Hey everyone -

I'd like to get some advice from all of you. I'm currently a student, working in my 180s. I know I still have a little while before I have to make an official decision, but it's still fun to dream. I'm unsure of whether I want to work in court or do depositions. My dilemna is this: So far, I really think my passion is for court, particularly criminal court. However, my husband and I would like to start working on having children once I graduate and I'm concerned about not having the time to be home and raise a family.

My original thought was that I should be a freelance reporter, so I can have a more flexible schedule once we do have children, because I would like to be home with them and I don't really know anyone right now who would be able to help me care for a baby.

Basically I'm just really confused. I don't know if maybe I should start out in court since that's what I think I would enjoy most anyway, and just deal with the baby situation when the time comes, or if it would be better to start off freelance so I can get used to it before we do have children.

So, what am I trying to get at, here? :) What's your thought on this? Has anyone started out in court and gone to freelance, and how was the transition? Or, has anyone started out in freelance and gone to court and how was that transition?

Maybe I'm making a moutain out of a molehill, but I think I'd feel better if I was a little more sure of what I want to do with my career. Thanks for any advice anyone has for me.

Dana

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Honestly, I believe your best bet is to set a goal that you will be able to report in all arenas. You don't know many things, for example, what the market will be like when you graduate. Maybe there will be officialships available at that time; maybe you'll find that the freelance market has taken an upswing, and you can't resist it.

I have done CART, freelance, and now, I'm doing freelance and a lot of pro tem work. Part of the reason pro tem is working out for me so well is the skills I learned from freelance and also from CARTing for a hard-of-hearing prosecutor. They're just not all that distinct. You learn from everything, and it helps with everything else.
I don't think you really need to make an either/or decision right now. You can put your name on the list at your local court to do pro tem work. You can do depos also. You can decide which you like better.

I'm definitely glad to be doing depos now that my kids are young. I get to spend lots of time with them. I never miss a field trip. Eventually I'd like to be an official when my kids are older.
Dana
There are advantages to both freelance and official work. Freelance you work as much as you want, when you want. Official is 5 days a week, but usually you get periodic (yearly) increments in salary, you get medical leave, you get vacation, you get a regular salary that you can rely on plus transcript fees in most jurisdictions. If you're planning on raising a family, then freelance probably is what you want. If you want financial security an officialship is probably what you want. As an official in the criminal courts you may be required to work longer hours than the usual 9:00 to 5:00 because of being on stand-by when juries are deliberating. Of course, you would/should be getting additional income from the stand-by status. There are other benefits to both that I have not mentioned. Also, uinfortunately, officialships are starting to dwindle (at least where I am) because of electronic recordings (tape recorders) coming in to the court systems. Good luck.
Thanks to everyone for their input.

Kelli - how is it with handling taxes and all that stuff, being freelance? I know there's self-employment tax and all that. Is it much of a hassle for you? Just curious. I know that is one thing I'll have to be dealing with.
When you freelance, you pay quarterly taxes, so you have to save part of your income for taxes since it's not automatically deducted. You get to write off a lot of stuff when you're self-employed.

I use an accountant to do my taxes. To me it's totally worth it. You can even write off the amount you pay the accountant.
FWIW, one of several reasons I'm leaning in the officialship direction at this point in my career is that I have had enough of all the extra bookkeeping that freelancing involves. It is surprisingly time-consuming, even for someone who is accustomed to handling finances, and I don't get paid for it.
Thanks Cathryn - that has been one of my thoughts, that it will be a lot of work keeping up with the finance end of things. I have never been self-employed before, which is one reason I am a little hesitant about being a freelance reporter.
I don't know about South Carolina, but the courts in California have certain requirements before they will even hire you.

Right now, I think they need bodies, so there's no test or it's just a grammar test and not a machine test. Also in Federal Court, they want you to have your RPR or 5 years of freelance or hearing/arbitration experience before they'll even consider you.

So look into the requirements for the court system. You might find that you need to get extra certifications/qualifications before you even qualify.

Also, you can have flexibility in the courts. Instead of being a full-time court reporter, you could just do pro tem work. Which means you're like a temporary. You get paid a per diem plus whatever transcript fees. In California, most reporters get hired on as pro tem or contract. And then if an officialship opens up, then you're considered for it.

Also, here in California, the fees for transcripts for criminal are set. You don't get to set the rate. And I don't think the page rate is that good. Whereas, with civil matter, you can set whatever page rate you want to, within reason, I guess.

As a freelancer, you have lots of flexibility. Take time off when you want. However, realize that when you're pregnant, you're not getting paid any benefits, no sick, no maternity, nada.

As a court employee, you will get benefits. You will have paid holidays. Of course, it's a 9 to 5 job.

Another thing to consider is transcripts. When will you be producing your transcripts? In court or in the freelance world, you will be producing transcripts at home. That's the nature of our profession. So if you have rosy visions of taking a deposition and going home and spending time w/the kids, it can happen. But more likely, you'll spend some of that time producing a transcript.

So there are pros and cons to the situation.
If you've suffered relationships with agencies that need to be reminded about your paycheck for every single bloody job or where the owner has a habit of writing checks before they can realistically be expected to clear, the regular schedule can get to looking a lot less oppressive. However, it's not necessarily 9:00 to 5:00 all the time. When I'm on a pro-tem job, I frequently leave well before 5:00 if the calendar is complete. I think it's a good idea to call the reporter coordinator to see if you're needed elsewhere, though, before you leave.

There really isn't one right answer here. There are so many variables: where you're at in your life, what the freelance market is doing, the particulars of a given courthouse setting and conditions that are the norm for freelancers in your area. I do believe there is one Bay Area county that hires brand-new CSRs, at least on a pro tem basis. I'm not 100 percent certain if this is still true, but they did in recent years.

A lot of it for me depends on the atmosphere of the courthouse and whether there is a good team spirit in the department where I am assigned. I am finding this is vastly better in the county where I pro tem versus the one where I CARTed for the HOH prosecutor.

Freelancing did work for me for a long time, and it may again. How I will be going about my career in the foreseeable future is, frankly, best answered by, "We'll see."
You know, in defense of the agency, sometimes they just don't know what kind of job it is. I know that happened to me too, like, my second week out. I was set up in this big conference room. And I started watching attorney after attorney walk in. There ended up being, like 6 attorneys in that room. I was a little freaked out at first. But everyone in my situation ended up being very professional. Everyone waited their time and nobody talked over each other. Oh, yeah, it was med-mal and the deponent was a doctor. So you just never know even when freelancing. Agencies get told one thing and you get there and it's completely different. I've had the opposite happen where it's supposed to be a big medical case, and you get there and it's a 20-minute pi depo.

Another court to think about is the Workers' Compensation hearing board. That's like working in the courtroom. You'll get salary. You never take work home, according to them. You're not producing a transcript. I think what you type up is a summary of the judgment dictated by the judge. Of course, any transcript you did type up, the money would go to the Board.
Wow, Kyung, I didn't know you've done depo work, court work,and worked at the WCAB. Good for you for getting all that under your belt in the time that you've been reporting!

Judy
Oh, no. I haven't done all that. That would be a lot of work. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. I've done some hearings and arbitrations and depositions. I'm just getting that information from my friend who has done court work. And then the rest of the information is off the flyers that I get whenever the WCAB sends out flyers for new positions.

Sorry about the confusion.

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