News From The Woods - January 7, 2009


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published January 7, 2009

"Two Steps Forward - One Step Back"

The times are changing for the legal videographer.

I have literally done hundreds and hundreds of depositions in my region of the country over the past 30 years. I have a closet full of master tapes to prove it. In all that time I have had only THREE instances of what I would call a real "problem": Two of them were due to a bad batch of brand new videotape and the third was the time I blew the timing chain out of my car on the way to the depo (this was before cell phones) and by the time I hitched a ride - with all my gear - to the appointed place the attorney had already started the depo without me and I lost the job.

I have been doing video depos since before it was widely accepted by the court system.......Back in the day when there were no rules and regulations in place......... Back before there were industries and manufacturers catering to the professional legal videographer. There were no agencies, organizations, or guilds in place to authenticate what a "professional" was. There were no "Court Reporting Firms" that demanded a percentage of my income and my first born as compensation for merely referring the job to me instead of paying their own high priced workers to make the "trip to the woods". Back then it was enough just to be a professional videographer with an extensive background in audio. It was right up my alley at the time. It was easy for me to get work because I was the only one doing it around here that had any degree of credibility, and had a professional video set up (at the time a JVC G-71 single tube camera w/ portable 3/4" deck and a Shure M67 mic mixer). The buck always stopped with me and it was my neck on the line if something went wrong. I won't say that nothing ever went wrong, but I always managed to handle it, overcome it, or sidestep the issue. Many times I did damage control for an attorney or paralegal without waiting for or even expecting a pat on the back.

Why was it so "easy" for me?

(1) Because I always acted as a professional, and treated my clients and their witnesses with the proper amount of respect and dignity. And BTW, I have had a long pony-tail throughout my entire career (I'm also in the music business) and never once got a raised eyebrow.

(2) Because I was always thinking two steps ahead of the action. One eye on the room and the other eye on the monitor.

(3) Because my work record was unblemished, attorneys happily referred my services to other attorneys. Word of mouth is the best advertisement.

(4) Because I ALWAYS catered to the stenographer, I built up a good rapport and got hundreds of jobs I otherwise would not have been given. Since the stenos knew my track record and they respected and liked me they always recommended me whenever they got a job with out of town attorneys. I never let them down or gave them cause to consider anyone else.

Now, I realize I am completely out of the mainstream here in the Ozarks, and much of my success is because of that. There's not enough steady work for a full time legal video outfit but just enough to keep me busy. In recent years I have had to "negotiate" with several large and popular court reporting firms out of Nashville, Kansas City and St. Louis. The only thing those jobs did for me (other than bring some income) was convince me that I am much better on my own. The red tape and crap one has to go through to jump through all the hoops created by over-simplifying the job criteria (to cover their own butts) is staggering. I understand their reason for such redundancy, but they really need to research their primary and tertiary market areas and find the most qualified people to call upon when they cannot cover it themselves. Maybe I am thin skinned and tired of having to prove myself every time I get a call and have to jump through a dozen hoops just to get a depo. I feel I have earned enough respect in this business for my peers to accept my experience and credentials, and I shouldn't have to petition my employers to gently remind them I haven't been paid yet. They may be on a 30-day retrieval but I am not. I have always been paid for my services upon delivery of the product. Sometimes I DID wait thirty days but it was always for a repeat customer and I allowed it as a courtesy to my valued legal clients.

And speaking of credentials, I want to point out here (and please don't take this as a diss towards any of the Guilds - but facts is facts) that since I joined the AGCV nine years ago I cannot say with any degree of certainty that I got one single deposition from my alliance with a video guild. Not one attorney EVER said they booked me because of my affiliation with any legal videographers guild. Doesn't that sound absurd? Well, it's true, nevertheless.

I believe those days are probably about over, because now we have so many interns wanting to break into the "lucrative legal video profession" that society will NEED those guilds to depend on for qualification/certification and referral. Surely, if I lived in a big city today I would have no other recourse but to join a guild just because there are so many videographers trying to get a piece of the pie. Sadly, I see the entire legal video profession slowly being overcome by political correctness and an abundance of heady restrictions and regulations brought about due to amateur video work on previous legal cases. One bad apple truly spoils the whole bushel. As professionals, we will continue to pay for the mistakes made by those unscrupulous opportunists in the form of continued regulation within the industry.

I guess I lived in the Golden Age of Video. Oh well, I have already survived the Golden Age of Radio and the Golden Age of Music so one more Golden Age won't matter much. Besides, at 62 I have decided to semi-retire and take only the work that I want. I plan to start teaching some ConEd courses in video this year at the local branch of Arkansas State University, so maybe I can continue to impart some knowledge based on my experiences to anyone who cares to listen and learn. In the meantime I will once again remind those who managed to make it through this diatribe that the MOST important thing you can do in your profession is to conduct yourselves in a professional manner and keep smiling no matter what happens. It's when you lose your sh*t that the problem becomes apparent to everyone else in the room. Keep your cool, be neat in appearance, and always be courteous and helpful even if it doesn't precisely fit the job description.

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