How to Become a Legal Transcriptionist From Home [2021 Update]

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Interested in legal transcription, eh?

I don’t blame you.

Making a good living by typing away on your computer from the comfort of your home (or anywhere on earth with an internet connection)…

What’s not to love?

The problem is—while legal transcription isn’t difficult, per se—it’s not something you can start overnight. There is some training involved and a bit of a learning curve.

This is actually a good thing. The higher the bar to entry, the less competition you’ll have.

In this guide, we’ll show you exactly how to become a legal transcriptionist from home (or really, anywhere on earth with an internet connection!).

Let’s dive in.

Legal Transcriptionist vs. Court Reporter: What’s the difference?

photo of legal transcriptionist vs court reporter

Both of these professions involve turning the spoken word into a written document. 

However, the difference between a legal transcriptionist and a court reporter is that a court reporter types a verbatim report of ‘live’ court proceedings in real-time—usually with a special device called a stenotype machine. 

As the words are leaving the judge’s mouth, the reporter is noting them down.

In comparison, legal transcriptionists type up pre-recorded conversations. They usually type on a normal computer, making it possible to do the job from home. 

Both career choices are excellent for legal enthusiasts but there are a few major differences.

The court reporter’s role has to be done in a courtroom. Legal transcriptionists can work anywhere with an internet connection (giving much more flexibility to digital nomads and freelancers).

Although both involve strong typing skills, a court reporter’s role requires higher qualifications and it’s quite a tough environment. 

You can learn how to become a legal transcriptionist from home with certification courses like this one. It’s also a much less pressured position as you can pause the recordings. 

Obviously, you can’t pause a live courtroom session, and I doubt the judge would be too impressed if you kept asking him to repeat himself!

Legal transcription is also often confused with legal scoping, which is basically proofreading court reports to make sure they match audio recordings. (Here’s a full guide on how to become a scopist for court reporters).

What does a legal transcriptionist do?

Legal transcriptionists turn legal recordings into written reports. This usually involves working for attorneys and law firms, but can also include work with banks, insurance companies, corporations, and the government.

A few examples of the documents you may have to produce are:

  • Motions
  • Discovery
  • Pleadings
  • Agreements
  • Correspondence
  • Legal memorandums

The work is varied (and court cases can be fascinating), so you should never get bored! 

How to become a legal transcriptionist from home

Surprisingly, you do not need a degree in law or any previous experience to become a legal transcriptionist from home.

Many companies only ask for a high school diploma and a good grasp of the English language. 

That said, some also require some level of legal experience. 

Despite these minimal requirements, this isn’t a career where you can sign up and start working the next day. 

Your odds of landing a job are much higher if you’re familiar with legal terminology and how the legal process works.

photo of a guy getting a legal transcriptionist job because he is certified

Because of this, you’ll want to get some formal training. Luckily, you can do this from the comfort of your home.

There are several virtual legal transcriptionist courses available, one of the most popular called Transcribe Anywhere (they even have a free transcription mini-course to get you started).

Apart from specific transcription training, there are some other skills you’ll want to brush up on as well.

With transcription, time is money. 

The more you write, the more you can earn. 

Here are some other skills you’ll need to be a transcriptionist.

What skills do you need to be a transcriptionist?

If you have a knack for law and aced all your spelling bees in high school, you’re off to a solid start.

Speedy typing fingers are also a must. You need to be able to crank out an average of 85+ words per minute to be successful. So, if you don’t know how to type, then learn. Fast.

You can speed up your typing for free with exercises on Typing.com.

screenshot of Free typing lessons on Typing.com
Free typing lessons on Typing.com

A solid grasp of the language you’re transcribing is another must. Spelling, punctuation, an understanding of legal jargon, and exceptionally good listening abilities are all skills your employer will expect.

It goes without saying that you’ll also need to be computer-literate—capable of using transcription software and other common freelancing programs (spreadsheets, word documents, billing systems, etc.).

That said, these are all skills that can be learned. So, if you want to go down this route, there’s not much standing in your way.

Legal transcription training programs

As mentioned, to become a certified transcriptionist from home, you’ll want some sort of training to get you ready. 

Some companies will require this for an entry-level position and, once you’re hired, you may also get further on-the-job training.

Transcribe Anywhere is an entirely virtual course that teaches you all the skills you need to make a career in transcription. You can complete the program in as little as three months and become certified by the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT).

The course covers topics like:

  • Understanding legal jargon 
  • The basics of the U.S. legal system
  • Jurisdictional laws
  • How to conduct legal research 

They also touch on time management, proper communication, typing training, and how to find high-paying freelance work.

The course is self-paced, so you can become certified as fast as you fancy. It’s one of only two courses that are approved by AAERT.

The other course that AAERT recommends is called BlueLedge. There are also courses online on Udemy—these are cheaper, but since these aren’t technically approved by AAERT, your mileage may vary.

Apart from these online programs, you can also get training as a legal transcriptionist at many community colleges.

And if you decide to learn virtually, make sure check out these tips for remote learning success.

Do you have to be certified to be a transcriptionist?

No, you don’t have to be certified to become a legal transcriptionist from home. 

That said, a certification (such as those mentioned above) not only puts you a step above other candidates, but it also prepares you for what to expect from the role and enhances your skills so you can do better at the job.

And as with most things in life—the better you are, the more fun it is.

skill vs job satisfaction graph

How long does it take to become a transcriptionist?

Legal transcriptionist certifications usually take between 3-6 months to complete. The average Transcribe Anywhere student completes the course in four months. 

If you’re taking the course around a full-time job, it’ll take a little longer. But if you have extra time in your schedule, you can knock it out faster.

That said, keep in mind that just because you’re certified doesn’t mean you’ll instantly find work. It just means you’re one step closer to becoming a legal transcriptionist.

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How to find legal transcription jobs from home (for beginners)

Congratulations, you’re a certified transcriptionist!

The next step in your journey is to find a legal transcriptionist job. Some of the most popular places to look for at-home transcriptionist jobs are:

  • TranscribeMe (which pays a higher rate for legal transcriptionists)
  • Go Transcript
  • Allegis (they specialist in legal and insurance transcribing)
  • SpeakWrite (specifically for transcribing virtual meetings and online conversations)

You can also find legal transcriptionist jobs on popular job sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Flexjobs

Lastly, you can reach out directly to legal secretaries, law firms, and legal departments to see if they need any help. 

How much do transcribers make a year?

Depending on your skills and experience, you can make anywhere between $15 – $30 per hour as a legal transcriptionist. 

ZipRecruiter reports the average legal transcriptionist salary to be $34,209. But this increases significantly with experience, where you work, and who you work for.

Working directly for law firms and legal secretaries tends to pay significantly more than working for online agencies. Plus, as with most jobs, employers based in big cities usually pay more than those in smaller, urban areas.

While not the highest-paying job in the world, it’s main draw is that it requires minimal training and gives you great flexibility—you can work where you want and when you want.

What equipment do you need for transcription?

Another bonus is you won’t have many initial expenses to get started. In fact, you probably already have most of the legal transcriptionist equipment you’ll need.

Here’s the list:

A reliable computer and solid internet – As with any freelance position, dodgy internet connections and crashing computers are the last things you want. Whether you prefer a home desktop or laptop you can take on the road—an up-to-date computer is essential.

Basic home office equipment – A printer and filing system will come in handy. But if you’re on the go, it’s usually not hard to find a printer on the road. Most things can be done digitally nowadays anyway.

A comfortable chair – Do not underestimate the power of a comfy chair. Transcribing involves long hours of sitting still, so you’ll need a chair that makes this tolerable and doesn’t make your back scream.

Transcription software – You can just use Microsoft Word to start. But if you want to take things to the next level, programs like Express Scribe Pro will make your life easier.

A foot pedal – This comes down to personal preference, but using a foot pedal (like the Infinity USB foot pedal) means you can pause the recording without having to stop typing.

Top-quality headphones – Good audio is crucial if you want to be a legal transcriptionist. The better you can hear the recording, the quicker and more efficiently you’ll be able to work. A pair of noise-canceling headphones will help drown out distracting background noise.

A text expander – Another optional choice, a text expander can instantly exchange abbreviated text for a longer form (for example, you type ‘brb’, it automatically changes it to ‘be right back’). It’s honestly a blessing; simultaneously saving time and increasing productivity. Remember, time is money!

Grammarly – An absolute must-have for all freelance writers, Grammarly will correct spelling and grammar issues for you.

Is legal transcription in demand?

The rise of AI speech recognition has taken a hit to the transcriptionist industry. But according to job outlooks, AI is far from being able to replace transcriptionists altogether.

In fact, here are six reasons why AI cannot replace human transcription.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track legal transcription jobs directly. However, court reporter jobs are expected to grow 9% between 2019-2029.

There’s currently a healthy demand for remote transcriptionists and a range of positions available from entry-level to highly experienced.

Is legal transcription a good career?

If you hate law and despise typing then no, it’s the worst career choice possible. 

But my guess is, if that were true, you wouldn’t have read this far.

A career as a WFH legal transcriptionist can be incredibly rewarding. 

Not only will you have the chance to work with renowned law professionals, but you’ll also have the freedom to work from wherever you want to on your own schedule (making it a perfect job for travelers). 

You’ll save money on the daily commute, have the potential to earn a salary of $20,000 – $60,000 (with experience), and all you’ll have to invest in is a certification and a foot pedal.

If law fascinates you, becoming a legal transcriptionist is a great career choice, and may even help you secure other legal service positions down the road.

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Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
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