Getting Started in Legal Transcription

digital court reporting academy

legal transcription

There’s a lot to learn when starting any new job.  Most legal transcribers are freelancers.  That means that they are typically their own boss.  There is no structure or someone looking over your shoulder.  It sounds great at first glance, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to meet deadlines.  Getting the proper education is only part of becoming a successful legal transcriptionist. You need the proper tools.  In this post, we’ll discuss all of the tools and software that you’ll need to start your own legal transcription business.

Apache Open Office

One of the main programs that you’ll need as a legal transcriber is a word processor. With so many choices on the market today, it’s hard to find a program that suits your needs and your budget. Open Office is a great program, and it’s free; however, you need to format it, so that your transcript complies with the statutory requirements provided by the state. Your state rules may vary, but in Florida, the requirements are at least 25 lines per page, and 60 characters per line. You must also use a fixed-widthed font such as Courier New.

The reason for the specific format is to provide some protection to attorneys and their clients.  Since transcripts are usually sold by the page, there needs to be some structure so that everyone is treated fairly.

NCH ExpressScribe

After trying other transcription programs, nothing compares to ExpressScribe. By simply dragging and dropping your audio files into the Express Scribe window, you’ll be on your way to transcribing in seconds.

ExpressScribe works with every filetype we’ve thrown at it, including a .VOB DVD file.  It will automatically recognize the independent channels in a multitrack .WAV file and allow you to control the volume of each channel. You can also slow speakers down and adjust the pitch to your typing speed. For only $20, Express Scribe is a great addition to your transcription arsenal. Try it for free and decide for yourself!

Foot Pedal

legal transcription foot pedal

foot pedal

Although there are several foot pedals to choose from, we chose the Infinity.  The Infinity foot pedal connects by USB to PC or Mac.  It’s compatible with most transcription software including ExpressScribe and StartStop Universal.  The foot pedal is a simple three button device that allows you to control the audio file without taking your hands off of the keyboard.  Although it is possible to get by without, a foot pedal will increase your productivity incredibly.


The last step in the process (before billing your client, of course) is production.  The production process takes your raw text files from OpenOffice and allows you to create a searchable, indexed PDF transcript.  With a bit of configuration, Min-U-Script allows you to create custom headers and footers allowing you to add extra information to each page of a transcript such as the name of the witness, the date, or a bit of your own branding.  Min-U-Script also lets you hyperlink exhibits to the transcript itself.  This makes it a snap for attorneys and other legal professionals to click right on the transcript to review an exhibit.

Other Necessities

If one is available, we highly recommend obtaining a copy of your state’s court reporting manual. Any question you may have about formatting, marking exhibits, etc will be answered there. It’s important to know how to use this manual. It will save you time and hassle later. The FCRA Manual (Florida Court Reporters Association) cost us $75 and was provided in PDF format.

legal transcription headphones

legal transcription headphones

It’s also important to have a good pair of headphones. It’s recommended thattranscribers use closed ear headphones. You want to avoid using headphones with bass boost, or noise cancellation, as these actually degrade the audio.  The type of headphones that you’re looking for are called Studio Monitors.  That means that they are designed to accurately reflect the sound intended by the recorder, not an overbassed or otherwise altered version.  The headphones we use are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50.  At a little over $120, these are a very good option.  Remember, you’re going to be wearing these headphones for hours upon hours, so not only do they need to have good sound, they need to feel good as well.

Keep in mind that there are many different transcription and word processing programs out there that range in price. It’s up to you to decide what works best for you. We’ve found that it doesn’t necessarily matter how much you spend, it’s the quality that counts.  Do your research and take advantage of those free trials. What works for some may not work for others. The main thing to remember is that what you do as a legal transcriber is important. A transcript is an integral part of someone’s life. What is contained in a transcript may mean the difference between innocence or guilt, and in rare occasions, life or death.

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