Making the switch: Going from freelance to official reporting

Nicole Bulldis, RPR

Nicole Bulldis, RPR

By Megan Rogers

One of the benefits of reporting is that reporters can go in many different directions throughout their career. Nicole Bulldis, RPR; Melissa Case, RPR; and Debrina Jones have all switched from being freelance reporters to becoming officials. The JCR talked to them about why they switched, the differences they found between the two roles, and what they like about being officials.

JCR | Please share where you’re working and how things are set up at your courthouse.
BULLDIS | I work for the Superior Court in two small counties, Benton and Franklin, in southeastern Washington. Three reporters retired last year, each had been there for more than 30 years, and it was the first time they’d had to hire a court reporter in almost 15 years. Just before we started, they had been assigned to judges, but switched to pool. It makes things a lot easier for us in that we don’t have to find reporters to cover for us to be able to take vacation or leave time.
CASE | I work at Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in Ohio. We are part of a pool. I could work for two or more judges every day.
JONES | I work as an at-large for the 13th Circuit in the Family Court Division in Greenville, S.C. Due to the court reporter shortage, they are not assigning to one judge right now.

JCR | How long were you freelancing, and when did you start working as an official?
BULLDIS | I started as an official in January 2017. I had been freelancing for nine months when I applied for the job. I interviewed at the beginning of November, accepted the position mid-November, and we moved 300 miles on December 1.
CASE | I was freelancing for three years and eight months. My start date was Oct. 11, 2016.
JONES | I freelanced for two years, and I started as an official in August of 2017.

Melissa Case, RPR

Melissa Case, RPR

JCR | What work did you specialize in when you were freelancing?
BULLDIS | I did a little bit of everything but was mainly doing medical depos.
CASE | I worked on everything I could.
JONES | I did everything and anything that was needed wherever I was needed between both North and South Carolina.

JCR | What made you switch from a freelance position to an officialship?
BULLDIS |Since court reporting was a second career and I didn’t start school until I was in my 30s, I’d always known I wanted to be an official because I love routine, but I also wanted retirement and benefits. I’d lived in Seattle all my life, and in the major metropolitan areas, you need to be realtime proficient to even be considered; so I started looking at outside opportunities.
CASE | I wanted to work with the best of the best. Our reporters here are amazing and set the bar high. I wanted the stability of a paycheck. I like going to the same place every day. I like having an office. I love my coworkers. I love being social and being able to bounce ideas off other reporters. Benefits! Paid vacation. Guaranteed payment.
JONES | Here in the South Carolina courts, we are experiencing a massive shortage due to retirement, and I discovered the opportunity to step into an area that would open greater doors for me. I loved the transcripts we would practice to in school, and I enjoyed the experience while interning, so when the opportunity was mentioned to me, it was one I felt I should jump at.

JCRWhat is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your new role? How have you overcome that challenge?
BULLDIS | I’ve started realtiming for my judges when they request it. I think that was a huge challenge as a new professional because I’m still building my dictionaries and learning on my feet as I go. I’m currently working on my CRC so I can serve jurors, witnesses, and parties in our community who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing.
CASE | My biggest challenge was coming into this courthouse and being very young. People always ask my age and if I’m qualified to be here. I just sit down and do my job and be polite.
JONES | I had to adjust to some days being slammed with a hearing every 15 minutes and a courtroom full of litigants, family, counsel, and emotions. I have learned to communicate effectively with my judges and my deputies, so I am always on track and aware of what’s happening around me. I have also learned to find a healthy balance outside of work where I can release the day’s stress. In order to be the best reporter I can be, I have to make sure I take care of myself just as much as I take care of the record.

Debrina Jones

Debrina Jones

JCRWhat surprised you most about being an official? Why?
BULLDIS | I think I was most surprised by how much I enjoy being an official. Jumping back into a 9-5 and having to dress up every day seemed pretty unappealing after freelancing, but I actually look forward to going to work every day. I also thought it was really cool how supportive our judges are. They’re constantly checking on us and making sure we can hear, etc.
CASE | The work that we get here and finding out what happens in your community. It’s surprising to find out the criminal activity that’s going on in businesses that you might have shopped at before. Seeing myself on the news. I also feel like I am more respected here as a reporter.
JONES | How much I enjoy the job itself, the hours, and the people I work with. Everyone has been incredibly helpful and welcoming to me as I have learned the ins and outs of officialship. I had a small view of this reality while I was interning, however, I moved to a place where I didn’t know a single person. I wasn’t sure how any of the transition would go, and it has gone incredibly well.

JCR |Where do you go for support or advice?
BULLDIS | There were three of us who were hired in January, but the other three reporters have all been reporting for over 20 years. We’re extremely lucky to have access to that much institutional knowledge available to us, and they’re very nurturing.
CASE | I have an officemate who has been here for 20-plus years. She’s great to ask questions. If she’s not here, I have 40 other reporters outside my door.
JONES | I reach out to my fellow reporters that I work with and those I have met throughout my years as a student and as a reporter. I am very thankful to have met some truly wonderful reporters that I can learn from and find support in.

JCR |What are some of the benefits to being an official for you?
BULLDIS | I commute to the same two courthouses, both of which are less than 15 minutes away, and parking is provided. I have awesome medical benefits that include 24 massages a year (a must for reporting). I have set hours, paid holidays and vacations, and I’m working towards retirement. I know the judges and their expectations, and I feel like that makes me better at my job.
CASE | I get to write more and work less. I have a salary.
JONES |There is a stability in the hours, paid holidays, and requested days off. The health and retirement benefits are a huge plus. I have also enjoyed how much I learn from my judges on a daily basis. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning from some of the best that the legal system has to offer and being able to have such pride in providing them with what is a pivotal part of the judicial system.

JCR |What do you miss about freelancing?
BULLDIS | When huge or expedited transcript orders come in, I really miss the ability to take myself off the books and also working from home in my sweats.
CASE | Sleeping in.
JONES | The ability to take myself off of the calendar to catch up on work, and to have time off for leisure with much more ease, and working in my comfy clothes all day.

JCR |What advice do you have for anyone thinking of making the switch?
BULLDIS | Sit out with an official and see if it’s something you’re actually interested in. I was a regular in a couple courthouses because I wanted to build speed and learn the ropes.
CASE | Shadow a reporter for a day. Go to the courthouse and meet the reporters. Talk to them. Don’t be afraid. It was the best decision I’ve made for my future in court reporting.
JONES | Take into account your own personal goals and ambitions as a court reporter: your needs and desires in life with regards to finances, stability, and flexibility. Sit out with an active official and see if you can picture yourself doing that job; you may just be pleasantly surprised at the inner workings.

Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Content Manager. She can be reached at


TechLinks: Best gadgets of 2017

Who doesn’t love finding that perfect gadget that makes things so much easier? Robin Nodland, FAPR, RDR, CRR, a freelancer from Portland, Ore., and a member of the NCRA Technology Committee, has a few suggestions from around the Web for monitor mounts, audio recording, webcams, surge protectors, and apps.

“I love my dual monitors,” says Nodland. “I have one landscape orientation and one portrait. I can edit and have exhibits up at the same time.” A monitor mount will help keep screens organized and at an ergonomic eye level. This guide by How-To Geek will help you figure out how to pick the right monitor mount for your setup.

“Every now and then, we need a solution for rerecording audio for a number of reasons,” says Nodland. She recommends another article by How-To Geek about recording sound coming from your PC. The article has three solutions, two of which use software solutions and one “relies on an old trick that connects your computer’s audio output to its audio input with an audio cable.”

“We’ve noticed a pattern after years of notebook testing: Built-in webcams generally stink,” says Andrew E. Freedman in an article for Laptop Mag reviewing the best webcams. Use a webcam for an upcoming NCRA Skills Test, a webconferenced deposition, or as a way to talk to remote clients.

“I am very protective of my surge protector,” says Nodland, and anyone who has suddenly lost power just before saving a file can relate. This article by Wirecutter reviews a surge protector with a fail-proof method of letting you know when it’s time to replace it.

And finally, to cover all your bases, Wirecutter has the best tech and apps for your home office. “You don’t need the thinnest, lightest, or most elegantly designed items for your home office,” says the Wirecutter team. “In the space you make your living, you want reliable, comfortable, efficient tools — though it doesn’t hurt if they look nice, too.” The review includes storage and backup solutions, laptops and phone docks, routers and modems, productivity and finance apps, and more.

A freelancer’s new perspective of court: Lessons on deposition transcripts

Gavel on a folder filler with papers

Photo by: wp paarz

By Tricia Rosate

In California, freelancers often cover civil trials, and I’ve been reporting more trials lately. I consider myself a pretty good writer, but this pace is phenomenal. No shuffling through exhibits, no 10-minute lulls where the witness is taking their sweet time reading every page of a lengthy email exchange. This is theater.

More specifically, seeing deposition transcripts blown up on the big screen for the entire courtroom to see has really given me a new perspective. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not necessary to capitalize things that don’t need to be (i.e., “I work in the Finance Department” vs. “I work in the finance department”). It’s distracting and looks strange. When in doubt and there’s no rule or reason to cap it, leave it alone.

Secondly, please use a proofreader. There were times in my career that I thought, “Who even reads this?” Well, one day it could be a judge, two counsel tables filled with attorneys, the clerk, bailiff, 14 jurors, the official (pro tem) reporter, and anyone observing.

On the subject of verbatim: When reporting video depositions, there is no need to include every single stutter, i.e., “It’s — it’s — it’s — it’s the third one down.” One set of dashes is just fine. All the dashes look so awful on the big screen and make it almost unreadable. I know we’re verbatim and the parties make their own record, but a little best judgment goes a long way. I guarantee that the jurors are not counting the stutters and thinking the reporter dropped the ball if they’re not all in there.

Then there’s another verbatim thing that I know has been a hot topic: the 2000s. The attorney says, “So it happened in two ten?” The reporter knows the attorney means 2010 but writes “2’10.” I’m not saying this is wrong. However, please picture it blown up on a screen in a courtroom during a trial, with 14 jurors looking at the transcript — and, yes, they do — and the attorney telling the jurors to please disregard the typo.

“But it’s not a typo! He said two ten, not 2010,” you might say. If someone doesn’t say two thousand and ten, it’s the reporter’s call on how to format it. But not one of these jurors understands or cares why the reporter formatted it that way. It looks weird and disjointed.

In somewhat the same vein, I recently Googled myself to see if there were any privacy concerns I should address, and I came across several excerpts of my transcripts posted online, which again goes to my point. People do read your transcripts! Sometimes many more people than you ever imagined!

Tricia Rosate, RDR, CRR, is a freelancer in San Diego, Calif. This article is revised from a post she wrote in the “Guardians of the Record” Facebook discussion group. Tricia Rosate can be reached at

New webinar to help freelancers get organized

NCRA has announced that Rene White Moarefi, RPR, CRR, Houston, Texas, will lead a webinar on June 8 designed to help freelancers get better organized, especially when taking assignments from numerous agencies in any given year. A freelance realtime reporter for 31 years, including covering assignments for a multitude of agencies over the past seven years, White Moarefi will share her system to stay organized when she presents The Organized Freelancer: For the Busy, On-the-Go Freelance Reporter in Today’s Market.

The one-hour webinar, scheduled for June 8 from 7-8 p.m. ET, is available for a cost of $79. Attendees will earn 0.1 CEU.

Court reporting eyed as emerging career alternative

An article posted by the Asian Journal on June 26 shares the story of how NCRA member Cheryl Haab, RPR, a freelance court reporter from Van Nuys, Calif., came to choose a career in court reporting. According to Haab, “Once my son turned 5 and he was going into kindergarten I started looking into different career options. This one really stood out to me because not only was the school program flexible, I was able to do it all online.”

Read more.

Your other clients

Proof 33New freelancer survey provides insight to what motivates and repels talented reporters.

By Christina Lewellen

Court reporting and captioning firms can only succeed if they have good relationships with their clients. The firms grow and thrive as lawyers, paralegals, court administrators, corporations, educational institutions, and other clients pick up the phone and schedule trusted court reporters and captioners. Successful firms market their services to existing and potential clients and constantly look for ways to add value to their list of offerings.

All of this sounds familiar, yes?

Proof 35But what about firms’ other clients? Most firms in the industry probably don’t spend too much time looking for ways to market to and serve the people who are arguably the most valuable clients to the success of their businesses: the court reporters who actually execute the jobs on the schedule. With court reporters retiring in droves and fewer new reporters entering the profession, at least in the short term, firms in some areas of the country are competing for the best court reporters in the marketplace. This scenario is likely to be further exacerbated in the coming years as the court reporter shortage deepens across the United States, according to the 2013-14 Industry Outlook Report by Ducker Worldwide. If court reporting and captioning firms are not treating their freelancers as customers, they will find that their best reporters are increasingly turning to other firms for their assignments, according to a new study NCRA conducted of court reporters who work primarily as freelancers. Waning are the days when freelancers will stand in the proverbial line with their hands out, happy to accept any job assignment on the schedule. Talented, credentialed reporters are being more selective about the work they take, and they aren’t interested in having professional relationships with firms that treat them as just another reporter on the roster.

“A firm that is not reporter-owned, has a questionable reputation, a history of poor payment, and/or unfair distribution of jobs would prevent me from taking a job with a particular firm,” says one anonymous respondent.

Another freelancer notes, “If other reporters had divulged that a particular firm lacked integrity in matters of finances, truthfulness, [or] unfair treatment of reporters, I would not tolerate this.”

Certainly, the relationship between a firm and its stable of freelancers is healthiest when it’s a win-win-win for the company, the court reporter, and the client requiring stenographic court reporting services. But the NCRA Freelancer Survey points to some forward-looking indicators that demonstrate why firm owners need to prioritize the needs of freelancers for the long-term health and success of their businesses.


NCRA surveyed freelance reporters in December 2014, drawing approximately 1,200 participants. While nearly all respondents indicated working in legal depositions and proceedings, participants also work as freelancers in courtrooms and in medical, educational, community, religious, and corporate settings. Approximately 10 percent of respondents reported working directly with end users and therefore their responses were not included in the remainder of the survey that was specific to freelancers. Of the remaining freelancers who accept work from court reporting firms rather than end users, 39 percent of participants work with only one firm with few exceptions; 28 percent work with two, three, or four firms; and 23 percent of respondents work with five or more firms.


In aggregate, freelancers reported time management regarding maintaining a work/life balance as their biggest business challenge (average ranking was 3.12 out of 5 with a ranking of 5 representing a major challenge and 1 representing little or no challenge), followed by finding quality work (with an average ranking of 2.97), and keeping up with technology (with an average ranking of 2.8). Lower on the business challenges scale was learning about business practices (average ranking 2.46) and keeping skills fresh (average ranking 2.5).

While these average rankings demonstrate overall sentiment among freelancers, the results are much more telling when they are divided into various levels of experience. Understanding how these challenges are viewed by reporters with varying experience levels can serve firm owners and managers as they strive to attract the most talented professionals in the market. For example, those who are new to the profession, with less than 10 years of experience, offered different responses to which business challenges were more difficult than those who have been in the profession longer.

Not surprisingly, those who have just entered the profession, that is, people who indicated that they have less than five years of experience, are significantly more likely to struggle with learning about business practices such as filing income taxes, obtaining health insurance, and the general business issues that come with working as a freelancer. In fact, based on the feedback from respondents, getting a solid handle on business practices not specific to the field of court reporting is a sizeable business challenge for as long as 10 years after graduating. After those early years out of school, more experienced court reporters demonstrate a higher level of comfort with the business practices surrounding working as a freelancer in the field.

“Business practices ought to have been more a part of the curriculum in the program,” says one freelancer.

Even though this challenge ranks high among freelancers overall, the survey shows that early reporters struggle to a greater degree than experienced reporters with striking an appropriate work/life balance. The survey responses show that as reporters gain more experience over the tenure of their careers, they are less concerned with work/life balance issues as an overall business challenge. While this finding could point to reporters struggling to hit their stride in terms of efficiency on the job, there are also likely personal factors at play such as raising young children or other personal obligations.

For firm owners, being aware of this dynamic may influence some of the professional development opportunities they provide or encourage for those who have been working in the profession for less than 10 years. Helping less experienced freelancers get a grasp on business fundamentals and providing techniques for increasing efficiencies both on and off the job could address these pressing concerns for this segment of reporters. Serving in a mentoring capacity and addressing these challenges may also lead to less experienced reporters feeling a particular affinity for the firms that support them in this way.

“We are a teaching agency, independently owned, and they receive a lot of support to grow professionally,” says Debra A. Levinson, RMR, CRR, CMRS, who serves as CEO of DALCO Reporting, Inc., a firm based in White Plains, N.Y. “Reporters, both new and even experienced, have much to learn and are not guided enough to reach their potential talent.”

Turning to mid-career reporters, the most significant business challenges shift to issues such as getting paid in a timely manner and finding work that aligns with their busy schedules. Mid-career reporters are likely juggling personal concerns such as maintaining a household, raising children, and perhaps caring for aging parents, which could result in the weighted responses in these areas. Mid-career reporters place a higher emphasis on finding steady work and making sure this work fits into their schedules, and, further, firms that pay in a timely fashion are likely to find loyal reporters in the mid-career segment.


Among the most interesting findings of the survey was new information regarding freelancers’ income. Data from all respondents indicate that 8 percent of freelancers earn less than $30,000; 22 percent earn between $30,000 and $50,000; 27 percent earn between $50,000 and $75,000; 20 percent earn between $75,000 and $100,000; 12 percent earn between $100,000 and $125,000; and 11 percent earn more than $125,000 (percentages were rounded). Boiled down to its most basic findings, about three-quarters of the freelance segment earn less than six figures and less than one-quarter of freelancers earn more than $100,000 annually.

Of particular note is the impact that certification has on personal annual income. In general, freelancers who earn more than $100,000 annually represent approximately 23 percent of the population. However, among those who hold Registered Professional Reporter certification, almost 30 percent earn more than $100,000 per year. Of those who hold no certifications, whether issued by a state or a national organization, only 9 percent of respondents earn $100,000 or more per year. Simply put, according to the survey, freelancers make more money if they are certified.

Another way to look at the certified vs. noncertified numbers is where the majority of respondents fall in terms of their income brackets. Among noncertified reporters, more than 60 percent of reporters fall into an income range of $30,000 to $75,000. Among reporters who hold RPR certification, more than 60 percent of respondents fall into the ranges encompassing $50,000 to $125,000. The majority of RPRs report higher income ranges than the majority of noncertified participants, who report lower annual incomes.

As the chart below shows, the more specialized a freelancer’s certifications, the more likely he or she is to fall into a higher income bracket. Compared to RPRs, those who hold RMR, RDR, or CRR certifications are more likely to indicate higher levels of annual income.


Though market conditions can vary by region, the 2013-14 Industry Outlook Report prepared by the independent researchers at Ducker Worldwide suggests there will be a nationwide shortage of reporters by 2018 due to pending retirements and increased demand for stenographic court reporting services. While most firms have not yet reported severe shortages of reporters, some anecdotal evidence shows that there is moderate competition in local markets for the most skilled reporters.

As more reporters near retirement and additional demand enters the marketplace from the legal arena and to provide accessibility, court reporting firms will need to be aware of what influences freelancers’ decisions to work with one firm over another. If skilled reporters are in high demand, knowing freelancers’ trigger points will ensure that busy firms will continue to be able to meet their clients’ needs.

On the whole, freelancers indicate that the single most important factor that influences their decision to work with a particular court reporting firm is the way that the firm owners and schedulers treat them and consider their needs as an individual. In other words, the relationship matters. On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being not at all important and 5 being very important), the way freelancers are treated by owners and schedulers ranks a weighted average of 3.7. This factor is followed by the types of jobs the freelancer is generally assigned by a firm (which ranks 3.59 out of 5) and the pay being offered by the firm (which ranks 3.58 out of 5).

One freelancer notes that working with a particular court reporting firm is more enjoyable “when I’m treated as a true independent contractor and there’s no animosity or hard feelings if I have to turn down an assignment because of my availability.”

The factors least likely to influence freelancers’ decisions to work with a firm is whether the firm offers ancillary benefits, such as providing health or other types of insurance, coverage of expenses, or paying membership to state or national court reporting associations. Also ranking low on influential factors is the amount of time the assignment is projected to take.


The firms who have embraced the “reporters are clients” mentality have found that there’s a fair amount of loyalty that is guaranteed when the approach is one of a symbiotic relationship. Indeed, many firms see the value in fostering a healthy partnership throughout the supply chain. “We see the successful servicing of the legal industry as a win/win/win partnership among the court reporters, staff, and management,” says Deborah L. Dusseljee, RPR, CBC, CCP, president of Compu-Scripts, Inc., a Columbia, S.C.-based firm.

NCRA members can access a copy of the full report at Not a member? Join today

Christina Lewellen is NCRA’s Senior Director of Marketing and Communications. She can be reached at

Business tips for freelancers

Freelancer business tipsWhile flexibility and independence are strengths of freelancing, they also introduce complications. Managing personal business affairs while developing professionally and finding a balance between life and work can be challenging. Fortunately, these skills can get better with practice, and experienced court reporters are a great resource for business tips.


For a freelancer, the best marketing strategy involves using a variety of cost-productive tools. The first step is to prepare the court reporter’s equivalent of a portfolio. “Prepare a professional one-page resume and be sure it is grammatically correct,” says Christine Phipps, RPR, a freelancer and firm owner from West Palm Beach, Fla. “Also list the writer you use along with the CAT software with version number,” she adds, so firm owners can see the reporter uses up-to-date, reliable technology. Phipps also suggests including a sample excerpt of an ASCII transcript of approximately 20 pages in length, removing any personal details or information that is confidential under HIPAA, along with the steno notes for that section. This portfolio can be emailed to firm owners so they have an idea of what to expect from potential new reporters.

Networking is an important part of a marketing strategy, as well as a great way to improve skills. “You want to make sure you network with other court reporters and firm owners at association events so that you can become known in your local market,” says Kim Neeson, RPR, CRR, CBC, CCP, a freelancer and firm owner from Toronto, Canada. “Participate on a committee of your local association, so people can get to see your competencies firsthand, even if it’s not as a court reporter per se.”

Having a personal connection to a network could also lead to more work. According to the 2014 Firm Owners Economic Benchmark Survey, about 56 percent of court reporting firms’ client base comes from other court reporting firms and colleagues, suggesting that freelancers should make connections to firms in their area even if they aren’t regularly accepting work from that firm.

Phipps agrees, adding that while conventions provide great learning opportunities, their value goes beyond the sessions: “Conventions are about surrounding yourself with people in the field and learning from them.” She emphasizes that volunteering for a local, state, or national association is also a great way to develop professionally. “I have met some amazing, wonderful, brilliant people who have taught me not to look at things in a vacuum. From this, I’ve learned so many tips and tricks that others do that I never could have learned anywhere else,” continues Phipps.

New connections, however, lose their value if they end with the initial conversation. Lisa Migliore Black, a freelancer and firm owner from Louisville, Ky., emphasizes that any marketing materials need to look professional. “It’s better to have no marketing materials than to have something that represents your company poorly or looks like it was thrown together,” she says. If you’re not comfortable with design, for either print or Web, it might be worthwhile to hire someone to help. Alternatively, think more creatively for marketing materials. For example, “many people may dispose of a business card or flyer, but few throw away a pen,” Black says.

Any marketing strategy should at least consider social media, although using social media should be done thoughtfully. For an individual, a social media account on a site like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter might suffice, or it might be worthwhile setting up a website. But, as Black points out, then the trick is getting traffic to the site. Having a blog can help, says Black, because then there’s content for potential clients to read and to share on social media. But Phipps warns that even though many people use sites like Facebook for more personal reasons, anything that can be seen by the public needs to be professional.

Ultimately, however, the best marketing tactic is providing excellent client service. “Word-of-mouth referrals are more effective for bringing business to the door than any print ad or client testimonial on my website,” says Black. And when you find those clients, “underpromise and overdeliver,” Black advises. Neeson agrees: “The more agency clients request you for your work, the more you build up your business and value to those you serve.”


The key to managing business finances is organization. Keep records not just on expenses like meals, parking, and office supplies, but also track all income. “Many firms pay via direct deposit, and you are able to get your payroll sheets from within the online office program,” says Phipps. “You should download these and save for your records. I have seen firms that have cut reporters off from their online office access when the reporter no longer works for the firm, and then that information is no longer available.” Then use separate files – whether on the computer or in hard copy – to organize those documents into categories.

Because finances can be tricky, this is another area where it’s a good idea to invest in some help. Bookkeeping software like FreshBooks or QuickBooks can help with tracking income and expenses and, depending on the product, may also help with creating reports and determining quarterly taxes. Many of them include tools on mobile devices as well. An accountant can also help with bookkeeping.

The 2015 Freelancer Survey Report makes it clear that getting paid in a timely manner is a main concern for freelancers, but the situation depends on whether the money comes through a firm or directly from the clients. For freelancers accepting work by firms, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the firms’ policies. “If a new firm is contacting you to cover for them, I would do your best to check their references with friends or whatever connections you have available to you to make sure there are no payment issues,” says Phipps. “You should at least have an email confirming the firm’s policy for payment to reporters and what your responsibilities are. If the firm hasn’t paid in the specified time, contact the accounting department.” And, as with all legal issues, make sure to keep all conversations about payment in writing.

For freelancers who are acting as one-person firms and taking work directly from clients, have a payment timeline in place. Thirty days is a common threshold to send a reminder invoice, possibly with a late fee (although this should be clear in the original contract), and call the client to confirm they received the second invoice and understand that payment is expected. For long overdue accounts, the next step may be legal action, which could mean small claims court or a collection attorney. Again, keep a written record of the entire transaction.


The value in attending court reporting events cannot be understated. Conventions are not only a networking tool for marketing; they’re also important for professional development. In industries like court reporting, captioning, and legal video that are always changing, continuing education is crucial to remain a valuable professional, which is why NCRA credentials require continuing education and offers so many methods of earning those CEUs. Conferences and similar events are also great places to get one-on-one advice from colleagues. Interacting with other professionals provides the opportunity to find anything from a solution for a single problem or a long-term mentor and guide. This is especially important when it comes to staying on top of technology; conferences are a great place to meet with vendors and discover new products (or even a few new features) or to find tech-savvy colleagues who are happy to share knowledge, in person or via social media networks.

Events are not the only place to find professional development, however. The Internet can be a great place to find a network of like-minded professionals or resources. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers dozens of articles about starting and running a small business, which is essentially what freelancers are doing. The SBA recommends, for example, freelancers give themselves a regular review just as they would get if they were in a more traditional office. Consider setting specific professional goals throughout the year and using personal reviews to track them. Feedback from clients and firms, which sometimes need to be solicited, can help with developing specific goals.

Work/life balance

One of the trickiest aspects of being a freelancer is finding a balance between professional and personal responsibilities. Unlike other areas like marketing or finances, which have more general tricks, finding the right balance comes down to what works for the individual. First and foremost, set boundaries. “Know how long it takes you to scope and proofread work,” says Phipps. “You should know your limits and be clear with the firms you’re working with on the maximum amount of pages you can take in a week.” And be sure to schedule breaks, both large and small. For large depositions, Black sets a daily page goal and small percentage goals through the day and takes short breaks in between. She also suggests using a tablet to proofread so she can do so while sitting outside or eating a meal. And don’t underestimate the value of a longer break when necessary. “I gave up too many vacations only to realize that it’s just as important to recharge as it is to be present at work,” Neeson says.

Even though proofreading takes time, there are a few ways to make the task more manageable. At the basic level, write clean and know your software. “I made it my mission to always try to write as clean as possible and thereby reduce my scoping and proofreading time,” says Neeson. Black suggests using dead time during the day to scope and proofread. “The biggest efficiency is editing while I’m taking down live testimony. Every correction I make from my writer or on my realtime screen saves me valuable time later.” The right software can make these tasks easier too. Phipps suggests using Connection Magic because then reporters “can invite a scopist into their file to scope and the court reporter can simultaneously proofread at the same time.” Black makes sure to bring a touchscreen laptop on jobs to quick tap the screen and add missing punctuation on-the-job. She also suggests taking advantage of software training sessions, either one-on-one or in a group setting.

In many ways, however, finding a balance comes down to finding help when necessary, whether this is using a trusted scopist or proofreader, delegating household tasks to other family members or to a cleaning service, finding service professionals who are flexible about accommodating last-minute appointments, or prioritizing daily events, like making sure to eat dinner as a family. For freelancers with children, however, sometimes the biggest hurdle to finding a balance is to not feel guilty about missing things here and there.

The same things that make freelancing challenging can also be advantages. Having personal responsibility over marketing and finances also means having a measure of control. This is especially true in marketing since word of mouth still prevails, even in the digital age, and freelancers definitely have control over the quality of their customer service. Some of the same tactics that can increase business development can also help with individual professional development, especially by attending local, state, or national conferences. And while achieving a true balance between work and life is tricky, having a more flexible schedule can help shift responsibilities around when something comes up. The biggest tip for a freelancer, however, is to stay active in a network of like-minded colleagues to continue to share information and support with each other.


Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Communications Assurance Specialist. She can be reached at

Tax tips for freelancers and small business owners

March 16 is the deadline for first-quarter taxes for U.S. business owners and freelancers who file quarterly, and April 15 is the deadline for individual tax returns. For small businesses and freelancers, filing taxes can be complicated, and suggestions for deductions should always be run by a tax professional. In the meantime, here are a few ideas to consider.

The ultimate list of freelancer tax deductions

A Jan. 28 post on the Freelancers Union blog describes over a dozen potential tax deductions for freelancers. The author’s points range from the requirements to claim a home office to which form to use when claiming medical care expenses to bank and legal fees that should not be forgotten. Read more.

Prepare for tax season now

Before the end of the year is a great time to get ready for tax season and maximize any tax savings you get from deductions for the past year.

Some of the top tax write-offs for self-employed people and business owners, according to TurboTax, are IRAs and using part of a home for business purposes.

Any and all equipment/supplies purchased for office or home [office]; i.e., printers, laptops, cases of paper, and ink,” top the list of Candy Morgan, RPR, a court reporter in Orlando, Fla. In addition, Morgan reminds others that the federal rate for mileage is 56 cents a mile (although confirm current rates).  “We just have to keep a log with numbers from the odometer. We cannot write off driving to and from the office from home, but the trip to the office can be in the middle of the day. And, definitely, all parking and tolls,” Morgan reminds.

“The accounts receivable that I’ve struggled getting paid for over the last several months I write off as bad debt expense at the end of the year,” says Linda C. Larson, RPR, CRI, a freelancer and agency owner in Carlisle, Pa.

“Maximize your tax savings by taking advantage of purchasing new equipment. Don’t forget that machine maintenance, software upgrades, and service contracts can be considered tax breaks. In addition, in states that require licenses or certifications, those fees as well as any fees that support continuing education requirements for those licenses also can be used as a tax deduction,” reminds Phil Liberatore, owner of Philip Liberatore, CPA, a company based in La Mirada, Calif

Finally, if you have questions about what you can and cannot claim as tax breaks, be sure to contact a certified accountant or tax preparer.