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The Challenge of Transitioning from Court Reporting to Firm Ownership

Posted by Terry McGill
Transitioning from Court Reporting to Firm Ownership

The transition from a court reporter to a firm owner is more difficult than it may appear at first. The majority of court reporting firms are owned by former court reporters that had an opportunity to purchase the company from the other owner at some point previously or those who decided to start their own firm. It shouldn’t be that difficult, should it?

Typical Court Reporter Responsibilities

First, let’s take a look at the responsibilities of a typical court reporter working for a court reporting firm and what they are concerned about in the context of their position once they receive their job assignment:

  • Be on time for the job.
  • Dress professionally for the job.
  • Be as accurate as possible.
  • Be pleasant and interact with the clients as deemed appropriate.
  • Once the deposition is over, turn the pages as quickly as possible.
  • Complete the assignment and turn the work into firm’s production office for completion.
  • Make sure you get paid for your work at whatever percentage you agreed to.
  • Receive the next assignment.

In this explanation, we are assuming that all the court reporters are experienced and know what their duties & responsibilities are.

Whether you have been a court reporter for twenty years or two years, this should apply to most small to mid-sized court reporting firms.

Responsibilities of a Court Reporting Firm Owner

As a court reporting firm owner, the responsibilities and concerns are far broader and encompass every aspect of the business from front to back and side to side.

Now, let’s take a look at the responsibilities of a firm owner:

  • Now, instead just being responsible for your projects, you can multiply the above responsibilities by the number of court reporters in your firm because they all represent you and your firm in the marketplace with your clients on a daily basis.
  • You now have to oversee and be responsible for all production work to ensure that it is well done and delivered on a timely and accurate basis to your clients. When you were a court reporter, you only had to concern yourself with your assignments. The other reporter’s inabilities or inferior work product was no concern of yours and did not impact what you made.
  • You are now the human resource department. All the issues of human resources and the responsibilities of the human resource department are yours and most small companies cannot afford to have a separate human resource department staffed with human resource specialist. When you were a reporter, the only human resource you had to be responsible for was YOU.
  • You are now the office manager responsible for ensuring that all the work gets done and flows properly through the company. You are overseeing staff and coordinating their efforts on a daily basis to ensure there are no mistakes. When you were a court reporter, you made your own schedule and didn’t really have a concern what was going on in the office or with production because it did not have an impact on you to any great degree, as long as it was getting done.
  • As a firm owner, you are responsible for the financial results that the firm produces. You realize if the firm does not make a profit, it will cease to exist (a basic business principle). You have borrowed and mortgaged your assets to purchase the firm and if the firm fails, you are wiped out. As a reporter, your paycheck was the only concern you had. It was not important what the owner had to do to get you paid as long as you got paid. As a reporter, if the firm went under you would simply go down the street and take another reporting position. As long as your money was correct, it was irrelevant to you if the firm produced a profit or not.
  • You are the marketing and sales department as an owner. You have to ensure that business is continually coming into your firm. If the business stops coming into your firm, there is no business and no firm. You lose everything once again. As a reporter, if things slowed down a bit, it provided a nice break for you and you were able to get some of the things on your “to do” list done. No big deal.
  • You are now responsible for all of the bills and obligations of the firm as an owner. The buck stops with you and goes no further. As a court reporter, you were only concerned with your personal bills and obligations. You are expected as an owner to understand and control the financial results of the firm, even though you may have absolutely no background in the financial arena, you are still the owner and these items are your responsibility.
  • Other court reporters in the firm have been your friends and you have worked shoulder to shoulder for many years together. You could overlook many of their issues because you were such good friends and their issues or poor attitudes didn’t impact your pay or job. Now that you are an owner, you realize how much the previous owner let slide or tolerated for years and years. You realize how detrimental some of their actions are to the firm and the client base. As a reporter, if one of your friends was taking advantage of the company, you could look the other way because they were your friends and didn’t impact you. Now, everything they do impacts you positively or negatively, the firm and your brand in the marketplace.
  • As a firm owner, you will have to make very difficult decisions that affect the direction of the company and/or the financial results the company produces. In some cases, those decisions have to be made on a daily basis. As a reporter, a difficult decision might have been if you took a job on a certain day or if you wanted to work a particular week or not. The choices are much different for an employee (or independent contractor) vs. an owner and the consequences are much different for a reporter vs. an owner.

As you start to get a feel for the differences and the different way you have to process information as an owner, it becomes obvious that the way you looked at the business as a court reporter will not work as a firm owner. That doesn’t mean you have to change as a person, but it may mean that you should revisit how you want to run the business as an owner moving forward.

The same dynamic that determined how you looked at the business as a reporter is determining how your current reporters look at the business now. They are still looking at the firm the same way now as they have in the past. You just happen to be the owner now. Nothing has changed for them and everything has changed for you and your family.

This article is an excerpt of the Transitioning from Court Reporting into Firm Ownership Guide. The guide also includes 7 steps to taking ownership and gaining better control of your court reporting firm. Learn more about the free guide here.


Download the Transitioning from Court Reporting into Firm Ownership Guide



Terry McGill is a small business consultant and managing partner of Strategic Business Directs. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Topics: Small Business, Court Reporters