There is a lot of confusion about the differences between a court reporter and a legal transcriptionist. While related, they are very different careers and require different education and skills. So let’s discuss the differences so you can determine the right career path for you.

Court Reporter

A court reporter is what people picture the most when you say anything related to legal transcriber. They are the personnel sitting in the courtroom during hearings and trials or boardrooms during depositions. They are listening to the entire proceeding and typing everything that is said, as it is said. They are reading things back to the court when asked. They are often also notaries and responsible for swearing people in as witnesses and certifying that what they typed is exactly what was said.

Court reporters do not have time on their side, they can’t stop the proceedings and rewind what was said in order to type it correctly. They have to be able to type it in real time as people speak.

As you can imagine that is a skill that is very demanding and takes a long time to learn. Court reporters must go to school for 2-4 years and receive a degree from a National Court Reporter Association approved institution. They learn how to work on a stenotype machine that types in shorthand, which allows them to type in real time since most people speak up to 300 words per minute which frankly no one can keep up with typing. They cannot work from home, as they have to physically be present in order to type what they hear at legal proceedings.

Many courts are switching over to electronic court reporting where the court reporter is still responsible for these duties but can use new technology to record the proceedings to ensure a perfect transcript after the event. This is where many legal transcribers come in.

Legal Transcriber

Legal transcription takes audio recordings from legal proceedings that a court reporter prepared, along with their notes they kept, and turn it into a verbatim transcript of what was said and by whom. Back when most court reporters used stenotype machines, they would leave the legal proceeding and then have to convert the shorthand to a legible transcript, which they either did themselves, or had a scopist who understood their shorthand prepare it for them at a later time.

Today the majority of court reporters hand everything over to a legal transcriber who takes the audio and creates a verbatim transcript from it either in an office setting or from their home office. The legal transcriber has the luxury of being able to pause and rewind the audio to work at their own pace, do research for hard to understand terms or names, and ask questions of the court reporter or potentially legal staff.

There is no national legal transcriber certification program so you can take an online legal transcription course or even learn on the job in some cases. Most legal transcribers can learn the skills in under 2-4 months, and are then able to complete many types of transcription which opens up their job opportunities.