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What is a Legal Transcriptionist?

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A society based on law is one of civilization’s great achievements, made possible today by a combined effort of professionals that includes legal transcriptionists. Working on legal teams or independently, legal transcriptionists are instrumental in translating recorded legalese into written form, in addition to other key supportive duties. In addition to being a promising career in itself, many aspiring law professionals use their credentials as legal transcriptionists as a stepping-stone to even more advanced careers.

In a competitive marketplace demonstrating qualifications as a legal transcriptionist on top of experience can go a long way towards launching a successful career.

Legal transcriptionists serve an important function in the legal community. A chief job duty involves transcribing audio recordings from courtrooms, depositions, or attorney note dictations. While some job duties may be held in common with court reporters, paralegals, and legal assistants, legal transcriptionists are a separate class of professional with their own unique role to play.

The typical duties of a legal transcriptionist can include:

  • Transcribing recordings from any legal proceeding
  • Revising transcriptions made from legal proceedings
  • Proofreading and revising legal forms and documents
  • Preparing legal paperwork to file in person or online
  • Drafting legal documents, such as pleadings or discovery

Most legal transcriptionists work for law offices and in related legal service agencies. This includes the large percentage of legal transcriptionists who work as part of the government at the federal, state, county, and city levels.

Other significant industries that employ legal transcriptionists include:

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

Becoming Certified as a Legal Transcriptionist Through a Career Diploma Program

Before investing in an associate’s or bachelor’s degree that can take between two and four years to complete and cost tens of thousands of dollars, many prospective legal transcriptionists choose to first earn a career diploma or certificate.

In many cases, you can transfer the credits you earn in a certificate program towards a future degree should you decided to pursue one later.

Becoming certified as a legal transcriptionist allows you to gain a competitive advantage and fulfill the requirements employers look for. This is especially true in major metropolitan areas where there tends to be more competition for legal jobs.

A legal transcriptionist career diploma program can be completed in as little as five months. These programs are often offered completely online, making it even easier earn the credentials you need.

As part of your legal transcriptionist certificate program you will study subjects that will include the following:

  • Preparing pleadings
  • Preparing and drafting legal documents
  • Preparing discovery and appellate documents
  • Conducting research in legal libraries and databases
  • Legal terminology
  • Technology and software for legal transcriptionists, such as Microsoft Office products
  • Familiarization with legal documents
  • Understanding which areas of law require legal transcriptionists
  • Understanding the US legal system
  • Legal transcribing in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally all that’s required to enter one of these programs. In addition to prospective legal transcriptionists, a career diploma of this sort can be a competitive qualification for paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, and other professionals in this field.

Salary Expectations for Legal Transcriptionists

The US Department of Labor keeps statistics for the entire legal industry. The category of “legal support workers” includes paralegals, legal assistants, court reporters, title examiners, title abstractors, and title searchers. Tracking this category year over year showed that the average salary for these legal professionals increased by $4,460 between 2011 and 2015. As of 2015, these legal professionals earned:

  • $64,530 – national average annual salary
  • $78,030 – average annual salary in Oklahoma (third-highest paying state)
  • $78,940 – average annual salary in Maryland (second-highest paying state
  • $101,660 – average annual salary in Virginia (top-paying state)
  • $122,560 – national average annual salary for the top ten percent

The US Department of Labor also provides the average annual salary figures for these legal professionals in a few major metropolitan areas:

  • $82,660 – Hartford, CT metro area
  • $85,400 – San Jose metro area
  • $86,030 – Silver Spring-Rockville-Frederick, MD metro area
  • $94,980 – Austin metro area
  • $100,290 – Washinton DC metro area

Famous Former Legal Transcriptionists

Many of today’s best known leaders, role models, and successful professionals began their careers by taking educational steps to work in the legal field.

Hillary Clinton – It is hard to say what Hillary Clinton is best known for – serving as Secretary of State, being the wife of a president, running for president twice, or her post-2016 accomplishments – but what most people don’t realize is that she is an attorney who began her career as an intern at a law firm in Oakland where she worked on child custody cases.

Amal Clooney – With clients including the founder of Wikileaks and the former prime minister of Ukraine, Clooney has also served as a special envoy to the secretary general of the United Nations and advisor to the King of Bahrain. Her legal career had to start somewhere, and that was clerking at the US Court of Appeals in the Second Circuit. Through her law school she also clerked at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

John Grisham – Grisham is best known for his legal thriller novels, many of which have been adapted for the big screen including A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker, and The Client. If you’ve ever wondered how he was able to write best-sellers that revolved around the legal system, then it should come as no surprise that Grisham was once a lawyer. As a young man who had tired of stints in road work and retail sales, Grisham realized he needed to earn professional credentials through education and decided to pursue a career in law.

Job Outlook for Certified Legal Transcriptionists

Legal transcriptionists are an integral part of the overall legal community. The US Department of Labor projects that as a whole, the number of legal support worker jobs will increase by five percent over the 10-year period leading up to 2024.

This may be a conservative estimate however, especially when considering the projected growth rate of lawyer positions over the decade leading up to 2026. Legal transcriptionist positions are expected to follow this trend, and according to the American Bar Association jobs for lawyers will increase by 17.8 percent over that time. That figure is even more impressive considering the annual population growth in the United States is only 0.7 percent.

Strong growth projections for the number of jobs combined with increasing salaries are two of the main reasons why an increasing number of professionals are pursuing professional credentials as legal transcriptionists. Demand is also bolstered by the fact that many also see earning a relevant credential as a stepping stone to careers such as paralegals and attorneys.

Opportunities Available to Certified Legal Transcriptionists

A legal transcriptionist career diploma is either a preferred qualification or a requirement for many jobs in this field. A look at job ads for legal professionals provides some insight into the type of credentials employers are searching for. These are shown as illustrative examples only and are not meant to represent actual job offers:

  • Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles seeks a legal secretary for a position in its Department of Legal Affairs. Applicants must have proven transcription skills and be familiar with relevant computer software.
  • Kutak Rock, a national law firm with offices in 18 cities throughout the nation, seeks a legal secretary to work in its Chicago office. Preference is shown to applicants experienced in transcription and in the use of Microsoft Office products.
  • RR Donnelley, a global integrated communications provider based in New York City, looks to hire a word processing operator to provide accurate document processing. Applicants must be able to type at least 75 words per minute and have advanced skills in Microsoft Office programs. Preferred applicants have proven transcription experience.

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