Becoming a court transcriptionist can be an exciting, rewarding career path for many individuals looking to make a difference in the legal system. Court transcriptionists attend legal meetings, court hearings, and other legal events to create written documentation of what participants say.
Today, we’re going over everything you need to know about how to become a court transcriptionist, along with court transcriptionists job details, like salary, job requirements, and much more.
What does a court transcriptionist do?
A court transcriptionist is responsible for typing accurate verbatim records live while attending court hearings, legal meetings, or other court events. A court transcriptionist must be a fast typist and have a strong understanding of legal terminology to make accurate records.
They will also need to create accurate records of what was said so that lawyers and other professionals can reference these records later when building cases. Some court transcriptionists may also be tasked with noting any physical gestures that witness or legal parties made while speaking so that the mood and intent of what was said are represented well.
Court Transcription vs. General Transcription
A beginner transcriptionist can create general transcriptions with a good ear, strong typing skills, and a basic understanding of how to transcribe audio recordings accurately. On the other hand, court transcriptionists are specially trained individuals with incredible legal and court terminology knowledge. Court transcriptionists are also required to have more precise and faster typing skills. Many court transcriptionist jobs require a typing speed of over 200 WPM, which is possible using a specialty tool called a stenograph.
General transcription jobs will be on various topics, such as insurance, entertainment, YouTube transcriptions, and more. In contrast, court transcription jobs focus on the legal system and witness reports.
What You Need to Know About Working as a Court Transcriptionist
According to the Best Accredited Colleges, the median salary for court transcriptionists in 2019 was $60,130. Of course, this number will vary based on where you live, your experience, where you work, and if you specialize in a particular legal field.
Most entry-level court transcriptionist positions will require some education, which may include college classes in legal studies or English. Other jobs may require transcription or typing certificates. Depending on the state and legal area, you may also need to be licensed by a professional or continue earning education credits to stay current on laws and legal terminology.
The most basic duty of a court transcriptionist is creating accurate, complete, and secure transcripts of legal meetings and courtroom hearings. These transcripts must be created as a verbatim record of the proceedings. Some court transcriptionists are also tasked with recording gestures made by the witness or speaker.
Other job duties may include asking a witness to clarify or repeat what they said, reviewing your transcripts later to ensure accuracy, making copies of the transcript for the court, and even reading the transcript aloud at the judge’s request.
The Best Accredited Colleges reports a positive job growth of 9% from 2019 to 2019 for court transcriptionists, indicating a bright future for anyone looking into this field.
How to become a court transcriptionist?
Court transcriptionists usually need to complete a court transcriptionist training program to be considered for this job. After this, they may work as a “novice” and use a voice recorder for around a year while they build up their skill and typing speed and accuracy.
However, using a voice recorder in the long-term will be detrimental to a court transcriptionist’s career and available opportunities because many courts do not allow voice recording technology or transcriptions made from recordings. So, it’s important to quickly build up fast and accurate typing skills so that you don’t need to rely on an audio recorder anymore.
Here’s a quick step-by-step overview of how you can become a court transcriptionist:
Earn your high school diploma or GED
Enroll in and complete a court transcriptionist program
Practice in a cooperative transcription education program if your program offers one so that you can practice transcribing in a legal setting. If not, consider reaching out to local legal offices offering free transcription services to begin practicing your skills.
Become licensed if your state requires a license for working within a legal environment. If it’s required, take the exam to become licensed. Some states may also require you to become a notary public, which requires a brief training program and exam as well.
Choose an area to specialize in. There are many places where you can work as a court transcriptionist. You can even work in legal offices rather than the court.
Create a resume highlighting your new skills and apply for court transcriptionist positions.
Complete any offered on-the-job training and get to work
You’ll also need to cultivate the following skills to become a sought after court transcriptionist:
Excellent listening skills: Often, you’ll be recording many different voices, so you’ll need to be able to understand and discern many different people. You’ll also need to keep your transcript accurate and easy to understand, even when you’re recording people talking over each other.
Strong spelling and grammar skills: Accuracy is crucial for court transcriptions. You’ll also need to learn how to spell new and unfamiliar terms, like courtroom terminology and foreign locations or areas that witnesses may reference as they speak.
Fast typing skills on a stenotype machine: Court transcriptionist positions require some of the quickest typing speeds, with many requiring over 200 words per minute. No one types this fast naturally, so you’ll need to train and practice to become a proficient and speedy typist so that you can keep up with anyone speaking in the courtroom. Remember that you’ll also be using a stenographer, which is different from a traditional keyboard and allows you to type much faster. Using a stenographer requires special training - reference our “Additional Resources” section below for two helpful videos on what a stenograph is and how it is used.
Here are a few additional resources we came across during our research for this article:
Take a look at this page by CourtReporterEDU to find a court reporter program near you. Simply enter your zip code and click ‘Find Schools’ to have a list of nearby court reporter programs generated for you to explore.
Court reporters use stenotype machines to record transcripts in court. Watch the following three-minute video on how a court reporter uses a stenotype machine to sneak a peek at the process:
Don’t worry if this looks complicated. Your court reporter program will go over stenotype machine usage in-depth.
Alternatively, we also liked this video on how stenographers type at 300 words per minute which breaks down why stenographers can type so much faster than someone using a traditional keyboard:
What are court transcribers called?
Court transcribers go by a variety of names, including court transcriptionist, court reporter, certified shorthand reporters, and stenographer, which references the tool court transcribers type on.
How do court stenographers type so fast?
Court stenographers can type incredibly fast because of their unique skillset and stenographer tool. Stenograph keyboards only have 22 keys, rather than the 70 to 105 keys that traditional English keyboards have. Stenotypes rely on a chord system that allows a court transcriptionist to create hundreds of combinations with those 22 keys to type different words and sounds quickly. Between the stenotype tool and their incredible typing skills and training, court stenographers are among the fasted typists in the world.
How long does it take to become a court transcriptionist?
It takes most individuals around three to six months to become a court transcriptionist if they already have their high school diploma or GED completed. The average certification program for becoming a court transcriptionist takes about four months to complete if you’re doing it full-time but may take longer if you’re working another job at the same time.
Do you need a certificate to be a transcriptionist?
For general transcriptionist jobs, you may be able to start working with only a high school diploma or GED. However, a court transcriptionist or medical transcriptionist requires special certification steps, with some states even requiring a license to practice or attend courtroom hearings for the job. If you aren’t interested in court or medical transcription, you may be able to take a skill assessment test through a hiring company and get to work immediately without a certificate.
Becoming a court transcriptionist can be a rewarding and fascinating job as you create verbatim records of what is said in the courtroom and during legal meetings. Court transcripts play a critical role in impeachments, jury arguments, appeals, and subpoenas, making them a precious resource for many people involved in the trial. By becoming a court transcriptionist, you’d be able to help out many in the legal system, learn an exciting career path, and likely make an above-average income to support yourself at the same time.
If you’re interested in becoming a court transcriptionist, look into a court transcriptionist program to get started learning the legal terminology and stenographer skills you’ll need to be a successful court transcriptionist.