For The Record

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03Mar2008

For The Record

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Atkinson-Baker OfficesAtkinson-Baker, the Glendale-based deposition services firm, compiles up to an average of 600 depositions a week.

Deposition Services Firm Atkinson-Baker Has Seen Lots of Changes in the Field.

By Mark R. Madler
March 3, 2008

Behind a heavy brown door marked “Detailing.” stacks and stacks of transcripts created by the court reporters of Atkinson-Baker Inc., are collected, bound, and shipped out.

The Glendale-based deposition services firm compiles up to 600 depositions in an average week – documenting the back and forth between attorneys and witnesses in preparation for a case.

When it comes to the format attorneys prefer to receive their transcripts in, President Sheila Atkinson-Baker notes a generational difference.

“Some of the young guys prefer to have the disks,” Atkinson-Baker said. “The old school likes the paper.”

For 21 years, Atkinson-Baker’s eponymous firm has served attorneys nationwide with court reporters, videographers, interpreters, and other services connected with efficiently scheduling and conducting depositions.

What these attorneys and their harried administrative assistants need, the agency gives – accuracy in the deposition and a quick turnaround.

Starting with its original office in Burbank, Atkinson-Baker has grown to include locations in 11 cities across the country. The company’s growth has landed it three times on the Inc. list of fastest growing private companies.

President Sheila Atkinson-Baker has 1000 court reporters on call and offices in 11 cities across the country.

Most recently, in 2007, the magazine recognized the agency’s 22.9 percent between 2003 and 2006. It also made the list in 1992 and 1993. Atkinson-Baker herself received the Business Leadership Award from Ernst & Young.

Atkinson-Baker was a court reporter and her husband, Alan, was in sales when the couple started the agency in 1987. Neither knew much about operating a business, yet they put together a team of court reporters willing to work with them.

Atkinson-Baker continued taking reporting jobs and in turn re-invested those earnings back into the agency.

The first expansion outside of the Los Angeles area came around 1993, when offices were opened in San Diego and San Francisco offering “deposition suites” with conference rooms and office support services.

The couple learned marketing and as other positions became necessary they crafted up specific descriptions of the duties that employees would perform.

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In 1993, Atkinson-Baker expanded into other large cities such as San Diego and San Francisco.

When a business owner, one tries to put oneself out of a job by delegating it to someone else, Atkinson-Baker said.

“Over the years we brought in other people to wear other parts of the hat,” Atkinson-Baker said.

Whatever is needed by an attorney when conducting a deposition, the agency handles, from the court reporter to the conference room to an interpreter.

Videotaping depositions was a service offered from the start but only about three years ago was it brought in-house as a means to maintain quality control.

Promotion of videography resulted in it being used more, primarily if a witness might not be available to appear in court, Atkinson-Baker said.

Emphasis on Service

There are other court reporting agencies with a local presence – U.S. Legal Support has offices in Sherman Oaks and Calabasas and Hahn & Bowersock has a location in Woodland Hills – but Atkinson-Baker sets itself apart from competitors with an emphasis on service.

That customer service became the focus of the agency’s marketing campaign in the early years. Other agencies provided a court reporter but not all took on the added duties of scheduling the reporter or rescheduling if need be.

James Bates, a sole practitioner in Montrose, can’t always schedule a deposition in Glendale because of court rules so when he calls Atkinson-Baker to let them know he needs to interview a witness elsewhere he gets a faxed confirmation within an hour.

“They assign you a representative and you call that person and say ‘I need this’ or ‘I need that’ and they do whatever you need,” Bates said.

Allison Mack, a paralegal with Wilkes & McHugh, a law firm in Little Rock, has used Atkinson-Baker on average once a week for the past three and a half years.

When the firm has need for a court reporter in neighboring Tennessee, Mack schedules a local. For cases in any other state, the call goes to Atkinson-Baker.

“They are efficient,” Mack said. “They rarely make a mistake and when they do they immediately fix it.”

The agency has found other innovative ways to stand out.

One way is through its website, started in 1995 as a marketing tool but which later evolved into an interactive site that can be accessed by court reporters to check their schedules and by attorneys to make appointments with a court reporter or check an invoice.

The attorneys and their administrative staffs like the convenience and instant access of going online versus having to wait for an overnight delivery of a transcript.

As the deposition business is paper intensive, the online access also means not having to print out paper.

“People like that,” Atkinson-Baker said. “You are not wasting any more trees than necessary.”

In 1999, Inc. magazine named the agency’s site as among its “Best of the Small Business Web.” That same year, the agency hired 30 court reporters who applied for jobs after consulting the site on the ins and outs of the profession.

Compared with when Atkinson-Baker used a typewriter with carbon paper to make copies of a transcript, today’s court reporters have it easy.

One innovation used by the agency is the realtime transcript in which what court reporter types on a steno machine immediately appears on a laptop so that an attorney can read what a witness had just said.

According to the National Court Reporters Association, there are between 50,000 and 60,000 judicial, broadcast captioning, CART, and Internet information reporters working in the U.S.

Of those serving the legal profession, nearly three-quarters are hired by attorneys to transcribe depositions.

The work is popular with working mothers, part-timers, and people who like to control their work schedule, Atkinson-Baker said.

The agency has a pool of 1,000 reporters it uses on a regular basis.

SPOTLIGHT: Atkinson-Baker Inc.
Year Founded: 1987
Revenues in 2005: $26.4 million
Revenue in 2006: $28.9 million
Employees in 2005: 155
Employees in 2008: 160

©2008 San Fernando Valley Business Times

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