E-seminar review: Recipes for success for court reporting firms: Lessons from NCRA’s 2013 Firm Owners’ Economic Benchmark Survey

In a recent e-seminar, Jim Cudahy, CAE, NCRA Executive Director & CEO, discusses the results from the 2013 Firm Owners Economic Benchmark Survey. Many valuable types of information can be gleaned by the 2013 numbers, as well as lessons learned from comparing the results. Cudahy adds, “It’s helpful to take a benchmark of the industry periodically, to illuminate some of the best practices going on with court reporting firms.”

Cudahy also talks about the priorities of the National Court Reporters Association and what’s important to membership. He reviews the NCRA strategic plan, survey methodology, gross revenues, and size of firms, as well as trends and best practices such as market intelligence and marketing tactics used to acquire new business.

Court reporters who’d like to learn what’s new in the 2013 survey and find out the type of firms, based on geographic location and revenue, that participated should not miss the presentation. Cudahy breaks down all of the categories by size and percentile and shares what firm owners believe were the increased-demand projects. Cudahy also shares insightful information as to whether there’s a sweet spot when it comes to revenue increase and a point of diminishing return.

Throughout the presentation, Cudahy weaves in recipes for success and how important it is to cultivate business relations. And, he leaves with a final thought on how to increase your impact when it comes to building business.

This e-seminar is now available in NCRA’S online collection.

NCRA comments on changes to Federal Rules

On Feb. 14, NCRA stated its opposition to the proposed rules changes published by the Judicial Conference Committee in June 2013. The committee recommended, among other things, that the discovery process be reduced in number from 10 to five and that the amount of time each witness could be deposed be reduced from seven hours to six hours.

The letter from Jim Cudahy, NCRA’s CEO and Executive Director, stated:

As front-row witnesses to all manner of legal proceedings, our members know better than most that increased opportunity for discovery coincides directly with greater opportunity for all parties to have equal access to justice. … Ultimately, it would be the American justice system that would be compromised if these proposed rule changes are implemented.

Get prepped for Court Reporting & Captioning Week

Jim CudahyNext month, we will conduct the second annual Court Reporting & Captioning week. The concept of this special week in February supports two of NCRA’s strategic objectives: awareness and education. While NCRA will flood available media with press releases and social media messaging in advance of and during Court Reporting &Captioning Week, the main idea is to equip you with the ability to take to the streets and build a positive perception of your profession within your communities and beyond.

Over the years, we have referred to the effort of engaging with members on the awareness front in different terms – ambassadorship, “stenadvocacy,” evange­lism – but the idea always was the same. To varying degrees, we had difficulty connect­ing the dots for members and overcom­ing the formidable inertia that exists with any large group. But with Court Reporting & Captioning Week, we struck the right chord.

For the second rendition, though, we don’t want to take anything for granted. We want to do everything we did a year ago — and then a lot more.

  • We want you to go to a local high school and deliver a presentation about court reporting to students.
  • We want you to use this opportunity to host an open house for your clients and showcase the services that they should know more about.
  • We want you to think of new and in­novative ways to send messaging to anyone who should know more about court reporting and captioning.

As you do this, as I said, we’ll be do­ing our part, as will state associations, court reporting schools, and court report­ing vendors. A year ago, we saw stories on television about court reporting and cap­tioning, we saw newspaper stories, we saw recognition of Court Reporting & Cap­tioning Week on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and in state legislatures across the United States. We can only ex­pect more than that if we do more than we did last year.

In the coming weeks, you will see a growing array of tools related to Court Reporting & Captioning Week appear on the NCRA website. Stay tuned to the JCR Weekly each Wednesday for more in­formation where we’ll guide you to avail­able resources and pepper you with ideas. And when you have new ideas, please write them down and share them on the NCRA Facebook page, so that we all can benefit from the collective wisdom and creativity of the full membership.

When we first conceived of Court Re­porting & Captioning Week, we talked about creating a perfect storm of publicity during a seven-day period and asking every member to do at least one thing to help. We’re of course happy if you were able to do more than that, but let’s start with that: one thing. And then tell us what you did.

I will tell you that I intend to launch the week in the same fashion I did a year ago, with a bacon-wrapped meatloaf on Sunday, Feb. 16, and then I look forward to watching what ensues from the entire court reporting community in the days that follow.

 

Jim Cudahy, CAE, is Executive Director and CEO of NCRA.

NCRA and you: What the Affordable Care Act means for you

Jim CudahyBecause such a high percentage of court reporters are self-employed or run small businesses, it is not surprising that in any member needs assessment we conduct, we hear from a fair number of folks who are seeking low-cost health insurance. Having run a small business myself for a few years, I had to purchase health coverage for my family during that time, so I know first-hand that the costs to do so as an individual or as a family can be exorbitant.

It is beyond unfortunate that the politi­cal debate surrounding the launch of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” has served to confuse — rather than to explain — the impact of the new laws on individuals. Indeed, that political landscape made me think twice about whether I should focus a column on this important issue at all. That approach, however, would be a disservice to you, the membership.

Politics aside, let me suggest to those members who have been looking for af­fordable healthcare coverage for yourself and/or your family, Obamacare, which takes effect January 1, 2014, provides you with the answer. In January, in each state and the District of Columbia, exchanges will go into effect that will allow you to purchase individual and/or family health­care coverage at rates that individuals likely could not get on their own. This coverage will be provided by health insurance com­panies that choose to offer programs to those individuals who join the exchange. You likely have heard that a number of state governments, 35 actually, have decided not to operate such exchanges. In those cases, the U.S. government will operate the ex­changes, but the net effect for the individ­ual is the same. There will be an exchange in your state that you can join and from which you can get health insurance at a lower rate than you could get on your own.

Keep in mind that you still will have many options at your disposal that will affect rates. Bronze programs with higher deductibles and fewer bells and whistles will cost less; silver, gold, and platinum programs with lower deductibles and more bells and whistles will cost proportionally more.

Some people will be justifiably skepti­cal and will ask how all this is possible. In the past, insurance companies have gener­ally assumed that if you are seeking health­care coverage as an individual or as a fam­ily, you are doing so to address a pressing health concern, meaning there would be significant financial risk to offer coverage to that person or family. So they jacked their rates for that individual or family even if there was no evidence of pre-exist­ing conditions. If there was a documented pre-existing condition involved, the rates would be even more expensive. It now will be illegal for health insurance companies to discriminate against the individual/family in terms of rates, even in the case of there being pre-existing conditions. Effectively, the exchanges—with many thousands of individuals and families enrolled—allow for the insurance companies to distribute their financial risk across a large pool. The thinking here is that with substantially more younger individuals paying for cov­erage, those premiums will offset the costs of those who are older or who have pre-ex­isting conditions, with the younger crowd costing substantially less for the insurance companies to cover.

All that said, there is no requirement for you to participate in an exchange. If you already have healthcare coverage with which you’re satisfied, say through an em­ployer, you can keep it. Or, if you simply don’t wish to purchase health coverage at all, you can do so; however, you will be as­sessed a new penalty, which you will pay through your annual tax return. This pen­alty will be calculated based on a number of factors, but mainly on individual/family income.

Even in trying to offer a simplistic explanation of what will transpire with re­gard to implementation of the Affordable Care Act, things get complicated. I strongly encourage you to develop an understand­ing of how things will work in your own state based on your personal circumstanc­es. There are any number of places you can go to develop such understanding, but please be careful that you are dealing with a trusted source of information such as www.healthcare.govBy the way, the deadline for enrollment to have new coverage begin on Jan. 1 is Dec. 17.

A statement from NCRA’s Executive Director and CEO, Jim Cudahy

“A legislative court reporter last night made several inappropriate comments as the U.S. House of Representatives was conducting final deliberations that would end the government shutdown and raise the nation’s borrowing limit. Such behavior is unacceptable and undermines the sacred role that the cadre of legislative reporters working in the U.S. House as well as the Senate carry out on a daily basis in creating a verbatim record of our history.  While we have no knowledge whatsoever of what might have caused this situation, stenographic court reporters have been successfully creating accurate and reliable records for generations without calling undue attention to themselves, other than that which is absolutely necessary to clarify statements in a trial or deposition.”

NCRA and you: Taking on the industry’s biggest challenges together

Jim CudahyA little more than a year ago, the NCRA Board of Directors launched an effort to create a five-year strategic plan for the association. The process began with face-to-face discussions with members at the 2012 Convention & Expo in Philadelphia and continued with a comprehensive membership needs assessment in September and October. Going right to the membership, we wanted to know what you saw as the biggest challenges within the court reporting industry and in what areas you felt NCRA could have the biggest impact on the industry, on your business, and on your career.

The Board then held two strategic-planning retreats – one in November and one in March – to synthesize what we had learned through our conversations and our membership needs assessment. And then we put pen to paper and wrote a strategic plan. Our success as an organization and even as an industry will be dependent upon our collective ability to succeed in advancing six strategic priorities.

EDUCATION. There is no bigger challenge for the court reporting industry than getting more students into court reporting programs across North America and getting more qualified court reporters out into the marketplace. Education, thus, is the first priority of Vision 2018, the NCRA strategic plan. Here, initially we will follow the guidance of the Vision for Educational Excellence Task Force (VEETF) in three key areas: Assessing the long-term demand for court reporters and captioners to allow court reporting programs to shape their recruitment campaigns accordingly; attracting more youth to court reporting through an innovative Web-based initiative to teach rudimentary theory to prospective students in a low-cost manner; and, finally, isolating best practices of those schools that graduate the highest percentage of students and finding ways to incorporate those best practices into standards.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. The biggest reason that court reporters join NCRA is to build the knowledge and skills needed to advance in a competitive industry and to gain recognition of such achievement through certification. Keeping our certification programs strong, therefore, along with offering an ever-improving array of continuing education opportunities, is NCRA’s second strategic priority.

AWARENESS AND OUTREACH. It is difficult to have a conversation with any member in which he or she does not express the need for more people within the legal community and beyond to have a stronger appreciation for the role of the stenographic court reporter. That has been a major focus for NCRA in recent years and will remain so under our new strategic plan.

ADVOCACY. Going hand-in-glove with our Awareness and Outreach strategy is Advocacy, working at both the national and state level to represent the interests of court reporting and the constituents served by our industry.

RESOURCES. One of the key benefits that members indicate they get out of NCRA is access to information — about technology, about industry trends, about how to better promote your services to your prospective clients and beyond. In digging a little deeper, what we have learned is it’s not just about information — it’s about packaging this information into tools that members can put to immediate and long-term use.

MEMBER VALUE. Our sixth and final strategic priority is probably both the most obvious and the most ambiguous, and that is Member Value. In a way, if we deliver in the way we intend in the first five strategic areas, we will in the process be creating more Member Value. And that’s sort of the point: our strategic priorities all should crosspollinate and complement each other. Beyond that, however, we want to continually enhance the value proposition we offer to our membership in such a way that every court reporter, captioner, legal videographer, firm owner, and instructor — anyone who has a stake in the stenographic court reporting industry — would be crazy not to be a member of the National Court Reporters Association.

Finally, we are taking on some major new challenges with our new strategic plan. Our ability to do so is dependent upon our ability to mobilize the court reporting community to assist us. This year, the NCRA Board is asking our volunteer committees to take on more ambitious charges that are pegged more specifically to the strategic priorities I just described. In so doing, we hope and expect that members will play a more direct and meaningful role in executing the tactics that advance our strategy. That, in turn, will make volunteering that much more of a fulfilling endeavor and, in so doing, will encourage a new corps of volunteers to step forward to allow NCRA to do even more and to do it better than ever before. That is our vision. Now we’re going to make it happen, together.

2012 | 2013 Annual Review

There has never been a better time to be a part of NCRA

Jim CudahyWhen I accepted the NCRA Board of Directors’ offer to serve as the association’s executive director and CEO in May 2012, I presented a vision of the future that largely was built around what I saw as the top priority — the need for a “game-changing” initiative that had the capability of altering the landscape of court reporting education. More to the point, I felt that we needed to take steps to get far more students enrolled in court reporting programs and to increase the percentage of qualified court reporters emerging from schools.

The urgency behind the educational initiative we launched a year ago, as well as a number of other priorities, initially emerged as findings from Writing Our Future, which effectively had become NCRA’s de facto strategic plan. But we needed more than a de facto strategic plan; we needed an actual strategic plan. Our new strategic plan, which, based on the five-year horizon it encompasses, is entitled “Vision 2018.” As they should, our priorities are designed to stretch NCRA’s capacities and capabilities to take on new challenges, to try new approaches, and to make wider and more efficient use of available resources, most notably our volunteer capital.

Vision 2018: 6 Strategic Priorities

Vision01Ask any court reporter, captioner, or CART provider in which three areas NCRA should focus its primary efforts, and in virtually all cases one of three answers would be some version of building wider recognition and appreciation of stenographic reporting. This point was reemphasized to us in last fall’s membership needs assessment, and thus Awareness and Outreach serves as the first of our six strategic priorities.

Court Reporting and Captioning Week

A major success story for NCRA earlier this year was the introduction of a new concept within our awareness efforts: Court Reporting and Captioning Week. The idea was to get members to focus disproportionately on awareness efforts during a single week in February. NCRA provided an array of tools on our website — from press release templates to customized logos highlighting NCRA certifications to presentations and more — and then we took to social media, digital newsletters, and other media to encourage the entire court reporting community to get involved. The results were astounding with not just members but schools, state associations, and vendors taking up the cause. In 2014, we will have the second annual Court Reporting and Captioning Week while we otherwise push the entire court reporting community to work on Awareness and Outreach throughout the year.

Outreach

In 2012-13, NCRA continued a sustained effort to work with other organizations from the legal fi eld and deaf/hard-of-hearing community to reach out to their members in an attempt to build awareness of court reporting, captioning, and CART. This included visits to and/or exhibits at several meetings and conventions — e-Courts in December and the ABA’s Tech Show in April, as well as a visit to the National Center for State Courts and the National Association of Court Management. We also published an article in the January/February edition of Court Manager magazine on the merits of using realtime in a judicial setting. Overall, we attempted to better connect our outreach efforts with our overarching Awareness and Outreach efforts, something we will do more in 2014 and beyond.

New Public Relations Capability

In late 2012, NCRA commissioned Bendure Communications to serve as the association’s public relations agency. Bendure has proven to be the ideal partner for NCRA in that its model is not that of the large-scale agency that takes on all the work. Instead, Bendure follows a model of rapid-fire exposure for hundreds of members simultaneously. Whether a member has earned new certification, taken part in the Veterans’ History Project, or otherwise earned some distinction large or small, they now have the capability of quickly getting word out to their local media through NCRA and Bendure. The overall effect, then, is a consistent, growing drip of media exposure for the industry at large.

AdvocacyLegislative Boot Camp

In March, 75 state leaders came to the Washington, D.C., area for three days of intensive training through NCRA’s Legislative Boot Camp. This program always includes a “Hill Day,” during which we take leaders to Capitol Hill and allow them to roam the halls of Congress, meeting face to face with members of Congress to talk about issues of significance to court reporters. This year, we encouraged both houses of Congress to support legislation known as the U.S. Local Courthouse Safety Act. This legislation would allow local courthouses without metal detectors and other types of security equipment to procure it at no effective cost from the federal government. NCRA’s efforts were buoyed by the Capitol Hill visits by 75 of our members, and we will persevere to get this legislation passed.

State Mini-Boot Camps

The popularity and effectiveness of Boot Camp at the national level has led to several requests to conduct customized versions of the event at the state level. Over the past year, we have hosted events in Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maine. Our government relations staff then has the opportunity to hone and sharpen messaging and tactics based on the specific c legislative threats and opportunities within those states.

State Support

While NCRA certainly has a major presence in Washington, D.C., our legislative efforts occur on a more consistent basis at the state level. From mobilizing efforts to adopt or strengthen state certification for court reporters to counseling state associations on grassroots efforts to protect the positions of officials, from pursuing legislation aimed at instilling higher ethical standards to governing the relationship between court reporters and their clients, our government relations team plays a key role — often behind the scenes — in helping our members at the local level.

FCC Captioning Standards

For many years, we have worked with organizations from the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities to demonstrate the importance of captioning standards to the Federal Communications Commission and others. This past year, NCRA had a productive meeting with FCC representatives to discuss the need for captioning standards and to bring the perspective of realtime captioners to the table. We are confident that discussions will continue to fully engage our allies within the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Beyond that, NCRA works on an ongoing basis with the U.S. Congress to advance issues related to captioning, most recently in pushing a bill that would require closed captioning in movie theatres and on in-flight movies. Obviously such captioning does not require the services of a realtime captioner; however, it is by pushing for overall availability of quality captioning that we are able to demonstrate both the differences between captioning of live events and static content and that NCRA’s pursuit of captioning standards is not just about serving the interests of our members.

Realtime Writers Act Grants

During this period of federal government sequester, securing funding from Congress for any purpose has been nearly impossible. Nonetheless, this year — as we have in years past — NCRA was able to work with court reporting schools across the country to get more than $1 million in distributed grants to support the Realtime Writers Act we guided through Congress many years ago. At a time when our schools can use such funding more than ever, NCRA once again was able to deliver.

Ethics First

For 2013-14, we bid adieu to NCRA’s Ethics First Task Force, as it has completed several years of work in casting attention on the importance of court reporters and the clients with whom they work conducting business in accordance with established ethical standards. The Ethics First Program is a great example of how a task force of NCRA volunteers can mobilize for a cause, do great work, and then pass the torch to NCRA staff to carry outits vision on an ongoing basis.

Education
Last August, the NCRA Board commissioned a sustained effort that had as its ambitious goal to increase the number of students enrolled in court reporting schools and to increase the percentage of qualified court reporters emerging from those schools.

Vision for Educational Excellence Task Force (VEETF)

With a year of meetings and conference calls under its belt, VEETF presented three separate initiatives to the Board in June, all of which were approved and incorporated into the coming year’s budget.

1. Market Demand Study

One area of focus coming out of VEETF will be to commission a comprehensive study to determine the demand for court reporters, captioners, and CART providers over a defined period (three to five years). Such market intelligence will inform schools’ student recruitment efforts, allowing them to point to more specific data than currently exists of demand not just on a general basis, but within geographic and specialty-area pockets.

2. Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

This will be a bold, new approach to expose large audiences of potential court reporting students to the career opportunities available through stenographic court reporting. Using the MOOC concept, which is gaining traction and popularity in education circles, NCRA would build a portal through which it would offer modulated educational sessions at a low cost to teach a simplified theory. While the supporting elements need to be constructed, the general concept is that would be students would have the ability to learn a simplified theory through use of an iPad/tablet app or a steno-overlay keyboard, so as to avoid the large initial cost of purchasing a steno machine. The concept, further, is for large numbers of students to take part in the course either informally through the Internet or through a structured, distance-learning program via high schools.

3. Court Reporting Instruction

A large challenge that all schools face is that the percentage of students that successfully emerge from their programs to become court reporters is alarmingly low. For an abundance of reasons, this must change. The third VEETF subgroup focused on what can be done to dramatically improve graduation rates. Hope exists here because some court reporting programs graduate a much higher percentage of students than the average. We need to know what it is that distinguishes these programs from others, and NCRA has embarked on a second study that will seek to isolate the variables in court reporting instruction that breeds such levels of success before finding ways for all programs to emulate those best practices.

CareersinCourtReporting.com

This year, NCRA launched a new website, CareersinCourtReporting.com, which replaced our bestfutures.com website. The new site included new content and messaging that focuses more distinctly on the individuals who visit the site and the questions they might have about court reporting rather than on pigeon-holing existing NCRA content to fi ll an alternative need of student recruitment.

Advertising

Throughout the year, NCRA purchased social media advertising that used micro-targeting techniques to focus on individuals with a higher propensity to consider court reporting as a career. To supplement these efforts, NCRA ran advertising in the Wall Street Journal Student Edition and in School Counselor magazine to reach out directly to students in classrooms, as well as to the many high school guidance counselors who serve as gatekeepers to the decisions of millions of youth across the country.

Enrollment Down, Number of Programs Reduced

The reality on the ground throughout the country points to the critical need for education to be a major strategic priority for NCRA now and in the years ahead. While enrollment in programs on a national basis tends to see ebbs and flows, in 2012, we saw several schools close their doors, and we saw enrollment down 8 percent from the year prior. Those numbers are not sustainable either for schools themselves or for the long-term viability of the industry. We have seen numbers rebound. We do know that our macro-level recruitment support can have a positive effect, and we feel confident that our larger efforts to support court reporting programs and to improve court reporting education will lead us to a new era of growth for schools and the industry.

Professional DevelopmentBeyond anything else, NCRA’s bottom-line benefit to its constituents is providing the tools for court reporters, captioners, and CART providers to build the knowledge and skills to advance their careers and then to get recognition of their achievements through certification.

Best-in-class events

NCRA’s TechCon, now heading into its third year, offers a suite of technology-focused programs (CLVS, Realtime Systems Administrator, and Trial Presentation) and brings them to a singular venue so that networking and economies of scale can take place where it makes most sense. In 2014, we will take TechCon to Atlanta, Ga., and we believe the continued buzz that this event has created will allow the program to grow and thrive.

The Firm Owners Executive Conference took place in February adorned with a new approach to networking and new content focused around the general concept within NCRA’s new resources strategy. Firm owners reacted positively to educational content that challenged the status quo, which compelled them to look inside their businesses to see whether they were doing enough to understand and meet the needs of their clients. They heard directly from attorneys, branding specialists, and through survey data, from themselves. Beyond that, we reorganized social events and a dinner to allow for enhanced networking, all of which had a positive effect on the event. In early 2014, we head to Orlando.

Our convention in Nashville, as you’ll see throughout this issue of the JCR, was a highly successful event with a broad array of educational options and networking opportunities. We look forward to welcoming the court reporting, captioning, and legal videography professions in San Francisco next summer.

ResourcesOne of the key benefits on which NCRA members rely is the association’s ability to package and deliver information. They look for information about technology, trends in the profession, and how they can better position their services to clients. In packaging information, what NCRA does is create resources. As the industry evolves, as competition becomes more fierce, it is incumbent upon us to respond in kind with the resources members need in a new world.

Firm Owners Economic Benchmark Survey

Once again, we presented the results from NCRA’s Firm Owners Economic Benchmark Survey at the Firm Owners Conference. This year, we incorporated more market intelligence into the mix. That is, we asked more questions of firm owners about what types of companies hire court reporting firms, who within the companies makes the hiring decision, and what factors do they use to make the decisions. NCRA has at its disposal the ability to gather such information on a larger scale and make it available to all firms and freelancers to inform their business practices.

New Markets Task Force

A generation ago — maybe a little longer than that — the concept of using a stenographic court reporting machine to provide broadcast captioning led to an entire new application of the skills of NCRA members. In drips and droves, we hear of members who ply their craft in boardrooms and in other nontraditional environments. Are there opportunities out there that can be leveraged to open new markets to court reporters? What haven’t we thought of? What could we do to investigate, promote, or accelerate such new applications? That will be the purpose of NCRA’s New Markets Task Force that will begin work in 2013-14.

The New NCRA Sourcebook

The NCRA Constitution & Bylaws mandates that NCRA publish annually a directory of members. For decades, NCRA had watched distribution of its membership directory — the Sourcebook — dwindle, this as members grew accustomed to NCRA’s online Professional Services Listings (PSL). We changed tactics and began distributing a slimmer version of the Sourcebook to every NCRA member as a way to breathe new life into an old product, make the product more valuable to advertisers, and to kick-start a new era of networking for every member. We have also revamped our PSL to serve as a closer companion to the print edition of the Sourcebook.

 

Vision06Each year, when their membership renewals arrive, NCRA members must make a calculated decision — does the value provided through NCRA membership meet or exceed the cost of dues? Our ability to attract more members and to keep a higher percentage of our current members is contingent on our ability to deliver on an understood Member Value proposition.

New Customer Service Center

In December, NCRA made a major change to its internal operations by moving to a full-service, external customer service center known as BrightKey. By all accounts, the service provided to members and customers contacting NCRA has been superior to that which we had witnessed in recent history — requests are being fulfilled more quickly, complaints are down, and follow-up is occurring in expedited fashion.

TheJCR.com

The idea here is to leverage one of NCRA’s most significant and recognized products and brands, the JCR, by launching an online complement, TheJCR.com. Beyond packaging the content that is contained within the JCR on an ongoing basis, we will take the JCR and turn it into a full-fledged news service, pumping out content to members and the full marketplace on news-cycle-type basis that is more in line with the way people consume news and information in today’s age.

AND FINALLY…

I’d like to say a few final words about NCRA’s volunteer capital. As a volunteer driven organization, NCRA simply could not exist without the time, effort, and expertise of the seemingly endless line of members who step up to fulfill key roles within the association. While a number of NCRA committees have done great work in recent years, some have not reached their potential based on a lack of clear purpose. For 2013-14, we have revamped our committee structure. Most notably, committee charges are more ambitious and are, as much as possible, specifically linked back to elements of the strategic plan. The Board further is empowering committees while providing additional resources that will allow them to work more independently, but within a strategic framework that is designed to ensure that everyone is pushing in the same direction. I have never been as energized as I am right now about presenting our accomplishments for the past year and outlining our path for the coming year. There has never been a better time to be a NCRA member, and I thank each of you for your continued support and involvement.

Connecting the dots between strategy and volunteerism

Jim CudahyI began writing this column in Ghent, Belgium, in a room with two dozen Chinese court reporters quietly engaging in the Intersteno equiv alent of NCRA’s Speed Contest. With fingers tapping and pressing away as the ambient noise, I can remark that this event — Intersteno — is remarkable on a number of levels. What strikes me most notably is that an event of undeniable global scale takes place — even on a biannual basis — effectively rests on the shoulders of volunteers.

That’s asking a lot of volunteers, and NCRA does the same. And we’re now asking for more.

Over the course of the past year, the NCRA Board has assembled a strategic plan. Within this plan are six general areas of focus or, as I have come to call them, “buckets”:

  • Awareness
  • Advocacy
  • Education
  • Professional development
  • Resources
  • Member tools

Each of the strategic buckets represents areas of focus that you —NCRA members — have identified as critical to the profession over the next five to 10 years. As an example, we need for more people to know and appreciate the value of stenographic court reporters; hence, we have an awareness strategy. As another example, we need to get more students enrolled in court reporting schools and move reporters out into the field, so we have our education strategies.

We have a lot to accomplish, and we have finite resources — both in terms of human capital at the staff level and in, well, cash. So, we lean disproportionately on volunteers to execute on the tactics in fulfillment of our strategy.

The Board has outlined aggressive new charges for our volunteer committees and attempted to align their activities with our strategy. Virtually all of our committees now will rely on individual NCRA members to carry the responsibility of not only coming up with great ideas, but executing them as well.

Think of it this way: If we, as an organization, have 1,000 lbs. to carry, our old way was to rely on 10 people to carry 100 lbs. each. But with our new direction, we’re seeking 100 people to carry just 10 lbs. each, thus distributing the weight and perhaps, over time, enabling us to carry even more than we ever have in the past.

For our awareness strategy to work, when we come to you, the members, to spread the word about Court Reporting and Captioning Week, we will only succeed if you are inspired to get involved. For our education strategy to accomplish its ambitious goals, when we come to you to engage with prospective students in your area, we will be far more effective if you are willing to make a presentation at a local high school or take part in a career day with a neighborhood court reporting school.

You’ve given us direction. We have taken action. Now, we need you to be on guard for your marching orders. It’s the best way you can serve your profession and its future. It’s the best way you can engage with your court reporting community. Soon, we will bring these volunteer requests to you: Are you ready to lift your 10 lbs.?

Other voices: Stenograph celebrates 75 years

On the occasion of Stenograph’s seventy-fifth anniversary, Jim Cudahy, NCRA’s executive director and CEO, took the opportunity to talk to John Wenclawski, Stenograph’s president. Here are some highlights of the company’s history from the interview.

Jim Cudahy: Congratulations. Seventy-five years is quite a long time. Can you tell us how the company was founded and what it was like at the beginning?

John Wenclawski: Well, nobody who was around 75 years ago is still here, and nobody did a real good job creating a record. M.H. Wright founded the company in 1938 in Chicago. Back then, the company was selling machines for $45 or $65, and they sold about 4,000 machines annually. But when the United States entered World War II in Sept. 1939, the government came in and took over the factory, and it slowed the production of machines. Plus, there wasn’t a demand for stenographers or machines during the war.

When World War II ended, production of the machines started up again, and sales soared. It was also about this time, in 1948, that the person who’s most associated with the company’s success came into the picture — Bob Wright. Bob took over the company in the 1950s, and he ran the company until it was sold in 1978.

Here’s something most people aren’t aware of: In the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, it was a much smaller company as you would anticipate, and half of the company’s revenue was from non-stenographic applications. We did some really interesting things that we found in the archives.

Cudahy: What kinds of things was the company doing?

Wenclawski: I could say about 50 percent of our revenue came from government sales. We were making little “encoders,” basically little devices that you could input a message in. There was a code, so the actual letters that were coming out were not the letters you typed in. It was getting put on a magnetic tape, which in the 1950s nobody was using tape yet. Today, it’s old, but back then, tape wasn’t even being used. These were all handmade devices that would get buried behind enemy lines to communicate critical information. Then the tape would be put it into a decoder for the message to get translated. Stenograph produced a number of variations of these devices.

Cudahy: It probably started with the Army but also the CIA.

Wenclawski: Army, CIA, all these domestic and international groups. The thing was, back in those days, it was all done by hand.

In the 1960s, we were selling 15,000 to 17,000 machines. That is a lot more than we sell today. Back then, shorthand was being taught in the high schools — not for court reporting but for secretarial applications.

Cudahy: What have you seen as the biggest changes that have occurred in the profession since you’ve been involved with Stenograph?

Wenclawski: When I came to work at Steno graph in 1983, CAT was a concept that people didn’t think would work. They didn’t think it was a viable alternative to typing or dictating. It was a concept that you had to sell people on, to educate people on. To see what has happened with technology and CAT software is just amazing. The machines we sold then had a data cassette, and an eight-inch floppy disk in the computer, which weighed 100 pounds. We thought those computers were so fast back then; but today the systems can process 50 times faster. If the computer would translate 250 pages an hour, we thought that was good. Today, everything is instantaneous.

We had no idea the technology would move as fast as it did. We really believed that those computers were going to last 10 or 20 years. But the computer business now just moves so quickly. Everything’s faster, smaller, and less expensive.

Cudahy: What do you like most about the court reporting profession?

Wenclawski: You meet a lot of really nice people in the community. Generally, they’re honest people, they’re respectful, and many are very appreciative. I see the relationships with court reporters that have developed into friendships and you see them walking around giving each other hugs during conventions. People really mix business and pleasure.

Cudahy: Let’s take a step back and ask you some more specifics about Stenograph.

Wenclawski: We talked a little bit about some of the alternative products Stenograph worked on for government intelligence back in the 1960s. We also did a program with the government translating Russian newspapers during the Cold War. We came up with using a stenographer and some software we developed to translate the Russian papers to English. Also in the 1960s, we developed the first CAT system in conjunction with IBM. The computer took up the whole room. It was a service center application. People would send in their steno notes, we would translate the notes, and they’d get a big stack of green bar paper to proof. Not very successful, but it was our first attempt at CAT.

Cudahy: What’s something about Stenograph that people don’t know and they should?

Wenclawski: Many people think we’re bigger than we are: We have 150 employees, many of whom have been with us more than 20 years, and they’ve been with us because they really care about the company, and they care about the customers. There’s really a positive customer service attitude within the organization.

Another thing is that I don’t think people realize or appreciate the technology that we’ve developed over the years — everything from the machine to the software. I don’t think we get the credit that we deserve when it comes to technology.

Cudahy: What’s really the core of your business these days?

Wenclawski:We always look at our business in three sectors: The machine sector is primarily the professional machine today, it is the biggest piece of our business, and it’s driven by the Diamante. Software business is very important but because so many people have a CAT system and don’t want to go through the process of changing CAT systems, software in general is down slightly. But it’s still a very good piece of the business especially with the support part of it. The school part of the business is our third sector.

Cudahy: Tell us why Stenograph got into the school business.

Wenclawski: We were very reluctant to get into the school business because a fair percentage of our business came from the schools, but at the same time, we had customers — both the school owners as well as reporters — reaching out to us to say, “You need to get involved because the school market is going down.” Schools were closing on a regular basis, and they needed someone to come in who understood the schools, who had a commitment to the schools, and who really would show a commitment to the profession for the future of the profession. At the same time, we thought education in general would be a good business opportunity, and that’s why we got into it. It’s been a challenge.

Cudahy: What’s the stenographic court reporting profession going to look like 25 years from now? How might it be different?

Wenclawski: Over the past 20 years, the Stenograph machine development has really paralleled the evolution of notebook computers. We have a $2 million R&D budget on an annualized basis, but we cannot compete with the Apples and Dells of the world. We have to take their ideas and quickly bring it into our future development.

The primary request from the court reporter focus groups we have done has not changed. They want a machine that is lighter weight. They want a machine that has got better battery technology and helps in improving their writing. I think every generation of machine that we’ve introduced has included improvements in those areas. As far as the profession itself, I believe that it will not be as tied to its traditional legal roots. Legal work may continue to be the backbone, but there’ll be more nontraditional jobs. The future of the court reporting profession is taking the spoken word and creating an immediate useful, searchable text document, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be in the legal world. It can be over the Internet. It can be educationally oriented. There are all sorts of applications, and what’s going to make the profession successful is thinking outside the box, utilizing the unique skills, the realtime, and the technology that’s available. That’s the future.

As young attorneys come on board, they’re going to want that text fast. It’s a “now” society; everybody wants instant gratification, like our mobile devices. They’re going to want it everywhere, all the time. You’ve got to embrace the technology. It’s got to be realtime. If you do that, I think the demand for the service just goes up.

Cudahy: What keeps you up at night as the president of Stenograph?

Wenclawski: The future, there’s no question about it. When my day comes in the not-too-distant future, when I hope to retire someday, I would like to be able to hand over a thriving growth company.

That concerns me because I’m not sure where the profession is going at times. We don’t have new people coming in. We don’t have people embracing technology in their workplace, but the average person won’t keep a flat screen TV, cell phone, or cars — anything related to technology — that’s more than five years old. Yet a reporter will use a shorthand machine that might be well over 10 years old. Court reporters should be computer savvy, because that is their lifeline to making money. They should really know their software because there’s so much that the software products can do that would save them time. They’d be more efficient, and if you’re more efficient, either you can be making more money or enjoying life or both. I say that a lot of professions are experiencing these same challenges because we are really at a point where the profession is evolving. It’s going to be different in the future.

It’s important that you embrace technology because how you market yourself is important. Here’s a for-instance: I had dinner with an attorney a couple of weeks ago. He mentioned that he worked with this court reporter a week ago who had a really sleek-looking machine, which happened to be pink. He just kept going on and on about this machine. It made an impression on the attorney. By having the latest technology, that court reporter is going to improve how attorneys see her. She obviously did a good job, but in his eyes, she probably didn’t do that much better than others. But her use of technology, bringing that machine that was so sleek, made her stand out.

When you go out there with a 20-year old machine, it does not send a good signal about the profession. People think it’s antiquated. But if you go out there and throw iPads in front of them and use a nice machine and have a notebook computer and the realtime’s going, that’s impressive. Even if they don’t use it, they’re going to say, “This person has got her act together.”

That’s what keeps me up at night. How do we get reporters to embrace that stuff? Some do, but not enough.

Cudahy: Looking back on the 75 years of the company’s existence, what do you think is Stenograph’s legacy?

Wenclawski: I really believe that we’ve been the rock in supporting the court reporting profession. Throughout that time, we’ve developed and been the primary manufacturer of the instrument that is the backbone of the profession, the shorthand machine. In addition to that, we’ve continued to develop technology, in essence to push competition and the marketplace. With the court reporting profession, I’d like to think we’ve had a partnership that has allowed Stenograph to prosper for 75 years, and I think it’s really helped the court reporting profession prosper. Without each other, we would be in trouble. If we didn’t have court reporters embracing technology, embracing CAT, continuing to go to court reporting school, we’d be out of business.

Not many companies can say that they’ve been in business 75 years, and especially in the last 17 years that I’ve been president — we’ve been in a very solid financial position because of the partnership. I think it goes both ways. We’ve been able to give quality products and quality service that have allowed the reporters to make it easy to invest in us. We’re in this together.

Cudahy: How would you finish this sentence: Stenograph exists at its 150th anniversary if …

Wenclawski: If we find a way to truly exercise and participate in our core philosophy of being the purveyor of technology to take the spoken word and allow realtime access to the spoken word across the board. We have to build on our foundation in the court reporting business and expand beyond that as a technology supplier.

Cudahy: Thanks for talking with me, John. It’s been a pleasure to hear more about the business.

Wenclawski: Thank you, Jim.

Community Matters

Jim CudahyA year ago, as I had just been handed the reins as executive director and CEO at NCRA, I took as my first responsibility to engage in a sustained listening tour with stakeholders from across the court reporting community. I visited a number of state associations during their annual conferences. I spoke one-on-one with some of the luminaries of the profession. And I otherwise sought to engage in a dialogue anyone and everyone with a vested stake in our industry.

That is how I found myself in June of 2012 at Stenograph’s headquarters in Elmhurst, Ill. I spent the better part of a day with Stenograph CEO John Wenclawski, and we talked about the past, present, and future of court reporting. I even was treated to a wonderful cookout as my visit coincided with a quarterly lunch Stenograph hosts for its employees.

At some point during my discussion with John, we talked about what we could be doing together to advance the collective interests of the court reporting profession. I said that I thought there were a number of areas where we could work together, but, as always, that NCRA needed to be careful about not appearing to show favoritism to one vendor over others. John stopped me and asked a simple question: “Why?” However simple the question, it raised an important point.

From the outset and throughout my first 12 months on the job, I have challenged the status quo as NCRA has embarked on the development of a new strategic plan. If we are going to affect substantial, positive change within the court reporting industry — and we are going to do just that — then we need the participation of the entire court reporting community. Our vendors have deep ties to the profession, day-to-day contact with court reporters, and resources and ideas that can and should be put to practical use in advancing NCRA’s strategy.

Stenograph was not the first vendor I met on my listening tour, and over the course of the subsequent months I have spoken oneon- one with the principals of dozens of companies that serve the court reporting industry. In each case, part of the conversation has included, “What can we be doing together to advance our industry?” Everyone has had great ideas and insight that I couldn’t have received anywhere else based on their unique perspectives and expertise.

With that as background, let me tip my cap to Stenograph as it is in the process of celebrating 75 years of service to our industry. As I conducted a special interview with John Wenclawski in celebration, it was captivating to learn about the various business ventures with which the company has been engaged over the years. A surprise to me was that a great deal of Stenograph’s work in the early years was not related to court reporting.

That doesn’t change the fact that, for 75 years, Stenograph has been synonymous with “court reporting.” From the first machines it built in the 1930s right on through to synchronization of its product lines with computer-aided transcription and realtime four and five decades later, the history and accomplishments of Stenograph over three-quarters of a century have been intertwined with the history and accomplishments of our industry. Indeed, it was out of a sense of responsibility to give something back to an industry that ultimately compelled Stenograph to get involved with court reporting education in recent years.

On that day a year ago June when I was in John Wenclawski’s office, we were throwing around ideas that we as a community could use to promote the court reporting industry. At some point, we came up with the idea of hosting what later would become “Court Reporting and Captioning Week.” It was a great idea and I can’t tell you who came up with it. It hardly matters though, because that’s what happens when you engage with a full community; great ideas emerge.

So, I ask the entire court reporting community to take a moment to wish our friends in Elmhurst well-earned congratulations on 75 years of service to our community, to their community — the court reporting community.

Jim Cudahy, CAE, is Executive Director and CEO of NCRA.