Court Reporters, Clients, and Gift Giving Incentives – Professional Ethics
Our previous blog post discussed the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) Code of Professional Ethics. One of the main highlights from that code of ethics involves the topic of gift giving. Incentive gift giving or rewards programs are prohibited by the NCRA. According to the code: “A member 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 $100 in the aggregate per recipient each year. Nothing offered in exchange for future work is permissible, regardless of its value.”
The reason why such gifts are prohibited is because giving items of value to attorneys, their staff, or clients could create the public perception that the reporting firm holds some favoritism toward the gift recipient. This perception of favoritism undermines the integrity and the neutrality that court reporters and their firms are supposed to uphold in the legal process.
What is considered a gift?
Gifts can include any favor, gratuity, entertainment, or item of value. Gifts can also include points of a rewards program. For example, if a reporting firm gave attorneys points for every time they booked with the reporting firm, this would be considered a gift. However, there are times when marketing or “thank you” gifts are permissible. The NCRA states that marketing or thank you gifts of nominal value (“such as pens, pencils, coffee mugs and other advertising paraphernalia or modest forms of meals and entertainment”) are allowed and do not undermine the court reporting firm’s impartiality. By nominal value, the NCRA means that these gifts cannot exceed $100 in aggregate value, per recipient, per year.
Scenario #1: A court reporting firm member offers to donate $25 to a charity in the client’s name every time a deposition is booked with them. Is this situation a violation of the code of ethics? Yes, the gift of a money donation to a charity is being offered in exchange for future services. Remember the code stated: “Nothing offered in exchange for future work is permissible, regardless of its value.”
Scenario #2: In the context of marketing to a potential client, a court reporter meets with an attorney for a cup of coffee at a local café to discuss the services offered by the reporting firm. The reporter pays for the coffee. Does buying this cup of coffee violate the code? No, it does not. This cup of coffee is considered to be a nominal gift in this scenario. However, if the reporter were to say “if you book a deposition with us, I’ll buy the coffee,” then this would be a violation of the code. It would then be considered an incentive gift offered in exchange for future work.
Work with an Ethics First Firm
Whenscheduling services with a court reporting firm, check to see if it is a NCRA Ethics First firm. That way you know that the firm will be providing their services in a professional and ethical manner. If the firm you currently work with offers an incentive in return for repeated scheduling of depositions and other services, you may want to rethink the situation and the firm’s practice.