Does your court reporting firm offer you, your assistant, or your paralegal, gifts of money, gift cards, or products in exchange for scheduling your depositions with them? Over the years, some court reporting firms have participated in a disturbing practice of offering “rewards programs” for attorneys and their law firms whereby the scheduler of depositions earns points or gifts every time they schedule with that court reporting firm.
This can be a dangerous practice for court reporting firms as well as the attorneys and their clients. As keepers of the record and officers of the court, court reporters should maintain impartiality and neutrality in order to protect the integrity of our profession.
The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) Code of Professional Ethics states that members shall, “Refrain from giving, directly or indirectly, any gift or anything of value to attorneys or their staff, other clients or their staff, or any other persons or entities associated with any litigation, which exceeds $150 in the aggregate per recipient each year. Nothing offered in exchange for future work is permissible, regardless of its value.” NCRA has further distinguished between “thank you” gifts (such as pens, coffee mugs, and other marketing materials), and “incentive” gifts, which are given in exchange for the promise of future work.
NCRA has formed Ethics First, which is a “voluntary…public awareness program that seeks to positively educate court reporters, colleagues, firms, and in particular, their clients and consumers,” about why the impartiality and neutrality of the court reporter is so important in maintaining our legal system. If you would like to help maintain an unbiased legal system, please consider using a court reporting firm that is an Ethics First member, and one that doesn’t use gifting as a way to increase their business.
While the court reporter’s concern about impartiality is of utmost importance to them, attorneys and law firms should also be concerned about their participation in “rewards programs.” Here are some things to think about:
- There is some debate about “who the gift belongs to,” whether it belongs to the attorney or their client, who is ultimately paying for the court reporting services.
- Are attorneys best serving their clients by using court reporting firms who gift the attorneys for scheduling their depositions with that firm?
- Are the clients paying more for that firm’s services in order to cover the cost of the gifts?
- Are the attorneys or their firms required to report these gifts as income?
So when scheduling your depositions, whether locally or nationally, don’t hesitate to ask the firm if they are an Ethics First participant. Consider using a firm with qualified, experienced court reporters so you know you’ll receive the best services for your client, and don’t be fooled by the gifts!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Angie Starbuck is a court reporter in Columbus, Ohio, and the owner of PRI Court Reporting, LLC. Angie is an individual participant in NCRA Ethics First, and PRI Court Reporting is a proud Ethics First firm participant. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Google+.
Photo credit here.