So You're Ready to Manage or Start a Court Reporting Firm?
By Toni Salopek, CM and Alice Charin Sodowick
Thinking of running a court reporting business? You might want to check out the NCRA Certified Manager of Reporting Services program. Taught by Professors John H. Lea and George H. Oliver, the program offers the essential tools to embark upon the exciting, and sometimes daunting, adventure of starting and managing a court reporting firm.
Whether you are a manager with a large corporation, a court reporting agency or an independent contractor, by participating in the CMRS training, you will come away with priceless knowledge. While you may not employ all of what you learn immediately upon your return from the training, the experience will be of benefit for the rest of your professional life.
We are managers of Esquire Deposition Services offices in New York and Florida. Esquire has made a commitment to send members of its management staff to CMRS training. Twenty Esquire employees from throughout the United States, along with professionals from many other organizations, recently completed CMRS training Modules I and II. What follows is the court reporter/manager's view of the CMRS training and its value to anyone in court reporting management and/or who may be thinking about starting a firm.
Management, Leadership and Human Resources
Module I of the CMRS training was held at NCRA's April 2000 Midyear in Washington, D.C. This four-day module dealt primarily with management functions, leadership and human resources. The specific topics we covered included an overview of organizations; mission statements; goal setting; planning and implementing; employee problem identification and potential resolutions; job training; job descriptions and definitions; creating teamwork, motivation and a positively charged environment for your associates; marketing ideas and implementation; and ... well, you get the picture.
Through various handouts, surveys, individual exercises and team project assignments, we not only learned more about management in general and our own individual management circumstances, but, more importantly, we learned introspectively (not all of which was likeable) that there is room for each of us to improve. The information bestowed upon us will continue to prove invaluable as we develop and hone our skills as effective managers, leaders, visionaries, teachers and team builders.
The methods Professors Lea and Oliver use to impart the course material are innovative, highly interactive and just downright fun. Many of us experienced déjà vu as we completed "homework assignments" and took "pop quizzes." The group projects were entertaining and enlightening. It was interesting to witness the dynamics of each of the teams, the various perspectives of the assigned problems and the many different ways there are to solve problems.
It was equally thought provoking to note the similarities that permeated the group as a whole as professionals in this industry, no matter from where we hailed. (The participants included a firm owner from Hawaii and one all the way from St. Croix.) Interacting with professionals from different parts of the country with unique approaches and cultures indigenous to their own locales made the experience richer and more informative.
Finance, Accounting and Marketing
The setting for Module II at the July NCRA Annual Convention was beautiful, sunny San Diego. With a group of 50 students, it seemed like seeing old friends again, and we quickly established a solidarity as returnees to the class. It's a good thing we had a classroom with a fantastic view of the harbor to provide a contrast for the first day and a half of "Finance and Accounting for Nonfinancial Managers."
We found this module to be much more challenging than the first as we dove into financial calculations, balance sheets, cash flow statements, income statements, financial statements, accounting principles and terminology - wait, it gets better - asset valuation, liquidity ratios, efficiency ratios, profitability ratios and margin ratios. Even we can't sugarcoat this stuff!
In fairness to the curriculum, the following observation can be made regarding Module II: Many agencies rely on accountants to crunch numbers and run ratio studies, innumerable analyses, balance sheets and various depreciation schedules. It is absolutely vital to have at least a cursory understanding of their vernacular and functions so you can utilize the numbers as part of your foundation for making sound business decisions. After all, good decisions are always informed, tested and educated decisions.
Module II also included a marketing section, presented with the help of The Market Planning Guide by David H. Bangs Jr. We used this book for at-home study before we arrived in San Diego. Through various pre-assigned exercises, we looked at our own markets and clients with a fresh perspective. Some of the worksheets included business definitions, mission statements, strengths and weaknesses, and service and product comparisons with our competitors. While we may be highly proficient court reporters, most of us have much to learn when it comes to comprehensively identifying our potential markets and accomplishing our fiscal business objectives.
On the last day of the convention, NCRA offered a half-day CMRS Plus training session. The first section of the session dealt with public speaking (yikes!). While we are still in no hurry to rush to the podium, we do feel a little less apprehensive. Professor Lea spoke on how to be an effective speaker, how to speak in any forum and how important preparation - knowing your audience and your topic - are to the success of your presentation. We also were given the building blocks of crafting our presentation and tips on overcoming our fears. Success is when preparation meets opportunity, and you never know when someone may call upon you to speak to a group.
The second Plus section, presented by Professor Oliver, was interviewing techniques, tips and laws governing the process. Interviewing is one of the most important aspects of a good manager's or owner's duties. You are attempting to select people in whom you are about to invest your company's dollars, training and, the most valuable thing any of us has, our time and that of our staff. These people can make or break you each and every day.
The Final Step
Despite the high expectations of the program, the CMRS Class of the New Millennium reigned supreme. We now have one year to complete our Independent Study Module. Our professors are looking to us to survey, evaluate, compare and contrast observed, real-world management practices with materials supplied in the CMRS modules and our own operations. This study is to be conducted as an internship, outside of our normal employment and our own organization - sure, guys, pull us right out of our comfort zone!
As an alternative to the internship, we can submit a proposal for approval before we actually start on our independent study paper, so long as we identify what we intend to study, how we intend to pursue it and what we hope to achieve. Clearly, our professors are looking for some indication that we were actually paying attention during Modules I and II, and there will be no question about that by the time we finish our papers.
When this third facet of the program is completed, we will be awarded our CMRS certificates at the NCRA convention in New Orleans in 2001. We look forward to seeing all of our classmates for a cap and gown reunion.
We know that we speak for all of the participants when we say that the joy with which John and George led our classes, the humor and the parts of themselves that they shared, were the highlight of the experience. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and as they encouraged our questions, they calmed our fears of unfamiliar territory and made the eight-hour days fly by ... well, the days went pretty fast.
We are overjoyed that Esquire made this investment in all of us - an investment that will pay handsome dividends in the years that follow. Carole Hughes and Tony Vaglica, senior management with our company, were honored at the conclusion of the CMRS training with a gift of appreciation from NCRA for supporting the program by sponsoring the most participants. Esquire is planning to send many more of our up-and-coming managers to future CMRS training.
The handouts and reference books that are included in the course materials are, and will continue to be, handy resources for years to come. The entire experience was enriching, from the rapport we developed and the camaraderie we feel among our own fellow Esquire managers to the professionals we met throughout the country which will foster effective business relationships into the future.
For companies considering sending their managers to the program and for those of you thinking of attending CMRS training, go for it! You will be richer for the experience, and our profession will be enhanced by your presence.
About the Authors
Toni Salopek, CM, of Boynton Beach, Fla., has been reporting for 15 years and has been a member of Esquire's management team for two years. Alice Charin Sodowick has more than five years' experience in management of the court reporting profession, two of those years as operations manager for Esquire's New York office.