Competition and Quality of Service

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27Dec2013

Competition and Quality of Service

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Atkinson-Baker Nationwide Court Reporters - DepositionsIt’s not easy keeping ahead of the competition.

As a litigator, you’ve probably long since lost count of the extra hours you’ve put in trying to keep one motion ahead of your opposing counsel. CJRA Plans and “fast track” systems give you less time than before to prepare your case for trial. You have to constantly keep abreast of all the changes in statutes, regulations and case law. On top of that, you have to worry about the business aspects of running a practice – rainmaking, personnel, automation, keeping the client trust account straight. It has gotten to the point where some bars even require stress management courses as part of their CLE programs.

Now and then some individual fails to play by the rules, tries to give his client an unfair advantage, tarnishing the profession’s reputation and providing new fodder for attorney jokes. But overall attorneys handle a difficult job admirably, and when someone does err there are disciplinary procedures to set everything straight again.

As with other parts of the legal profession, I have seen a lot of changes in the court reporting field over the last two decades. The thirty-day standard turnaround time has become ten working days. Now there is real-time reporting, condensed transcripts, videotaped depositions, e-mail transcripts, litigation support software, videoteleconferencing.

One by one, I have seen the agencies that were once our largest competitors being bought out by business consolidation firms using borrowed millions. An increase in the number of court reporters has resulted in previously unheard of price competition with narrowing profit margins. There is always someone willing to undercut our prices and we regularly have to choose to allow another agency to do the work rather than accepting the work at a price which would force us to cut back on our level of service.

Fortunately, most attorneys are looking for more than just the lowest sticker price. (How many of you are driving the cheapest car you could find?) Our higher level of service has, therefore, afforded us over a decade of continuous expansion, without resorting to buying out other agencies or taking out huge bank loans. While still remaining competitive in our pricing, we have been able to keep expanding and refining our services, thereby attracting more and more clients.

Now and then, however, there is a problem created by competition. An agency may feel that the only way it can compete is by offering some secret service advantage to its clients that it doesn’t offer to the competition. Such actions violate the reporters’ duties as impartial officers of the court, and whenever this occurs it should be stamped out. Such occasions are very rare and can be handled by the disciplinary procedures of the state boards. Nevertheless, we support legislation such as that currently before the California legislature that clearly makes it illegal to offer such benefits to one side in a case.

Overall, however, the competition has been very healthy for the court reporting profession. It has kept us on our toes constantly looking for new ways to better service our clients. We now see better products being delivered faster without increasing the prices. All the technological advances we have seen are a result of this competition. We have come a long way since the days of quill and ink and I, for one, am glad we have.

Sheila Atkinson-Baker

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