Celebrating entrepreneurs

“It took a lot of hard work and determination to get through school and to build my skills as a practicing reporter. I’m a reporter business owner, so my approach in working with clients, reporters, and staff is generally directed by the reporter in me,” says Jan Schmitt, RPR, owner of the Schmitt Reporting & Video in Vancouver, Wash.

To mark Women’s Entrepreneur Day, an international day celebrated with a worldwide social media campaign on Nov. 30, the JCR reached out to several of NCRA’s firm owner-reporters — both male and female — to get their take on what entrepreneurship means to them.

While the people identified themselves foremost as reporters, they had many traits that transfer over to being an entrepreneur. “When I tell people what I do, I always explain the reporting part. Telling them I am business owner comes later in the conversation when I explain that I don’t work in a courthouse but for myself,” says Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer and the owner of Russell Court Reporting, Inc., in Tulsa, Okla. “And I never even thought of myself as an entrepreneur until about a year ago when a friend introduced me as one.”

But reporters shouldn’t fear the term entrepreneur. Small businesses contribute to the global economy and make up about half of all U.S. jobs.

Attributes of the entrepreneurial court reporter

Only nine months into her career, Katherine Schilling, RPR, a freelancer in Richmond, Va., explains entrepreneurship this way: “In my mind, an entrepreneur is someone who offers a one-of-a-kind service that furthers their industry as a whole. This, too, is something that I feel comes with time and experience. These are the real-timers, the multiple hook up-ers, the three-scopist team-ers, the daily copy turn around-ers! At present, I’m focusing purely on advancing my own skills, but once I’m at a point where I’m offering something revolutionary to the court reporting industry, maybe then I can start considering such a prestigious title as entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurship matches many of the attributes that reporters already have — at least according to the Small Business Administration, which lists persuasiveness, risk-taking, independence, creativity, and being supported by others as important traits for entrepreneurs.

“You are very much a salesperson as a reporter, and that is the start of being an entrepreneur,” says Donna Linton, RMR, a freelancer based in Ashburn, Va. “You start at the beginning of the day selling yourself by being on time and prepared for the case, having your exhibit stickers and equipment ready to go. What is hard for a lot of reporters is to know you have the skill at the end of the day to sell your product by asking, ‘Do you need a rough draft’ or ‘Would you like to expedite this?’”

But there are many more traits that reporters and firm owners list as important in addition to those mentioned — with organization and planning topping most people’s lists. “The most important in my view are focus, persistence, determination and patience, planning, and dealing with many types of individuals, as well as being accountable,” says Grant Morrison, CRI, a freelance reporter in San Antonio, Texas.

“I’m big on planning ahead, especially for trials,” says Linton. ”Working with other reporters to get as much information ahead of time from clients helps us be consistent and produce the best product we can under pressure.”

“I believe the most important attributes of being an entrepreneur in the field of court reporting start with integrity and a commitment to the legal process,” says Kathy Reumann, RDR, a freelancer based in Rock Island, Ill.

“Punctuality is extremely important. It shows respect and readiness to tackle the job at hand,” says Lisa B. Johnston, RMR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner based in Melbourne, Fla. “Being able to keep calm in a situation that may not be going as planned and focusing on how to solve the problem and move on.”

“Entrepreneurs are the trailblazers of any industry, so they need all the following attributes to make their business a success: self-motivation, discipline, time management, and a passion to keep learning and improving,” said Schilling. “Court reporters have these traits in spades. Due to the nature of the court reporting field, we are often the only ones driving ourselves to do our best, through school and even decades into the working world. The job is also a very solitary one, especially for freelancers, so we have only ourselves to rely on in order to stay focused on the job and stay organized when those high page counts and expedites start rolling in.”

“A reporter skill that translates to an entrepreneurial skill is perseverance,” says Kerr. “No matter how difficult a deposition may be with the terminology or people speaking at once, I don’t give up, and I follow that same thinking with running a business.”

Advice for entrepreneurs

Many stressed the importance of being a reporter first. “You have to know how things are going out there in the field working an actual job so you can understand what the reporters are dealing with and what the clients are really expecting from their reporters as well as the judges,” says Linton.

Finding good support is essential to supporting the entrepreneur, whether it’s additional reporters to build your business or hiring a scopist or proofreader to keep up on your deadlines. Linton notes that these investments are about knowing that time is money — and saving time is key.

“The ability to attract and keep good reporters and staff is key. Endless determination, good vision and leadership — ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’ (Proverbs 29:18) — knowing your strengths and, more important, knowing your weakness and being willing to seek help in those areas. Some creativity and an ability to sell go a long way,” says Schmitt.

Linton advises finding a reliable and fantastic scopist and proofreader: “Do not be afraid to use one and find a favorite or two.”

“Know your CAT software to save you time so you can take more work to make more money,” Linton also suggest. ”For an agency, it means knowing skilled reporters who are reliable and keeping them happy. It saves the agency time finding coverage and means fewer headaches when producing their work for your clients.”

“Having the right people working for me,” says Kerr. “Those include everyone from my scopist and proofreader to my CPA. Delegating responsibilities to the people I can count on to get the job done and done correctly so I can focus on reporting and other aspects of running a business is so essential. I tried doing everything by myself, and it made life very difficult.

Organization is also important, mentioned by almost everyone. “Being organized in your scheduling is important,” says Johnston. “Personally, I have three calendars with all of my work appointments and jobs: one paper calendar, one smartphone calendar, one whiteboard calendar in my office. Reporter work days are anything but routine, so if you’ve committed to something, keep the commitment. Your reputation is of utmost importance.”

“Other important attributes are being wise with your finances and having confidence in your ultimate success,” says Kerr.

“Higher education and certification in your field shows dedication to your career,” says Johnston. [Ed. Note: NCRA offers education specific to firm owners at is Firm Owners Executive Conference, being held at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Ariz., Feb. 12-14, 2017.]

“Luckily for court reporters, there are always plenty of industry conventions to attend in order to expand our knowledge and improve our skills for the job,” says Schilling. “By continuing our education, we improve our product and can deliver top-notch work that will wow our clients and push the court reporting profession to new heights!”

Five steps to build a million-dollar court reporting business

By Cassandra Caldarella

Some reporters go their entire lives without earning a million dollars, so it sounds crazy that some court reporters might be able to achieve this milestone in a few short years. But it is possible. Plenty of court reporters have achieved this goal, and you can too!

Pay attention to the following tips and use them to help ramp up your revenue growth:

  1. Find a growing market

five-ways_1One of the simplest ways to build a million-dollar court reporting business in such a short period of time is to find a growing trend and ride it to the top. Take me for example. As a former official for Los Angeles Superior Court, I saw the privatization of the reporters in civil courtrooms and getting laid off from the County as an opportunity. I went from a salaried position making $97,000 a year with the county to making more than $200,000/year. I took my lemons and made a whole bunch of lemonade. Certainly, part of my success comes from turning out a great product and service, but it also comes from timing. When I was laid off in July 2012, a $75+ million-dollar market for civil reporters in L.A. opened up and more than 12,000 attorneys in the Los Angeles market were scampering for coverage of their motions and trials. Along with many colleagues, I experienced a 125 percent annual revenue growth that first year and ever since. Finding a growing market of your own like this can put you on the fast track to massive revenue growth.

  1. Think monetization from the start

It seems strange to think about monetization objectively, but some court reporters operate without any obvious monetization strategies. Twitter is one example of this phenomenon, but countless other companies out there are building up their free user bases, hoping that inspiration – and, consequently, financial stability – will strike along the way.

five-ways_2Most profitable companies operate from one of two models: either they sell a lot of inexpensive products to a lot of people or they sell a few big-ticket items to a more limited buyer list. Neither model is easier or inherently better than the other. What’s more important than choosing is having a defined plan for monetization. Knowing what the plan is to make money from the start will prevent wasted time spent hoping that something profitable will come together.

For court reporters, we have some limitations: what we can charge may be limited; we can’t give away our services for free; and we can’t participate in gift giving more than a certain amount each year. To work as a pro tem in court, most of the page rates are set by the Court Reporters Board in California. One of the free user bases court reporters can set up for themselves is a vast network of referrals. So when an attorney calls requesting your services, and you are already booked, you can tell him that you have a friend who just became available. And the same goes with agencies who call you for work.  It can be a mutually beneficial situation. Or, if you prefer, you can offer to cover the job for the attorney, find a reporter that you network with, and take a cut. Do whatever works best in your situation.

  1. Be the best

five-ways_3There are plenty of mediocre court reporters out there, but the odds are good that these reporters aren’t making a quarter of a million dollars a year. If you want to hit these big potential revenues, you’ve got to bring something to the table that wows customers and generates buzz within your marketplace.

How can you tell if you’ve got a “best in breed” service? Look to your current customers. If you aren’t getting repeat business from attorneys and agencies and getting rave reviews or positive comments sent to your inbox, chances are your clients aren’t as ecstatic about your service as they need to be to hit your target sales. Asking your existing customers what you can do to make your service better and then put their recommendations into place. They’ll appreciate your efforts and will go on to refer further jobs to you in the future.

Improve your skill level. Focus on getting your realtime certification and then offering realtime on every job. Get as many certifications as possible. Be a member of your national and state associations. Join the state bar associations and trial lawyers associations.

Beyond our skill level is making an emotional connection with your clients. We reporters have very little time to communicate with attorneys while we’re working. The entrances and exits are sometimes all the time we have with them. Make it count. Make eye contact. Smile. You’ll be surprised what an impact a simple smile can have.

 

  1. Hire all-stars

Hitting the $200,000 in revenue per year is no small feat. You aren’t going to achieve this goal alone and you certainly aren’t going to get there with a team of underperformers. Yes, hiring less expensive scopists and proofreaders (or none at all) will be cheaper and easier, but you’ll pay for this convenience when your end-of-the-year sales numbers come up short.

five-ways_4Instead, you need to hire all-stars, and the fastest way to do this is to ask around for referrals. The really good ones will be busy and will turn you down at first. You need to use your referrals to let them know that you know someone they work with and can be trusted. Get them on board with incentives such as higher than usual rates. This will not only get them in the door, it will ensure that you have them on your team when that daily trial starts tomorrow. They will make you a priority. And treat them like gold by remembering their birthdays, sending holidays cards, gifts, and bonuses, and just by having open and direct communication with them. If you have the time to “interview” scopists and proofreaders by starting them out with small jobs to test the waters, and you find one that has potential, this could be your opportunity to turn them into exactly what you need and want by gentle coaching and instruction and slowly giving them more and more to do for you. The training you put into them will be rewarded with loyalty. You need to be absolutely certain that you can go after those all-day, realtime, same-day expedite jobs because you can rely on your team to be there when you need them. You need to be able to get those jobs day after day after day without missing a deadline. One missed deadline could be the end of a relationship with an agency or an attorney. When every penny counts towards reaching your million-dollar goals, you’ll find your team of subcontractors to be worth their weight in gold.

  1. five-ways_5Consume data

Finally, if you want to shoot for the revenue moon, you need to be absolutely militant about gathering data and acting on it. If you want to make $250,000 a year, then do the math. There are 2,080 working hours per year, which is $120.17/hour. There are 12 months per year, which would be $20,833 per month. And there are about 20 working days each month, which would be $1,041.66 per day, 240 days per year. As the ebb and flow of reporting goes, so go our predictable numbers, so we must constantly take measure of where we are.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet with my running monthly totals of jobs invoiced and money received ,and I put that on a side-by-side comparison of the last year’s numbers. I always know where I stand each month. If my job cancels today and I’ve only made the $300 per diem appearance fee, and I know I still have to get to my $1,041.66 goal for the day, then I text message all my agencies to let them know I’m available. I try to double- and triple-book myself, so I’ve got 3-6 motions in one day or a trial with dailies and realtime. I don’t stop until I’ve hit my goal. But then there are days where I get 5 copies and realtime and roughs, and it makes up for those days where everything falls apart. But I never stop trying to hit my daily goal. Always check your statistics to see how your day impacted your revenue. Add up your per diems and make a note of how many pages and calculate how much you earned at the end of each job. It may not be too late to pick up another one before you head home. Check your phone frequently for text messages and emails from agencies. Keep track of your key performance indicators (KPI’s) and push your metrics even higher every day. Keep a score card for yourself. Always keep your numbers in mind and know where you measure up each day.

I’m constantly picking up new agencies and making cold calls to agencies I hear other reporters talking about. I send them a resume and list of references, but I tell them what I want. I send my rate sheet, work preferences, geographical areas, and tell them about my experience. I try them out. I always invoice agencies and don’t rely on their worksheet. I know down to the penny what I earned on each job. I always negotiate rates with new and old agencies, with each job. I know what the going rates are by constantly doing market research, talking to other reporters, networking. You have a veritable gold mine of information just hanging out in the various Facebook groups, so put it to good use.

Growing your freelance court reporting business to million dollar revenues isn’t easy, but it is possible. Stick to the tips above – even if you don’t hit this particular goal, you’ll earn the strongest sales results possible for your unique business.

Cassandra Caldarella is a freelancer and agency owner from Santa Ana, Calif. She can be reached at cassarella11@hotmail.com.

Mark your calendars for NCRA’s 2017 Firm Owners Executive Conference and Convention & Expo

 

Be sure to start making plans now to be a part of NCRA’s major 2017 events, the Firm Owners Executive Conference, Feb. 12-14, and the Convention & Expo, Aug. 10-13, each promising to offer attendees sessions on the latest trends in the profession laced with an array of exclusive networking opportunities.

NCRA’s 2017 Firm Owners Executive Conference is being held at the beautiful Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Ariz., a top choice among Arizona luxury resorts nestled in the stunning Catalina Mountain range. Watch for information about registration and hotel rates coming later this month.

According to Cregg Seymour, owner of CRC Salomon, with headquarters in Baltimore, Md., and chair of NCRA’s Education Content Committee for the Firm Owners, there are four reasons to attend the Firm Owners Executive Conference.

Networking with other firm owners: Attending this event helps build, solidify, and strengthen relationships at the personal level and also allows for the sharing of ideas, marketing, trends, and best practices in the marketplace. According to Seymour, the people you meet and the experiences you share create a return on investment of time and money you spend attending the conference.

Educational opportunities: No matter how experienced a person is in their field, firm owners should seek to expose themselves to the educational opportunities that suggest new ways of conducting business, new technology, and ways to be more productive, says Seymour. It can also help breath life back into the critical aspects of business or reignite ideas that you may have recently put on hold or been too busy to think about.

New vendors: Exposure to new vendors in court reporting who have created innovative products and services that will help firm owners stay competitive in today’s fast-paced world. It’s important to invest the time and get to know the sponsors and vendors who understand the industry at the national and global level. If their solution works well for your business now or in the near future, they can be great allies.

Fun: The goal is to have fun! The conference allows one to get out of the office, learn something new, meet interesting people, and have fun while sharing experiences with other leaders in court reporting.  Reconnect with old friends and make new ones at the conference events and parties while also taking advantage of the resort, local restaurants, and outdoor activities.

NCRA’s 2017 Convention & Expo being held at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, in Las Vegas, Nev., will be site of the largest gathering of court reporters, captioners, legal videographers, and others in the legal services, with a program menu bursting with new and exciting session content and networking opportunities. Watch for more information about registration and hotel rates in upcoming issues of the JCR and the JCR Weekly.

Recognize innovative business strategies with the JCR Awards

JCR Awards - TheJCR comThe JCR Awards are a way to tell compelling stories that bring to life innovative and successful business strategies from the past year. Originally conceived as a way to recognize and highlight the exemplary professionalism, community service, and business practices of NCRA members, the JCR Awards seek nominations for several subcategories, such as best-in-class stories for: Marketing and customer service; Leadership, teambuilding, and mentoring; Use of technology; Community outreach; Service in a nonlegal setting; and Court Reporting & Captioning Week (2016) initiative. In addition, NCRA is looking for a firm and an individual who show excellence in more than one category for an overall “Best of the Year” award.

Any current NCRA member in good standing, with the exception of students, may be nominated for these awards. Court reporters, captioners, videographers, scopists, teachers and school administrators, and court reporting managers are all eligible for nomination. Nominate a noteworthy court reporter, captioner, videographer, scopist, teacher, school administrator, or court reporting manager or a group, such as firms, courthouses, or court reporting programs. Self-nominations are accepted. More information about specific criteria for each of the categories is available on the JCR Awards Entry Form.

To enter, submit a written entry to the JCR between 300 and 1,000 words explaining the strategies implemented and why they were successful. Ancillary materials, such as photos, may also be submitted with the nomination. Nominations will be considered based on the best fact-based story. Please be prepared to offer documentation, verifiable sources, or other assistance as needed to be considered for these awards. The stories of the finalists will be published as featured articles in the March JCR.

Nominations are due by Oct. 31Read more about the JCR Awards.

See last year’s winners. 

JCR Awards nominations open through Oct. 31

Nominate yourself or a noteworthy court reporter, captioner, videographer, scopist, teacher, school administrator, or court reporting manager for recognition through the JCR Awards. Conceived as a way to recognize and highlight the exemplary professionalism, community service, and business practices of NCRA members, the JCR Awards is a way to tell compelling stories that bring to life innovative and successful business strategies from the past year. In addition to nominations for several subcategories, NCRA is looking for a firm and an individual who show excellence in more than one category for an overall “Best of the Year” award.

Any current NCRA member in good standing, with the exception of students, may be nominated for these awards. Court reporters, captioners, videographers, scopists, teachers and school administrators, and court reporting managers are all eligible for nomination. Self-nominations are accepted. Firms, courthouses, or court reporting programs may be nominated as a group as long as they meet the criteria for membership for one of the definitions in the JCR Awards Entry Form.

To nominate yourself or someone else, submit a written entry to the JCR between 300 and 1,000 words explaining the strategies you implemented and why they were successful. Ancillary materials, such as photos, may also be submitted with the nomination. Nominations will be considered by the JCR editorial team based on the best fact-based story. Please be prepared to offer documentation, verifiable sources, or other assistance as needed to be considered for these awards. The stories of the finalists will be published as featured articles in the March JCR.

Nominations are due by Oct. 31. Read more about the JCR Awards.

TechLinks: From apps to touch screens

NCRA’s Technology Committee pulled together a collection of technology blogs from apps for business people to a yet-to-be-released way to turn any computer into a touch screen.

A post of 10 great apps for productivity by lawyer Katie Floyd of Mac Power Users Podcast offers a wide-ranging set of tools for business-people. Read more.

The Court Technology and Trial Presentation Blawg by Ted Brooks offered tips on using electronic exhibit stickers. The Aug. 5 post focuses on using TrialDirector. Read more.

A new product, the NeoNode AirBar, plans to turn any computer into a touch screen. The 11.6-in. bar is available for pre-order at $69. Read more.

How conscientiousness affects the deposition record

A common topic at court reporting conferences around the country how attorneys seem to be less aware or even care about the record than in the past, according to a blog posted by Kramm Court Reporting, San Diego, Calif. The blog sites two types of attorneys, attorneys who are conscious of the record and attorneys who are not.

Read more.

NCRA launched redesigned online NCRA Sourcebook

A newly redesigned online NCRA Sourcebook is now available through the National Court Reporters Association’s website. As the newly redesigned membership search site integrates directly with each record,  members can update their information online and see those changes in effect immediately. In addition, members can also add photos to their records.

Kelty & Scott Partners with Spark Digital Marketing

JCR publications share buttonA press release issued June 20 announced that Kelty & Scott, a court reporting firm since 1993, has entered a strategic alliance with Spark Digital Marketing to expand the company’s court reporting services in the San Francisco, Calif., metropolitan area.

Read more.

Advancements in court reporting technology: Synchronized video depositions

Film strip of court scenes with excerpts from the transcript at the bottom as captions.

By Todd Mobley

As experienced litigators know, there is no substitute for thorough trial preparation. Knowing which details to present, and when to present them, are key to successfully making a case or impeaching the testimony of opposition witnesses.

At the same time, recalling those details, especially from hours of accumulated depositions compiled over the course of months, or years, can be difficult at best. But with the help of ongoing advances in court reporting technology, attorneys now have options that can help them prepare cases more efficiently, create a more polished presentation, and thoroughly control the cross examination.

synched video depos1 Among the best of these advanced court reporting technologies are synchronized video depositions. Potentially game-changing, synchronized video depositions feature built-in software that synchronizes video with the written transcription provided by the court reporter and legal videographer team. The benefit of this system is that attorneys can not only read the transcript on screen while watching the deposition or trial video footage, but they can also search the video record for key words and phrases at any point. This gives them the ability to quickly find important testimony or review hours of testimony for key excerpts. At trial, a litigation team can use the system to immediately locate and play back passages of important testimony to the entire court at a moment’s notice.

Linda Weber, a partner at the trial presentation service company Visual Evidence, says that synchronized depositions can help with the retention of information, especially when a jury is asked to watch a video.

“If you just put the talking head up there, it can be difficult for juries to retain the information,” said Weber. “But when you scroll the text across the bottom, they can see it and they can hear it. It really helps the jury.”

Weber has found this to be a huge advantage in business and medical malpractice litigation where the jury may be unfamiliar with terminology. In many cases, her clients will ask her to highlight specific terms or quotes so that the jury understands the importance of what was said.

Along with helping jurors retain information, synchronized video depositions are also powerful tools to impeach opposing witnesses.

synched video depos2“I use (synchronized video) in every trial,” said Marc Pera, a partner in the Cincinnati law firm Crandall, Pera & Wilt. “Nothing is more useful in trial than having an opposing witness impeach themselves.”

A plaintiff’s attorney specializing in medical malpractice, Pera has found synchronized video testimony to have a much greater impact on jurors than a traditional read back. The reason, he says, is that even the most compelling testimony loses its effectiveness when shared as a stenographic transcript.

As any juror would confirm, a passage read aloud from a prior deposition or testimony is often abstract and more difficult to remember. On the other hand, a video is much easier to recall, in both the short-term and the long-term when it comes time for a jury to begin deliberations.

Another drawback to the traditional read back is that it leaves room for interpretation, Pera said.

“If you’re using paper, it’s easier for a witness to say that they didn’t understand what was asked with the question,” Pera said. A video, he added, leaves little doubt.

For Pera, synchronized video depositions have become an indispensable tool, and he can point to specific cases where synchronized video depositions helped him to win cases for clients. One example in particular, he said, was a medical malpractice case in which a client underwent a surgical procedure and the doctor perforated his client’s bowel without realizing it. Afterwards, Pera’s client became septic. Over the course of depositions and at trial, Pera said the doctor changed his story multiple times. But by impeaching the doctor with his own video testimony, Pera said the jury was convinced.

synched video depos3“In another case, I was able to impeach a surgeon several times during his first day of testimony,” Pera said. “His team settled the next day.”

The benefits of synchronized video depositions extend beyond the courtroom, too. A powerful tool for case preparation, it offers the ability to quickly reference testimony when preparing for examination of witnesses.

Whether for trial preparation or in trial, Pera says the results synchronized video depositions offer should not be discounted.

Said Pera, “I think it’s an invaluable tool. I have no doubt that it helps.”

Todd Mobley is president of Mike Mobley Reporting in Dayton, Ohio. He can be reached at Todd@MobleyReporting.com.