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What does a Legal Transcriptionist do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A legal transcriptionist, also known as a court reporter, documents testimony at court proceedings and meetings related to these proceedings. His transcription is typically required to accurately reflect the testimony of all persons. His job may be a staff position with a court or law firm, or he may contract his services with different courts and attorneys.

Most legal proceedings generally require a written record of every word that is spoken, along with a record of non-verbal gestures and physical reactions that may affect the meaning and impact of the spoken words. A legal transcriptionist provides this service. He commonly records transcripts of trials, depositions, hearings and meetings that relate to legal proceedings.

For many years, a legal transcriptionist was offered only one tool to perform his job. This stenographic recording machine, called a stenotype, has a small keyboard with keys that are coded to record phrases rather than letters. The codes are immediately translated into words that are transmitted into a computer. This enables the reporter to more quickly and accurately record the testimony. Some stenotype models enable the user to program specific words and phrases into them before each job for even higher speed and efficiency.

In the past few years, voice-writing equipment has been used by a number of legal transcriptionists. The reporter speaks into a recording device called a stenomask, inaudible to the court, and the words are transcribed onto a computer screen using voice recognition software. This method of transcription is accepted by a fewer number of courts and attorneys than the stenotype.

At the end of each proceeding, a legal transcriptionist is typically required to edit the record of the proceedings. He is generally expected to correct grammar, spelling and punctuation as well as syntax and style. When the document is free of errors, copies of it are customarily distributed to all involved parties, with one copy submitted to the court archives.

Success as a legal transcriptionist ordinarily requires excellent hearing, as well as a high level of manual dexterity. His ability to distinguish voices that are often overlapping is important. Attention to detail is a common requirement for this position. Being well organized is a common attribute of successful transcriptionists.

Colleges and technical institutes generally offer courses in legal transcription. Some court systems offer on-the-job training for the position. Online courses also are available. Jurisdictions in some regions require certification of training before hiring a legal transcriptionist.

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