Best of the Small Business Web: Law and Order-Taking
Company: Atkinson-Baker Inc.
Revenues: $13 million
Web address: www.depo.com
Site launch cost: $1,500
Current technology profile: Microsoft Windows NT, Microsoft Universal Data Access, Microsoft FrontPage, Sausage Software HotDog Professional
Why we love it: The industry's first-to-the-Web court-reporter scheduling service saves lawyers and employees time and trouble
Category of success: Utility
There are great business sites that serve their customers. There are great professional sites that serve their industry. Sheila Atkinson-Baker's site serves both.
Atkinson-Baker's clients are lawyers; her industry is court reporting. As most of us know, either firsthand or from watching David E. Kelley productions, not all testimony occurs in the courtroom. Often lawyers want to know prior to a trial what a witness is going to say. They need someone impartial to take notes and type up the transcript. That's when they call Atkinson-Baker. The 12-year-old Glendale, Calif., company sends its employees out to record the proceedings of thousands of depositions every year. The company's two biggest challenges are finding the best possible reporters and managing a tangle of schedules and logistics.
Both of those applications, of course, are ideal for the Web. But that wasn't obvious in 1995 when Atkinson-Baker launched the site. Moreover, she had made several earlier attempts to lead her legal clients to computers and found them unwilling to drink. A system that instantaneously translated a reporter's shorthand notes into English and transmitted them to a lawyer's laptop was slow to catch on. "Lawyers tend to be set in the way that they do things," she says.
But that didn't faze the CEO. Atkinson-Baker already possessed mountains of information -- such as the rules of discovery in different states -- that clients need when they reach the deposition stage. She didn't expect that many lawyers would be doing research on the Web, but among those who did, she knew she could establish a reputation for legal expertise and technological proficiency by making that information Web accessible.
She also hoped to attract competent reporters by becoming the everything-you-need-to-know resource for the whole profession. Forget the layout of a steno keyboard? Worrying about how much all that reporting equipment will cost? Atkinson-Baker's site would become the Rome to which all roads lead. The professional-development area has already paid off richly: in the past year alone the company has hired 30 court reporters who applied for work after consulting career information on the site.
And now that law firms are catching up with the rest of the corporate world, the company is rolling out some of the time- and labor-saving services its CEO started mulling four years ago. In January it launched a password-protected service that lets legal clients schedule court reporters, check calendars, and view invoices on-line.
In the next month or so customers will also be able to retrieve complete case data and transcripts, a big time-saver for both the customer and Atkinson-Baker.