Court reporting company focusing on new home, new business
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Realtime Reporters, a statewide network of court reporters, would really like to book more focus groups at their shiny new home on Lee Street.
New is a relative term, as the building at 713 Lee St., a former restaurant, pawn shop and who knows what else, is about 100 years old.
But it's a new location for Jackson County native Teresa Evans, who had been leasing space from a Capitol Street lawyer after moving out of the basement of her Ripley home two years ago.
"I bought it this time last year, the first of August," Evans said. "Whatever restaurant was here, there were machines here still running. Holes in the floor. Rats." Not to mention the drunks who hung out by the coolers in the alley.
Formerly Joey's Downtown, the place had been empty for about 10 years, she said.
It sits beside a tiny former branch City National Bank office, just off Capitol Street. She bought it, too. "It was a wreck," she said of the newer-vintage bank building.
Evans paid $145,000 for the two buildings. "I thought it was a fair price at the time. It took us about three months to do the demolition, six months to do the renovation."
She moved in during April. But at the urging of the Charleston Area Alliance, which she recently joined, she's holding a ribbon-cutting open house at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The public is welcome.
Repairs to the two-story brick building in the Downtown Historic District followed strict guidelines in order to qualify for state and federal historic renovation tax credits, Evans said. Her tax credit application with the State Historic Preservation Office is pending, she said.
From the start, the contractors ran into problems. When they leaned a ladder against the rear wall, the brick wall collapsed. All the bricks had to be saved.
"We had to clean all the original brick, and use mortar like the original mortar. We had to keep all the original door and window openings."
Because the building was designed as a store, the preservation office wanted an open floor plan on the first floor, she said.
"I told her we need rooms. I need to take depositions." Clients need privacy, she said. "So, we finally compromised." Transom windows at the top of interior partitions give an open feel, she said.
"The elevator was another financial albatross." Estimated at $48,000, it ended up costing about twice that amount.
Evans won't say how much she spent on the project. "It's a lot ... well over a half million dollars."
That's where the focus groups come in. "To pay for the building I had to expand the types of offerings we have -- seminars, focus groups, mock trials. We also rent for mediation. Lots of small law firms need room for mediation."
Career track started early
Evans latched onto court reporting right out of Ravenswood High School and never looked back.
"I won a shorthand contest, around 1978, '79. My teacher told me court reporters in Logan County make $60,000. I thought that this was it. I went to a trade school. Normally it takes a couple years. I did it in one year. I'm really driven.
"I started out taking depositions, worked for judges as a state court reporter. I worked for Judge George Scott on the state Supreme Court, for Lyne Ranson and Judge Stucky.
"Then my husband became a judge. I started doing trials and depositions again. It was just me for years and years.
"I love my job. It's like getting paid for watching Court TV all day. You have to keep a straight face. You're sitting there and you're thinking, 'Are you kidding?' I've cried twice. Court reporters have lots of stories."
She hired her first court reporter two years ago. Now, the business has 18 court reporters, four transcriptionists, four videographers, two paralegals, and office staff -- about 30 employees total.
"Our court reporters are all over the state, not just Charleston. That way we don't have to charge our clients mileage. It's the bulk of our business, but I need focus groups bad.
"We built this building around focus groups. We moved into [lawyer] Bill Tiano's building on Capitol Street. He's the one who got me out of my basement. But before we moved in we had already outgrown the space."
The Lee Street building has four large conference/focus group rooms, two on each floor, all interconnected by video.
Evans can stage mock trials, where lawyers try out tactics and then ask the mock jurors' reactions.
"We do informal focus groups, too -- marketing and for politicians and for [legal] cases."
Lawyers weighing their options might hire an informal focus group, she said. Suppose a hospital sent a baby home on oxygen support, and the oxygen failed.
"Who do you blame? People are so intelligent. There are a lot of odd cases come up where you might want to get an idea what jurors think.
"We have a database ... about 300 right now. We can look for a liberal, a conservative, a retiree, a student. We ask people all kinds of questions about themselves so we can tailor a very diverse group.
"Lawyers may want people from Logan County, or from Wayne County. We ask what their favorite TV shows are. The favorite show in Logan County is 'True Blood.' I'd never heard of it. So people from Logan County like vampire shows.
"With our focus groups, we have a 100 percent settlement rate. We're very proud of that."
Focus group participants earn $50 for a half day, $100 for a full day. "We can always use more, because lawyers don't like to use people they've used before. They can sign up on our website, www.realtimereporters.com.
Evans also built a full kitchen, multiple bathrooms, even a shower. She scattered bowls of candy throughout the building. Like the elevator, it's all about making lawyers and mock jurors comfortable, she said.
Evans checked out other buildings downtown, including a much-larger place on Quarrier Street, before settling on the modest Lee Street site.
"Even with the holes in the floor, I could see this was it. I didn't have to worry about renting out extra space. I truly believe I was meant to buy this building. We were praying: You build it they will come."
Reach Jim Balow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5102