The Difference Between a Legal Transcriptionist and a Court Reporter

The Difference Between a Legal Transcriptionist and a Court Reporter

When you’re considering transcription as a career, you will soon discover that transcription is a very broad term that is applied to a lot of different specialties. Just like doctors who have the generic term, they often have a specialty, even if it’s family practice or general practioners, transcribers can have specialties also. One of the more well known specialties is that of court reporter. But, what really is the difference between a legal transcriptionist and a court reporter.

How Are They Alike?

Both the transcriber or legal transcriptionist and the court reporter transcribe the spoken word. Both, if their state or company requires it, have become certified in their respective categories. But, that’s where the similarities end.

What Does A Court Reporter Do?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as: A stenographer who records and transcribes a verbatim report of all proceedings in a court of law. Okay, so now you may be wondering what a stenographer is. defines it as: Someone who types what people say. Okay, so a court reporter is the person who types a verbatim report of all the proceedings in a court of law.

If you have ever watched a court proceeding on television, you will notice all the different people who speak. It is the court reporters job to type down EVERYTHING that everyone says. That’s the judge, the clerk, the bailiff, the prosecutor or plaintiff’s attorney(s), the defense or respondent’s attorney(s), the various witnesses, and during jury selection, the potential jurors questions and answers.

That’s a lot of people talking. Unlike general transcription, where the conversation is pre-recording and is transcribed later, allowing the transcriptionist to stop and rewind the tape, a court reporter cannot do that. They have to be very fast at typing to be able to keep up.

One of the ways that they are able to do this is by using a steno-machine. This specialized typewriter has a keyboard that is different than normal keyboards.


The reason for this is simple: less keys means faster typing. However, a court reporter has gone through a lot of education to learn how to use this machine, how to follow all the conversation and, in many cases, gone through certification and licensure proficiencies.

What Does A Legal Transcriptionist Do?

For the legal transcriptionist they take previously recorded information and make a typewritten copy. Depending on the transcriptionist, they may use a transcription machine. In the old days, the tape had to be recorded and then was given to the transcriptionist. Consisting of a tape recorder for the dictator, the tape was then play in a specialized transcription machine that had a foot pedal and head phones, both which were attached to the recorder.

Tape Recorder DictationIn today’s transcription world, with the advent of DSS files and audio media, the recording is more often than not done digitally. The transcriptionist may still need specialized equipment that is then hooked up to a desktop or laptop computer.   With the required software, the transcriptionist can then work from home or in an office from a large variety of digital files.

Transcription Foot pedalWhat Is The Difference In Education?

For a court reporter, the education that is required includes a 2-4 college degree that is approved by the National Court Reporters Association and is dependent on the state. Not only is there a heavy emphasis on legal terminology for both the legal transcriptionist and the court reporter, but the court reporter must also become familiar with court procedures and rules. They will also have exte3nsive practice on the use of the steno machine and must pass minimum competencies to be able receive their degree. The competencies are generally set by the state. Because of the extensive training and the fact that the court reporter is responsible for the recording of the legal record that could be reviewed later, they must be licensed by their state.

The legal transcriptionist may only need to complete a 1 year certification program. They will have emphasis on legal terminology, but also keyboarding skills on a general keyboard. Because their responsibilities are less in comparison to the court reporter, the educational and licensure requirements will be less demanding. While many transcriptionists start from another position, they may not be required to be certified by the state. However, it is always necessary to read your state laws before embarking on any career path.

When it comes to the specialization of transcription in the legal world, knowing the differences between a legal transcriptionist and a court report when it comes to job duties, education and license is paramount before deciding which of these exciting and growing areas to set your career path on.