Advisory Opinion 21
Manipulating transcript page formats (1995)
Statement of Facts
A freelance reporter has requested the Committee on Professional Ethics to render an advisory opinion regarding the permissibility under the Association's Code of Professional Ethics of the use of certain page formats. The freelance reporter is contemplating entering into an agreement to report depositions for an agency. The agency's transcript format requirements specify 50 characters per line and 22 lines per page and require carry-over Q and A lines to begin 3 spaces from the left-hand margin. Although the agency promotes its reporting services as cheaper to the customer than others, the reporter knows the customer actually is paying a higher effective page rate because it is getting less text per page than it would if more standard transcript guidelines were utilized.
Although the reporter and the agency are free to decide on the appropriate transcript format if state, local and federal laws, and custom and usage mandating the proper format are not applicable, it is the Committee's opinion that they are not free to manipulate transcript page formats in order to deceive the customer into thinking that the customer is getting a better bargain for his money. This deceptive advertising practice violates Provisions Nos. 5 and 9 of the Code.
In 1992, the Association separated its Transcript Format Guidelines from the Code of Professional Ethics and Guidelines for Professional Practice. The purpose of these changes was to reinforce the notion that the Transcript Format Guidelines are recommendations, rather than a mandatory practice, for members. The Transcript Format Guidelines present a model transcript format for members to follow in those situations in which federal, state and local laws or rules are silent and local custom and usage is undefined, unclear and nonexistent with respect to transcript format. The Transcript Format Guidelines are not intended to supplant applicable federal, state or local laws or to undermine or usurp local custom and usage. If federal, state or local laws, custom and usage are not applicable, the reporter is free to decide the appropriate transcript format with the agency.
Provision No. 5 of the Code requires the reporter to be truthful and accurate when making public statements or when advertising the reporter's qualifications or services provided. Provision No. 9 of the Code requires a reporter to maintain the integrity of reporting profession. Manipulating transcript page formats to increase the total number of pages while, at the same time, representing to a client that the transcript is cheaper, is deceptive. This practice deceives the consumer by leading him to believe that he is getting a better bargain, when in reality he is getting less text per page and thus paying a higher effective page rate. The Committee believes that the practice of shortening page formats while at the same time representing to the customer that he is getting a better bargain deceives the consumer. If the reporter has reason to believe that the agency is deceiving its clients by manipulating transcript page formats and making these false representations, the reporter must decline the engagement. Otherwise, the reporter would be participating in an arrangement that constitutes deceptive advertising, which would undermine the integrity of the reporting profession and violate Provisions No. 5 and 9 of the Code.
The Committee on Professional Ethics notes that the use of transcript format guidelines when no federal, state or local format is required is a matter of discretion with the individual reporter and the agency. Nonetheless, the reporter should not participate in a scheme whereby a certain transcript format is used to defraud a consumer by leading him to believe that he getting a better bargain for his dollar when in fact he is merely getting less text per page, but paying for more pages. Deceptive advertising is a violation of Provisions Nos. 5 and 9 of the Code.
THIS PUBLIC ADVISORY OPINION REFLECTS THE STATUS OF THE LAW IN MOST JURISDICTIONS. MEMBERS ARE REQUIRED TO CONFORM TO THE ACCEPTED PRACTICES SET FORTH IN THIS PUBLIC ADVISORY OPINION TO THE EXTENT THAT SUCH PRACTICES ARE CONSISTENT WITH THEIR OWN APPLICABLE STATE AND LOCAL LAWS, RULES AND REGULATIONS.