What is Legal Transcription? - Confused Woman wondering

Transcription work is extremely varied and is used within a range of different sectors and environments. The work is always in high demand and is popular amongst freelancers, largely due to the fact that it lends itself extremely well to remote and flexible working. Freelance transcribers are able to set their own working hours, take on transcription jobs that suit them, and tailor their careers to fit in with their lifestyles.

Legal transcription, in particular, is consistently in high demand and is typically much more lucrative than general transcription work, given the range of specific skills that are required of legal transcribers.

If you’re wondering “What is legal transcription?“, we’ll answer all of your questions in this article. We are going to talk you through everything you need to know to get started on your legal transcription career path, starting with the basics…

What is Legal Transcription?

Legal transcription is the broad term for the transference of any legal document from audio to textual format. The audio files that are typically transcribed within legal transcription include legal meetings, conference calls, witness or defendant interviews, 911 calls, wiretaps, court hearings, depositions, and jury instructions.

A legal transcriber differs from a court reporter in that a court reporter is typically present within the court, producing a verbatim transcript of everything that is said or done within the courtroom in real-time. A legal transcriber, on the other hand, will usually work with pre-recorded audio files and can cover legal proceedings outside of the courtroom.

In most cases, legal transcribers work on a freelance basis, completing jobs for external clients or partners, although some companies or organizations do employ long-term transcribers to work for them.

The client or employer will provide the transcriber with the video or audio file to be transcribed. Usually, within the legal field, clients will ask for verbatim transcripts, which means that all sounds are transcribed, even those that are not believed to be relevant to the main content of the audio file. Background noises, interjections, pauses, and anything else that can be heard within the audio file should be included in this type of transcript.

In some cases, the client or employer may ask for a different type of transcript such as edited or intelligent, so the transcriber will need to have varied skills and be flexible in their formatting and approach.

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One of the most common questions that comes after “What is legal transcription?” is “Is legal transcription in high demand?” The answer is “yes”.

It’s a common misconception that transcription is a dying industry. While it’s true that we have the facilities available to us now to produce automated transcripts using computer technology, within most industries, clients and employers still prefer to work with a real-life, skilled transcriptionist. This is because of the added reliability this provides and the opportunities for transcripts to be formatted in specific ways that meet the needs of the client.

This is especially true within legal transcription because these transcripts are likely to be used in high-stake settings, contributing to the enforcement of the law and having potentially serious implications in legal cases.

Legal transcription is a highly skilled profession and requires specific knowledge and expertise, so this work is in high demand and legal transcribers are able to find consistent work, particularly if they are able to complete their work quickly and to an excellent standard.

Transcription of any kind requires excellent typing skills. Most transcribers will have a typing speed of around 70 to 80 words per minute, but the higher your typing speed, the better.

Related: Free Online Typing Tests to Improve Your Typing Speed

Aside from this, a legal transcriber will need to have good computer skills and be proficient in using certain software programs and word processors. Organization and time management skills are also important given that much of the work will be deadline-based and may require the transcriber to complete multiple tasks at once.

Extremely high attention to detail and excellent listening skills are also required. A transcript that contains errors or inaccuracies could seriously impact legal proceedings, so legal transcribers need to consistently produce work that is extremely precise.

A legal transcriber also needs to have a good understanding of legal systems and procedures so that they can produce clear and cohesive transcripts which clearly convey what is being said within the audio file.

As well as this, legal transcribers are also often required to sign confidentiality documents. This is because a lot of the documents or files a legal transcriber handles are likely to contain highly sensitive and classified information and clients or companies need to ensure that there will be no misconduct or mishandling of data.

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The potential earnings of a legal transcriptionist will depend on how much experience or training they have, the company or client they are working for, and the kind of documents that they are transcribing. Your earnings will also fluctuate greatly depending on whether you are employed by a company or are working on a freelance basis.

In most cases, a freelance legal transcriptionist will be paid per audio minute. It takes the average transcriber roughly four minutes to transcribe one minute of audio, so fifteen minutes of audio should equate to somewhere around an hour’s worth of work. The average national minimum wage in the US is $7.25, which means you should be looking at a minimum rate of around $0.45 to $0.50 per audio minute, although lots of legal transcribers earn considerably more than this.

As with any transcription job, there is significant room for fluctuation when it comes to earnings and salary. If you’re working with particularly complex documents or audio files with poor quality, your rates will need to be higher to account for the additional time these are likely to take. If you have extensive expertise proven through experience or formal training you can also charge higher rates.

For legal transcribers in full-time employment, the average national salary is $34,209, with top-earners taking around $44,000, according to Zip Recruiter.

So, now that you know the basics about legal transcription, you might be wondering how to go about embarking upon this as your new career path or side hustle. We’re going to talk you through the three key steps that you should take to get started as a legal transcriptionist.

Step 1: Training and Qualifications

With most general transcription jobs, you can get started without undertaking any professional training or formal qualifications, which is why transcription is such a great side hustle or career choice for lots of people. However, if you are looking to embark upon a career in legal transcription, specifically, you will need to prove to clients or employers that you have the knowledge, expertise, and credentials necessary to carry out this work accurately and efficiently.

This is because of the high level of skill that this kind of work requires. As we have detailed above, legal transcription calls upon a specific skill set and requires extremely high levels of accuracy, sensitivity, and professionalism, which is why employers and clients need to see visible proof that you are a good candidate.

Training courses are a great way of gaining and developing the skills needed to carry out this kind of work and the qualifications or accreditation awarded after completing these courses will prove to potential clients that you are competent, skilled, and have expert knowledge in legal transcription.

There is a huge range of online training courses specifically designed for those looking to get into legal transcription and many of these are extremely affordable.

You can also carry out some basic skill development exercises such as taking regular typing tests to improve your accuracy and efficiency and researching common legal procedures and terminology to help with your overall understanding of the documents you are likely to be working with.

Gaining experience as a beginner legal transcriber can be tricky, but it becomes much easier if you have some basic training under your belt beforehand.

Step 2: Invest in Your Equipment

Investing in some basic transcription equipment will seriously improve your efficiency when carrying out your legal transcription work. A foot pedal and headset will make listening to and navigating through audio files much easier and more time-effective.

There is no need to break the bank, affordable options can be found online and it’s always best to start out with more basic, cost-effective tools until you are sure that a career in legal transcription is for you and you have had the time to figure out how you like to work and the specific equipment that is likely to maximize your efficiency.

As a freelance transcriber, you will also need access to a laptop or computer and a high-speed, reliable internet connection.

Step 3: Finding Clients or Employers

Now that you have completed some initial training, invested in the necessary equipment, and feel confident enough to get started on your legal transcription journey, it’s time to find some work.

Like we have said, most legal transcribers work on a freelance basis, taking on jobs from external clients and carrying out predominantly project or task-based work.

Finding clients as a legal transcriber is extremely straightforward. There is a huge range of online platforms designed specifically to enable freelance transcriptionists to network and connect with potential clients. Examples include TranscribeMe, Transcript Divas, Rev, and Way With Words. Clients will advertise available jobs or projects on these sites and freelancers can then submit proposals or bids in order to secure the job.

Lots of transcription jobs are listed as entry-level. These jobs may come with lower rates of pay, but they offer a good way of gaining some experience and building your portfolio before moving onto the more intermediate or expert-level jobs.

If freelancing is not for you, look out for legal transcription jobs on your local job listing sites or news forums. Legal transcription is in high demand, as we have noted, so new jobs are popping up all the time.

The information provided in this article should provide you with everything you need to understand what a legal transcriber does and to decide whether legal transcription sounds like a good career path for you.

The high level of skill and expertise required of legal transcribers means that they are able to ask for higher rates of pay than those working in the general transcription field and the job lends itself extremely well to remote, flexible working.

If you are looking for a new side hustle or a new career to fit in with your lifestyle and other commitments, and you’re willing to put in the work to gain the experience and knowledge necessary to do this job, legal transcription could be a great option for you. 

So, to answer the question “What is legal transcription?”, maybe it’s your next career.

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