Transcribing legal documents and audio court files is an excellent way to earn money working from home in 2021.
Full-time, experienced legal transcriptionists can make $60,000 or more annually and are in high demand. The best part is that most legal transcriptionists can work from the comfort of their own home.
In fact, when we examine the transcription industry, specializing in legal transcription is one of the fastest-growing areas. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that employment supporting the legal industry – including legal transcription jobs – will increase around 10 percent through 2029.
Understanding legal terminology and the U.S. legal system is important and will make transcribing legal documents much easier. Legal transcription is a subspecialty within the transcription industry, so we’ll discuss the specifics below.
The best legal transcriptionists use these and other skills:
- Familiarity with legal jargon
- Knowledge of the U.S. legal system
- Excellent typing and computer skills
- The ability to work quickly and efficiently
- A keen eye for detail
- Superb listening skills
What’s the difference between a court reporter and a legal transcriptionist?
It’s easy to assume a court reporter and a legal transcriptionist are the same. Transcribing documents is taking spoken words (either live or recorded) and turning them into text documents that others can read. Both transcriptionists and court reporters perform this task.
However, there are distinct differences between a legal transcriptionist and a court reporter.
Court reporters (also known as stenographers) record verbatim legal proceedings in a courtroom or legal setting. Conversations are recorded in real-time using a unique shorthand method on a stenotype machine.
Almost all court proceedings and hearings are recorded via audio/visual equipment and then fully transcribed later by the court reporter. When proceedings are complete or the day’s trial testimony is over, court reporters proofread and clean up their notes and provide court officials with a full transcript of the testimony.
Speed is critical for court reporters since they don’t have the luxury of stopping or asking the judge, attorney’s or witnesses to repeat themselves.
Each state develops its own certification and training requirements for court reporters. Most attend community colleges or special programs to attain certification. Court systems sometimes employ court reporters at the state, local, and federal levels. Law firms will also employ full-time or part-time reporters. Some court reporters work as freelancers or establish their own businesses.
Legal transcriptionists will transcribe audio files of verbal conversations. Given the importance of details in legal proceedings, almost all are verbatim transcripts, which means every word and/or sound from anyone speaking is transcribed into the transcript.
Some courts utilize transcription companies to transcribe official proceedings instead of having a court reporter in the room. Unlike court reporters, people who transcribe legal documents or proceedings don’t have educational requirements. However, a familiarity with the legal system and excellent transcription skills are essential.
How do I become a legal transcriptionist?
Advanced typing skills are essential to any transcriptionist. If you aren’t an accomplished typist, the first step is learning to type properly. Several online programs teach proper techniques, and some are free or inexpensive.
If you already have immediate to advanced typing skills, then you’re off to a great start. Experienced transcriptionists type in excess of 75 words per minute (wpm) without any, or very few, errors.
There are online training programs for transcriptionists. Most programs take between 5 – 12 months to complete and cover transcription skills as well as knowledge on legal proceedings and procedure. However, if you already have typing skills, you can apply to transcription companies. You’ll probably start with general transcription projects. Once your skill and comfort level advance, you can request more challenging assignments such as transcribing legal, law enforcement, or medical files.
If you believe you have the necessary skills to work with one of the best U.S. transcription companies, we invite you to complete our online employment form.
What skills does a legal transcriptionist need?
Besides typing, listening skills are also a vital part of working as a successful transcriptionist. After all, you’ll be listening to tons of audio files. Like everyday conversations, often, people may not speak in a manner that’s easy to transcribe.
Everything from accents to how fast someone speaks to how they pronounce certain words or phrases can make transcribing challenging.
Some additional challenges transcriptionists face are multiple people speaking simultaneously, poor acoustics, or poor audio recording equipment. Regardless of the difficulty, legal transcriptionists must capture and make everything on the tape legible to the listener.
Other relevant skills are the ability to sit for extended periods and precisely capturing everything on the file. Once you become proficient at these skills, you’ll find working as a legal transcriptionist to be rewarding in many ways.
Understanding legal words and jargon is vital. Having access to a legal dictionary is recommended. You may assume that watching several years of the television series, Law and Order, gives you adequate legal knowledge. I hate to be the bearer of bad news because the legal life portrayed on TV and in movies isn’t a realistic example of legal proceedings.
Legal transcriptionists must be exact and listen intently to every word. Although it doesn’t occur often, court rulings may be overturned if the transcripts contain multiple flaws. Therefore, court systems and law firms only hire the best U.S. transcription companies, who in turn rely on top-tier legal transcriptionists.
What type of equipment do legal transcriptionists use?
Legal transcriptionists use the same equipment as general, medical, and law enforcement transcriptionists. You’ll need a desktop or laptop computer with enough speed and storage to send and receive large files, for starters. A computer less than five years old is best.
Availability of a high-speed internet network is also vital. Download speeds of at least 10mpbs are preferred. I would highly recommend download speeds of 100mpbs or more if available and affordable. Internet access and speed aren’t important while a file is being transcribed. Yet, they are factors when receiving and sending files one gigabyte or larger.
Our experience shows us that transcribers lose at least seven typed characters for every second you remove your hand from the keyboard. That’s why experienced transcribers use tools designed to increase speed and accuracy. The most common tools used by legal transcriptionists include:
- USB foot pedal – A foot pedal allows you to control the rewind/play/forward actions without ever having to take your hands off of the keyboard. We recommend the Infinity USB Digital Foot Pedal.
- High-quality headphones – Purchase the best headphones you can afford. Quality headphones increase audio quality and allow you to hear sounds more clearly.
- Software Options – Programs like Microsoft Word are popular with many transcriptionists and is available via subscription. Transcription specific programs like Express Scribe by NCH Software are used widely by experienced, legal transcribers.
- Browser Options – Google Chrome is the most popular browser used by transcriptionists. Apple’s Safari is also popular.
Can legal transcription jobs be done from home?
Today most legal transcriptionists work from the comfort and convenience of their home. In contrast, most court reporters still perform work in a courtroom or legal setting.
Although many circumstances still mandate court reporters to capture live conversations, other legal entities and law firms outsource to legal transcription companies that hire freelance transcriptionists skilled in working with legal projects.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic certainly realigned the U.S. workforce. For those accustomed to primarily working in an office environment, you’ll need to transition some communication skills to online platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Slack, or other audio and video messaging platforms.
How much does a legal transcriptionist earn?
Top-tier and experienced legal transcriptionists can earn in excess of $60,000 annually. Individual transcriptionists with the necessary skills and experience are in high demand.
Online job boards that track transcription pay report that the average legal transcriptionists salaries are around $34,000 annually. Keep in mind that most freelance transcriptionists are compensated by the line or minute. The more audio files you transcribe and the faster you transcribe them, the more money you make.
For many people interested in becoming legal transcriptionists, money is only part of the attraction. Equally important for others is creating their own schedule and work hours convenient to their personal schedule.