Official Court Convention Reporters and Freelance Court Reporter Rates: How Are They Determined?
As with any business or service industry in operation, the question court reporters are asked most often is, “Can I get an estimate on that transcript?” Court reporter rates are somewhat varied and fluid, depending on what kind of court reporter you’re asking and where you are located in the country. If you’re an attorney who purchases transcripts from freelancers and officials/court convention reporters on a regular basis, you’ve likely noticed the wide range of differences in court reporter page rates and other costs.
Independent Freelance Court Reporters Versus Other “Freelance” Court Reporters
Many attorneys practicing today probably don’t remember how freelance court reporting used to work. We have entered the age of nationwide court reporting firms, and the number of truly independent freelance court reporters is quickly dwindling. These days, when an attorney asks for rates or an estimate, the court reporter is quick to let him or her know that “the company” will be in touch with that answer. In all honesty, we as court reporters routinely don’t know any of the answers to the questions about rates. That is information we as independent contractors just aren’t privy to for the most part.
– Company-specific freelance court reporters
Most court reporters tend to take work through one specific company. The very large companies do not require a court reporter to work solely for them and usually even have signed agreements with the court reporter stating that fact. However, to obtain regular assignments from a specific company, a court reporter must basically be on call for that particular company.
Though the greatest percentage of freelance court reporters do accept assignments through a single company, they are not employees. There may be a few exceptions across the country, but the vast majority of freelance court reporters are independent contractors for income tax purposes, employee benefits purposes, liability purposes, and all other purposes. Their compensation is based on a percentage of the page rates and appearance fees charged by the company, and that figure is usually between 60 to 70 percent of the original transcript, any copy transcripts sold, and the appearance fee. Any other fees charged to the attorneys, such as scanned exhibits, condensed transcripts, word indexes, and digital files, are paid exclusively to the court reporting firm. That being the case, it is very unlikely that company-specific freelance court reporters could ever give any solid information as to rates because it’s something they just wouldn’t know.
– Independent freelance court reporters
Bona fide independent freelance court reporters accept assignments from any and all sources. Attorneys, paralegals, and legal secretaries contact these court reporters directly to schedule depositions, examinations under oath, or hearings. Many of the large court reporting firms also call on these freelancers for coverage of their overflow assignments, which are usually the less desirable jobs that are left over after the “company-specific freelancers” have chosen the assignments they prefer to cover.
These independent freelance court reporters set their own rates and charge the same prices to all of their clients. Unlike some of the larger court reporting firms that charge different rates based on contracts with various clients, independent freelancers have a rate sheet that allows for uniform pricing to all of his or her clients. For the most part, these freelancers have lower rates than the large court reporting firms, and attorneys could save their clients some money by using these court reporters.
There are frequently occasions that an independent freelancer is contacted by a large court reporting firm to cover an assignment for an attorney. Because the large court reporting firm has been contacted, as opposed to the independent freelancer, that attorney’s client ends up paying much more for the same exact court reporter to show up and do the job. On top of that, the court reporter makes 30 to 40 percent less on the job than if the attorney had just hired him or her directly. That’s a significant cut when you’re trying to pay a house note.
As I alluded to earlier, this type of independent freelance court reporter is becoming an endangered species. Many attorneys who may have utilized a certain court reporter or a small group of court reporters in the past have found that their hands are tied when it comes to hiring court reporters today. Though these attorneys may have a personal preference, they’re now forced to use whatever court reporting firm their clients have entered into a contract with for services. Sometimes these attorneys are lucky, and they find their preferred court reporter works through an approved firm. For the most part, however, it’s just the luck of the draw.
Official Court Reporters
When it comes to official court reporters, those rates are set by the State. For example, in the state of Alabama, the current page rate for transcripts prepared by official court reporters is $3.50 per page. Copies can be billed at $0.50 per page. There are no appearance fees because these court reporters are employed by the state or federal courts they serve.
Obviously, the page rates for official court reporters is relatively low when compared to freelancer rates. These court reporters, though, unlike freelance court reporters, are being paid for the significant amount of time required to transcribe and produce the transcript, process exhibits, and prepare invoices. Also, unlike freelance court reporters, paying for supplies isn’t usually much of a concern either.
Observations and Exceptions
As with any subject imaginable, there are always exceptions. The information presented above is based on over 20 years of observation and experience. Certainly there are going to be different situations everywhere you go. For those court reporters who are out there living the dream and everything is awesome, please feel free to share your location and particular situation. You may help some court reporters facing a different set of circumstances. In fact, you may even convince some of us to become your new neighbors!
For the attorneys, paralegals, and legal secretaries, consider supporting your local independent freelance court reporters. We take super great care of our clients, and you can call or text us at home in the middle of the night if the need arises. Relationships are still important, and having a court reporter you know you can trust and rely on is a huge asset in an otherwise frequently brutal field.