Whether you plan to work for yourself or subcontract with seasoned professionals, a court reporting business can be an extremely profitable one because of the ongoing need to have accurate and timely transcripts of judicial proceedings. Here's what you need to know to get started.
Understand the nature of court reporting and the demands it places on those who pursue it as a full-time or part-time career. If you have never been a court reporter yourself, you'll need to either spend time in the company of those who are or engage in a lot of self-study to appreciate what court reporters do. (See recommended books under Tips.) Otherwise, as an employer, you may end up having unrealistic expectations insofar as what to charge and how to equitably balance the workload.
Determine whether you want to work for yourself as a sole practitioner or hire other people to work for you on an as-needed basis. The major drawback in working for yourself is that court reporting can be an exhausting proposition if you take on more than you can handle. Further, your ability to take vacations or call in sick will be dictated by the workload to which you have committed. Conversely, having a staff work for you means that you need to not only possess excellent judgment during the interview/hiring process but that you will also have to be able to monitor their work and ensure that they get paid promptly.
Decide whether you are primarily going to be home-based or have a brick-and-mortar office. Even if you subcontract with other court reporters, there's no reason why you can't run your entire operation from a home office. If you do decide to have an office, keep in mind that you're going to have the added overhead of leasing space, leasing furniture, leasing equipment, carrying business insurance and other business costs.
Find out who your competition is. If you live in a small town, it's likely that the court reporters being used are "imported" from somewhere else. Accordingly, attorneys might welcome the chance to have someone local that they could call on for their court reporting needs. If you live in a large city, check out the number of court reporting entities that are listed in the phone book. Finding out what they charge for their services will give you a good starting point for structuring your own fee schedule. While a large market is more likely to support the arrival of a newcomer, you're also going to have to work harder to distinguish yourself.
Solicit advice from owners of court reporting services that are located in other cities. Yes, it's going to cost you a long-distance phone call, but someone who lives on the other side of the country is more likely to share her been-there-done-that advice with you than someone in your own city who doesn't believe in being helpful to a potential rival for assignments.
Decide whether your new business will be available for any type of court transcription services or if you want to limit its focus to less formal proceedings such as depositions of attorneys' clients or administrative hearings that are usually related to personnel actions. These types of court reporting scenarios are done in an attorney's office or in a conference room instead of a courtroom. If you're going to be in business by yourself, the less formal venue will probably pay less but can provide you with a little more flexibility. If you're sick, for example, an understanding attorney might feel inclined to reschedule a deposition for the next day. In a courtroom, however, you have a lot more people who are going to be impacted by an absent court reporter and you'll need to have a back-up plan that can be initiated at a moment's notice.
Get a business license and a federal tax payer ID number. The website of the Small Business Administration (see URL) can walk you through all of the steps necessary to establish yourself as an official corporate entity. Likewise, if you are giving your new enterprise an official name, you will need to register it with the Office of the Secretary of State. If you go to the website of the state in which you reside, the Secretary of State's contact information will be listed there.
Design a professional website once you have your license and your corporate identity established. This should be consistent with the business cards, brochures and any other promotional materials you develop to attract business. If you are going to be your new company's only employee, you can now start networking. Get the word out to as many people as you can about your new business. Make the rounds of attorneys' offices, introduce yourself, and leave your business cards and brochures. If you are planning to have a staff to assist you, proceed to Step 9.
Advertise for freelance court reporters. Bear in mind that the more professional experience and credentials a court reporter has, the higher salary she can command from prospective clients. Each state has different levels of credentials it issues to court reporters but some of the most common ones are Certified Court Reporter, Registered Professional Reporter, Certified Realtime Reporter, Certified Verbatim Reporter, Certified Electronic Court Reporter and Registered Merit Reporter. To be awarded these credentials, applicants need to have successfully passed state-issued tests, hold a college degree, and have a demonstrated expertise in spelling and grammar, knowledge of court reporting software programs and familiarity with legal terminology and the protocol of court proceedings. The better qualified the court reporters you bring into the fold, the more prestigious a reputation your new company will have.
The following books will give you an insider's look at what court reporting is all about if you're not already a court reporter yourself: "Brief Encounters: A Dictionary for Court Reporting" by Laurie Boucke; "Legal Terminology for Transcription and Court Reporting" by Cathy Okrent; "The Complete Court Reporter's Handbook" by Mary H. Knapp and Robert W. McCormick; "Speedbuilding for Court Reporting" by Sally Floyd and Dot Mathias; and "Court Reporting in a Fast-Paced World: A Procedures Manual and Form Book for Freelance" by Karen L. Schoeve. Always check your answering machine and encourage your court reporters to leave you a message at least 24 hours in advance if they're going to be unable to keep an appointment. Pay regular visits to the court reporting websites listed in the Resources section.
If you hire freelance court reporters, make sure that it is clear in the contract agreement that they are responsible for the upkeep of their own transcription equipment. If you are going to have a brick-and-mortar office, check with your insurance agent on what type of insurance you will need to carry (including Worker's Compensation).
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