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Welcome to the Scopist Jobs 101 crash course.
Scoping is a little-known freelance career that is completely location-independent. Whether you want a job that allows you to travel the world or you simply want to earn a good living from the comfort of home, scoping can get you there.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- What scoping is (and what it’s not)
- How to become a scopist for court reporters (the easy way and the hard way)
- Where to find entry-level scopist jobs as a beginner
Let’s start by clearing up some terminology.
What Do Scopists Do?
Not many people know what a scopist is, and there’s often confusion between scopists, legal transcriptionists, and court reporters.
Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.
A legal transcriptionist listens to various kinds of legal recordings and types them out on a computer in written form. You can become a legal transcriptionist from home.
A court reporter attends court proceedings and captures live audio in written form using a special steno machine.
Finally, a scopist is hired by court reporters to take the live information they captured on their stenograph—which is automatically translated to English (usually with many errors)—and “clean it up”.
But doesn’t that just make a scopist a glorified proofreader?
Well, kind of.
Here’s the difference.
Scopist vs Proofreader: What’s the difference?
Normal proofreaders correct drafts that have already been read through by a human.
Scopists, on the other hand, correct content that has been auto-translated from a stenogram to English. That means there is usually a lot more to “clean up”.
Scopists also have to make sure the transcript matches the audio from the court proceeding, while proofreaders simply work with a written draft.
Due to these subtle differences, it’s common for a court transcript to pass through both a scopist and a proofreader before the final draft is published.
5 Reasons Scoping is the Bomb
Before diving into how to become a scopist for court reporters, let’s review why you’d even want to.
#1.) You’ll never get bored
Your job involves listening to crimes all day. If you love yourself a good crime show, this job will certainly keep you entertained. That said, if you’re sensitive, squeamish, or prone to nightmares—it might not be a good idea.
#2.) It’s as flexible as you want it to be
Since scoping is a freelance position, you decide how much you work (and how much you earn).
If your goal is to earn as much as possible, you can cram your days with rush orders. But if your goal is to earn a steady, flexible income that gives you extra time for family and hobbies, you can do that too.
Speaking of flexibility, all you need to work as a legal scopist is a laptop and an internet connection. That means it’s an easy digital nomad job you can take with you around the world.
#3.) Scopist training is quick and inexpensive
Compared to careers that require an expensive college degree, you can get certified by accredited scoping schools in as little as 3-6 months (for a fraction of what you’d pay for a university degree).
#4.) Scopists can earn surprisingly good money
Not only does internet scoping school cost a sliver of a normal college education, but oftentimes scopists earn just as much (or even more) than jobs requiring college degrees.
How much money does a scopist make?”
Well, that depends on factors such as:
- Ease of projects
- Typing speed and accuracy
- Number of hours worked
- Amount of rush-orders (can charge higher rates)
Brand new scopists can earn around $30,000/year as they work on mastering their trade. Experienced scopists can earn up to $60,000 or more—all from the comfort of their home.
#5.) Scoping has less competition than other forms of freelancing
Compared to jobs like freelancing writing, barely anyone knows about scoping. It also has a slightly higher bar to entry, meaning you have fewer freelancers to compete with.
That said, just because there is less competition doesn’t mean you don’t have to be excellent at what you do. If you are unreliable or turn in error-ridden work, you won’t last long. And in such a tight-knit industry, your reputation will either help you…or haunt you.
How to Become a Scopist for Court Reporters
There are several paths to become a legal scopist. But before we dive in, it’s important to note that there are no universal requirements to work as a scopist.
So, technically, you could teach yourself.
That said, just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it’s smart. Just like with any trade, teaching yourself takes significantly longer than having an expert show you exactly what you need to do.
And in the end, time is money.
For most, the money you save on formal training isn’t worth delaying the time it takes to start earning money from your new skills.
Plus, a certification from an accredited school certainly won’t hurt your odds of landing work.
That said, if you’re strapped for cash and up for the challenge of teaching yourself, go for it!
But if you prefer speeding up the process (so you can start earning faster), here are three paths to do it.
#1.) Find someone to teach you
The quickest and cheapest way to learn to become a scopist is to find someone willing to teach you.
If you know another scopist or court reporter, you could offer them something in exchange for lessons.
If you receive training from a court reporter, you’ll know exactly how they like things and may even end up with your very first client.
That said, most people don’t have scopist connections and will have to use the second-best option…
#2.) Take an online scopist training program
Enrolling in an online scoping school is the best way to get a well-rounded scoping education.
Not only do you learn how to be a scopist, but just as importantly, how to find clients and run a freelance business.
What is the best scoping school?
Of these two courses, Internet Scoping School is by far the most user-friendly (as you can quickly see by visiting the two sites).
Internet Scoping School also offers a free scoping mini-course to get your feet wet before taking the plunge.
Just like any degree or career training, these courses are an investment. The difference is, unlike a degree—which oftentimes never gets put to use and requires years (if not decades) to pay off—your scopist education can pay for itself within a few months of landing your first clients.
#3.) Become a court reporter
All court reporters learn how to scope as part of their education. That way, they have the option to do their own scoping instead of outsourcing it to freelancers.
So, if you study to become a court reporter, you’ll also become a scopist by default.
While this makes sense in theory, it’s not the best plan practically.
If you put in all the extra work to become a court reporter—which is higher on the “totem pole” than scoping—it wouldn’t make sense to let your training go to waste and settle for scoping work.
That said, it might make sense if you want the flexibility to do either type of job.
Best Places to Find Entry-Level Scopist Jobs
As you can imagine, most new scopists will be using them to find work. And while they aren’t a bad option, you will certainly be competing with others.
Both online scoping schools offer additional strategies for finding scopist jobs. Internet Scoping School teaches methods for finding work using LinkedIn as well as how to create your own website to market your freelance scoping business.
Lastly, if you’re a true go-getter, take a day to drive around to all the law firms in your town to introduce yourself and leave your business card.
In today’s day and age, 99% of your competition will take the easy route (i.e., email). That means making in-person connections is a surefire way to make yourself stand out.
And remember, all you need is a handful of clients. If you do good work, court reporters will likely send you a constant stream of work (and if you’re lucky, recommend you to their colleagues).
What Gear Do Scopists Need?
As a scopist, there are really only two pieces of gear that you must have—a computer and scoping software.
Everything else on this list is optional, although they can make your job easier, more comfortable, more productive, and thus, more profitable.
Let’s start with software.
Scopist software, also known as computer-aided transcription (CAT) software, will be your biggest expense as a scopist.
Fortunately, this is a one-time expense. So you can pay for it once, and earn with it forever.
Choosing one of these two popular programs means you will have more job opportunities, but also more scopists to compete with for those jobs.
If you use less popular software, you’ll have less competition. It’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond.
Both of these approaches can work. Remember, to make a solid income, you just need to become the go-to scopist for a handful of reporters.
Reporters maximize their income by being efficient as possible. They don’t have time to constantly search for new scopists. If you prove to them you’re a reliable scopist, they’ll stick to you like glue.
Computers for scopists
Most people already have a computer suitable for scoping, but if not, you have some decisions to make.
First, do you want a desktop or a laptop?
Desktops are generally more affordable than laptops, so if you plan to work from home and portability isn’t a priority for you, a desktop is the way to go.
Headphones for scopists
Scoping requires focus. One of the best ways to eliminate distractions and get in the zone is with a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones.
Since you’re already investing in expensive software (and potentially online training), it’s not necessary to buy the fanciest headphones on the market right from the start.
The COWIN E7s are a great budget pair to start with.
Or maybe you’ll realize the budget pair works perfectly and can save some money!
Foot pedals for scopists
A scopist foot pedal allows you to control the audio playback with your feet, freeing up your hands to focus on typing.
With practice, this can speed up your scoping speed. And the faster you scope, the more you can earn.
How to Get Started as a Scopist
Since becoming a scopist requires time, training, and investment, the first step is to be 100% sure it is right for you.
The best way to do this is by going through the ISS free scoping mini-course. It will help you determine if it’s the right path for you and teach you the basics needed to get started.
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).