Kathy May was on her way to becoming a dental hygienist when she got diverted while driving to an early morning class.
“There was an advertisement that came on the radio that said, ‘Set your own hours. Be your own boss and determine your own salary – be a court reporter,’” May said of a career that began with taking classes from Mid-South Court Reporting School in 1974.
Two years later, in 1976, May founded Alpha Reporting Service, now known as Alpha Reporting Corp., where she serves as president and CEO.
The Memphis-based company of 35 court reporters recently opened an office in Nashville and has offices in Jackson, Tenn., and Tupelo, Miss. The company also does nationwide scheduling of conferences and has a companion company, Alpha Legal Solutions, that does multimedia trial presentations.
When May worked her first job as a court reporter for Patsy Weber and Associates in the mid-1970s, the profession was much different in terms of the technology.
“When I started reporting, the method of transcript preparation was dictating and typing. I would actually take the deposition and then dictate it for a typist to type,” she said. “If there were five or six attorneys and they all ordered copies of the transcripts, we would actually have to take carbon paper and put it between each sheet of paper and type. And if there was an error you would actually have to erase every page.”
“We’re the silent party in that room that has a very important role.”
President and CEO, Alpha Reporting Corp.
Alpha was the first reporting service in the market to own a computer. It was the size of a tabletop, cost approximately $30,000 and used floppy discs that were the size of vinyl records.
The technology has come a long way. Alpha now offers real-time depositions available with captioning to attorneys on laptops.
“You’ve seen Skype. Let’s say the attorney needs to stay in his office or they want to have an expert to appear in the deposition,” May said. “They can do that through streaming. It’s a tremendous timesaver. It’s a lot more economical.”
Keeping pace with the technology and being first is an integral part of the company. May said it’s why she named the company Alpha.
“We were the first ones to offer conference rooms, the first ones to do the scanning,” May said. “We have a lot of firsts in our back pocket because we do lead the industry in technology.”
Alpha was interviewing its first “voice reporter” in October. Voice reporting is a method that involves a court reporter wearing a mask into which he or she repeats everything said in a conference, deposition or trial. Computer software converts the spoken words into print.
“Technology has come a long way and they are now capable of doing real time just like we’re capable of doing real time if they are proficient enough with it,” May said. “It has come a long way. It was for the longest time and still in many parts of the country is looked down upon by the mainstream reporters. But that technology has advanced tremendously.”
To a layman, a transcript might seem to be as simple as a direct recording of proceedings. But the transcript is an official record of court proceedings that all sides can trust as a case moves either to settlement at some point or to civil or criminal appeals following a trial.
If the appeals continue long enough, a transcript could be the only version of a witness’ version of events taken under oath that survives. It is also the record of a judge’s ruling from the bench and what led to it.
“We’re the silent party in that room that has a very important role,” May said. “That’s how appeals are sent up and depositions are taken and testimonies preserved. We play a real important role.”
Keeping track of the changing technology and using a nationwide set of contacts she has made over the years for making conferencing arrangements has meant a change for May in the last decade.
“With all of the technology and the various services that we now offer, I had to actually stop reporting at least on a full-time basis to embrace all of the technology that we now offer,” she said.
The client services company is a recognition that juries hearing complex cases with lots of documents have become accustomed to methods of presentation that involve showing document excerpts and video methods.
“It’s no longer beneficial to the clients you represent if you go in without being able to present your case utilizing the technology that’s available,” May said. “People have watched so much of ‘CSI’ and all of these trial cases that they are expecting that. They are looking for that.”