While most people think of judges and attorneys when they consider jobs in the legal field, there are actually a wide range of positions one can pursue without having to undergo years of education and preparation. If you have an interest in the legal system, an eye for detail, impressive computer skills, and are well versed in grammar and writing, a job as a legal transcriptionist may be the right choice for you.
What is a Legal Transcriptionist?
A legal transcriptionist is a professional who creates official written records of oral court proceedings. This record is a vital component of the U.S. legal system. Legal transcriptionists are considered experts at transcribing material that has been dictated or recorded within the context of the law, such as in courtrooms, closed hearings, law offices, and personal interviews.
Here are some examples of the type of documents legal transcriptionists transcribe:
- Meeting minutes
- Courtroom testimony
What Does a Legal Transcriptionist Do?
A legal transcriptionist performs a job that involves memorializing legal proceedings. This is typically accomplished through the use of computer software and programs. As part of their job, legal transcriptionists listen to legal recordings and type the information they discern in the correct form. Ultimately, it is the legal transcriptionist’s goal to provide expertly crafted documents that can be used in the current proceeding, or referred to at a later time.
When a legal transcriptionist receives the recorded court proceedings or other recorded information, he or she closely listens to it, taking notes of important details. The recording is then transcribed.
To effectively perform their job, legal transcriptionists must possess the following skills and experience:
- Knowledge of the legal system
- Familiarity with legal terminology and jargon
- Excellent grammar, spelling, and language skills
- Have a keen eye for detail
- Possess excellent computer skills
- Understand the importance of composition and formatting
- Work well under strict deadlines
Is There a Difference Between a Court Reporter and a Legal Transcriptionist?
Both the legal transcriptionist and the court reporter are technically “transcriptionists,” however their job duties and the settings in which they work are different.
Court reporters, who are also known as stenographers, transcribe the proceedings in a court of law. In addition, court reporters may lend their expertise to other areas, like closed captioning and webcasting services. A court reporter’s primary responsibility is to memorialize everything that is spoken or gestured in the court proceeding. This means observing and transcribing the actions and words of the judge, the bailiff, the attorneys, witnesses, and jurors throughout the entire legal proceeding. To get a job as a court reporter, you must complete a formal court reporter program. This often includes earning an associate’s degree or completing a professional diploma/certificate program.
A legal transcriptionist also transcribes, but only previously recorded or transcribed proceedings. This information is taken by the legal transcriptionist and turned into a formal, written copy. Unlike court reporters, legal transcriptionists do not typically work in the court room. Instead, people in this type of job have the luxury of working remotely, typically from their home or a law office.
How Do I Become a Legal Transcriptionist?
If a job as a legal transcriptionist seems like the right path for you, there are a few ways you can become qualified.
One way is to complete a legal transcriptionist career diploma program. This type of program is usually offered in a vocational, technical, or professional school. Programs like this will typically last between 5 and 12 months. Upon completion of the program, students should possess knowledge of the legal system, jurisdictional laws, and business law. In addition, students will learn how to transform dictated or recorded information into hard-copy documents by using a word processing program. In addition to classroom study, this type of program often requires students to practice their skills through practice exercises. By doing so, students can hone their proofreading, grammar, spelling, and typing skills.
A well-rounded program for legal transcriptionists also includes developing the following skills:
- Interpersonal communication skills
- Stress and time management
- Drafting legal documents
- Preparing pleadings, discovery, and appellate documents
- Performing research using legal libraries and online resources
Many legal transcriptionist career diploma programs are offered online, allowing students to complete their education and training from home. All coursework and practical labs are completed via an interactive, online platform. To complete this type of program, students must have a reliable computer with a current operating system and high-speed internet access.
In addition to getting a degree, many legal transcriptionists become nationally certified. Certification helps set individuals apart from other professionals in the field by providing proof of their professionalism and commitment to the profession. The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) offers the Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET) designation. To receive this, you must pass a written examination on legal transcription, with a digital focus. Questions in the knowledge portion of the CET exam cover the following topics:
- Transcript formatting and proofreading
- General court procedures and practices
In addition to earning their certification, CET holders must recertify every three years.
Job Outlook and Salary for Legal Transcriptionists
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of court reporters and legal transcriptionists is projected to grow 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Though this is slower than the average for all occupations, demand for these occupations will be influenced by new federal regulations.
Salaries for legal transcriptionists rise in accordance with your experience. Many large law firms require legal transcriptionists to have years of experience. Entry into this field is often achieved by working for national transcription companies or by freelancing. Here are a few examples of pay for legal transcriptionists across the country:
- Carlisle, PA – $14/hour
- Kent, WA – $22/hour
- Bozeman, MT – $18.25/hour
If you are interested in becoming a legal transcriptionist or another occupation in the legal field, be sure to find out more at Be a Paralegal!