Do you freelance for lots of agencies? Do you always ask for the page rates up front? What page rates are others getting? How different is LA from OC from San Francisco from San Diego? What's the average per diem for arbitrations or hearings? What do other gets per hour for overtime or waiting time or exhibit marking time? What's the average minimum transcript rate? We should be talking about these things.

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Hey, Carmen. Your question about charging opposing counsel an expedite fee on copy orders was the subject of a recent lawsuit involving Coast Court Reporters in Irvine. Coast got dragged into the case that they were reporting on. Coast charged opposing counsel expedited rates on copy orders, and opposing counsel dragged her into court. The court claimed the expedite charges charged by Coast were wrong or illegal, or whatever language. You can read about it here:
http://www.caldra.org/sub/index.jsp?contentid=cwp7nomkonS6J5EcYqV9VgsY

So I guess it could be used as precedent if a law firm ever filed a suit against an agency or if an agency sued a firm for nonpayment. Scary, isn't it?
Marla,

I am familiar with this lawsuit, but I must admit that I'm looking at it with clearer eyes now that I have my own client. I have worked for many agencies for about ten years, but having my own client and opposing counsel copy orders are new for me. because of my experience with working for many agencies all over So. Cal -- big and small -- it's been my experience that clients will be loyal to you because of your work product and reliability, not price. (At least the clients you want to keep!) But that's just my opinion.

Having my own clients and being a sole proprietor is what really attracted me to this business. And sometimes I feel that reporters/agencies are very reluctant to share page rate information. That's why I was excited to join this discussion. As I stated to Marla's comment early on, I'm not sure why page rates are such a big secret.

I personally would never "steal" a client from anyone I've worked with. That's just absurd to me.

As a matter of fact, I'm going to a convention with a friend who is trying to start a court reporting firm. I will accompany her and help her solicit clients on her behalf. I am an independent freelance reporter looking for my own clients (not really, but sort of. I'd like to keep it very small) but I'm going there on her behalf and being okay with that. It's not that big of a deal. I know that she will call on me to cover these new clients and that means work for me. If my clients need a reporter, I know I can call on her. Money is not my driving force. It definitely is a plus, but it's the love of my job that keeps me working.

Also, it's my understanding that the Serrano case as cited by Marla applies unless you have an agreement with opposing counsel. If you get a "certified copy request form" that includes price, including expedite fees -- and even a COD -- the courts can't undermine that. It's my understanding that if I send out this form/"contract" to an attorney for these fees, then theoretically he's bound to them and the courts can't touch it. I do send out a form like that that binds counsel to agree to the price of a copy order.

I love my job. I have no problem with providing rough asciis, e-trans, LiveNote and other services. I just want to make sure that I'm compensated for those services as the market calls for. So once again, I'm calling on some input on what the going rates are for copy orders and what is appropriate to charge for. So what is the "norm"? What is the market rate for a copy order by itself. AND does it normally include an expedite fee, videographer/interpreter fee, etc.

If anyone is willing to help a new sole proprietor out, but would rather email me privately, that would be appreciated too.

Thanks for the opportunity to reach out.
Hi, Carmen. Any rates discussion is always interesting to reporters, isn't it? Let me give you a few thoughts ... and they're thoughts not meant to be mean in ANY way, and I hope you don't take it that way. Okay? Please. I'm just bouncing some ideas off of the statements in your post.

You say it's the love of the job that keeps you working. If that's really true, you'd be working pro bono every day! (Big smile, big smile now ...) You love your job. So do we all. You provide special services that some (not all) of us provide. You want to make sure that you're compensated for those services as the market calls for.

So let me start there. "As the market calls for." The market calls for sneakers to be priced from $1 and The Dollar Store, to $15 in CVS, to $65 at Lady Footlocker, to hundreds of dollars for Yamamoto-designed Adidas sneakers that go for $249 to $590 a pair. All sneakers are not created the same. All court reporters are certainly not created the same. Sneakers are basically a commodity -- same, same, same, same. It takes marketing and famous names to jack the price, but they're all basically the same thing. Court reporters may all do just about the same thing ... turn spoken words into text ... but those realtime-related specialties are quite unique. A transcript is a transcript is a transcript ... but Realtime is a Specialty, and the best of the best KNOW it, and they are certainly not going to offer their services for free, nor are they likely going to work for the same remuneration as the worst reporter in town.

If you HAD to move to Philadelphia, PA, what would you do if you were told that there is no appearance fee there, and reporters were paid an average of $2.15/pg for the original and about 50 to 75 cents for copy sales, $1 for providing realtime OR a rough draft ... and that RT or RD fee was slowly being changed to "no charge for RT or RD with transcript order"? If that was, quote, "what the market calls for," or in some people's words, "what the market will bear," would you go along with that? Really??? Or would you look at all factors, your competition, the QUALITY of your competition, your potential clients, and last, the quality of your OWN work, and set your rates on that instead?

It seems like you want those "going rates" to determine what your rates will be, and you want to know what is appropriate to charge for. But why? What does it matter what anyone else does? As a business person, and a specialist with the court reporting profession (rough ascii, realtime, expedites), don't you have a feeling of what they are worth from your prior experiences up to this point?

As far as the question of "what is appropriate to charge for," you as a business person/reporter should know what is valuable to the client in your mind, then charge for it. When you say "appropriate to charge for," I'd ask, "Appropriate by whose standards? Appropriate by whose rules?" Ask the client, and they'll tell you it's not appropriate to charge for much of anything, as lately the rule is that our clients generally want more and more for less and less. Transcripts are valuable; that's why we charge for them. Realtime is valuable; that's why we charge for it. Immediate rough drafts are extremely valuable; that's why we charge for them. Giving a condensed transcript away for free is no big deal in my mind, because it's the push of a button. Yes, yes, I know there's administrative/production time and effort going into it, but it's minimal. The bulk of the value of that transcript comes from the reporter, and ALL of the value of realtime, and ALL of the value of rough drafts, every single bit, comes from the reporter and NOT the agency. Agencies do n-o-t-h-i-n-g for those services. Keep that in mind when thinking about what you're going to offer to reporters who might work for you.

You ask about copy sales, "the market rate" for that. What if you had to move to Washington, D.C., and discovered that copy sales in Washington, D.C. ranged between $1.25 per page to the client, to as much as $2.85 per page billed to the client for a copy sale? Could you deal with the $1.25/pg? Because that's at least what EVERYONE is paying. Would you be comfortable stepping out of the comfort range of that $1.25 and adopt the higher rate some firms may charge just because, well, if they can, certainly YOU can? If you're looking for the, quote, "norm," as you say, are you going to just average the numbers and go right in the middle?

You ask whether a copy sale normally includes an expedite fee, videographer fee, interpreter fee. I can tell you that about 3/4 of my reporting firm clients upcharge each copy sale, but the rest do not. I can also tell you that there are some very unique and interesting methods of charging for our services springing up around the country, and they don't all involve charging by the hour. I've seen enough firms charging each client the exact same page rates, whether original or copy, that I can safely now say it's a growing trend and not just in one or two areas of the country. But as now a firm owner with a decade of reporting experience under your belt with multiple firms, you should have very definite ideas about how things should be done, because you've gotten to see it for all that time. And in my opinion, there's no BETTER firm owner than a working reporter who's started out inexperienced, worked hard, set and met goals and, once they reached "seasoned reporter" status, struck out on their own! Like you!

Just my opinion ... and please, please don't take this the wrong way, because I'm speaking in generalities, and I really won't tolerate someone thinking I'm speaking about someone in specific. But in my opinion, agencies, especially smaller agencies, are reluctant to share rates with other reporters because that's their competition! Even when someone is bound and determined NOT to steal someone else's client, if you think about it for a minute, every litigator that you are not working for IS someone else's client. Big nationwide agencies lose a client or two, it's not a big hit. But small agencies lose a client or two, and they may have lost half their business. And the reason that might happen is because no matter how much we talk about the positive side of court reporting, it can still be a back-stabbing, cutthroat business. There's always that element in reporting who'll keep one ear open for opportunities to steal someone else's client, and they'll do it in a heartbeat and chalk it up to "Just business." "Hey, it's just business."

But that's why reporters like yourself who are going INTO business for themselves need to get smart about the business around them. There are ways to do that that are less questionable than asking directly from your competition. For instance, as a new business, you're most certainly going to incorporate, for your own protection and protection of your assets, but also because of the enormous tax benefits incorporating offers. You'll have a lawyer for that, and he'll probably be on a yearly retainer. Mine is. I once attending a meeting where an atty told the assembled group of court reporters, "Not only agency owners, but also the government, have concerns about antitrust violations. One of the big questions in determining whether something that's seemingly innocent is getting close to antitrust is where you got the information. If you're interested in rates, and rate-setting, and you talk to your competitors and find out what they're charging, then set your rates with that information -- not good. However, if you're talking with a lawyer and he tells you what other court reporters in town charge -- not bad." So the point might be that you could use your own lawyer to obtain rate sheets from every agency in your town, because rate sheets are routinely sent out every day to law firms looking for reporters.

Then, when you get those rate sheets, you might decide to undercut everyone and try to get business by being the cheapest reporter in town. I hope you think more of yourself than to do that. But, alternatively, you might look at all those rates, and the quality of the competition that offers the same high-end, high-quality services that you do, and you might think to yourself, "You know what? I'm surrounded by incompetence. Reporters who claim to offer these high-end services just can't deliver. But I can! So because I can write rings around most of these guys ... because I can write AND spell AND punctuate ... and because I offer realtime that someone can actually READ ... because I'm DIFFERENT than all the rest, I've decided these other guys aren't my competition at all!" You might decide to throw those others' rates out the window and charge more than anyone else in town. And why? BECAUSE YOU CAN, my dear, because you can!

You said it yourself in the very beginning. Clients will be loyal to you because of your work product, your work ethic, and your ability to deliver what they want when they want it, period. The clients who come to you looking for low-ball deals you can refer back to firms you've worked for in the past ... yes, your competition ... but keep the golden clients for yourself, and inundate those other firms with all the slow-pay and no-pay and pro bono clients and firms looking for a low-ball deal. Let THEM pull their hair out over those loser clients. I did just that and have referred scores of clients to the firm that's treated me the absolute worst over the years. I know they take every job that comes along, and I'm glad to load up their book with the kind of work that any agency with an ounce of self-respect and respect for their reporters would never take.

So there are some long and rambling suggestions for a new firm owner. I could have sent it privately, yes, but I think other reporters are also in your shoes today, and I'd like them to know the same things.

The very best of luck to you in your new firm! I have a book on my shelf called "SMALL IS THE NEW BIG," and it's something that I truly believe. Big firms have their place ... small firms with a specialty have a NICHE.

Warm regards,

Mary Ann
when I was freelancing, I liked to know what the "going" page
rates were so that I would know If I was in the ballpark or being 'shortchanged' by and agency.

my first job I was paid 2.60 a page, I never did another job for
that agency, not when the 'going' rate in LA was 3.25.

that's one benefit of sharing page rates.

and to ask Mary Ann a question,
thanks for your long explanation of page rates and court
reporter value, that was very helpful to see another perspective.

I often wonder whether I'm charging too much or too little,
because I don't want to be or to be perceived as the girl who charges more than anyone else. On the other hand, I don't want
to be the discount reporter either.
kathy

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