By Anna Lardinois
Inspiration can strike at any time. For Karen Renee, CEO of eCourt Reporters, Inc., it came during a discussion with her brother.
Joking that she hates to give her brother credit for just about anything, she must admit that his trip to San Diego a few years ago – coupled with his rather late-stage conversion from flip phone to smart phone — ended up becoming an “a-ha!” moment for her.
“He was bragging about the fact that he not only went out to San Diego and used his brand-new phone, but he was using the Uber App and ordering rides,” she said. “So, he’s showing me the app, saying, ‘Look! I can go here, and I can pick out the car I want, and here comes the car,’ and it was so easy. It was really a lightbulb moment.”
As the owner of Milwaukee Court Reporters, she wished there was a similar Uber-like service where she could find qualified court reporters and schedule them to open jobs. It was a fantastic idea – such a fantastic idea that she assumed the service must already exist. An in-depth search told her it didn’t.
Renee was shocked to discover that no one had created an online service linking available court reporters with jobs. But she was about to change that.
She shared the idea with friend and businesswoman, Judy Gerulat.
“Just in conversation, I was telling her what I was doing, and Judy kind of had the same reaction I did, ‘well, this must be out there somewhere’ and it wasn’t. And so, she joined me as a partner.”
Renee and Gerulat have been friends for more than 20 years and ride their own Harley-Davidsons together. Now Gerulat is the Vice President and COO of the company.
“Judy has the same strong woman mentality that I have,” Renee said. “And we just kind of brainstorm from there. I bring in the court reporters’ perspective and she brings in the business brains perspective. And it’s a great partnership.”
Launched in 2017, eCourt Reporters offers certified legal support services throughout the nation. According to Renee, there are 30,000 court reporters in the United States. The company already has over 2,000 registrations in 49 of the 50 states. The lone holdout is North Dakota, but the company is working hard to change that.
“We pride ourselves on being able to provide the law firms with a professional certified service,” Renee said. “What we can do for the law firms right now is to ensure that they’re getting a certified court reporter that can (produce) certified transcripts so that they’re getting the best representation for their case that they require.”
To say eCourt Reporters, Inc. is lauded is an understatement. The company won “Innovator of the Year” from the Wisconsin State Bar Association in 2018. The National Court Reporters Association honored the company with a JCR Award of excellence for Innovation use of Technology. eCourt Reporters won the business services category of the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest in 2021. Even people who don’t use their services love them. They were voted Viewers’ Choice winners for season four of Project Pitch It!
A key part of their appeal is how eCourt Reporters does business. The company is transparent in an industry where transparency is not the norm. Those who use their service can see the rates, professional certifications, years of experience, and peer user ratings of court reporters and legal videographers in the database before they book a service provider. Law firms and agency schedulers know the cost associated with the service before they book a job. While this type of information is standard in most industries, it is not in the field of legal support.
Renee explains that “most law firms don’t know what the charges (are) until they get the bill. That’s what sets us apart, we have that unique feature where law firms can see and compare up front the cost of what the legal proceeding is going to cost, or their transcripts are going to cost before they book. That’s huge in the industry. That’s not being done anywhere else.”
Their clients are mostly smaller law firms and firms led by progressive early adopters of technology. But that is changing. A shortage of certified court reporters, coupled with an increase in demand for remote service due to the pandemic, has helped foster the expansion of the business.
The company has grown quickly, but strategically. As the first legal connection tool to market, the company plans to expand its offerings to stay ahead of the competitors that have sprung up since eCourt Reporters launched. They are working to offer additional legal support services, including process servers, proofreaders, and interpreters.
With an increasing customer base, and an expansion plan in process, Renee and Gerulat look to the future. As they consider their next moves, the partners are open to raising venture capital to expand the business but would also consider bringing on an active investor with legal expertise who wants to grow with the company.
Whatever the future holds for eCourt Reporters, one gets the sense these partners are ready for anything.
“Judy and I, neither one of us are afraid of challenges and we are both very driven,” Renee said. “We’re both strong, independent women. Tell us we can’t, and we’ll show you we can. Owning a startup is not easy … I’m thankful that I have a partner that has that same mentality that I do, (so) that we can make it successful.”