How To Become a Legal Transcriptionist (Steps and Tips)
Updated July 16, 2023
If you're interested in a legal career, there are many job titles to consider. Those who are detail-oriented and talented at typing can succeed in a role as a legal transcriptionist. This role serves as an integral part of ensuring the permanence of and access to courtroom and legal recordings.
In this article, we explain what this career entails and share how to become a legal transcriptionist.
What is a legal transcriptionist?
A legal transcriptionist is someone who creates written records of important legal recordings. They use their listening and typing skills to produce written documents that legal experts can consult as needed. Someone in this role is solely responsible for creating typed versions of prerecorded materials. They may specialize in specific types of legal proceedings or work with a specific judge to transcribe all the cases in which they have involvement.
Legal transcriptionist vs. court reporter
Unlike court reporters, legal transcriptionists are not responsible for creating written records of live conversations, meaning they can take more time to produce well-written, error-free transcriptions. Court reporters work in courtrooms, taking notes that accurately describe the words each party speaks during the proceedings. This includes witnesses, attorneys and the judge. Legal transcriptionists may work with a court reporter to produce an accurate representation of court proceedings that combines both the live notes and the transcribed recorded conversations.
What do legal transcriptionists do?
A legal transcriptionist is responsible for the following tasks:
Listen to dictated recordings produced by legal employees, such as paralegals and attorneys.
Transcribe recordings, including video and audio recordings, into a variety of legal documents that contain pleadings, correspondence, motions, time entries, legal memorandums, interrogations, agreements and discovery.
Create error-free documents that other people can later reference.
Use headsets and computer software to listen and produce transcriptions.
Meet with lawyers and paralegals to receive dictation that they wish to present in court.
What is the average salary and job outlook for a legal transcriptionist?
The national average salary for a transcriptionist is $47,842 per year. The salary you can make in this role may vary based on your geographical location, level of experience, employer and skill set. Common benefits for someone in this role include work-from-home opportunities, a flexible schedule, health insurance, paid time off and professional development assistance. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.
While the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have a specific report on legal transcriptionists, it does report a job outlook of 1% for court reporters and simultaneous captioners, who perform similar tasks as that of a legal transcriptionist. While growth may be minimal, it still expects about 2,000 openings for these professions each year due to the need of replacing those leaving the workforce for retirement or other occupations.
Legal transcriptionist skills
Those wanting to pursue legal transcription jobs can benefit from developing these skills:
Attention to detail: You have the important job of creating legal documents. Your attention to detail can help you ensure they're free of any errors.
Computer skills: When working as a legal transcriptionist, you can expect to use the computer for most of your tasks. Those in this role use word processors, billing software and spreadsheets.
Knowledge of legal terminology: This role involves taking the words of attorneys and paralegals and turning them into written documents. Having this background knowledge ensures you're correctly labeling your transcriptions and using the correct words.
Language skills: You may have a solid knowledge of English spelling, grammar and syntax to do well in this role.
Listening: Much of this role involves listening to recordings. It's essential to decipher every word the person in the recording is saying.
Time management: You can meet important deadlines when working in this role. Successful legal transcriptionists know how to prioritize their work to ensure people can access documents in time for court.
Typing: Since most of your day involves transcribing recordings, it's important to be a fast and efficient typist. Those in this role may aim for 85 words per minute, free from any errors.
How to become a legal transcriptionist
Follow these steps to become a legal transcriptionist:
1. Earn a degree
When applying for an entry-level legal transcriptionist job, you typically have a high school diploma and experience in a legal or office setting. If you want to increase your chances of getting a legal transcriptionist role, you can pursue additional education through a community college, technical school or vocational school.
These programs can open you up to more job opportunities and teach you the skills you use to succeed in this role. You may learn about court reporting theory, word processing, editing for transcription and legal dictionary building. Those wishing to pursue this career may want to consider completing one of these legal transcriptionist programs or earning their Associate Degree in Legal Transcription Technology.
Related: 22 Degrees in Writing
2. Develop your skills
When preparing for this career, you can work on your listening and typing skills. Practice listening to recordings and transcribing what you hear. Get used to typing without looking at your keyboard. The faster you can type without making any errors, the more qualified you're going to be for this role. Time yourself to see how many words you can transcribe in one minute. This might be a good skill to include on your resume.
3. Get a certificate
Along with earning your degree, you can set yourself apart from other candidates by becoming a certified legal transcriptionist. Though it's not a requirement for the role, you can earn a Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET) designation from the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT).
To earn this AAERT certification, you pass a knowledge test that involves multiple-choice questions. These questions cover formatting, proofreading, court procedures and practices and vocabulary. Afterward, you pass a practical portion that requires you to create a 10 to 15-page transcription of a recorded proceeding.
Related: 19 High-Paying Transcription Jobs
4. Receive on-the-job training
Most people in this field start with an entry-level legal transcriptionist role. This is where you can receive the majority of your training for this job. Most often, an officer manager, paralegal or attorney is responsible for your training. Make sure to take notes and ask thoughtful questions to learn the skills you knowledge you need for this role.
Related: What Is On-the-Job Training?
5. Continue your education
If you want to keep your CET designation valid, you renew it every three years. Keeping your certification involves remaining in good standing of AAERT and completing three continuing-education credits. Keeping up with this certification can help you pursue more advanced roles as you continue your career.
How long does it take to become a legal transcriptionist?
The total time to become a legal transcriptionist can vary depending on your circumstances and your chosen path of education or training. It can take several months to a year to work on and develop the necessary skills and knowledge for this role. This includes learning legal terminology, gaining certifications, developing typing and listening skills and becoming proficient in transcription software. If you decide to pursue a degree first, it may take up to five years to prepare for this job.
What are some similar roles to a legal transcriptionist?
There are several roles that may have similar tasks as a legal transcriptionist, such as:
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