The Difference Between Court Reporting Vs. Legal Transcription

Court reporting and legal transcription are two sides of the same coin. Knowing which one you need for your law practice or other legal matters means you don’t need to flip a coin whenever you need to hire one or the other. Court reporting happens in real-time, while a legal transcriber doesn’t need to be physically present and can work with recordings afterward. For a fuller picture, let’s talk about the minute differences, when they can be used, and what advantages they offer. 

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The court hires court reporters for real-time transcription in live legal proceedings, while legal transcriptionists work with recorded audio and video after the fact. 
  • Court reporters undergo extensive training and certification, often making them more expensive. In contrast, legal transcriptionists do not have such heavy requirements and typically cost 25-50% less. 
  • The choice between a court reporter and a transcriptionist depends on the case’s specific needs. Ditto’s 99% accurate, 100% U.S.-based human transcription service is your best option if you need a legal transcriptionist. 

What Is Court Reporting?

Court reporters (also called stenographers, shorthand reporters, or law reporters) are in the courtroom to provide real-time court reporting. Their job is one of speed—they create a transcript of legal court proceedings as they happen, then go back to their home or office to create a final record.

Real-time court reporting is also used in other fields outside the legal profession, such as television (closed captioning) and public events. These reporters are typically hired as direct employees of a court.

Being a court stenographer or reporter requires time, dedication, and a willingness to learn. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) sets the gold standard for court reporting and offers a comprehensive licensing program to anyone seeking to be a certified court reporter.

Moreover, the NCRA licensing program typically takes two to four years to complete and provides instruction in all aspects of court reporting. Depending on the level of certification requested, the program will likely include classes on legal transcription services, real-time reporting, transcription machines, legal documents, legal proceedings, steno machines, and other common legal terminology. Digital court reporters also employ electronic court reporting processes to cover legal events and conference calls. 

Legal transcription is the process of converting spoken words from audio and video recordings of any event in an official legal setting. Such events include court hearings, witness interviews, depositions, etc. Crucially, transcription happens after the event. 

Legal transcribers can be self-employed or work for a transcription company. If they work for a transcription company, the transcriptionists usually have access to technological systems court reporters don’t have, such as cloud hosting for documents, online systems for downloading and completing dictations, etc. This is important, as a court reporter can lose the transcript and recording of a trial. Today however, it’s commonplace for a court to retain the tapes, and the court reporter obtains a copy when available.

That’s not to say that legal transcription is less important than court reporting. Cases can hinge on the quality and accuracy of legal transcripts, and there have been cases where incorrect transcription has led to notable errors in the justice system, such as a guilty party being set free or an innocent person getting imprisoned. 

This is why a legal transcriptionist must maintain accuracy with all projects. They need to understand the terminology and legal procedures and be proficient in the transcription process. Legal recordings are often converted into verbatim transcription (which includes everything spoken, including filler words) for official legal purposes. 

Knowing the difference between a court reporter and a legal transcriptionist can save law firms money and time. So, let’s contrast their roles here:

AspectCourt ReporterLegal Transcriptionist
RoleTranscribe spoken words in real-time during legal proceedings; active role in the courtroom.Transcribe legal proceedings, interviews, etc., from audio or video recordings.
Training and LicensingCourt reporters must complete an associate’s degree or certificate, be licensed in most states, and often be certified.High school diploma and on-the-job learning or vocational training. Certification is optional. Experience in a legal setting is highly preferred.
ResponsibilitiesUtilize a stenograph or stenotype, voice writing, or digital reporting; swear in witnesses; provide real-time transcription; readback testimony; prepare official transcripts.Transcribe words spoken from recordings to text documents; proofread and format transcripts.
Work EnvironmentTypically work in formal settings like courtroom hearings or during legal depositions, making public appearances.Legal transcriptionists work in less formal settings, mostly remotely from home.
Key OrganizationsNational Court Reporters Association (NCRA), National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA), etc.American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) for optional certification.
Average Annual PayApproximately $76,080 (nationwide).Approximately $66,710 (nationwide).

The differences (and similarities) between legal transcription and court reporting can also be seen in the instances or events they often cover. 

Court ReportersLegal Transcriptionists
TrialsCourt Hearings/Trials
HearingsPolice Interviews
ArbitrationsLegal Consultations
Swearing in WitnessesArbitration Sessions
Public Meetings and Administrative ProceedingsPublic Hearings
Real-Time Transcription Needs911 Calls
Legal Conferences and SeminarsWitness Interviews
Complex Legal Discussions or NegotiationsLegal Correspondence
Transcribe Live Court HearingsJury Instructions
Official Records Of Court Deliberations
Can Help Prepare Legal Documents

A Matter Of Cost

Due to educational and certification requirements, court reporters are typically more expensive to hire. They’re also hired more formally, like full-time or part-time employees. Employers might have to shell out more to cover salaries, benefits, training, equipment, or office space. 

Meanwhile, legal transcriptionists are typically 25-50% cheaper to hire than court reporters. They might not be physically on location for real-time coverage, but the lower costs more than cover it. Recording and sending legal instances and events to legal transcription agencies is also effortless. 

Enlisting the help of legal transcription companies makes the deal even cheaper. Legal professionals don’t need to look for, hire, and retain transcribers with them, significantly increasing the value proposition of taking that route. 

Yes, I run a transcription company, but I’m not about to tell you that legal transcriptionists are the way to go for every circumstance. The differences between legal transcription and court reporting are enough to make them distinctly advantageous in different circumstances. So, ultimately, the decision depends on your needs. 

Court reporters are best employed when they’re needed on-site. They provide real-time transcription in legal settings or when clients need to swear in witnesses in a court proceeding. 

Transcriptionists can be used for all other matters. There’s no need to be there physically or keep up with conversations as they happen. Due to the more lax nature of their work, legal transcriptionists can provide higher accuracy, better formatting accommodations, and higher-quality transcripts. 

If you need legal transcriptionists, Ditto Transcripts offers the best service in the industry. Signing up for our services gives you several major advantages, including:


The repercussions of legal transcription inaccuracies can be heavy and far-reaching. Legal transcripts, especially verbatim ones, are frequently used in court hearings and other legal proceedings. This means that errors could lead to misinterpretations and have the potential to significantly—and negatively—impact an ongoing court case. 

Some companies may offer low prices that reflect their lack of experience, and legal professionals can sometimes unknowingly fall for this trap. Transcripts from such providers are inaccurate and low-quality, as they’re not well-versed in legalese and jargon. Ultimately, dealing with low-quality legal transcription companies will cost you more time, money, and effort. 

Never settle for the cheapest, fastest transcriber with the lowest accuracy rates. Choose Ditto; we can produce high-quality legal transcription every time, with 99% guaranteed accuracy rates. Any transcript you receive from us is guaranteed to be ready for use in court or legal research. 

100% Human Transcription

Typical accuracy guarantees for automated solutions reach up to 86%. 

Meanwhile, 100% human transcription services like Ditto are more than 99% accurate. That means human-completed legal transcripts won’t have too many glaring errors, if at all. Verbatim transcription, even with complex legal jargon, is cleanly done. You can reliably use them for any court case with confidence that everything is accurate. 


Lawyers and legal professionals understand that quality legal transcription might come with a hefty price, but that price tag shouldn’t say “arm and leg.” 

Reliable transcription companies meet their clients’ transcription needs quickly and accurately without charging exorbitant prices. Here at Ditto, we provide costs upfront and are willing to contact clients if the current pricing models don’t match the required work. Additionally, we allow clients pay-as-you-go options without committing to long-term contracts.

Ditto’s pricing is $1.50 per audio minute for more economical requirements. We also offer typical turnaround times and faster options for rush jobs. 

Confidentiality And Security Measures

Ditto’s legal transcription service has rigorous security protocols to ensure that every byte of data we receive is kept safe and confidential. Our security measures include: 

  • Detailed Reporting and Tracking Features
  • Individually Defined User Access Levels
  • Individual User Names, Passwords, and PINs (immediate deactivation upon request)
  • Scaled Network Redundancy
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) Integration
  • Dedicated Data Centers
  • Encrypting All Data With SSL 256-bit Encryption
  • Criminal Background Checks

Corporate legal departments, law firms, and other institutions in the legal sector handle criminal cases, so it’s better to choose a CJIS-compliant legal transcription services company like ours. CJIS compliance is a mark of a reputable and secure transcription company; not every official transcription provider can attain compliance with the Criminal Justice Information Services, as the division requires passing security guidelines above and beyond typical security requirements. 

Ability To Certify Transcripts

Legal transcriptions from depositions, custody hearings, conference calls, client meetings, witness statements, even interrogations, and other law enforcement transcription documents are popular in legal proceedings. Furthermore, transcripts are admissible in court and are often submitted as evidence. 

However, transcriptions submitted to the court require proper certification—meaning your transcriptionist must be able to certify their transcripts. Transcript certification has strict requirements, including the transcriber’s capacity to appear in open court and testify under oath. Offshore and automated transcription services, therefore, cannot certify transcripts. We, however, can certify any legal transcript upon request.

Quality Customer Service

With Ditto, you don’t have to worry about your transcribers ghosting you when you need them most. It doesn’t matter if you’re a current or prospective client; call us within normal business hours, and we’ll happily address any of your questions. 

Don’t settle for cheap, inaccurate services or pay through the nose for expensive ones. Remember, a reputable transcription company with over a decade of legal experience, like Ditto Transcripts, will never compromise on the quality of your legal transcripts. 

Contact Ditto for reliable, accurate, and affordable legal and verbatim court proceeding transcription. You can request a sample transcription to assess the quality of our service at any time. 

Ditto Transcripts is a HIPAA-compliant and CJIS-compliant Denver, Colorado-based transcription services company that provides fast, accurate, and affordable transcripts for individuals and companies of all sizes. Call (720) 287-3710 today for a free quote, and ask about our free five-day trial.

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