NCRF: Trustees provide vision and direction

National Court Reporters FoundationThe National Court Reporters Foundation promotes and supports the interests of the court reporting pro­fession. NCRF accomplishes its mission through the philanthropic programs it administers for the benefit of students, “new” court reporters, and all members of the National Court Reporters Association, as well as by providing the Legal Ed seminars that many NCRA members have presented to lawyers and law students, by preserving the oral histories of America’s veterans, and by supporting the international community of record keepers.

These are ambitious and worthy goals. NCRF does all this through the generosity and service of NCRA members, the NCRF Angel donors, its phone-a-thon and auction programs, the work done by the NCRF Board of Trustees, and the support of the professional staff of NCRF: Oral Histo­ries Program Coordinator Beth Kilker, NCRF Deputy Executive Director B.J. Shorak, and NCRA Executive Director Jim Cudahy.

Nominations are now open to serve as a Trustee on the Foundation board, a three-year position elected by NCRA’s Board of Directors. Now is the time to step forward for the betterment of your profession. Nomina­tions will be accepted through January 17, 2014. (See the ad on page 34 for more information.)

The word philanthropy means loving humankind; being a humani­tarian; and doing good deeds. All of us want to leave the world a better place. Here’s your opportunity to contribute for the good of our profes­sion.

Attaining proficiency as a court reporter requires great focus, flex­ibility, dedication, concentration, and persistence, and these are the same characteristics of a natural leader. What we do as court reporters, realtime writers, and captioners is truly an amazing skill set. You already possess most of the necessary qualifications trustees are asked to provide: solid thinking, diverse perspective, vision, commitment, and maybe even fund­raising.

I am an eight-year NCRF Angel, a long-time Angel Committee mem­ber, and one of the newest members of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. I’ve found that “giving” makes my heart soar! There’s just no limit to the good feeling of simply doing good deeds. When I was approached to be an Angel, then to be an Angel Committee member, and then to be a Founda­tion Trustee, part of me wondered, “What can I contribute? How will I find the time? Who, little ol’ me?”

I remember how I felt before passing that last 225 test required to be­come a graduate of the College of Legal Arts in Portland, Ore. How daunt­ing and seemingly insurmountable that last barrier appeared to me. But then I stretched and bounded over that last mountain.

Please consider the challenges you’ve triumphed over and the op­portunities you’ve received in your career as you contemplate becoming involved in the philanthropic programs of NCRF. The Foundation needs leaders who will provide vision and direction. How about you?

 

Debra (Debi) K. Cheyne, M.A.
NCRF Trustee
Angels Committee Member

Helping yourself (and those who come after)

After almost 40 years as a reporter, I’ve noticed that attorneys and judges are speaking faster, police officers and various law enforcement personnel are chewing their words more, and the record in general is suffering for it. Of course, it’s always been a chal­lenge to punctuate the spoken word, but, seriously, who would have thought the Eng­lish language would become so unrecognizable?

For many years – and maybe even from the beginning – I wondered if there were a class in law school teaching the appropri­ate way to make a record. After much con­sideration, I’ve decided that those soon-to-be attorneys toiling away to grasp the law completely missed their evidence class, indeed, along with being educated in mak­ing a good record.

Motor mouth does not even come close to today’s speakers. The new words are speed talking. Who said that was okay? I certainly didn’t get that memo. What makes all this worse is that today’s lawyers are actually proud of themselves when no one can understand what they said, and their record reflects it. I’ve been known to stop attorneys to say, “I can’t even hear that fast!” What’s a reporter, committed to pro­ducing the best record possible, to do?

Recently, I read an article by Diane DiR­esta, who is the author of the public-speak­ing best-seller, Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz. It was entitled “Six Sloppy Speech Habits” and was address­ing how to get ahead in the interviewing process in today’s employment scene. As I read it, I was astounded how well it could be adapted to attorneys.

I’ve always felt that part of my job was to teach and train people in making a clear and concise record. I decided that a mes­sage available for attorneys was a good use of their time while waiting in court for their case to be called, so I’ve been handing the following out when the opportunity arises and have them available on counsel tables to be perused. Feedback has been positive. See what you think, and while you are, think about all those reporters coming after you who will appreciate a little posi­tive training of attorneys, not to mention the newbie lawyers you could reach.

SPEAKING WELL ON THE RECORD

Here are six common language mistakes and how to keep them from sabotaging your presentation in court:

1. Non-words: Filler words such as um, ah, you know, ok, or like tell the court you’re not prepared and make you sound like a Valley Girl (or Boy). A better strategy is to think before you speak, taking pauses and breaths when you lose your train of thought. Everybody utters an occasional um, but don’t let it start every sentence.

2. Up-talk: A singsong or rising in­flection at the end of every sentence cre­ates a tentative impression and makes it sound as though you’re asking a question instead of making a definitive statement. You need to speak with conviction when selling yourself in an argument. Bring your intonation down when ending a sen­tence to avoid talking up.

3. Grammatical errors: You detract from your point when you use incorrect grammar or slang. Expressions such as ain’t, she don’t, me and my friend, and so I goes to him aren’t appropriate. Be sure you speak in complete sentences and that tenses agree. Court is not the venue for re­gional expressions or informality.

4. Sloppy speech: Slurring words to­gether or dropping their endings impairs the clarity of your message. To avoid slur­ring and increase understanding, speak slowly and distinctly. Make a list of com­monly mispronounced words, and prac­tice saying them when preparing for the hearing. Some common incorrect pro­nunciations include aks for ask, ath-a-lete for athlete, wif for with and dree for three.

5. Speed talking: While everybody is a bit anxious in court, you don’t want your information to fly by like a speeding bullet. A rapid speaking rate is difficult to follow, and speed talkers are seen as nervous. Slow down your racing heart by doing some breathing exercises before the hearing. To avoid rushing, when you finish a sentence, count two beats before continuing. Don’t be afraid of silence. Pausing is an effective communication technique. The judge and parties need a few seconds to process what you just said anyway.

6. Weak speak: Wimpy words modify or water down your conviction and in the end your position. When you pepper a con­versation with hopefully, perhaps, I feel, kind of and sort of, the message you convey is a lack of confidence. Use power words such as I’m confident that, I take the position that, or I recommend. The language you use gives the listener an impression about your level of confidence and conviction.

THE BOTTOM LINE

You don’t have to study elocution to speak well. Simply slow down, take time to pronounce all the syllables and leave slang at home.

The more record conscious you are and the better record that you make will go a long way in making you stand out as a lawyer, and will certainly endear you to judges and court reporters as well.

 

JCR Contributing Editor Vicki Hartmetz, RPR, CMRS, CRI, CPE, CLVS, is an official court reporter from Centennial, Colo. She can be reached at xxletters@comcast.com. The list of suggested tips for speakers is adapted from Diane DiResta’s book, Knockout Pres­entations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz.

Questions for prospective students

As a long-time educator and personal coach, I have been curious about what characteristics make the perfect candidate for court reporting school. Many people buy into one theory or another. Some may say that good candidates will have great English skills or above-average hand-eye coordination. Oth­ers will focus on technical skills or being quick to pick up other languages.

While there may be some correlation between these characteristics and success at a court reporter, one thing that all court reporting programs can do to help candidates decide if learning steno is for them is to ask good questions during the initial interview of prospects. In fact, these are great questions for anyone to ask as they ponder their future, as many do dur­ing the days leading up to a new year. (The following questions are based on the book, “The One Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do” by Phil Cooke, one of many books that raise similar questions to help people assess their strengths and skills.)

1. What comes naturally to you? Is there something that you do easily and well? It might also be the thing where people notice you and where they confirm how well you do something. When do you get into a state of “flow,” a state often determined by the fact that you become absorbed in what you are doing?

2. What do you love? (This doesn’t necessarily have to be work related.) If you are constantly thinking about, reading about, writing about, or talking about a par­ticular topic, it might show you where your passion lies. What topic makes you so passionate that you could po­tentially be one of the best in the world on that issue?

3. What drives you crazy? What irritates you about the world? What makes you angry? What would you want to change? It could be something that you’re wrestling with in your life at the present moment.

4. What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?

Consider asking your prospects to reflect on these questions as they decide to enter a school or get ready to graduate. This may truly help you find passionate students who are motivated to succeed.

 

Lynette Eggers, CRI, CPC, is NCRA’s Assistant Director of Educational Services. She can be reached at lreggers@ncra.org.

By Special Assignment: Inside the Bradley Manning trial

Ask any seasoned official court reporter about their career experience and more than likely they’ll share at least one, if not more, stories about high-profile, unusual, intriguing, or captivating trials they’ve reported. And seasoned official court reporter Anthony “Tony” Rolland, RMR, CRR, from Oviedo, Fla., is no exception.

A court reporBradleyManningTrialter since 1982, Rolland al­ready holds a treasure trove of experience rich in notoriety. He reported the federal habeas corpus trial of infamous killer Ted Bundy, who was tried and convicted for the murders of numerous young women and girls during the mid- and late-1970s and then executed by the state of Florida in 1989. He also reported Lou Pearlman, producer of the successful 1990s boy bands the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, who plead guilty on charges of money laundering and more after being discov­ered as perpetrator of one of the largest and longest-running Ponzi schemes in American history. Other notable cases in Rolland’s trove of experience include the trial of David Siegel, president of West­gate Resorts and other real estate-related entities, who was found liable in 2008 in a sexual-harassment suit brought against him by a former employee, and the sen­tencing hearing of Thomas Drake, the former senior executive at the National Security Agency who was charged and eventually pled to one misdemeanor count for exceeding authorized use of a computer in an investigation of leaks of classified information to a newspaper.

Earlier this year, Rolland added to his trove of treasures when he accepted an assignment from the Freedom of Press Foundation to report on the trial of U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst who was detained in Iraq in 2010 on suspicion of passing classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks, an international, online, non-profit group that publishes se­cret information, news links to the media, and classified mate­rials from anonymous sourc­es. Manning, who was con­victed by a military court in August, had committed the largest security breach in U.S. history by disclosing more than 700,000 records to the online organization.

From the very start, the case itself would take on as­pects that ranged from its being a vast history-mak­ing event to the numerous efforts taken that led to Rolland being hired for the assignment. Because of the nature of the case, the military ju­dicial system determined that no record of the trial would be made by a court re­porter stationed within the courtroom, but rather the procedures would be electronically recorded and not released to the public until multiple reviews and redactions were made by the government over a course of several months.

The decision by the court led to the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Founda­tion, an organization that supports free speech and freedom of the press and is supported by mainstream and alterna­tive journalists, as well as activists and celebrities, to launch a public fundraising campaign to fund hiring a stenographic reporter to cover the proceedings and en­sure public access to information about the case. The foundation also requested that the court provide permanent ac­commodations to a live court reporter to cover the trial proceedings.

“Knowing the background of the case, I was very interested in following it, and working on it and preparing a tran­script for it was the best way to follow it. I appreciate challenging work and knew this assignment would fulfill my expecta­tions,” Rolland said. “I had never report­ed a court-martial before and was very interested in learning about that judicial process. This was the most challenging assignment I’ve ever sat through.”

HEADED TO COURT

Though Rolland was granted perma­nent accommodations to cover the pro­ceedings, the military had not provided him with any written documentation regarding accommodation. On the first day of the trial, Rolland attended the proceedings on a borrowed press pass. That same day, the foundation sent a let­ter to the Military District of Washington media desk that was signed by an array of media outlets. The letter successfully argued that barring a live stenographic reporter from covering the proceedings stymied Manning’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trail and the public’s First Amendment right to a public trial, and that two press credentials should be issued to Rol­land.

According to the military media desk, it received more than 350 requests for press credentials but only issued 80. Rolland was given two.

“The first day of the trial was a bit iffy because I didn’t have anything in writing saying I could be there. Each morning and afternoon a military attorney would come into the media center and brief us about what was going to occur that day at trial. The first day, I showed the attor­ney my machine just to make sure that the verbal permission I had to be there was valid until I received written permis­sion,” Rolland said. “I explained that the machine was just like having a pen and paper only I could write faster.”

Landing the assignment to cover the Manning trial also gave Rolland the op­portunity to team up with Gore Broth­ers Reporting & Video, a court reporting firm in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, to help ensure transcripts were de­livered in a timely manner to the founda­tion. Owned and operated by Rolland’s long-time friend, mentor, and colleague Joe Grabowski, RMR, the firm provided him with the necessary support staff to work on producing the transcripts and uploading them by 7 p.m. each evening and 9 a.m. each morning. Grabowski’s firm also provided the support of four court reporters who rotated with Rol­land throughout each court session and the entire month of July.

“Teaming up with Joe’s firm was very assuring to me. I knew I would need as­sistance to meet the delivery request time, and that various hiccups would oc­cur along the way, and I knew that Joe’s long-time experience in this profession and his vast knowledge, supportive staff, and the infrastructure his company had in place would make handling a job of this magnitude possible,” Rolland said.

According to Grabowski, a court re­porter since 1976 and owner of the Gore Brothers firm since 1996, signing on with Rolland to support coverage of the case was not that easy of a task to make happen, especially in light of the many nontradition­al rules and procedures followed by the military’s judicial sys­tem. In addition, there was the matter of ensuring enough protection for not only Rolland, but for his own staff as well, given the international newsworthiness of the case.

“We were negotiating through an unfamiliar process with taking on this case. Everyone had heard about this trial. I would go online and read articles that said there were going to be protests outside of the base. I was nervous about having my company and its reporters identified on the foundation’s website in the event that some radical individual or group tried to make a statement,” said Grabowski, who has worked in the dis­covery and arbitration arenas, as well as abroad in Spain, Greece, and Poland.

“This was a great opportunity, though, to be a part of history in the making. The case was so vast that we might not even find out the full impact of Manning’s actions for another 10 to 20 years. It was all very interesting,” Grabowski said.

INSIDE THE PRESS GALLERY

“Each morning we would arrive in the parking lot and have our vehicles inspected by the military K-9s before we could even enter the base,” said Rolland. “Then there would be a procession of vehicles to the media operations center where we would trade our identification for a media credential.”

Inside the small, cinema-type view­ing room, members of the press and the stenogra­phers were able to watch video of the proceedings that was often poor and accompanied by sometimes less than acceptable audio. Additionally, the fact that members of the press were not permitted to bring in recording devices or cell phones to aid in capturing what the courtroom’s voice-activated cameras and microphones were sending back to the screen only added to some of the frustration of covering the proceedings. According to Rolland, some of the mem­bers of the media complained that the quickness of the audio, for example, was almost comical and often made it impos­sible to catch the stipulations made be­tween the defense and prosecution.

“We were all doing the best we could and some of us were able to get enough of the content that it could be edited down to be readable,” Rolland said.

“But there were also various con­nection problems that would often oc­cur, with the most frequent being what I called hiccups in the streaming — with no time lag in the audio, a piece of the proceeding would just disappear, typi­cally about half a sentence,” he said.

“No audio assistance was allowed and once we were on base, we weren’t allowed to leave until lunchtime or the end of the day, so if there were problems with my system, I had no way to access any additional equipment I might have had in my car.”

Although not a member of the news media, Rolland said that he and his ma­chine were warmly welcomed by the journalists he worked side by side with during the trial, and that it wasn’t un­common for one of them to turn to him if they had missed something that was said during the proceedings.

“Many of the reporters with me would ask for quotes especially if they wanted to get an article out to their out­lets right away. Many of them also said they wished they had the skills to use a steno machine because it would make their lives much easier. I would show them my machine and their typical re­action would be one of amazement that I could capture the spoken word that fast.”

The importance of certifications

NCRA members rate their certifications as one of the most important benefits the association offers.

When the New Hampshire legislature was considering ways to cut back in 2011, it decided to do away with a num­ber of certification boards, from cosmetol­ogy to hunting and fishing guides. Also on the chopping block was the New Hamp­shire court reporting board. The New Hampshire Court Reporters Association acted immediately, organizing a strong grassroots campaign and directly lobby­ing the New Hampshire legislators about the importance of certification for court reporters. With the advice of NCRA’s Gov­ernment Relations department, the NH­CRA was able to delay the legislation for a year while convincing the legislators that keeping the court reporting board was a benefit not only to lawyers but to the pub­lic at large and eventually defeat the meas­ure.

“We recognized the elimination of the New Hampshire Court Reporting Board as a poor way to serve the citizens of New Hampshire. The people of New Hampshire should not have to worry that their rights are being violated when they are involved in legislation because court reporters are unregulated. We were lucky in that we were able to education our leg­islators on the reasons why court reporters should be fair and impartial to everyone who needs their services,” says Megan He­fler, RDR, who chaired the NHCRA’s legis­lative committee at the time the legislation was proposed.

Many states require certification

Twenty-six states currently have man­datory certification of court reporters, although some require only official re­porters or freelance reporters to be certi­fied. In eight other states, certification is voluntary. That the majority of states be­lieve that it is important to certify court reporters is a testament to the critical role they play in litigation and especially in the courts. As impartial record keepers, court reporters need to possess the right set of skills to fulfill their responsibilities.

“Certification, whether it’s adminis­tered through the states or through NCRA, establishes a baseline of skills so that the public can rely on court reporters both to be able to produce an accurate record and to be assured that the court reporters act in a fair and ethical way to all of the parties in litigation,” says Mary Cox-Daniel, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, a freelancer in Las Vegas, Nev., and chair of NCRA’s Council of the Academy of Professional Reporters.

Certification offers way to differentiate

Even in states that do not have manda­tory – or even voluntary – certification, some reporters choose to pursue certification. For some people, it’s a matter of be­ing able to differentiate services and, for others, it’s being able to be marketable no matter what the future brings. If you move from one state to another, holding a national certification, such as the RPR, can make it easier to find a new position as a freelancer or official court reporter. In fact, 22 states currently accept or use the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) testing in place of the state certifi­cation or licensing examinations.

The benefits of certification go be­yond the individual reporter and profes­sion to the users of court reporting ser­vices. Certified practitioners must meet a minimum level of competency, follow a code of professional ethics, and abide by the rules of practice, so that judges, attor­neys, and the public know that they are paying for quality.

CertsByState

   Mandatory
   Voluntary
   None or not required
   Custom; see notes
   No data

 

Maine No CSR
Maryland No CSR
Massachusetts Not mandatory for state officialsVoluntary for freelancers (by state association)
Minnesota Officials must have their RPR and have graduated from an NCRA certified program
North Carolina Freelance: none requiredOfficial reporters: RPR or CVR and maintain all CEU requirements
Utah RPR accepted
West Virginia Mandatory for official reporters; voluntary for freelancers
Wyoming Officials must have graduated from an accredited court reporting school and pass a 225 Q&A

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.

NCRA takes an extended look at captioning

Since broadcast captioning became a critical and expected service in this country, solutions related to captioning quality metrics have been elusive and NCRA, captioners, captioning companies, broadcasters, and organizations that represent individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing have been unable to find a realistic solution. The solution is universally understood: captions should be readable, understandable, comprehensive, and timely. However, once the conversation of defining and calculating “an error” begins, realistic and workable solutions become less apparent.

It is for this reason that a subcommittee of NCRA’s Captioning Community of Inter­est began to work on best practices related to captioning quality. The members com­prising that group are Carol Studenmund, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, Amy Bowlen, RDR, CRR, CBC, Darlene Parker, RPR, Darlene Pickard, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, and Tracy Reinke, RPR, CRR, CBC, CCP.

After breaking out roles and responsi­bilities of various players within the cap­tioning cycle, the document lists suggested best practices to captioners, captioning companies, content creators, content dis­tributors, and consumers of captioning services. As a group, we have been reach­ing out to hearing health groups and cap­tioning companies to ask for their feed­back, and we have been very pleased with what we have been hearing from them. The document is not quite finished but we have received some excellent comments from these individuals and organizations which have been incorporated thus far.

Simultaneously, NCRA became aware that the Federal Communications Com­mission was taking a serious look at cap­tioning standards. We were extremely concerned about potential solutions that solely dealt in specific captioning stand­ards. What we wanted to avoid was a situ­ation like the one that has recently become law in Canada, where simple edits a cap­tioner makes to maintain their speed but do not affect the viewer’s understanding of the program have been ruled an error. For example, if a speaker in a program says “they are” and the captioner writes “they’re”, the regulations in Canada rule that an error. We do not buy this line of reasoning and are working on that specific situation now but that will be the subject of a different article.

Essentially, NCRA’s outside legisla­tive counsel, Dave Wenhold, and I went to the FCC’s D.C. headquarters to meet with several representatives from its disability rights division. We explained issues that captioners often face that makes their jobs more difficult, such as lack of adequate preparation time and incomplete prepa­ration materials, a poor audio connec­tion, and a lack of tech support from the content creator or content provider. Ad­ditionally, we noted exactly why specific quality metrics will not improve the level of captioning that viewers receive. We left the meeting confident that if and when the FCC eventually does issue quality stand­ards related to captioning, the interests of our captioners and captioning companies will be well-represented in the final prod­uct.

What comes next? We will be finaliz­ing the captioning quality document that can be found at captioningmatters.org by reaching out to content creators and con­tent providers and requesting their feed­back on the document. NCRA will also be undertaking a major public relations effort aimed at educating consumers of all captioning services, content creators, content providers, and all other individu­als, companies, and organizations related to captioning about how to provide the best captions for television viewers every­where.

Finally, we will remain in contact with the FCC as they deliberate over caption­ing quality and push toward a workable solution for captioners and individuals who rely on captioning services, as well as pushing all media markets to caption all of their programming.

 

Adam Finkel is NCRA’s Assistant Director of Govern­ment Relations and can be reached at afinkel@ncra.org or 703-556-6272 ext. 159.

NCRA launches “Captioning Matters” campaign

National Court Reporters Association has launched a new campaign to increase awareness of captions and advocate for the increased need for accurate, understand­able, and timely captions. “Captioning Matters” will begin as a branded, online advocacy campaign and resource center and is expected to grow over time. The campaign will explain how captions em­power the American public in addition to explaining the many parties who are involved in providing captions, from the content creator to the captioner to the broadcaster.

The website, CaptioningMatters.com, will be housed independently of NCRA’s own website and will be built to provide information for consumers. It will also serve as a clearinghouse of the latest in­formation related to captioning, including news, regulatory updates, legislative up­dates, videos, and other content of inter­est. In addition, NCRA’s captioning best practices, which were drafted by the Cap­tioning Quality Standards Subcommittee in 2013, will be prominently featured on the site to offer both those responsible for generating captions and those who use captions a source for discussion.

The Captioning Matters campaign will serve as a resource for people with hearing impairments as well as those people involved in providing captions. Further, the campaign will seek to impart the numerous benefits of captions, such as raising reading levels for schoolchil­dren and aid individuals who are learning English as a second language. In addition, the campaign will seek to educate relevant parties on a number of other aspects of captioning, as follows.

ENCOURAGE ADOPTION OF BEST PRACTICES

As a core part of the campaign, NCRA will seek to build relationships through the Captioning Matters campaign as a way to encourage broadcasters and other service providers, as well as appropriate and relevant interest groups, to support quality captioning. When television sta­tions, community organizations, and so on agree to provide captioning according to NCRA’s best practices, they will be des­ignated a supporter of Captioning Mat­ters and will be entitled to logos and other insignia that indicate their support of the Captioning Matters movement.

EMPOWER CONSUMERS WHO NEED CAPTIONING

Captioning Matters will also provide ac­cess to advocacy tools that can be lever­aged by captioning consumers to contact broadcasters, cable companies, and other key players to encourage them to sign onto the Captioning Matters campaign. As one example, we will provide template letters that consumers can use to request caption­ing of their local television stations, com­munity organizations, and elected officials.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

With Captioning Matters, NCRA will cre­ate an online resource center in which interested parties, including members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, can find information about captioning services, contact outlets to request ser­vices, stay informed about regulatory and legislative updates, and access best prac­tices to help ensure proper captioning is made available when needed. Users seek­ing a captioner or CART provider will be directed to the NCRA online Sourcebook, thus promoting the use of skilled NCRA members.

AWARENESS

Captioning Matters will put a face on the real people who benefit from captioning services through the use of profiles; these photo profiles are likely to include the el­derly, non-English speaking citizens, chil­dren, students, and others. The profiles will tell personal stories and explain vari­ous needs for captioning services.

For additional information or to provide information for the website, visit CaptioningMatters.com.

Preserving veterans’ stories

This past March marked the 10-year anniversary of the National Court Reporter Foundation’s participation with the Veterans History Project. When celebrating an anniversary, it’s common to look back over the years and remember the milestones. With VHP, there are so many to remember. The partnership has been a huge success, thanks to all the staff and volunteers who have given many hours to coordinate the project, to interview veterans, and to transcribe their amazing stories.

To recognize the 10-year anniversary, NCRF created a Make the Promise cam­paign, which called on NCRA members and friends to deliver a total of 3,000 transcripts to the Library of Congress. NCRA members not only met but also exceeded the goal. To date, more than 3,020 transcriptions have been returned to the LOC since the beginning of the partnership in 2003. These years may have passed by quickly – but so much has been accomplished through VHP, a pro­gram that is filled with remarkable, mov­ing stories of our veterans. NCRF has successfully run the project with the help of Beth Kilker, Oral Histories Program Coordinator. In addition to distribut­ing recorded histories to the LOC, Kilker recruits new partners, creates reference materials for organizations to conduct VHP Days, and applies for grants.

BACK TO THE BEGINNING

The Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center at the LOC came to life in 2000. The mission of VHP is to collect, preserve, and make acces­sible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and bet­ter understand the realities of war. Since 2003, NCRA and NCRF have partnered with the LOC in an effort to help protect and preserve the history of U.S. veterans. Through this project, men and women who have served the United States in time of war have shared their sto­ries – sometimes accom­panied by photographs, letters, and diary entries – for generations to come.

NCRF’s partnership with the LOC took off quickly and that’s when the foundation realized it needed someone dedicated to managing the program. In 2004, NCRF convinced Kilker to come out of retirement. She had worked with the Veterans Affairs Committee for 25 years and what better choice could be made than someone who had the experi­ence and great interest in working with veterans. “Beth has a rare passion for our nation’s veterans, and it shows every day, in every encounter she has. It was a lucky day for NCRF, and for me person­ally, when Beth agreed to come help the Foundation’s Veterans History Project,” says B.J. Shorak, NCRF’s Deputy Execu­tive Director.

The Foundation staff members are not alone in their passion for the program. “As the son of a WWII veteran, father of an Iraq war veteran, and a career Army officer, it is very satisfying to see the value that we as a nation and our hundreds of volunteers nationwide put on preserving the personal remembrances of America’s veterans. VHP impacts the lives of our younger interviewers and fills a need by adding a chapter to a family’s history,” says Bob Patrick, director of VHP at the Library of Congress American Folklife Center. The collections are getting great use from the public, not only to inform and instruct scholars and researchers, but to educate teachers and the public on the human experience of war.

Megan Harris, senior reference spe­cialist for the VHP, coordinates research and access to the collection. She explains that, in addition to learning about a vet­eran on their website, visitors can come to the American Folklife Center reading room to see a collection in person. As an official archive, VHP requires research­ers to submit reference requests seven to10 days prior to their visit in order for staff to have the ability to pull the ma­terial, which is partially kept off-site for preservation purposes. “We see PhD students, academics, genealogists, documentarians, and veterans’ family mem­bers. We also have K-12 students who use the website because they want to read eye-witness accounts for their history-related projects.” Harris mentions the LOC doesn’t transcribe any audio/video sent to them and is thrilled when they re­ceive transcribed interviews from NCRF and original donors. “So few interviews come with transcripts. Having them makes the collection much more acces­sible to researchers. That’s why we’re so grateful to NCRF for the transcripts they send us.”

Patrick says that the best part is when they hear from students who never knew about a particular conflict until they were assigned a VHP interview. “We are so fortunate to hear each week of the posi­tive impact the project has had on peo­ple’s lives. From the daughter-in-law of a WWI veteran who thanked us, because if she hadn’t sent the journal to us it would have been ruined in flooding by hurri­cane Rita, to a member of the public who felt like after hearing the stories of men who served in the same unit as his late fa­ther, he understood him a little better.”

Over the years, Patrick says they’ve had to shift their focus from capturing oral histories of WWI veterans to looking for other documentation of their first-person accounts. In addition to WWII and Korean veterans, they are recognizing the need to capture the stories of Vietnam veterans who are now an aging group.

COURT REPORTERS A MAJOR HELP IN MAKING PROGRAM A SUCCESS

Out of the 3,000 transcripts provided to the LOC, close to 200 have come from hard-working volunteers from the Lone Star State of Texas. Stephanie Moses, offi­cial court reporter for the 193rd District Court in Dallas, and the current Presi­dent of the Texas Court Reporters Asso­ciation, has played a huge role in coor­dinating those efforts. Moses recalls how she and Jo Anne Leger, TCRA’s 2012-13 president, had been trying to come up with a project to strengthen the relation­ship with the State Bar of Texas outside of the courtroom. The two thought working together to take the histories of veterans from Texas would be a great idea. “In June of 2011, TCRA was invited to attend the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, and we set up a booth. We pro­moted the idea to all who visited our booth, and signed up attorneys who were interested in participating in the project. The list grew and grew, and by the end of the Annual Meeting we knew this project was off to a good start.” They advertised the events through newspapers, public service announcements on the radio, and word of mouth. The veterans, attor­neys, and reporters were paired up, given a time to show up, and that’s how it got started.

When asked how it feels to be part of the program, Moses says, “Every time I transcribe a veteran’s history there is a sense of obligation that comes over me for this transcript to be absolutely perfect. It’s not that I don’t have a sense of pride when doing transcripts for work, but this is just different. I picture the face of the veteran in my mind when he receives his copy in the mail, and I can see just how proud they are to be remembered, to be honored in this way for the service they have given to this country,” she says. “The VHP lets our veterans know they are an integral part of our history, and having the opportunity to know their stories will be housed in the Library of Congress is the ultimate ‘thank you’ for their service.’”

Jan Ballman, RPR, President & CEO of Paradigm Reporting & Captioning in Minneapolis, Minn., wanted to get more involved with VHP when she came on the NCRF Board as a Trustee, stating that she felt there was so much good in it. Her firm has hosted a VHP Day in its office for the past few years right before Veter­an’s Day. “I’m so blessed to have the most amazing staff and team of reporters who consistently volunteer their time on a Saturday as hosts, greeters, interviewers, reporters, and videographers.” Ballman describes it as truly the best day of the year and adds that everyone gets hooked after getting involved. As an easy way to participate, Ballman recommends doing one or two transcripts in your spare time. Since there isn’t a deadline, reporters can work it in whenever they have time. She admits, though, it’s best to meet the vet­eran in person because it’s very moving. “To be able to meet, honor, thank, and then capture the wartime and service sto­ries of the men and women who protect us and keep our country free and safe is nothing short of a privilege. To use our skills as court reporters and resources as firm owners to make a VHP day happen is extremely gratifying.”

A PROJECT BRIDGING THE PAST TO THE FUTURE

You don’t have to be a working court re­porter or videographer to participate in the program. Amanda Harwell, who is a student at Prince Institute and resides in Arlington Heights, Ill., began volunteer­ing after seeing flyers posted around her campus. “After a visit to my wonderful grandparents, my grandfather strongly urged me to take part in the Veterans His­tory Project. He is a veteran and thinks it’s crucial for young people to volunteer and educate themselves on the acts that took place,” Harwell says. After tran­scribing the interviews, she says she felt humbled by the experience. One of her veterans described how difficult it was to be drafted. “It really opened my eyes to a lot of tragic events that took place and how people were really affected by them.”

Harwell, like many reporters, says she gained much from volunteering. “Not only was it interesting, but it allowed me to practice my speed building on something outside of our regular dicta­tions,” she says. “In the midst of this hec­tic education, we all need to find time for ourselves. Volunteering can allow us to make time for ourselves, increase our typing skills, and boost our self-esteem.” Since taking part in the VHP, she has tried to participate in more projects involving veterans. She says it has really encouraged her to step up and take part in whatever opportunities are available.

Part of the way students find out about the program is through dedicat­ed volunteers. Dave Wynne, senior vice president of education for Stenograph, is one of many incredibly active people who volunteer in the program. He has coordinated several VHP Day at each of the company’s campuses and has encour­aged other court reporting schools to get involved. “It’s so important to honor the vets as well as the volunteers who make it possible. We have an opening session with a color guard and a singing of the National Anthem. Then, we break into the interview sessions, follow it up with refreshments and a closing ceremony where we present certifications to the veterans and all the reporters who par­ticipate.”

Wynne adds that court reporters are guardians of the record, and the personal accounts of veterans are part of the hu­man record and history of our country. “It is important that we know and un­derstand both the horrors of war and the personal stories of these veterans who gave so much of themselves for our benefit. Our veterans, especially the WWII veterans, are dying at an unfortunate rate. We are in a unique po­sition with specialized skills that no one else possesses to record their stories,” he says. “Any reporter who has ever partici­pated will agree that they will probably never do anything as rewarding in their careers. You cannot help but be impact­ed by the stories and commitment made by these veterans regardless of the war.” For court reporters who don’t have that much time, Wynne mentions that people can request a CD from NCRF that they can transcribe on their own schedule. “While not as rewarding as the personal contact, they will still be moved. Plus there are CEUs tied to the effort in either case.”

Looking back over the years, Wynne shares a few of his favorites. “A veteran in Denver, who could not physically make it to one of the VHP events, was inter­viewed at his home. It was so meaning­ful to him that his family included a note about it in his obituary. Also, there was a group of Marine vets who came in uni­form, some of which were from WWII and still fit, with a bulldog (the Marine mascot) dressed in his own camo uni­form.”

Sherry Hill, the administrative rep­resentative at Prince Institute, works closely with Wynne and remembers hearing about VHP in 2007. When Hill got involved, she generated so much publicity for the event that they were inundated with calls from veterans and their relatives, so much that they had to schedule a second VHP Day to accommodate everyone. The project is a bit personal for Hill, who describes herself as a military brat. She fondly re­members one of the veterans, retired Col. Ernest Craigwell, a Tuskegee Airman, who passed away in 2011. Craigwell, a highly decorated veteran, gave the address to the school’s 2008 graduated class. “He encouraged our graduates to always pursue their goals, never back down from a challenge, and to continue to learn and grow as hu­man beings,” Hill says, and notes that the students were lucky to be addressed by a real live American hero at their com­mencement. “The WWII vets we spoke to are a breed of men apart. They just don’t cut them from that kind of cloth anymore, and they are dying at an alarm­ing rate. It’s imperative that NCRA con­tinue their efforts in encouraging court reporting schools and professionals to participate in this worthy endeavor.”

Thanks to Wynne’s enthusiasm for the program, Jane Weingart, RMR, a freelance reporter from Burlington, Iowa, became involved after hearing a presentation he gave. “He was very en­thusiastic about the project and urged other schools to participate.” Since then, so many volunteers have given their time and efforts to make each event a success. Weingart says that Kris Mattoon, lead VHP committee director, is a vital and tireless volunteer. “He is such a big sup­porter of the project and takes his per­sonal time to go out and give presenta­tions to groups in Des Moines.”

AIB’s first VHP Day was held in 2009, and the company has hosted an event around Veteran’s Day for the past four years. Their fifth annual VHP Day will be held this month. To date, more than 100 veterans have been interviewed, and their stories have been completed and given to the LOC, as well as the Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge in John­ston, Iowa. AIB makes a big deal out of the day and presents signed certificates to the veterans, as well as the court reporters and videographers. The VHP days comes to life when Weingart describes them. “Many wear their uniforms and other military garb, and they are encouraged to bring any memorabilia they would like to add to their story. For some, this will be the first time they will have shared their wartime stories with anyone, including family and loved ones. Some prefer their families not be present for the interviews. The scars of war service are difficult to heal for many.” Weingart recalls one Vi­etnam veteran who was very reluctant to talk and was thinking of leaving while waiting for his interview to begin. “This was the first time he had told his story,” she says. That veteran now attends every VHP Day put on by the school, and he promotes the event to many veterans groups in the area and encourages other veterans’ participation in the program.

Weingart fondly remembers all the veterans throughout the years, noting that some of them have already passed away. In fact, she was saddened to hear that one of the veterans she interviewed in November 2012 passed away in early 2013. While he was in the hospital, the veteran and his wife proofed the draft. Weingart was able to get the transcript in final form to him shortly before his death. “I am so humbled by him, his wife, and son who were present at AIB – his cour­age at the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. I will never forget him.” Weingart has been inspired by all of the veterans. “Their shining faces remain with us and inspire us to continue the effort.”

Growth through acquisitions

AcquisitionsIn the past nine years, DepoTexas has grown dramatically by acquiring other court reporting firms. We are frequently asked how we approach new acquisitions, how we find candidates, what our valuation model is, and how it has worked for us. This article will address all of these issues and will provide some strategies that may be useful to other firm owners.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A GOOD ACQUISITION TARGET?

The ideal candidate is located near one of the acquiring company’s existing physi­cal offices and will not require the inher­itance of current leased space. Even bet­ter is a candidate that has no additional lease obligations remaining for common court reporting firm equipment such as copiers, scanners, or mailing machines. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a firm that is completely devoid of such remaining liabilities. However, the fewer remaining obligations, the better the ac­quisition situation. Rent is obviously the biggest financial issue. Some companies might be looking to add a strategic loca­tion and are prepared to inherit leased space for their new geographic footprint.

Staffing is a more sensitive area. Typi­cally, the first consolidation in the consol­idation process involves billing, account­ing, and financial controls. Beyond that, every acquisition is different. It is critical to ascertain who controls the business in the firm. How important is the office manager? In our experience, we have always retained the staff member who communicates with clients, confirms jobs, and assigns reporters. Production is often an area that can be partially consolidated. The synergy that comes from reducing rent, leases, and staffing costs is the financial engine that can drive an acquisition and make it more attractive for the buyer and the seller. We have also been fortunate to inherit some talented team members in the production area. A buyer should take all necessary steps to train the reporters and staff members on the acquiring company’s policies and procedures.

Though a company may have good reason to expand its geographic bounda­ries, it will be best served to first explore candidates that are near its main office and whose rent and lease obligations are nearing the ends of their terms. These strategic fits are more financially viable than acquisitions that move a firm into new territories.

Another characteristic of an ideal firm to acquire is one where the owner is still an active reporter or videographer but has grown weary of the administra­tive and back office part of the business. This creates an opportunity for leverag­ing the existing infrastructure to support the daily needs of the acquired business while enabling the owner to do what he or she does best.

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO FIND CANDIDATES AND START THE PROCESS?

For a business located in one of the 36 states that require certification, the best way to start is by looking at the state’s web-updated list of registered firms. We have tried several methods of approach­ing firms, including sending out letters with our firm’s background and track record in acquisitions. However, noth­ing beats the old-fashioned personal phone call. After introducing myself, I start with, “You probably have no inter­est in this, but my firm actively seeks to acquire other firms, and I was calling to see if you have ever considered a sale of your firm.” A direct phone call lets me find out quickly whether there is any in­terest. If there is, I then ask that owner to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which I also sign, ensuring that any discussions will be conducted in the strictest of confidence.

We do not use business brokers to find target firms. We prefer to rely on our own professional network, which we have developed over the years. A bro­ker’s typical fee may be in the 10 percent range, and that fee alone can make the economics of a deal difficult We typically ask for the past two years’ fi­nancials as well as the year-to-date num­bers, the past two years’ tax returns, and detailed information on what the owner is pulling out of the business, including health insurance, automobile leases and insurance, and any other compensation that may not be easily found in the finan­cials. We always offer the same informa­tion from our firm to put the owner at ease and also so that the owner can see we are financially capable of handling such a transaction. Additional due diligence will include a review of the company’s billing rates, what percentage it pays reporters, if it pays on bill-out or collections, if it has any work that requires discounts, such as networking or special contracts, and who the clients are. This last ques­tion is the one at which most firm owners become very cautious, and understand­ably so. Again, we always offer to provide the same in­formation. Analyzing the firm’s client list, how diverse it is, and the types of business they have are some of the most important factors to consider.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO DETER­MINE THE VALUE OF THE FIRM?

There is nothing trickier in the entire process than figuring out what a firm is worth. For the purpose of this brief arti­cle, we will address some simple metrics with the caveat that there are many addi­tional factors that influence value.

Analyzing the type of business that the candidate has is critical. The most valuable business is the repeat business of law firms who are billed at regular rates. Any work that is billed at discount­ed rates, such as networking or contract­ed business, is worth less. A business that is dependent on a relative few clients is also riskier. Any business that has more than 10 percent residing with one client should be viewed as a much higher risk because of the impact that losing one cli­ent could have on the buyer.

Our firm is a good example of the kind of diversity an acquiring company should seek. Our largest single client represents a little less than 3 percent of our overall business, and our top 10 cli­ents represent less than 10 percent of our overall volume. While we hate to lose a single client, we also know that we can withstand the loss of that client and still perform well.

If a firm has less than $2,000,000 in annual revenues, most bankers would say that the firm is worth three to four times EBITDA (income before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization have been subtracted). As the revenue heads north of $2,000,000, the valuation multiple begins to rise gradually as well. Generally speaking, a professional servic­es business will not command a multiple of higher than four times until it has reached $1,000,000 in EBITDA. Don’t faint at the numbers; re­member that the compensation the own­er is pulling out also needs to be factored into the earnings equation.

Most owners will realize quickly that selling their business does not enable them to retire with the same income they have been deriving from their business. In today’s low interest marketplace, an owner may be lucky to get a 3 percent re­turn on his or her money.

However, there are ways to sweeten a deal that may make the offer much more lucrative to an owner. We are able to offer more than the standard EBITDA multiple if the owner is willing to take a significant amount of the payment as an earn-out, meaning the owner will be paid based upon the amount of business that is retained over a longer period of time. This method is particularly attractive as it encourages the owner to stay involved to such an extent that together you will both have the best opportunity to retain most of the business. Owners who stand firm about a large upfront payment or fixed, guaranteed payments must be pre­pared to take a lower multiple as they are placing all of the risk on the buyer.

If the owner is a reporter or videog­rapher, we will always offer him or her the first right of refusal to take as much of the work as he or she would like. Be­cause we want acquired owners to stay in front of their clients, it can also help to offer a slightly higher percentage than what is being paid to the other reporters or videographers.

WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO FINANCE AN ACQUISITION?

There are a variety of ways to raise capi­tal. All of them become much easier if the acquiring business is profitable. If a business does not have strong positive cash flow, it is probably not ready to be­gin making acquisitions. An acquisition would only add to immediate cash flow problems. Buyers should always remem­ber that it takes a newly acquired court reporting business about 60 days before it begins generating cash.

If the company is profitable, one common source for funding is the Small Business Administration. Most banks offer this government-assisted funding. The SBA process requires that borrowers buy 100 percent of the target firm and that they utilize a business valuation firm to provide a third-party evaluation. For more information, see: http://www.sba.gov/loanprograms.

A bank may also provide an operat­ing line of credit secured by the acquiring company’s receivables, creating a credit line that may allow the buyer to leverage additional capital for an acquisition.

Raising private capital is still prob­ably the most common method used in acquisitions. Companies choosing this route can offer either debt or equity or both to investors. Investors need to be provided with an attractive rate of return and a clear exit strategy, and, for many investors, three years is a long time. If a longer period of time is needed to recoup the investment, be clear and realistic from the beginning with a conservative business plan.

WHAT ARE THE NECESSARY LEGAL STEPS AND HOW DO YOU NEGOTIATE THE DEAL?

After the acquiring company has com­pleted its due diligence, the first step is to offer a letter of intent, outlining the proposed terms of the acquisition. The seller will respond, and it will take multi­ple discussions to hone in on a mutually agreeable deal. Try to stay with a steady schedule of meetings. If a seller begins to be less timely in responding, it is in the buyer’s best interest to keep up the mo­mentum. We have completed 15 deals, and every single one was an emotional experience for the seller. This is a big step for the owner, so it can be useful to reas­sure him or her of the mutual value that is being created.

Once both parties have agreed to the letter of intent, the buyer needs to con­sult with a good transactions attorney to help with the contract. There is much to include in the contract that this article cannot sufficiently address. We do sug­gest several very important elements of a good contract, however.

First, the buyer should be very clear about the considera­tion he or she is agreeing to pay, and what part of the con­sideration is being applied to furniture, fixtures, and equipment, what part to non-compete, and what part to goodwill. This segment of the contract has tax con­sequences that affect both the buyer and the seller, and a CPA should be consulted to ensure that this part of the agreement has been properly structured.

Second, the buyer should ask the owner for as lengthy of a non-compete agreement as the buyer’s attorney says is legally valid. This non-compete clause will prevent the seller from trying to take back clients or attempting to recruit existing employees or reporters once ownership changes. A seller who is mov­ing more than 200 miles away from the buyer’s geographical territory does not need to be restricted from starting a new business in a different area if that person is not raiding the buyer’s clients. Finally, the buyer must always include a clause in the contract that protects him or her from fraudulent information that might have been provided by the owner.

WHICH IS BETTER: AN ACQUISITION OR A MERGER?

It is important to retain the identity of the firm being acquired, and this is why it can be effective to announce the acqui­sition as a “merger” of the two firms. A buyer can add credibility to this by offer­ing the seller a small amount of its com­pany stock as part of the deal. This will enable the previous owner to say he or she is a new shareholder in the purchas­ing company. It also reinforces the idea that the buyer is combining forces with the seller’s reporters and staff, and that clients will continue to receive the same supportive service they enjoyed with the prior owner.

We typically keep the pre­vious firm’s name intact for at least one year so that it is seen on email, in­voices, and other com­munications. Change is threatening to most people, and clients will be less anx­ious, knowing that the acquired compa­ny will stay intact.

CAN SUCCESS BE ASSURED?

The key is to do everything possible to retain and grow the business being ac­quired. It always works better if the seller stays involved at some level. The buyer should bring his or her full focus to bear on the transition. Seemingly simple is­sues, such as provisioning the previous owner’s phone lines over to the purchas­ing company, can go awry without at­tention and follow-up. The extra work applied to ensure a smooth transition in the first few months will be well worth the effort.

The buyer needs to be especially careful with rates. If the acquired com­pany has lower rates than the purchasing company, the lower rates should be hon­ored for at least six months prior to mak­ing any changes. Any client who has been offered special rates continues to receive those discounts for an agreed-upon time. Work closely with the seller to determine how and when to apply rate changes.

The buyer should stay connected with the owner/seller and learn every­thing possible about their clients’ special needs. That owner should be treated as a valuable client. The buyer is only as good as his or her track record with previous owners. We always ask for a letter of rec­ommendation from the previous owner a year after we have completed the trans­action. We want new candidates to un­derstand that we are always timely with our payments, that we know how to run a court reporting business, and that we honor our agreements.

The acquisition process can be de­manding and tricky, but it is one of the best ways to expand. We have been es­pecially gratified that the more firms we have folded in to our company, the more our overall business seems to build and grow. An acquisition is often called “in­organic” growth as compared to “organ­ic” growth coming from an existing busi­ness base. But the organic and inorganic lines blur quickly as exciting opportuni­ties can grow from the wedding of new with old business.

 

Zack Miller is co-owner and chief acquisitions officer of DepoTexas, Inc., a deposition services company based in Houston, Texas, with offices in Austin, Corpus Chris­ti, Dallas, Henderson, and San Antonio. Mike Clepper is the co-owner, founder, and CEO of DepoTexas.