Becoming a Legal Transcriptionist: A Step-by-Step Guide - Daily Transcription Academy
  • April 2024
    M T W T F S S
  • April 2024
    M T W T F S S

Becoming a Legal Transcriptionist: A Step-by-Step Guide

Consider adding legal transcription to your list of potential career choices if you’re seeking flexible remote work that offers diversity and attractive compensation, all while requiring expedited training.

Transcriptionists hold a crucial position in the legal field, converting spoken language into text documents utilized for various purposes, including legal proceedings, evidence submission, transcriptions of meetings, and more. In this article, we will delve into the steps to becoming a legal transcriptionist and explore the benefits this profession has in store for you.

What Is Legal Transcription?

Transcription involves the process of converting spoken language, whether it’s in real-time or from recorded sources, into written text.

The origin of transcription services for legal purposes dates back to ancient civilizations like China and Greece, where the necessity of preserving a permanent record of legal proceedings was recognized. They devised shorthand techniques to enable scribes to transcribe spoken words as they were uttered swiftly.

In contemporary times, transcription has evolved beyond live shorthand capture. Instead, it relies on audio or video recordings that can be paused and played back while transcribers transcribe the spoken content.

Furthermore, transcription services extend beyond the legal field and find application in various industries, including:

  • Medical
  • Academic
  • Real estate
  • Energy
  • Finance and banking
  • Insurance

These industries commonly employ transcription to document and manage their spoken content.

Verbatim Transcription

In all these settings, precision holds significant value, but legal transcription places a paramount emphasis on crafting an impeccable record that encompasses every spoken word and sound. Consequently, a legal transcript typically contains:

  • Stuttering
  • False starts, interruptions, and incomplete sentences
  • Coughs, laughter, or crying
  • Relevant background noises

The primary objective is to produce a verbatim transcript that faithfully represents every utterance and noise. However, the final document may also include a note indicating when something was unintelligible. Legal transcriptionists, as they work with recordings rather than attending live events, cannot request speakers to clarify their statements for more precise transcription.

Substance Found Within Legal Transcriptions

It’s not solely about courtroom theatrics. A legal transcription can encompass the documentation of the following:

  • Trials, arraignments, sentencings, and various courtroom events.
  • Official memoranda and written correspondence.
  • Depositions.
  • Emergency or 911 calls.
  • Interrogations.
  • Formal business or organizational meetings conducted under established bylaws.

What is the Role of a Legal Transcriptionist?

A legal transcriptionist might complete one or more court transcripts or similar tasks during a typical workday, depending on their typing speed. Upon accepting a legal transcription assignment, they typically follow these steps:

  • Receive the audio file.
  • Prepare a template tailored to the specific type of proceeding or content.
  • Open the file in transcription software linked to their equipment.
  • Listen to the recording using a foot pedal to control playback, pause, and rewind as necessary.
  • Type every spoken word and any non-verbal sound to create an exact transcript.
  • Review punctuation and perform a spelling and grammar check.
  • Transmit the completed file to the client or collaborating partner.

Responsibilities of a Legal Transcriptionist

In contrast to a court reporter, legal transcriptionists primarily rely on audio and video recordings to produce written records. Nevertheless, their roles and responsibilities may encompass:

  1. Proofreading and organizing.
  2. Reviewing and editing transcripts.
  3. Transcribing dictation for recording notes, plans, or memoirs, depending on the job or assignment.

The Flexibility of Work for Legal Transcriptionists

Most legal transcriptionists are independent contractors or collaborate with general transcription or court reporting agencies. Consequently, they have the autonomy to determine:

  • The assignments they choose to take on.
  • Their working hours and break schedules.
  • The level of income they can earn.

How to Pursue a Career as a Legal Transcriptionist

While some legal transcriptionists begin their careers as trained stenographers, it is feasible for newcomers to enter the field. You can embark on a legal transcription career with only a high school diploma and on-the-job training, but pursuing formal training and certification can lead to higher pay and a broader array of job opportunities.

Step 1: Cultivate Your Abilities

Do you possess the qualities suitable for a legal transcription job? Valuable skills and attributes include:

  1. Proficiency in fast and accurate typing, ideally at a rate of at least 75 words per minute, with minimal errors.
  2. Capacity to work independently and adhere to deadlines.
  3. Exceptional attention to detail.
  4. Firm grasp of spelling, grammar, and syntax.
  5. Excellent auditory and listening abilities.

Enhancing your skill set can pave the way for a legal transcription career and increase your earning potential as a legal professional and transcriptionist in the legal domain. To achieve this, you can:

  1. Practice typing to boost both speed and accuracy.
  2. Listen to recordings and practice transcribing them to enhance your listening comprehension.
  3. Enroll in courses related to project management, time management, or proofreading.
  4. Review completed verbatim transcripts to familiarize yourself with formatting conventions.

Step 2: Fulfill the Required Training

Legal transcriptionists exhibit a diverse array of skills and educational backgrounds. If your circumstances permit learning on the job, you only require a high school diploma, basic computer proficiency, and some prior office or administrative experience to initiate your journey.

However, while there is no strict necessity for a specific degree or certificate program, comprehensive legal transcription training can provide you with the essential tools to enter the profession. These training programs typically:

  1. Range in cost from $99 to $5,000.
  2. Generally, it takes between three to six months to complete.
  3. It can be obtained through vocational schools, community colleges, or online providers.

Training for legal transcriptionist roles typically encompasses the following:

  • Fundamentals of the legal system.
  • Ethical considerations.
  • Exploring career options.
  • Utilizing transcription software and equipment.
  • Acquiring knowledge of legal terminology, abbreviations, and style conventions.
  • Learning transcript formatting and templates.
  • Developing strategies for faster and more accurate typing.
  • Refining proofreading and research skills.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

Earning certification can elevate your resume and advance your career to a higher professional standard. Let’s explore the process of becoming a certified legal transcriptionist.

The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) is the certifying body for legal transcriptionists. To attain certification, you’ll need to pass the Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET) exam, including a written multiple-choice test and a practical assessment.

Following certification, you must fulfill three continuing education credits and renew your CET designation with AAERT every three years to ensure its validity.

Certain agencies, court systems, and government contracts may mandate AAERT certification, making certification a prudent step if you are genuinely committed to pursuing a career in legal transcription.

Establishing Your Workspace for Legal Transcription

When working independently, instead of having your employer furnish the necessary tools, you must invest in transcription equipment for your home workspace. This investment can range from $200 to $1,000 and may involve acquiring items like:

  1. A USB foot pedal featuring play, rewind, and fast-forward controls.
  2. One or more software programs for audio playback synchronized with the foot pedal.
  3. Specialized transcription headphones.
  4. Microsoft Word or an equivalent word processing software.

Additionally, you will likely find it beneficial to have:

  1. A relatively up-to-date computer with sufficient storage capacity.
  2. A high-speed internet connection.
  3. An ergonomic desk, chair, and keyboard for comfortable and efficient working conditions.

Income Prospects for Legal Transcribers

As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an anticipated 9% growth in most types of legal transcription jobs over the next decade, which is nearly double the overall job growth rate.

Since a significant portion of legal transcriptionists operate independently, government data may underestimate the earning potential for motivated high-speed transcriptionists. On average, legal transcriptionists earn:

  • A national average of $66,710.
  • $43,730 for those in the early stages of their careers.
  • $109,240 for experienced professionals.

Progressing in Your Legal Transcriptionist Career

Freelancers typically receive compensation based on their output rather than hours worked. Factors such as typing speed, listening, and comprehension abilities, as well as familiarity with processes, templates, and industry terminology, can all influence your earning potential.

While skill improvement often occurs over time, you can also dedicate time or enroll in courses to enhance your typing speed and overall competency.

Other strategies to progress in a legal transcriptionist career involve:

  • Expanding your professional network and gathering online testimonials.
  • Marketing yourself through platforms like LinkedIn or by creating a professional website.
  • Collaborating with agencies that offer abundant opportunities and support for workers in the field.

Alternative Positions for Legal Transcribers

Legal transcription can serve as a starting point for a career transition or provide a flexible side hustle alongside another profession. It often intersects with various roles, including:

  • Court reporters
  • Stenographers, voice writers, and real-time transcriptionists
  • Paralegals, legal assistants, secretaries, and administrative professionals

What distinguishes legal transcription, primarily when pursued as a dedicated role, is the independence, adaptability, and relaxed working environment it offers. As an independent contractor, you can efficiently work from home and choose assignments that align with your schedule and preferences.

How Does a Legal Transcriptionist Differ from a Stenographer?

Many legal transcriptionists today also possess training as stenographers, a field that necessitates completion of an associate’s degree program in stenography or a court reporting program.

Stenographers integrate transcription within their workflow, commencing with capturing spoken words during live proceedings through shorthand recorded on a stenograph machine. Subsequently, the stenotype input is transformed into written text using computer-aided transcription (CAT) software, followed by a thorough review for accuracy before the delivery of the official transcript.

In contrast, legal transcriptionists do not need to master shorthand, operate a stenograph machine, or engage in live legal proceedings. Their typical mode of operation involves transcribing from audio recordings.


  1. Indeed. How To Become a Legal Transcriptionist.
  2. ed2go. Legal Transcriptionist.
  3. Legal Transcriptionist: What it is & How to Become One.
  4. Learn Legal Transcription. How Much Does it Cost to Become a Legal Transcriber?