Welcome to CSR Nation
I'm currently a staff reporter for one agency (I'd rather not post the name on the site but can e-mail you privately if you'd like to know who it is). And although I keep fairly busy, there are pros and cons to it.
Pros: Consistent work, eliminate hassle of calling around for work, paycheck every two weeks, very pleasant to work for.
Cons: I always receive my job assignments around 4:30p for the following day and never know what I'm gonna get. If it's slow, I get stuck with some crappy job. And if I have the day off, I'm also not told until 4:30p or later. Would be nice to know sooner so that maybe I can pick something up elsewhere. Page rates are also low and they don't pay extra for video or interpreter.....yuck! Rough draft rates are the lowest I've ever seen anywhere.
I was hoping to get more civil type work. It seems everywhere I go, it's mostly WC and PI with occasional civil stuff! The agency I work for now has a little bit of everything. Lately it's expert witnesses, med mal stuff & of course PI & WC. I haven't had an all day in a long time.
I am starting to really miss freelancing. Technically I'm still a freelancer. But it makes it a bit difficult when you don't get your schedule till sometimes 5p for the following day!
I'd like to get some input on how you all work, maybe some advice, some suggestions, how many different agencies you freelance for, etc. Kind of don't like having all my eggs in one basket, esp. with the cons I listed above. But then again I almost feel like I have "job security" with them.
Thank you all in advance!
I used to work for just one firm, like you. They paid well and had good clients. Unfortunately, when the economy turned bad, I needed to leave and become a full-time freelancer. I liked the security of only one firm. I It was nice to see the same people all the time, but we used to get our jobs at 4:30 as well, and I know that's rough to plan around.
I find freelancing really tough. I have no idea when I'm going to work. I might have every day scheduled in a particular week, and then everything cancels. And I know that's a problem for the firms too, just seems to be the nature of the business nowadays, but I'm not the first one put back on when something else comes up. I find that I pretty much have no relationship with anyone any more. Everything is done by e-mail or the CSRNation blasts. I very rarely even talk to anyone in an office any more. And I very rarely see the same attorney, or if I do, it's been months, so I never really get a feel for what the people I'm working with are like.
I feel like I'm usually getting the bottom-of-the-barrel cases, and as a result, I feel like I'm losing my speed and stamina. I know I've got to get myself realtime certified. I've reported RT for myself since the '90s, but just never had that much call for RT and never got comfortable with it. I'm sure if I could get a few more letters behind my name, I'd get better work. So I'm working on that right now, and hopefully that will bring in better jobs, and with that, more connection to the same people now and then.
I have two or three firms that I prefer working with. Some of them schedule me a week or so out, which helps to have an idea what's coming -- but then there are those cancellations. When my schedule for the week is empty, I pretty much have to take whatever comes, and you can just bet that if I take something from Joe Schmoe, one of my favorite firms will call up a half hour later and want to know if I can work. It's really enough to make you crazy. Then there's the umpteen different formats and worksheets I've got to deal with. They're all a little different, and I'm really getting tired of constantly make up new format pages.
So I guess my advice to you would be to count your lucky stars. If you're RT certified, you might have an easier time, but I think it's rough out there as a freelancer.
It partly depends where you are, how metropolitan is it, how litigious is it? How many big cities can you drive to and are willing to? I live in the SF Bay area. There are tons of firms and tons of jobs. I was in court for a while but have been doing depos for 9 months now as a freelancer, and I love it! I usually work 4-5 days a week. I often have multiple offers for each day. I have a fair mix of the short stuff and the all-day stuff. There is more short stuff than all day, but I usually have at least 1 all-day job a week and sometimes 2 or 3. You do have to be on the ball, for sure. Your cell phone is your greatest tool. You will constantly be emailed offers and you have to respond very quickly or it is gone. I have noticed a lot of my best jobs come last-minute. So I've been playing it a little more fast and loose lately, not accepting as many rinky-dink jobs in advance (technical term). It's been paying off for the most part. Occasionally I'll end up with nothing, but usually I'll get at least as good of a job as I was going to, and often better.
The greatest thing is just being my own boss. I work for who I want when I want. There is no pressure to take jobs. I only accept short jobs when they are fairly close to me. I usually only drive more than 30-40 minutes for all-day jobs. I am close enough that I can take San Jose, Oakland, and even San Fran. I go to all 3 of those places a fair amount and then many more cities in between. Things are going far better than I expected them to go when I first started depos, and I know that I am making more money than I would with one firm right now. If I ever do become a staff reporter, I am going to make sure to choose the firm wisely. For now, I am in the perfect situation. Anytime I ever have days unbooked, I email several firms, and multiple usually have jobs waiting. There are tons of last-minute CSR Nation blasts in this area as well. But I control my own destiny. The firms usually aren't giving me their very best jobs, but what I get is still very good. When I start doing realtime within the next year, I expect the freelancing to get even better.
Keith, I've actually recommended you to a few firms because I know you are very reliable and will do a great job.
And of course you have to get your name out there. I have worked for close to 25 different agencies/reporters in 9 months. There are at least 5 others that contact me that I have been unable to hook up with as of yet. There are several more that I've been thinking of contacting but haven't had any need yet.
What I hate about working for multiple firms is all the different formats, worksheets, production emails to turn in jobs to. It's a lot to remember all of that. Even if you work for a firm one time, they expect everything to be their format/worksheet, etc. I really get tired of that. I think that's why I mostly gravitate to just a few firms.
I have, however, lately picked up work from firms I don't usually work for and dealing with all the stuff I mentioned above. I am doing it just to keep my foot in the door multiple places. You just never know. My main firm, which I am very, very high on the list of, just purchased another firm. That firm's calendar person is now doing the calendar. She and I have a history and she doesn't really care for me much I don't think; this could affect how much work I get in the future. We all know your livelihood is in the hands of the calendar person whether we like it or not. Gotta get out there and spread myself around because you just never know what's going to happen.
What these other reporters didn't mention is waiting for checks to come in. I freelanced years ago. If you don't have a set amount of money coming in, that trip to the mailbox is like ----. The worst thing in the world is worrying month to month about money.
As far as the formats, I haven't found that to be a big deal. I stay away mostly from firms that have too may requirements. Most of the firms are really easygoing as far as format. It's a bit more work than working for one firm, but it doesn't bother me. The So Cal firms also have a lot of depos up here in the Bay Area. So there are a few So Cal firms that I take a good amount of work for. So it's not always just the ones in your backyard or nationals that you have to work for. And of course work for the ones that pay in a timely fashion. I have 3 or 4 firms on the bottom of my list because they take 60 days or longer to pay instead of the more standard 30-45.
Keith, you hit the nail on the head on location, location, location. You're down in the South Bay, I think, near San Jose. Silicon Valley -- tons of work. I'm up in the North Bay, near Santa Rosa -- not so much. I do a lot of driving.
I think both freelance and staff have their advantages. The biggest disadvantage with the staff reporter is "having all your eggs in one basket" as you've all said. If the agency is slow or having trouble paying, you will feel the brunt of it. But hey, then you can start freelancing.
I think either way, freelance or staff, if you are talented, efficient, very competent in what you do, or some combination of that, you will have people wanting your services.
I work as a staff reporter. I've got it good. I've been there a long time and I'm at the top of the pyramid. The agency owner knows she can trust me. We are friendly and socialize on occasion. I come in the office and chat with her about the latest CR stuff or discuss personal stuff or current events. There is a congeniality. I only have to fill out one worksheet. She knows when I have gotten a few all day jobs in a row, to ease up on me. If I need off in the a.m. she will give me a job in the p.m. If I have plans on a Friday, I tell her don't give me a 5:30 depo.
If I want to take a job as a freelancer, she doesn't hold it against me either.
I do feel an obligation to do some crap jobs and do some traveling, to be a team player. But most of my jobs are within 10 miles of my house. I'm very fortunate and I know it and try to do a good job. Plus there is no mailing of exhibits and transcripts. That seems like such a pain on the few occasions I've done freelancing.
I'm meeting a calendar guy in San Francisco today with a bunch of reporters. We're taking him out to dinner just to be nice. He's just started working with a new firm that we're all interested in doing some work for. Should be fun.
I actually think it is a GREAT idea to keep your options open and don't just work for one firm. I've learned my lesson more than once on this issue.
Well, I sure can relate to what you're saying, Ann. I've been an independent for several years now. Before that, I worked for mainly one agency at a time.
I also was initially nervous about giving up the "security" of a staff position. I also was uncomfortable with the idea of calling around, selling myself, and keeping track of different procedures/paperwork. But the fact was that I just never seemed to get the amount of work/income that I thought I should. That worry about money, and also being stiffed by a couple agencies whose baskets I had all my eggs in, helped me realize there really wasn't any "security" after all in a typical staff position. (At least, IME.)
So I personally am so glad I made the switch. I'm getting better work, being paid more, AND getting more respectful treatment than I did overall as a staff reporter. No comparison. So the different procedures/paperwork are a PITA but are, for the most part, worth it, IMO.
Also, I don't actually have to call around anymore. Well, for this year, anyway. Instead, agencies have called me with offers, and I either accept or not. Not that I'm this diva lying back on a divan saying "Next!" But just trying to help show it's possible that if you do a great job for them, you might have enough of them calling you that you don't have to worry about calling them. I think this is especially true if you provide good usable realtime.
BTW, hats off to you, Keith, for planning to start up realtime next year. Will be very interested to hear of your experiences. :)