How to Become a Legal Transcriptionist – In 6 Simple Steps

Are you searching for a flexible, remote position with lucrative pay, varying assignments, and expedited training?

Who isn’t?

That sounds like a dream job!

Legal Transcriptionist

If so, legal transcription should be at the top of your list.

Transcriptionists play a critical role within the legal field by changing spoken words and sounds into text files that are used during general meeting recordings, entered as evidence, and as part of legal proceedings.

While legal transcriptionists never live in the courtroom or meetings, they are involved through audio and video files from those encounters.

As a result, excellent listening, typing, and detail skills are required to be successful in this role.

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If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a legal transcriptionist, keep reading to find out!

Job Description

Transcription is capturing a spoken language, either recorded or live, and converting it into a readable, written format.

Ancient civilizations in Greece and China first used the permanent record of legal proceedings by developing shorthand to help scribes quickly capture speeches.

Today, legal transcriptionists rely on video and audio to replay and capture the content effectively.

Accuracy within the legal environment is crucial to ensure court cases effectively present all facts.

In a courtroom or legal proceeding, there are crying, laughter, coughs, interruptions, stuttering, and environmental sounds, all of which are captured in the transcript.

Although the goal is to capture every word and sound verbatim, the finished product often has a notation that a word, gesture, or sound is unintelligible.

Legal transcriptionists don’t attend the live event, but review recordings, so they can’t ask the speaker to repeat the statement more clearly.

Legal transcriptions often record 911 or other emergency calls, depositions, interrogations, organizational meetings, official correspondence and memos, sentencings, arraignments, trials, and other court proceedings.

The primary duties of a legal transcriptionist include:

  • Complete a spelling and grammar check and review punctuation.
  • Creating templates based on the information recorded or proceeding type.
  • Listening to the recording while pressing a foot pedal to stop, play, and rewind.
  • Proofreading and organizing transcripts.
  • Receiving audio or video files.
  • Reviewing and revising documents.
  • Submit files to a partner or a client.
  • Type each spoken word and all non-verbal sounds to create.
  • Utilizing and managing software that connects to peripherals.


The U.S. legal transcriptionist’s salary is $47,800 annually.

However, the salary varies greatly based on your skill set, employer, experience level, and location.

In addition to the salary, transcriptionists benefit from professional development assistance, paid time off, health insurance, a highly flexible schedule, and remote working opportunities.

There are plenty of transcription companies across the U.S., many focusing on different industries or cross-industries.

Therefore, becoming a legal transcriptionist can get you in the door, but other opportunities may also arise.

These openings allow you to professionally advance and into a future management position.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
New Jersey140$64,940$31.22$91,790$49,000
New Mexico**$63,370$30.47$90,000$53,830
New York1,070$106,340$51.13$133,020$67,040
North Carolina140$59,790$28.75$80,020$43,780
North Dakota60$59,320$28.52$73,170$49,800
South Carolina150$50,380$24.22$66,490$36,820
West Virginia140- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -
Puerto Rico170$30,680$14.75$36,590$24,960

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is New York, where the average salary is $106,340.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • New York - $106,340
  • California - $98,210
  • Massachusetts - $85,340
  • Illinois - $74,960
  • Iowa - $71,250
  • Texas - $69,710
  • Nevada - $69,420
  • Montana - $68,240
  • Minnesota - $66,860
  • New Jersey - $64,940
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Court Reporters and Simultaneous Captioners, OCC Code 27-3092, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Legal Transcriptionist: Step-by-Step

The following process is a general step-by-step guideline on how to become a legal transcriptionist:

Step One: Earn a Diploma

The first step in becoming a legal transcriptionist is to earn a high school diploma.

Having an office setting or legal experience is a plus, but a high school diploma is a requirement for all employers.

While having an advanced degree is not required, it’s highly recommended to differentiate yourself from other candidates with minimal education requirements.

Additional education can be pursued through a vocational or technical school or a community college.

Training programs open additional professional opportunities while teaching you the required skills for success in the field.

Step Two: Develop Your Skills

The next step is to begin developing your skills by enrolling in a training program, which will further help refine your knowledge.

Increasing your typing speed to 75 words per minute and accuracy using an online program will help you with success.

Other skills to improve include attention to detail, time management, working independently, listening and hearing, and proper English.

These can be achieved by practicing listening to records and writing the words you hear.

Also, type without using a keyboard since the faster you can type without errors, the more qualified you are.

Furthermore, review completed transcripts to become familiar with the formatting.

These simple activities can be performed at home and help you prepare for the next step, completing a training program.

Step Three: Complete Necessary Training

There are numerous educational backgrounds and skills held by legal transcriptionists.

Most transcriptionists fresh out of high school don’t have the chance to learn on the job, so legal transcription training is the next best option.

These programs cost between $99 and $5,000, depending on the comprehensiveness and time requirement of the degree.

Most take between three and six months and are available from online providers, community colleges, and vocational schools.

The coursework covers research and proofreading, typing best practices, transcript templates and formatting, legal terminology, transcription software and devices, career options, ethics, and the legal system.

Step Four: Obtain a Certification

Although not required to work in many environments, earning a certification can greatly boost your career, so it’s wise to seek the Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET) designation.

Legal transcriptionists are certified by the AAERT (American Association of Electronic Reports and Transcribers).

To earn this title, candidates must pass the CET examination, which is comprised of practical and written multiple-choice sections.

Once certified, you must complete three continuing education credits every three years and renew the certification with AAERT.

Many agencies, government contracts, and court systems may require this certification, so it’s important to pursue it even if your current position does not mandate it.

Step Five: Receive Firsthand Training

Most begin their careers in an entry-level role, which is where most on-the-job training comes from.

Typically, an attorney, paralegal, or office manager is responsible for your training, so always ask thoughtful questions and take detailed notes to learn the knowledge required for the position.

Step Six: Continue Your Education

To keep your CET title valid, you must renew it every three years and include continuing education credits.

Maintaining this earned certification ensures you will be exposed to more advanced roles as you walk down your career path.


Most employers require a high school diploma to work as a legal transcriptionist.

However, freelancers don’t have this requirement, so there is technically no educational requirement to enter the field.

It’s important to note that a formal training program helps boost your credibility, regardless of your freelance status, and some organizations and court systems require the CET certification.

To earn this, learning the basics from a training program and refining your transcribing skills will help ensure you pass both parts of the examination.

With transcription programs being a minimal cost compared to a college education and only lasting up to six months, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Licensing & Certification

Legal transcriptionists can earn the CET certification, which needs to be renewed every three years to remain active.

While this is not always a required certification to begin working, many employers require it to prove you have the drive and knowledge for success.

Also, the CET designation differentiates you from other entry-level transcriptionists in the job market, so acquiring this title is worth the time commitment.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a specific report on legal transcriptionists but provides a job outlook of one percent for simultaneous captioners and court reporters who have similar responsibilities.

Although the growth may seem at the low end, around 2,000 new jobs open each year for those leaving the industry for other opportunities or retirement.

Should You Become a Legal Transcriptionist?

Overall Satisfaction

Legal transcriptionists enjoy many benefits beyond a salary, paid time off, and health insurance.

First, most work remotely, so they can set their hours as long as the documents are completed by the required deadlines.

Second, freelance transcriptionists can work as little or as much as they choose by selecting the most interesting and lucrative projects.

Third, by working from home, exercise and house chores are simultaneously more efficient.

Finally, by not having to drive into an office, gas or transportation costs, wear and tear on your car, and commuting stress are eliminated.

As a freelancer, the greatest challenge is finding and landing work when up against a pool of other legal transcriptionists.

Also, you’re in the house every day, which can become lonely, and networking is difficult.

Despite these drawbacks, most legal transcriptionists enjoy the freedom offered by their position and play an integral role in the legal system.

Average Salary

Although the average salary is $47,800, the earning potential can be excellent, depending on your experience, speed, and accuracy.

Many freelance legal transcriptionists are so well-known that they can charge whatever they want for their services because they are the best in the business.

Almost $50,000 per year is highly lucrative, but it’s certainly not the cap on this type of work with some transcriptionists surpassing six figures.

Job Growth Outlook

Although the job growth outlook is only around one percent, there are plenty of opportunities within transcription that help boost the outlook.

Transcriptionists are joining and leaving constantly, so with the advent of more remote work, legal transcriptionists have more opportunities than ever to find a position from any location.

Also, many transcriptionists work as freelancers from any location so they can set their prices, work whatever hours they choose, and run an entire company.

Education Duration

Most employers require a high school diploma to work at their company but may not mandate a training program.

For those interested in this investment, training programs last between three and six months and teach all the necessary basics to pass the certification exam while improving your typing and listening skills.

Personal Skills Needed

There’s a specific skill set for those wishing to become a legal transcriptionist, such as:

  • Excellent computer skills – legal transcriptionists must use a computer and recording device for most tasks. The most common software is spreadsheets, billing software, and word processing programs.
  • Fast typing – since most of the job revolves around transcribing recordings, it’s crucial to be an efficient but fast typist. Those interested in becoming a legal transcriptionist must aim for at least 85 words per minute without errors.
  • Great time management – being able to meet important deadlines is essential in this career choice. Successful transcriptionists know how to prioritize the work to ensure legal teams can access the documents in time for court proceedings.
  • High attention to detail – creating proper legal documents can make or break a case if the information is inaccurate. Therefore, paying high attention to detail ensures the information is free of errors.
  • Keen listening skills – this role involves listening and documenting recordings, so deciphering every word and sound the recording presents is critical.
  • Knowledge of legal terminology – since legal transcriptionists must take paralegal’s and attorney’s words and convert them into text, having a deep knowledge of legal terminology helps understand the sentences presented in the courtroom.
  • Strong language skills – transcriptionists must have a solid knowledge of the English language, including syntax, grammar, and spelling.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a legal transcriptionist?

For those who wish to enroll in a legal transcription program, the typical time commitment is three to six months.

During this time, you learn all the necessary information to be successful in your career, pass the CET examinations, and greatly improve your typing skills.

The training program also proves to employers that you are committed to this career choice and willing to sharpen your skill set.

How much money does a legal transcriptionist make a year?

Legal transcriptionists make an average annual salary of $47,800, which is greatly based on experience, location, education, typing speed and accuracy, and other factors.

Some of the best transcription freelancers make over $100,000 because they have made the right connections and completed projects with accuracy and professionalism.

What skills do you need to have to be a legal transcriptionist?

The three most important skills a legal transcriptionist can possess are excellent typing, high attention to detail, and strong listening skills.

As a legal transcriptionist, you are required to quickly and accurately document every word and sound in the courtroom, which will be used during legal proceedings.

This means you must be attentive and listen carefully to each individual as they speak on the recording.

Having a deep understanding of legal terminology is also a crucial skill for career success.

Are legal transcriptionists in high demand?

The latest statistics show that legal transcriptionists, court reporters, and simultaneous captioners have a growth of around one percent, which is two percent under the national average for all jobs combined.

However, once you complete a legal transcriptionist program, you can move to other areas that show additional growth.

If you wish to remain in the legal field, transcriptionists are retiring regularly, so you can freelance until you land a job with a company.

What kind of education do you need to be a legal transcriptionist?

No education is required to become a freelance transcriptionist, but most companies require at least a high school diploma, with many mandating additional training.

Legal transcription training programs are a minimal financial and time investment, so enrolling in a program will help ensure success within an entry-level position and throughout your career.

These programs cost up to $5,000, which financial aid is available, and can last up to six months.

In addition to improving your typing skills, the program teaches the proper use of hardware and software, time management, attention to detail, legal terminology, and many other related topics to the field.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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