Transcription is the process of recording the spoken word as written word. While it may seem to be a straightforward skill, transcription is a versatile ability that can be applied to a wide range of career paths. This includes secretarial work, medical transcription, court reporting or legal transcription — to name a few. There is often some confusion concerning these last two professions: court reporting and legal transcription. The titles seem nearly identical, but a court reporter and a legal transcriptionist differ widely in terms of duties and educational requirements.

Court Reporter

A court reporter types a verbatim report of all proceedings in a court of law. This means that the court reporter is creating a transcription of everything that happens in real time. He or she will typically use a stenotype or voice writing equipment to record everything that everyone is saying, as they say it. This includes the judge, the jurors, the clerk, the bailiff, the plaintiff, the defendant, the attorneys and all the various witnesses involved. Additionally, in many states, court reporters are also required to be notary publics in order to administer oaths to the witnesses and certify their transcripts of the proceedings.

Unlike general transcription, court reporters must transcribe in real time rather than working from a prior recording. Because of this, court reporters cannot stop and rewind when speech is quick or unclear in any way. They do not have the luxury of time.

Court reporting demands a specific and impressive skill set and, therefore, equivalent training and certification. Different states have different requirements for court reporters. Generally, court reporters must receive a 2-4 year degree at an institution that is approved by the National Court Reporters Association. This education strongly emphasizes legal terminology and procedure, legal research, English grammar, business law and medical vocabulary. Court reporters must also pass certain competencies and complete continued education courses to obtain and maintain certification. The greater educational and professional demands of court reporting are typically reflected in a court reporters’ salary.

Legal Transcriptionist

A legal transcriptionist takes previously recorded legal information and types a verbatim report from those recordings. Transcriptionists may use a transcription machine to work with a variety of digital files. Legal transcriptionists do not typically work in a courtroom. They may freelance or work in-house for a transcription company, law firm, government agency or corporation. They typically transcribe previously recorded depositions, hearings, witness interviews, 911 calls, dictation and legal documents.

Legal transcriptionists work from previously recorded documentation, so their work is in many ways less demanding than that of court reporters. They can stop and rewind unclear recordings over and over again to be sure of a verbatim transcription. They do not transcribe in real time during courtroom proceedings.

Because legal transcription is typically less demanding, the educational requirements to become a transcriptionist are also less demanding. In most states, there is no formal degree or certification requirement for legal transcription. Some states call for a one-year certification course. Individuals pursuing a career in legal transcription may choose to pursue a degree in criminal justice or legal or paralegal studies, but it is not required.

While both fall under the umbrella of transcription, court reporting and legal transcription differ hugely. It’s important to understand the differences between the two, particularly when considering a career in the field. Court reporting is more specialized and requires a more demanding education, while legal transcription is much lower pressure. Both court reporters and legal transcriptionist however, are skilled professionals pursuing important careers.

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