Over the past two years I have noticed an increasingly dour and glum tone in many court reporting circles. It seems like there are a few outspoken members of the court reporting community who are solely focused on the perceived problems in the industry instead of what is going well. For example, I have read articles and blog posts complaining of a myriad of “doomsday” problems; such as: national agencies using unethical gifting practices to ruin the industry, the proliferation of digital reporters, the reduction of stenographers in the courtroom, the closing of reporting schools, and many more. Each article more loudly calls for the community to file lawsuits, lobby for regulations and lecture attorneys on what is best for them. The purpose of this article is not to take sides on the controversial issues facing our industry. Instead, my purpose is to focus on what is going right in our industry and how amazingly well the market benefits us all. In short, I’m calling on reporters to have faith in their clients, be patient and enjoy one of the best jobs on the planet.
The Need for Court Reporters is Growing.
According to the National Court Reporters Association’s website, www.careersincourtreporting.com, the demand for court reporters is expected to grow by 14% between now and 2020. Of course, this is while many court reporting schools are actually closing. Our firm literally hired the last two stenographers to graduate from the reporting school closest to Louisville, Kentucky (now closed). This means that the overall demand for court reporters will swell as more are needed but fewer are available. Court reporters should be looking forward to an increased client base and a relatively stable (if not increasing) rate of pay. As the NCRA points out, court reporting is often overlooked as a top job for professionals who are “without a four-year college degree.” In fact, the NCRA has indicated that most students can become proficient in realtime in only three years. .
Court Reporters Have a Great Work Environment.
Forbes magazine recently listed court reporting as one of its top-ten jobs. This high ranking is due in part to excellent wages but it is also because of the great work environment that we enjoy. Court reporters’ clients are almost all lawyers, judges and legal professionals. While there are always exceptions, we usually work in courtrooms and comfortable office suites. While we all have our horror stories, our clients are typically very professional, polite and pleasant. More importantly, almost every day is a little different. As keepers of the record, we get to meet an ever-changing group of litigants with different backgrounds, stories and needs. At almost any time of the day there is a legal drama playing on some television channel. While the TV shows use a lot of artistic license, the fact remains the legal setting is chosen for television for a reason: it is interesting! There is never a dull moment in court reporting and we truly have one of the most interesting professions in the world.
The Sky is Not Falling.
I started court reporting over fifteen years ago. As a young reporter, I was scared to death by the veteran reporters who kept telling me that the industry was in jeopardy. Reporters complained that technology was going to make stenographers obsolete, that big companies (like Esquire) were going to bankrupt the solo practitioners and that voice writers were ruining the profession. Fast forward fifteen years. Every single time I log in to Linkedin there is a new complaint that court reporters are going to be replaced with digital recording systems, that big corporations are taking over the industry and that digital court reporters are ruining the profession. Sound familiar? As discussed above, the reality is that the demand for all forms of court reporting (stenography, voice, pen, digital and realtime) grows every year. Big companies, like Esquire, have actually downsized. Voice writers have been welcomed into the reporting community. The sky has not fallen!
Kentuckiana Reporters (my firm) is an average-sized regional reporting firm based in Louisville, Kentucky. We have continually grown over the past decade by staying positive, marketing ourselves, embracing technological advances and building relationships with our clients. We employ stenographers, realtime writers and digital reporters. We are more than open to working with pen writers and voice writers. When we add services it is in response to the requests of our clients and our employees. For example, in Kentucky, workers compensation depositions are not always desirable to stenographers. They rarely go more than 40 pages, they do not sell copies and they are all over the state. No stenographer will drive three hours to take a 30 page deposition on a regular basis. Moreover, attorneys cannot afford high appearance fees and other charges associated with these types of cases. It was after complaints from stenographers and requests for lower prices by attorneys that we embraced digital reporters for some jobs. As an hourly employee, they are much more flexible to take short and out-of-the-way jobs. As a result, our clients are happier and our stenographers are happier. There is a clear synergy between the different forms of reporting. If you are with a firm, you should explore incorporating all forms. If you are a solo practitioner, you should focus on marketing your niche.
Turn on your television and watch an hour of commercials. Do you ever hear Sears call JC Penny’s evil? Have you noticed Jenny Craig accuse Weight Watchers of cutting corners? Of course not. The messages are always positive and always about what a company can do for its customers. Positive messages result in growth. Negativity creates an impression that there is something wrong with our profession. The court reporters who incessantly post insults and attack other forms of court reporting are damaging our industry, harming all of our reputations and drawing the ire of our clients. If a court reporter is more interested in telling you what other people are doing wrong than what they are personally doing right, you should probably stop listening. The chicken littles who are yelling that the sky is falling while dividing the industry into camps of “us” versus “them” should be ignored. In my opinion, these isolated individuals have problems in their own practice and they are unable to acknowledge their own personal short-comings. As a result, they have to blame someone else or attribute malfeasance to a competitor.
Four years ago, our company’s growth began to plateau. Our first reaction was not to blame the advertising tactics or pricing of our competitors. Instead, we looked inward to see what we could do to improve. We made several changes, including a fundamental change in the way our jobs were produced, and began to cater to paperless attorneys. Almost immediately, our growth returned. Look, we are not perfect and we continually reevaluate our approach to court reporting so as to always improve. The point is to adapt, grow and stay positive. If you lose a client to a competitor, do not send the client an email bashing the other reporter. Look internally to how you can improve and better market yourself.
Remain in Charge of Your Industry.
In Kentucky, court reporting is governed by capitalistic free-market principles. In other words, Kentucky and Louisville court reporters are free to set their own prices, decide on their form of reporting, set their own turn-around times, create their own formats and decide on their own marketing. As you might guess, reporters who produce error-riddled transcripts go out of business. Court reporters who take over thirty days to produce a transcript do not have many clients. Attorneys are smart. They are very picky consumers. They demand quality, timeliness and professionalism. They always follow-up on invoices to make sure that their clients are getting a fair deal. That is their job — to take care of their clients. Yet, there exists a loud minority of court reporters who think attorneys are stupid. That believe attorneys are incapable of making informed choices. They want to close the free market and regulate every aspect of court reporting. This is not in your interest as a court reporter.
Imagine for a moment that there was a law that determined what price McDonald’s could charge for a Big Mac. Let’s say that the price was set at $3.00 because some of their stores were charging too much. Well, what do you think will happen when consumers learn that they can simply legislate price? Simple, they will revise the law to set a price of $2.00 per Big Mac. Court reporters are no different from any other industry. If we cede the market to legislators and regulators we are giving away our profession. Who has more influence in your legislature? The insurance industry or the state court reporters association? Court reporters should not be surprised when they receive the regulation they keep requesting. It is going to end with more economically influential groups setting our prices, our rules and our futures.
Rather than trying to legislate the actions of your competitors, our advice is to advertise your abilities. Let attorneys know why they should use you. It may be price, service, reporting format, willingness to travel or just your great personality. The next time a reporter comes to you complaining about a competitor, simply ask them: what changes can you make in your practice to grow and recapture clients. If their answer is to pass laws and regulations restricting their competitors you should probably head the other direction. After all, what happens when you are the person adding clients?
We have one of the best jobs on the planet. Our earnings are excellent and our job environment is second to none. Stay positive and keep doing what you do best. I realize that some will disagree or want to argue over the various “threats” to the industry. Again, my point is that we as an industry are projecting an appearance of panic, pessimism and disarray. Let’s all take a collective deep breath, cheer up and get back to the business of court reporting.
Kentuckiana Court Reporters
730 West Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202 | 710 East Main Street, Lexington, KY 40502