see what your online footprint reveals, but they will also verify your credentials.

You’ll know you’re with the right agency if they are concerned about your professional growth and are willing to offer the necessary support to build your skill sets and your confidence. This will be an agency you can grow with, feel proud to work with and represent on a daily basis.

If you would like more information about the Planet Institute mentoring program, explore our website.  If you would like more information about working with Planet Depos, please e-mail If you would like more information about upcoming certification examinations, check out NCRA, AAERT, or NVRA.