When American courtrooms convene to hear legal cases, an audio or video recording usually captures the proceedings. Did you know that in most U.S. court jurisdictions, you can order a court transcript and choose a legal transcription company yourself?
Some people mistakenly believe that only court reporters can produce transcriptions of courtroom proceedings. Yes, most court systems have a contract with multiple court reporters, court reporting firms, or a legal transcription company to transcribe their legal proceedings.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own company outside of those under contract to transcribe your court hearings if you need to have it done faster or cheaper.
Regardless of the type of service used, interested parties can usually obtain a DVD audio file and hire a legal transcription company to produce either a verbatim (every sound from every speaker is transcribed) or a cleaned up verbatim (we take out the ums, ah’s, stutters…) transcript.
Ordering transcripts from court reporters costs 40-60% more than ordering from Ditto Transcripts.
Attorneys are accustomed to working with court reporters. They often order transcripts to review and prepare for their cases, and in some cases, it is required to order a transcript to file certain paperwork for your case.
If your attorney has already ordered a transcript, you can request a copy. If not, then follow the steps below to order a court transcript on your own.
How to Order a Court Transcript
These are the four basic steps when ordering most court transcripts.
- Call the Court Clerk where the case was heard and ask how you can get a copy of the audio recording. You will need to know the case number, the date and time of the proceeding, the parties involved, and the specific court that heard the case. The cost and process of acquiring an audio or video recording varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. They usually charge between $10 and $25 to burn a DVD of court hearings in our experience. (Remember, each state, county, and local municipality establishes procedures on how and who can obtain records.) The rules in one city or county may be completely different from another. While this information is often available through a specific court clerk’s website, the best way to confirm the correct procedure is to call the clerk’s office and speak directly with an employee.
- Order the DVD of the audio recording for the specific case you are looking for. County Clerk’s and court systems most likely contract with an outside vendor to record and store the audio/video files. It’s essential to understand the exact process for obtaining a court recording from the Clerk and follow the instructions exactly.
- Find a U.S.-based legal transcription company to transcribe your audio to a verbatim transcript format. Verbatim transcripts are required when it’s going to be used in a future court proceeding, or for court preparation.
- Place your transcription order after you’ve confirmed the correct procedure for ordering the audio file and you have it in your possession. Uploading your file online is the most common way to request a transcript of a court proceeding from a legal transcription services company like us.
Understanding Court Transcripts
Local and state court systems are regulated by the individual laws of each state and municipality. Accordingly, federal courts are governed by federal law. Here’s how most court systems are structured.
Local or Municipal Courts (City & County)
Court systems in all cities, counties, and parishes enact ordinances and laws regulating their respective court systems. Municipal courts in smaller towns and counties usually handle small cases like traffic tickets and other minor infractions.
County general session judges typically hear misdemeanor and lower-level felony cases. More serious offenses, up to and including felonies like murder, are presided over by judges either popularly elected or appointed by the state’s governor.
When and if a case is heard by a lower-level county or state court, it can also be heard by an appeals court and even the state’s supreme court if it goes that far. State and federal court cases include civil and criminal divisions.
Violations of federal laws begin at the federal district court level. Like state courts, cases can proceed to an appeals court and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court. The United States Courts website includes a downloadable form and directions on requesting court transcripts.
Do I Have to Order My Transcripts from a Court Reporter?
In almost every circumstance, attorneys, those involved in a legal matter, and even individual citizens can obtain court audio/video of a particular case.
Do court reporters furnish every court transcript from those audio or video files? No, they do not.
Many times, audio and video recordings are made of court proceedings without a court reporter present. There are too so many court hearings and not enough court reporters to attend them all. On average, court reporters earn about $150 hour, so having them attend every court hearing in the U.S. would be extremely expensive.
Does the Freedom of Information Act Guarantee Access to Transcripts?
The Freedom of Information Act enacted by Congress only applies to federal government agencies. However, individual states create their own laws that regulate the availability of legal audio and video records of legal proceedings and there corresponding transcripts. Keep in mind that audio or video files may not be available from some small municipal courts because they may not yet have the capability to record and produce audio and video files.
Depending on the circumstance, judges can restrict access to court transcripts if they deem the information will violate a person’s rights or that the information discussed is too sensitive for the public to acquire. Examples include cases where sensitive medical information is revealed or information about an ongoing civil or criminal investigation is presented.
A general rule of thumb is that if the court proceeding was open to the public, obtaining an audio file and then ordering a transcript is possible.
Can I Record a Court Proceeding Myself?
Recording audio or video of a legal proceeding yourself is not advisable. Courts often have rules regarding recording courtroom activities. Plus, the laws regarding recording private and public conversations vary from state to state.
If you record an audio or video file of any type, make sure you have the permission of all recorded parties, and especially the judge hearing the case.
How Much Do Court Transcripts Cost?
The cost of obtaining a DVD from the court clerk’s office varies from office to office, usually costing between $10-$25. Once you have possession of the DVD, the legal transcription company can provide an estimate of the final cost.
Everyone wants a great deal. However, be wary of paying legal transcription rates that sound too good to be true.
We advise people to contact a member of the transcription company’s management team so you can ask specific questions about your request. Also, it’s important to confirm the transcription company can certify your transcript, which means the company stands behind their work and will even testify if needed.
Many transcription companies charge low prices because they are either unable or unwilling to certify their transcripts. This often occurs when companies use transcriptionists from foreign countries.
Our legal transcription rates range between $1.50 and $5.00 per audio minute. Prices fall into three classifications (A, B, or C) based on the turnaround time, number of speakers, and the audio quality.
Most legal transcriptions fall into either B or C because they have three or more speakers, typically using complex legal words and phrases requiring legal experience to transcribe correctly.
The most common legal transcription request we receive is for 6-10 business days turnaround time, with 4+ speakers, and verbatim which costs $2.75 per audio minute.
How Long Will It Take to Get Your Court Transcripts Completed?
Standard rates apply to transcripts returned in three to five business days. If you require expedited service, we can complete your transcript in one to two business days.
Many court reporting firms have standard turnaround times of 30 days, so be aware that they can take much longer than a legal transcription company like Ditto Transcripts.
We highly recommend that you speak personally with company management so both sides have a clear understanding of what work is required and exactly how much your legal transcript will cost.
Hiring the Right Legal Transcription Service Matters
At Ditto Transcripts, one of our primary specialties is legal transcription. We employ trained and experienced U.S. transcriptionists that specialize in legal work. More importantly, our legal transcriptionists must pass a criminal background check and are verified U.S. residents.
Unfortunately, not all transcription companies can provide a certified legal transcription by a U.S.-based, experienced legal transcriptionist.
Why? Because cheap transcription companies choose to use foreign-based contractors who are unable to appear in court to testify to its accuracy because they do not live or work in the U.S.
Some transcription companies even use multiple, foreign transcriptionists to transcribe the same file, leading to errors and inconsistencies in the transcribed text. Other companies attempt to save money by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs to transcribe your files, which will create errors that can take you hours to correct.
Ditto Transcripts has a team of U.S.-based transcriptionists who specializes in transcribing legal matters. We certify and stand behind our legal transcripts. And we guarantee the accuracy of our work and commit to testifying in court if necessary.
Conclusion: How to Order a Quality and Accurate Court Transcript
Confirm that the legal transcription company you retain to transcribe your legal audio and video files offers the following:
- Only hires U.S.-based transcriptionists who’ve passed a criminal background check
- You can easily call on the phone and speak to company management
- Will guarantee the accuracy of each legal transcript
- Can produce certified legal transcriptions
- Can give you a cost estimate before starting your work
At Ditto Transcripts, you may contact us via our website or call us during our business hours (Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Mountain time) at (720) 287-3710 to speak to a member of our management team.