Legal Transcription Career Info, Duties and Employment Options

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a legal transcriptionist. Get a quick overview of the requirements - including degree programs, certification and job duties - to find out if a career in legal transcription is right for you.

Legal transcriptionists use voice writing, stenographic recording, real-time court recording, and electronic reporting to record testimonies, speeches and interrogations in a courtroom. It takes just over two years to become an accomplished reporter. Certifications, state certification, or licensing may be required, depending on the state.

Essential Information

Legal transcriptionists, also known as court reporters, create written transcriptions of verbal testimony, speeches, meetings, interrogatories, depositions, pleadings and other proceedings or events. Depending on the custom of the jurisdiction, court reporters may be required to be sworn in as officers of the court or as notaries. Court reporters often attend community college before receiving state certification or licensing.

Required Education Postsecondary non-degree award
Other Requirements Licensure or certification required in many states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 2%
Average Salary (2015)* $49,500

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Legal Transcription Career Information

Since legal transcriptionists are responsible for creating official written records of oral court proceedings, their role is vital to the justice system. Because accuracy of these word-for-word renditions is of prime importance, some jurisdictions require a legal transcriptionist to be sworn in as an officer of the court or notary public. The four methods of court reporting include stenographic reporting, real-time court reporting, electronic reporting and voice writing.

Training time to become a court reporter varies. It takes about a year to become a novice voice writer, two years to become an accomplished real-time voice writer and 33 months, on the average, to become a real-time stenographic reporter. Most states require that voice writers be licensed by passing a state examination or one administered by the National Verbatim Reporters Association. State certification examinations lead to a certified court reporter (CCR) designation. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) administers different examinations that lead to various certifications, which are accepted in many states in lieu of individual state certification.

Job Duties

The basic duty of all court reporters is the creation of verbatim transcripts of legal proceedings, including trial and pretrial activities. Stenographic reporters must be expert in the use of a stenotype machine. This machine has keys, which when used in various combinations, prints symbols that represent words and phrases much like shorthand. Real-time court reporters also use a stenotype machine that is connected to a computer, which instantly translates and displays the complete text on a screen. Electronic reporters use recording equipment, augmented by note taking, which they later review and put down in writing. Also using recording equipment, voice writers repeat testimony in real time into a shielded microphone, which they later transcribe to paper.

Reporters using stenotype machines must create a dictionary of key combinations before each session. All transcriptionists create a safe and accessible filing procedure for all audio and written transcripts. In many cases, transcriptionists assist judges and attorneys in organizing and searching for pertinent materials.

Employment Options

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), court reporter occupations were expected to increase 2 percent from 2014 until 2024. In addition to local, state and federal courts, court reporters find employment with independent legal transcription service firms. Some law firms retain legal transcriptionists on staff or utilize freelancers on a case-by-case basis.

Careers in television and in the classroom are available for closed caption reporters and those skilled in Communications Access Real-time Translation (CART). Closed-caption and CART provide access to the spoken word to the hearing-impaired. Legislatures, city councils, corporations, banks and insurance companies regularly use the services of certified legal transcriptionists. With experience and some additional training, transcriptionists often assume the duties of legal assistants or paralegals.

Court reporters are an incredibly important part of the justice system since they record all the happenings that occur within the court room. There are specialties available for court reporters, such as learning to do closed-caption transcriptions, providing the hearing impaired access to courtroom proceedings.


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