Transcribing legal documents and audio court files is an excellent way to earn money working from home.
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.
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 essential and will make transcribing legal documents much more manageable. 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. Furthermore, with technology’s relentless march forward, virtual court hearings have become also popular.
Speed And Accuracy Are Critical
Speed is critical for court reporters since they don’t have the luxury of stopping or asking the judge, attorney or witnesses to repeat themselves.
Each state develops its 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 are certified court reporters who work as freelancers or establish their businesses.
Legal transcriptionists will transcribe audio files of verbal conversations. Given the importance of details in legal proceedings, almost all are verbatim transcripts. It 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, familiarity with the legal system and excellent transcription skills are essential.
Read more: How to Order a Court Transcript
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.
You’re off to a great start if you already have immediate to advanced typing skills. Experienced transcriptionists type more than 75 words per minute (wpm) without any, or very few, errors.
There are online training programs for transcriptionists. Most programs take between 5 and 12 months to complete and cover transcription skills and knowledge of legal proceedings and procedures. However, you can apply to transcription companies if you already have typing skills. 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 vital to 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 sitting 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 rewarding.
Understanding legal words and jargon are vital. As a result, we recommend having access to a legal dictionary. 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, which 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. For starters, you’ll need a desktop or laptop computer with enough speed and storage to send and receive large files. A computer less than five years old is best.
The availability of a high-speed internet network is also vital. We prefer download speeds of at least 10mpbs. I highly recommend download speeds of 100mpbs or more if available and affordable. That said, speed and internet access and speed for transcription. Yet, they are factors when receiving and sending one gigabyte or larger files.
Our experience shows 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 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 are 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 work in a courtroom or legal setting, although that has temporarily changed due to virtual court hearings.
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. See more about finding the best transcription jobs here.
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 more than $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 transcriptionist’s salaries is around $34,000 annually. Remember 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.
Money is only part of the attraction for many people interested in becoming legal transcriptionists. Equally crucial for others is creating their schedule and work hours convenient to their schedule.