The Networking Reporter and The Networking Agency - Why Transparency Matters
An interesting blog article I read recently discusses the veracity of the term "transparency" in our business world today and whether it is considered a term to generally now mean that someone only wishes to *appear* to be transparent. (See Transparency in Business: Why It Matters, Posted by Experts Exchange on June 22, 2012.) This article discusses defining "Business Transparency": "In its simplest sense, business transparency means clear, unhindered honesty in the way that s/he does business. But it’s more than that. One business dictionary defines transparency as a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.”
"They offered me a $600 'minimum' and X dollars per page. They think I'll just see the '$600' and fail to notice it doesn't say 'per diem' or 'appearance' or 'incentive'?"
There are independent contractor court reporters out there who are new to the concepts and terms mentioned above: Minimum, per diem, appearance, incentive. None of them are new to our industry. Does the use of this term "minimum" mean that the agency who offers a minimum but not a per diem is being dishonest or not being transparent? No. Not in and of itself. There are reporters out there who may consider a short $600 job close to home an attractive offer. It happens! However, if such a solicitation by a networking agency such as the one cited above is purposefully used by that agency to entice as an attractive job offer, when the networking agency knows that this sort of solicitation may mislead reporters into thinking that they are actually offering the typical per diem and dollars per page so as to get acceptance quickly, then this is something much less than transparent. So let's beat around the bush about this example no longer. The term "per diem" or "appearance fee" have been standard terms in our industry for decades. And so has the term "minimum." However, when used in a short job offer where the only other term disclosed is the dollars per page, the standard way to offer a job is to state the per diem or appearance fee offered for the day. Therefore, YES, in my mind, this tactic of laying out a "minimum" along with the page rate and no other terms is a dishonest practice meant to deceive and therefore is *not* transparent. Any agency who would offer a job in such a way would cause me to question their ability to be transparent, truthful, forthcoming, and honest in their business practices across the board. Does it mean that I might not be able to take a job for an agency like this and not get burned? AND get paid? AND get paid on time? No, it doesn't mean those things wouldn't happen and that I might not come out the other side relatively unscathed. But if those things didn't happen -- if I didn't get paid what we agreed to, or if I didn't get paid on time, or something else unfavorable happened because of this agency's practices -- I would feel I had no one but myself to blame for it ending badly because the writing was on the wall. In the interest of full transparency on my part, that is my honest belief! If I saw a job offer like that from an agency, I not only would not accept the job offer, I would take note of the agency itself and steer clear of future job offers from said agency.
"They offered a reporter cap, including all copies, rough drafts, realtime, at $7.75 per page and a flat appearance fee of $150.00." Is this considered to be a transparent offer? Maybe. If you learn that there are a minimum of a dozen and a half attorneys that will be present and a minimum of a half a dozen realtime screens that are going to be provided -- well, the agency may just get what they're paying for with a reporter who can't handle that assignment or who can *barely* handle that assignment; but as an experienced realtime reporter, those numbers regarding attorneys and realtime screens are important to the service I'm going to be providing, not just the rates I will be paid for that service. To not tell me these things, and to not tell me these things up front before accepting the job offer, would be irresponsible. This information of number of attorneys present and number of realtime screens being provided not being disclosed in the job offer itself does not show job transparency in my mind because it does not prepare the realtime reporter adequately for the job they are walking into. So, therefore, what else does that tell us? In my mind, it tells me that the agency is likely not being as transparent as they need to be in order to get the job covered for a very (VERY) low rate. What else are they not disclosing to the reporter? Not because it's not important but because they don't want to disclose information to the reporter that would give the reporter any indication that the networking agency themselves is making FAR more on an assignment like this than the reporter will be? There could be a number of things. It leads the reporter to think of what things could possibly be linked to profit for the agency that they as the reporter would need to know before accepting this job because the agency is apparently more concerned with their bottom line than getting the job covered adequately. Any agency who would offer a job in such a way would cause me to question their ability to be transparent, truthful, forthcoming, and honest in their business practices across the board. Does it mean that I might not be able to take a job like this for an agency like this and not get burned? Yes, it does. Because, quite to the contrary, taking a job like this DOES mean that the reporter will get burned, to the tune of many, many thousands of dollars they are entitled to in copies, realtime and rough draft services, along with whatever else will come from working for an agency who is not transparent, truthful, forthcoming, and honest.
When a company is more concerned with earning a profit than they are with their company's personal
reputation -- not just with the court reporters they employ but with the law firms/clients they service -- it's a problem. It's not only a problem for the networking agency themselves, but it's a problem for our industry. TRANSPARENCY MATTERS. An agency's transparency matters for all of us. Law firms and all of the clients we serve notice when they get subpar service. They notice the difference between transcripts that are put out by professionals who are getting paid what they are worth and transcripts put out by reporters who are either in over their heads with assignments they are not qualified to take and/or put out by reporters who are being squeezed so tight they cannot afford the scoping and proofreading help they need to be able to put out a professional transcript -- and maybe, in some instances, these reporters don't even care anymore because they are not even getting paid enough to care. That lack of transparency is a domino effect that, in the end, affects us all.
"A business that truly increases the well-being of all that its operation affects has little, if anything to hide. With the exception of, say, a legitimate trade secret, a business that delivers a product or service of real value to customers and greater society alike has minimal difficulty being truly transparent. . . . . To be sure, the purpose of transparency is to demonstrate that a company is truly the kind of business that it wants people to think it is." Again, quoting this excellent blog posted by Experts Exchange above, these words above also bring to mind that a good many corporations are contracting with networking agencies for reporting services with those same per diems and page rates talked about above, with capped rates sometimes, and with all of the familiar things we are accustomed to being included in bids for reporting services. But, in most instances, networking agencies don't have to play by the same rules as court reporters do. The agencies are not the ones who are certified; the agencies are not the ones who will lose their certification licenses for charging the clients/corporations for things that weren't bid. The add-ons, the extras, I hear, can be astronomical. Are these profits for all of these add-ons passed on to the reporters? Of course not. And any reporter attempting to compete against a networking agency's bid of the "normal" and routine charges for corporate contracts are not able to truly compete because the playing field has not been leveled. Reporters were the ones who made sure that could never happen for them! Reporters have proudly incorporated into our certification requirements that reporters need to be ethical and forthright -- transparent, if you will -- as officers of the court and as certification holders. Reporters did this in order to ensure transparency and ethical treatment regarding transcript costs. So now reporters, when bidding with the routine charges in a contract, cannot go that low and survive on those numbers. Make no mistake, the networking agencies can't either. However, the numbers the networking agencies/nonreporters *can* charge that the reporters can't because of certification limitations and ethical reasons as officers of the court are also what is affecting our industry in such a profound way. Transparency? No. Not by a long shot. In this critical time in the court reporting world, where reporters, as well as the corporations and the attorney clients they serve, desperately need to see true transparency from networking agencies, I'll leave you with this one last thought from the blog article cited above: "Transparency doesn’t just help businesses become financially successful. It makes them good citizens. And good citizens never go out of business."
Michelle Kirkpatrick, RDR, CRR, CRC, FCRR, CRCR (Colorado),
is a networking, traveling realtime reporter based out of
Breckenridge, Colorado, specializing in technical realtime,
immediate rough drafts, and same-day finals. She can be
reached at email@example.com.