Legal Transcriptionist and Court Reporter: What’s the Difference?

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When it comes to legal proceedings, virtually everything spoken by clients, judges, lawyers, and witnesses will be recorded and documented. The transcriptions of these proceedings are essential for a number of reasons, including the need for operational transparency in the courts as well as the importance of scrutinizing testimony to build a case or have one thrown out.

Those who provide legal transcription services are often referred to as court reporters and legal transcriptionists interchangeably. However, the two are not one and the same. Here is a brief breakdown of what distinguishes legal transcriptionists and court reporters from one another:

Court Reporter
Court reporters are present when legal proceedings are happening in real time. They are the person seen typing whenever someone speaks during a trial in movies and television, and the same is true for real life.

In order to keep up with the pace at which most people speak, court reporters often rely on stenography to accurately document what is being said in court. This is a form of abbreviated writing in which words and phrases are condensed to allow for faster transcribing without sacrificing accuracy.

Court reporting is a regulated profession in many jurisdictions. For example, for someone to become a court reporter in California they must first pass a two-part examination required for getting a license.

Legal Transcriptionist
Legal transcriptionists are tasked with transcribing legal proceedings after the fact. That is, they are going off of audio or video recordings of the proceedings rather than transcribing in real time.

With the utilization of headphones and a  transcription foot pedal connected to their computer, proficient legal transcriptionists achieve a swift turnaround rate with 99% accuracy. Depending on the volume of their request, legal professionals can expect to have their recordings transcribed and returned in as little as four hours.

Since they don’t have to be present at the time the words are being spoken, legal transcriptionists can be used in situations where many court reporters are absent: independent medical examiners findings, telephone conversations, and so forth. This range of service is especially ideal for criminal defense attorneys and personal injury lawyers.

Cost
Generally speaking, the services of a court reporter are priced higher than those of a legal transcriptionist, word-for-word. This is due to the specialized nature of court reporting, as well as the likelihood that licensing is required.

Legal transcription, on the other hand, is a specific offshoot of general transcription services. However, it would be wrong to think this means legal transcription work is somehow less difficult or tedious than court reporting. In order to become a professional legal transcriptionist, one must be well-versed in the terminology and language commonly used by legal professionals. This is on top of an existing proficiency at transcription services.

In conclusion, it’s incorrect to consider legal transcriptionists and court reporters to be essentially the same thing. While it’s true they both serve to accurately document what was said in legal proceedings, they go about it in very different ways. For those in the legal profession whose responsibilities hinge on the ability to analyze and recall what was stated in the past, knowing the difference is essential for getting their job done right.