We’ve written at length in the past on some of the issues that plague the court reporting industry, from shortages of qualified stenographers to budget cuts at the state and federal levels for court reporting salaries, but one overlooked threat that is looming in the shadows is the consolidation of the court reporting business.
Court reporting used to be a highly fragmented business. There were thousands of small, family-owned agencies across the country. These companies prided themselves on personal service, strong relationships, and fair dealing. That was then.
Today, corporate firms are giving up on marketing. They know how difficult it is to win a new client through traditional means of shaking hands and earning trust. These corporate firms are like hovering vultures waiting for the next retiring firm owner to emerge. These corporate firms have a formula. They know how much they’ll save when they fire the staff, they know how many clients they’ll lose when they raise rates, and they know how many reporters will jump ship when they start being treated like workhorses. And after all of those items are factored in, they’ll make an offer, and with nothing else on the table, the reluctant firm owner will trade their pride and joy for one final paycheck.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good part in this whole mess is that it will create a void in the marketplace for people that actually want to run a relationship based business. The clients they lose, the self-respecting reporters that leave, and the well-trained staff looking for work will be able to find one another and create their own little ecosystem to try to build on times that once were. Should these groups be able to flourish, it will be because they each know and respect each other.
If the consolidation problems continue, the result will be catastrophic to the industry. We’ve already seen changes on ethical policies at the national level. Things that were so obviously bad for the industry several years ago are now more of a grey area. Issues like contracting and gift giving are now overlooked, even when prohibited by more bar associations.
The ugly truth is that there is no end in sight. It’s an uphill battle trying to convince a retiring firm owner that they should turn down the most lucrative offer they’re likely to receive, even when selling their company to an employee who cares about it would be best for the company and the industry. A court reporting company is only as good as it’s people and when most of them are let go in order to save a buck, the relationships that once bonded reporting firms and their customers will erode. Court reporting will become a commodity instead of a service and in the end, these corporate interests will make more and more money until lawyers are forced to alternatives.