The Difference Between Court Reporting and Legal Transcription

From article posted on Audible
Many people aren’t sure what the difference is between a court reporter and a legal transcriptionist and might believe the two to be pretty much the same. While similar in some ways, there are also some crucial differences. One major difference is that a court reporter transcribes speech in real time while a transcriptionist transcribes recordings and has the advantage of replaying quickly spoken dialog and difficult to understand speech. In addition, the two have very different educational requirements.

Court Reporters

While the primary duty of a court reporter is indeed the real time verbatim transcription of the dialog taking place in the court room, there are actually some additional duties that a he or she may handle depending on the court room and the judge he or she works with.  Sometimes they may be looked to for additional tasks such as:

  • Additional research for items entered into record
  • Real time reporting on what has already been recorded
  • Providing notary public services
  • Administering oaths to witnesses
  • Preparing documents and other administrative duties prior to trial

Regardless of the method used for court reporting (stenotype reporting, voice writing) the academic background is essentially the same. Formal schooling and licensure or certification is required. Academic programs range from two to four years and classes include legal terminology and procedures, legal research, medical vocabulary, business law, and the English language, grammar and mechanics. Some states require a state license while others accept certifications granted by court reporter associations. These certifications require the passing of an exam or exams along with earning continuing education credits.

In addition to academics, college programs also teach the actual skills needed to do the real time verbatim transcription. Court reporters don’t use regular keyboards to record speech but rather stenotype machines. These machines have keys but don’t look like the keyboard you’re used to using. They have far fewer keys and type a phonetic code instead of typing out entire words letter by letter. This enables them to type in the neighborhood of 250 – 300 words per minute.

Another type of court reporting involves a stenomask used by a voice writer. The reporter verbally repeats everything that is being spoken into the stenomask along with descriptions of emotional displays and other relevant events in the courtroom. The stenomask is placed on the face which prevents others from hearing the voice writer speak. Voice writing is less common than the stenotype method but takes less time to learn.

Legal Transcriptionists

Confusion sometimes arises with the job description of the legal transcriptionist. Many imagine the job to be a blending of numerous roles including those of a paralegal, legal secretary, court reporter and transcriptionist.  While each of these areas can be important toward providing professional and quality legal transcription, they are not required backgrounds of the legal transcriptionist.

Although there is no formal certification or degree that is required in order for an individual to become a legal transcriptionist, the best level of service can be obtained from those who specialize in legal transcription.  Likewise, transcriptionists who have a two or four year degree in criminal justice, legal or paralegal studies can often provide a greater level of service overall. In lieu of a degree, working as a legal secretary or assistant might give the individual some of the knowledge and skills necessary.

While the transcriptionist and the court reporter both should have an understanding of the legal system and its language, the transcriptionist does not typically work in a courtroom.  A legal transcriptionist may work as a freelancer or in-house for a transcription company, law firm, government agency, or corporation. Legal transcriptionists transcribe recorded depositions, hearings, witness interviews, interrogations, 911 calls, dictation, and documents such as hand written letters and notes, affidavits, identification papers, pleadings, probates, and anything else legal or relating to a legal case.

Court Reporters Working Outside the Courtroom

Like legal transcriptionists, court reporters may also work as freelancers. In addition, they may also work for corporations, government agencies and others. While a transcriptionist will transcribe recorded depositions and hearings, a court reporter will attend the proceeding and transcribe it in real time.

Freelance court reporters or stenographers will also attend speeches, meetings, press conferences, seminars and anything else that requires a written record. In fact, court reporters are also finding a lot of work doing real time broadcast captioning. This is often used for live broadcasts of speeches, sports events, news programs, and legal or legislative proceedings – just to name a few. Think of the black boxes with white letters on the television screen. Captions aren’t always done in real time – but when necessary it’s a court reporter/stenographer that’s up for the task.