COPE: Missing deadlines and the Code of Ethics

By Cassy Kerr

The timely delivery of a transcript from a reporter to a reporting firm can be a stressor in the life of a firm owner. “I want to add another pressure to my day-to-day responsibilities of owning a reporting business,” said no firm owner ever.

Also, no reporter wants to be in the uncomfortable position of missing a deadline with a firm. So fear not. There are ways, along with common sense, to avoid these issues for both firm owners and reporters in NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics (COPE), the COPE General Guidelines, and specifically Advisory Opinion 20.

The first thing a firm owner can do, when looking for an outside reporter to cover a deposition, is personally know or know someone who personally knows the reporter. This is why networking is so important. Whether you need a reporter in an adjoining city or many states away, having a referral from a trusted resource is essential. Attending your state and national seminars, conventions, and get-togethers or volunteering for state or national committees are great opportunities to build your circle of contacts. Next, when you are speaking with the reporter, inquire whether he or she is a member of his or her state and national organizations. Those who aren’t have the ability to say, “State or national association’s guidelines and opinions don’t apply to me.”

Agencies should also advise the reporter of the deposition’s subject matter and verify that the reporter is capable of producing a quality product and delivering it within the requested timeline. If the reporter finds him- or herself in a highly technical video deposition without the required experience, the reporter will spend an excessive amount of time researching terms, which will delay the transcript delivery.

The reporter also has responsibilities when it comes to the timely delivery of a transcript, the first of which is letting the agency know whether he or she has the skills to report the deposition.

Section I.1 of the guidelines reads, “Accept only those assignments when the Member’s level of competence will result in the preparation of an accurate transcript”; and also, the conclusion in Advisory Opinion No. 20 says, “… the individual reporter … has a duty to … refrain from accepting engagements with which the reporter knows he or she is unable to comply.”
Reporter, it is okay to tell the firm: “I appreciate the opportunity to work for you, but I will be in over my head with this assignment.” In fact, the agency will appreciate your truthfulness and that leads to COPE No. 9, which says, “A member shall maintain the integrity of the reporting profession,” and there is no better way to do this than by being honest.

Further, being forthright about your skills and level of competence adheres you to Guideline No. I.5: “Meet promised delivery dates …” Finalizing a transcript can be time-consuming enough without extra time spent googling on a subject matter.

Likewise, if the reporter knows that he or she cannot deliver the job by the requested date, he or she should decline the engagement as expressed in Advisory Opinion No. 20.

Again, reporter, express your appreciation for the chance to work together, but let the firm know you are unable to meet the deadline. If you accept the job knowing you can’t and won’t meet the firm’s expectation, it puts the firm in the unpleasant position of explaining to the attorney, when contacted by him or her, that it doesn’t have the transcript for production. Avoid putting anyone, including yourself, in this sticky situation, and be upfront and truthful with the firm.

An instance of not meeting a deadline can occur when a transcript delivery date has not been given to the reporter. In this situation, a commonsense approach is for the reporter to ask the agency what the expected turnaround time is. COPE No. 3 says, “A member shall guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.” It is totally proper if not expected for the reporter to inquire of a deadline if it
is not given by the agency.

Reporter, save yourself the panic of an unforeseen request to have the transcript delivered the next day and inquire of the transcript deadline. NCRA’s Ethics Committee concludes in Advisory Opinion No. 20 that “… the individual reporter that subcontracts with an agency has a duty to meet promised delivery dates whenever possible and to refrain from accepting engagements with which the reporter knows he or she is unable to comply; so the burden lies with the reporter, not the agency, to ensure he or she meets the requested or a timely transcript delivery.

Sometimes, however, try as reporters might to meet his or her transcript deadlines, life happens. Urgent care visits occur. Children’s games go into overtime. Another transcript needs to get bumped to the front of the line to meet an unexpected expedited request. This is when common sense, Opinion No. 20, the COPE, and the COPE guidelines all mesh into one message: communication.

Section I.5 of the guidelines reads, “A member should … provide immediate notification of delays.” Will the reporter dread letting the firm know he or she cannot meet the deadline? Maybe.

Will the agency be frustrated that a deadline can’t be met? Probably.

Will the attorney be upset that the transcript isn’t available as requested? More than likely.

But this is when COPE No. 9 again comes into play. Be honest, reporter, as to the delay. Explain the situation, accept responsibility, and come to an agreement with the firm to a new delivery date. As long as your delivery delays are not a habit, the firm will understand and be happy to call you again the next time they need your help.

Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelancer and agency owner in Tulsa, Okla. Kerr is a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.