Industry leaders gather for Firm Owners Conference

The Firm Owners Executive Conference showcases new markets and adjusting to change.

Hundreds of the professions top leaders and firm owners gathered in Orlando, Fla., in early February for NCRA’s 2014 Firm Owners Executive Conference. The event overwhelmingly focused on how to capitalize on new market opportunities, respond to change, and shape firm strategy to succeed well into the future.

“There’s always change afoot in our marketplace and we need to keep pace, and what better way to stay abreast of market trends than by mingling with the leaders of our profession,” said Nancy Varallo, RDR, CRR, NCRA’s president.

Educational sessions at Firm Owners included keynote speaker Ari Kaplan, Esq., who explored the reinvention happening in today’s legal marketplace; a panel of legal clients who provided an open and honest feedback session about how court reporting firms can better serve them and become an indispensable component of their teams; a lively discussion about new markets into which court reporting firms are venturing; and the presentation of the fourth annual Firm Owners Economic Benchmark Survey.

The event also featured the popular Vendor Speed Dating session, which allowed Firm Owners sponsors to quickly inform the audience about their latest offerings, and many networking opportunities for maximum information sharing among agency leaders.

CLIENT INSIGHT

Back for a second year, a client focus group session featured two attorneys and a paralegal for a large law firm who came with a willingness to be open and honest about what they expect from their court reporters and court reporting agencies in terms of service, technology, and follow-up behavior.

For Tatiana Melnik, Esq., principal with Melnik Legal based in Tampa, Fla., selecting a court reporter is often relationship based. “I look at whether I’m happy with the work and whether the person is competent,” she told attendees. “I use firms I would recommend to others and those that provide full services. I like to build long-term relationships.”

Nancy Jordahl, a 20-year veteran paralegal who works for Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, a large Orlando, Fla.-based firm, noted that sometimes the firms’ clients dictate a preference on which court reporting agency to use and certain lawyers with whom she works have their favorites as well. When the choice is hers to make, past performance matters. “When I’m picking, I’m looking for previous experience,” she noted. “I want good, accurate transcripts.”

Contrary to what some in the court reporting profession may believe, gift cards and other small incentive gifts do not sway or impress the panelists’ decisions on which agency to select, they told attendees. “The gift card is just not worth [using an untested court reporter],” Jordahl said. “I’ve been a paralegal for 20 years; I don’t really need any more tchotchkes. For me, it really does come down to accuracy.”

Melnik agreed, adding, “You can try to win someone over with gift cards, but in the end, it really comes down to your quality.”

Vicki Levy Eskin, Esq., a panelist from Longwood, Fla., who is a principal with Levy & Associates, told the audience that when it comes to learning about new technology and offerings in the transcript realm, she believes the court reporters are the most appropriate vehicle for information and updates. She is open to hearing about advancements and additional services while packing up after a deposition, she said. “I find that some court reporters are mousy,” she said. “I think, ‘Talk to me. Tell me what I need to know.’ It surprises me to find out how many court reporters don’t even have a business card to offer me at the end.”

Melnik said she would be happy to accept informational materials at the end of a deposition or along with a transcript, and she would love court reporters to keep her informed about best practices they see in the marketplace. “I really like learning about what other firms are doing,” she said, “and what they’re doing to use your products and services.”

When it came to the value of certifications, the panel offered mixed feedback. Levy Eskin noted that she doesn’t know anything about court reporting certifications and it does not impact her selection process. Jordahl falls into the same camp, but noted that her answer is ironic given that she is “certified in every way as a paralegal.”

But Melnik noted that certifications do lend significant credibility in her eyes. “If I’m vetting you for the first time, that really does stand out to me that you meet some minimum level of competence,” she said. “If you’re referred to me, I might not care as much.”

Certified or not, the panel agreed that it’s worth the effort and money to secure a highly effective and efficient court reporter. “I’m a big believer in compensating people for a job well done,” Melnik said. “I don’t think it should be for free. People who do a good job are worth the money. If you’re dealing with people who are penny pinching here and there, they might not be the best client for you.”

During the session, the panel also touched on issues relating to billing bottlenecks, social media interaction among professionals, and the best ways for court reporters to communicate directly with decision makers about new services and technology. The panel also noted that very brief email surveys after a deposition could be a good way for court reporting agencies to garner feedback about their reporters.

“It’s important to understand who your client is and what they like,” Melnik said. “But if you’re going to ask me for my feedback, I hope you use it.”

NEW DATA, NEW MARKETS

Now in its fourth iteration, the Firm Owners Economic Benchmark Survey aims to not only provide attendees with year-over-year performance of court reporting firms, segmented by size and region, but also presents emerging revenue streams and expansion service areas. Presented by Jim Cudahy, CAE, NCRA’s executive director and CEO, the survey is one of the most valuable take-aways for conference attendees, as they are each provided with a complimentary hard copy of the results before they are publicly available for sale.

“You really have to make sure you know what’s going on around you,” Cudahy told attendees.

In the same vein of knowing what’s coming down the pike, the event featured a new markets panel discussion featuring court reporters and agency owners who expanded into somewhat unusual realms simply because they identified a need in previously untapped markets that court reporters were uniquely qualified to meet. From ancillary video production services to working with sports venues in unique ways to serving the Hollywood film industry, stenographic skills can be valuable to clients in ways they might not even consider on their own, the panelists reported.

Related content: Economic Benchmark Survey | New Markets Panel Discussion

STANDING APART

A highlight of the Firm Owners Executive Conference was keynote speaker Ari Kaplan, Esq., of Ari Kaplan Advisors. He delivered an engaging presentation that encouraged attendees to dig deep for how they will reinvent their court reporting agencies in the era of economic recovery.

Kaplan recalled a story of hopping in a taxi cab once and being offered a bottle of water from the driver. When he pressed the driver about why he offers bottles of water to drivers, the driver replied that it always increases his tips. Kaplan asked attendees, “What is your bottle of water?”

He pressed agency owners to be forthcoming with clients and potential clients about what sets them apart from the rest. “People — lawyers, in-house counsel—are thinking about what type of person they want to work with,” he said. “It comes down to being a visible, enthusiastic expert.”

Kaplan walked attendees through his process for reaching out to new contacts, leveraging connections on LinkedIn and Twitter, and using techniques such as blogging and professional coffee dates to expand his circle of acquaintances. “Only when you make that direct connection does the opportunity arise for actual success,” he said.

The engaging keynote signed copies of his book, “Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace.”

ADVANCED BUSINESS SKILLS

Rounding out the agenda for the conference was a range of advanced business strategy sessions, including an in-depth panel exploring the complexities of HIPAA and a powerful session that provided attendees with a step-by-step roadmap for developing Google ads and maximizing search engine optimization.

Attendees also received ample time with the event’s sponsors to learn about new products and expanded service offerings. Firm Owners Executive Conference sponsors included 2 Hungry Dogs Productions, Acculaw, Allen Maxwell & Silver, Deposition Conferencing, eDepoze, LiveDeposition.com, Pengad, Precision Videoconferencing Solutions, RealtimeCoach, Stenograph, The Varallo Group, Visionary Legal Technologies, RealLegal, and YesLaw.

The next Firm Owners Executive Conference will be Feb. 8-10, 2015, in Palm Desert, Calif.

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