Legal transcriptionists provide a service that enables the legal system to function more smoothly and efficiently. For those with their sites set on this career path, developing competitive qualifications is important. This can include work experience as well as education that leads to a degree, certification or career diploma.
Working as a legal transcriptionist is a respectable and stable career choice in its own right. Many also pursue this line of work to gain experience in the legal system and eventually work as legal assistants, paralegals, and lawyers. Whatever the case, making an initial investment in legal transcriptionist training can lay the foundation for a long and successful career.
In fact, these two current US Supreme Court Justices started their legal careers on the ground floor by investing in education.
Chief Justice Sonya Sotomayor – Although she knew that she wanted to go into the field of law since watching Perry Mason as a ten-year-old, Sotomayor started out as a teenager working in retail and at a hospital. Realizing that earning an education was her best chance at achieving her goal, she decided to study hard and apply to college after graduating from high school. Once in college she found her path to working in the legal profession, and after entering law school landed her first summer job in the field with a New York law firm.
Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – At 60 years of age when she assumed office, Justice Ginsburg had a long career before reaching the top position in the nation’s judiciary branch. She began her first serious job when she was 21 working at the Social Security office in Oklahoma. Finding that she wanted more in her career, she decided to pursue a career in law and began an education geared towards legal support work.
Whether you are aiming to eventually achieve a top legal position, or looking to begin a respectable and stable long-term career as a legal transcriptionist, your journey starts with a relevant education in the field of law.
Legal Transcriptionist Job Description
As the name suggests, one of the main functions of a legal transcriptionist is to transfer audio recordings into written documents. Transcriptions are made from court proceedings, dictated notes, recorded depositions, and many other sources of legal record. Legal transcriptionists can use standard computers and computer programs to type out transcribed documents, and some may also use specialized transcription machines. Legal transcriptionists are a separate class of professional from court reporters and stenographers.
Legal transcriptionists may also perform a range of many other important functions that overlap with other types of legal assistant professions, including:
- Preparing legal documents through revision and proofreading
- Drafting legal documents such as pleadings and discovery
- Revising previously created transcriptions as needed
- Preparing legal documents and paperwork for filing
Take the June 2016 job advertisement for a legal transcriptionist placed by Montana’s state court in Bozeman as an example. Duties include:
- Operating state-of-the-art recording equipment to make an official court record
- Attending court proceedings
- Producing transcripts as requested by court parties
- Applying an understanding of court procedures
- Applying experience in clerical work
Earning Legal Transcriptionist Certification
Many employers in the legal field prefer applicants that hold a legal transcriptionist certification, often referred to as a “career diploma.” Others specify that certification is a requirement. What is certain is that having this credential can help you to distinguish yourself among the competition and reach more advanced positions.
It can also serve as a springboard into an advanced education. Academic credits earned as part of nationally or regionally accredited certification programs may transfer to other colleges and universities should you decide to eventually pursue a degree in the legal field. Conversely, if you already have a degree or college credits those may transfer to fulfill some of the requirements for an accredited legal transcriptionist certification.
As more professionals look to earn legal transcriptionist certification, more colleges and universities are offering these types of programs. Admission requirements usually start with a high school diploma or GED equivalent. To accommodate an increase in demand as well as students’ busy schedules, many schools have made these legal transcriptionist certification programs available online. These can be completed in as few as five months for full-time students.
Topics covered in a legal transcriptionist certification program can include:
- Understanding legal terminology
- Drafting legal documents
- Preparing discovery, pleadings, and appellate documents
- Using computers and libraries to conduct legal research
- Using software as a legal transcriptionist, including Microsoft Word and Excel
- English and legal terms in business
- Ethics, including attorney-client privilege
- Legal writing and research
- Stress and time management techniques
Salaries for Legal Transcriptionists
The US Department of Labor provides promising statistics for legal support professionals, including legal transcriptionists. The following salary figures represent the averages for legal support professionals in several top paying states as of 2015 (these numbers exclude paralegals, legal assistants, court reporters, title examiners, title abstractors, and title searchers, all of whom have their own specific statistics):
- Delaware – $67,130
- Washington DC – $70,940
- Average salary in Oklahoma – $78,030
- Average salary in Maryland – $78,940
- Average salary in Virginia – $101,660
Nationally, this classification of legal support professionals earned salaries with the range of $64,530 (national average) and $122,560 (national average for those earning salaries in the top ten percent).
Records from the US Department of Labor show that the average salary for those working in legal support professions has increased by nearly $4,500 over the past five years.
Legal Transcriptionist Career Opportunities
As a legal transcriptionist you can look for employers in potentially any field in the legal services industry. Prominent employers of legal transcriptionists include all branches of government, schools and universities, as well as management branches of companies. In addition to the field of law, legal transcriptionists play an integral role in important sectors of the economy including real estate, finance, insurance, and government.
The US Department of Labor projects that jobs for those working in the legal services field will increase by five percent between 2014 and 2024. All signs indicate that the current and future job prospects for legal transcriptionists are promising.
There are three primary ways you can stand out as an attractive candidate for a legal transcriptionist job:
- Have proven and relevant skills, as demonstrated through a professional legal transcriptionist certification or other related credential
- Have a college degree in a relevant field
- Have years of relevant work experience and letters of recommendation to back this up
Each employer sets their own qualification requirements, but a look at some job descriptions provides some insight into what they are generally looking for. The following job advertisements are taken from a nationwide survey conducted in June, 2016. These job listings are provided as illustrative examples only and do not represent actual job offers.
- Legal transcriptionist – the Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan is seeking a legal transcriptionist to serve as the manager and official record keeper of all Tribal Court records. Duties include reviewing documents, pleadings, and other official court documents, as well as arranging for the delivery of legal correspondence to clients. Applicants must have at least an associate’s degree, preferably one that includes a curriculum in the legal or business fields.
- Legal transcriptionist – Montana’s state court in Bozeman is looking for a court transcriptionist to maintain the official court record using recording equipment, as well as assisting with clerical and bailiff duties. Applicants are required to have completed coursework that relates to the legal services field, three years of prior related work experience, and an understanding of how court procedures work.
- Transcriptionist – Allegis Transcription is in the business of providing transcription services to large property and casualty insurance companies. It is seeking a top tier transcriptionist to work with recorded interviews conducted between insurance adjusters and their clients. Ideal candidates have experience with legal transcription or similar work in insurance, and can type at least 75 words per minute. Applicants must have at least two years of transcription experience.
- Freelance transcriptionist – Transhiva is seeking a transcriptionist to work from home in fields that include legal, medical, business, and insurance. Applicants must be able to type 60 words per minute, have at least one year of related experience, and be familiar with Microsoft Word and Excel.