If you’re in the market for flexible, at-home work that provides variety and lucrative pay with expedited training, legal transcription should be on your shortlist.
Transcriptionists play a key role in the legal industry, turning spoken words into text files that can be used for legal proceedings, entered as evidence, general meeting recordings, and much more.
Today, we’ll discuss how to become a legal transcriptionist and what this profession can offer you.
Transcription is the process of capturing spoken language—either live or recorded—and converting it to a written format.
The use of transcription services for legal purposes is where the process first began. Ancient civilizations in China and Greece recognized the need to create a permanent record of legal proceedings. They developed methods of shorthand to help scribes capture speech as quickly as it was spoken.
Today, transcription can be separated from the act of capturing speech via shorthand at a live event. Instead, transcription relies on an audio or video recording that can be stopped and started while you type in the words and sounds that you hear.
In addition to the legal industry, it’s a common business practice for many industries such as:
While accuracy is important for all of these environments, legal transcription emphasizes the creation of an exact record that includes every utterance and sound. This means that a legal transcript often displays:
Though the goal is a verbatim transcript that reflects every word and sound, the finished product may also include a notation that something was unintelligible. Since legal transcriptionists review recordings rather than attend live events, they can’t ask a speaker to repeat their words more clearly.
It’s not all courtroom drama. A legal transcript may be a record of:
On a typical workday, a legal transcriptionist may complete one court transcription or other job, or more, depending on their speed. After accepting a legal transcription job, they will usually:
Unlike a court reporter, legal transcriptionists typically work from audio and video recordings to generate a text record. However, they may provide additional support depending on the position or assignment. Roles and duties can extend to:
Most legal transcriptionists work as independent contractors or through general transcription or court reporting agencies. As such, they may control:
Many legal transcriptionists start as trained Stenographers, but it’s also possible to enter the field as a newcomer. You can begin legal transcribing with just a high school diploma and some on-the-job training, though you may achieve higher pay and a wider range of jobs to pick from if you opt for formal training and certification.
Are you suited for a job in legal transcription? Helpful skills and traits include:
Boosting your skill set will help you enter a career in legal transcription and increase your income as a legal professional and transcriptionist in the legal field. To do this, you can:
There’s a wide range of skills and educational backgrounds across legal transcriptionists. If you’re in a position that allows you to learn on the job, you’ll generally need just a high school diploma, basic computer skills, and some office or administrative experience to get started.
However, while it doesn’t require a specific degree or certificate program, legal transcription training will fully equip you to enter the profession. These programs:
The training for legal transcriptionist jobs typically covers:
Certification can take your resume and career to a more professional level, so let’s take a look at how to become a certified legal transcriptionist.
The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) certifies legal transcriptionists. To achieve this goal, you’ll need to pass the Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET) exam, comprised of a written multiple-choice test and a practical examination.1
After you’re initially certified, you’ll need to complete three continuing-education credits and renew with AAERT every three years to maintain your CET designation.3
Some agencies, court systems, and government contracts require AAERT certification, so it’s a wise idea to become certified if you’re serious about pursuing legal transcription work.4
If you work independently rather than for an employer who provides it, you’ll need to purchase transcription equipment to use at home. This may cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000, and require equipment such as:
You’ll also most likely want a:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 9% increase in most types of legal transcription jobs over the next decade is expected, almost double the overall job growth rate.1
Since a large population of legal transcriptionists works independently, government figures may underestimate the earning potential of a motivated high-speed transcriptionist. On average, legal transcriptionists earn:
Freelancers are typically paid based on their output rather than hours. Typing speed, listening and comprehension skills, and familiarity with the process, templates, and jargon can all affect your earning potential.
While you can expect to improve your skills over time, you can also dedicate time or take courses to boost your speed and competency.
Other ways to advance in a legal transcriptionist career include:
Legal transcription can be a jumping-off point or a career flex from a different profession, and it can also overlap with other roles. In addition to dedicated legal transcriptionists, this type of work is often completed by:
What often sets legal transcription apart when approached as a dedicated role is the independence, flexibility, and informal environment. You can easily work from home as an independent contractor and take on assignments that fit your schedule and preferences.
See related: Legal Transcriptionist vs. Court Reporter
In actuality, most legal transcriptionists working today are also trained Stenographers, which requires an associate’s degree program in stenography or a court reporting program.
Transcription is built into the stenography process, which starts from capturing a record of speech during a live proceeding in shorthand via a stenograph machine. From that point, the stenotype input is converted to written text via computer-aided transcription (CAT) software, with a final review after the event to ensure accuracy before the official transcript is delivered.
Legal transcriptionists, on the other hand, don’t need to learn shorthand, how to use a stenograph machine, or how to participate in a live legal proceeding, as they typically transcribe from an audio recording.
Looking for legal transcriptionist jobs? U.S. Legal Support partners with a nationwide network of 5,000+ experienced transcriptionists and court reporters.
Ready to learn more about our legal support services? Reach out today to connect with us.
Content published on the U.S. Legal Support blog is reviewed by professionals in the legal and litigation support services field to help ensure accurate information.