A legal transcriber transforms recorded versions of legal proceedings, testimonies or documents into a typed document. Generally, legal transcribers are hired by law firms, the courts, banks, legal departments of corporations and other government agencies. There is no legally mandated formal education or certification requirements for legal transcription positions, although employers may prefer to hire transcribers with voluntary certifications and education.
There are three main professional organizations that offer certifications suitable for legal transcribers: the United States Court Reporters Association, the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers and National Association for Legal Secretaries. AAERT offers certification for electronic court transcribers, while NALS offers certifications for legal secretaries and professional paralegals, both of which can offer evidence of professional ability for transcribers as well.
While some opening level positions may require nothing more than a high school diploma and no experience, most hiring managers want more evidence of ability from an employee. Training, diplomas or associate degrees in legal secretary courses, paralegal training or legal transcription give the transcriber experience with legal terms and practice. These programs are available in one- to two-year programs at community or technical colleges. USCRA and AAERT require one to two years of work experience in a legal field and membership in their organization before a transcriber can sit for the certification exams, while NALS requires work experience or equivalent education, but does not require test candidates join the organization before testing.
The USCRA certification, the Federal Certified Realtime Reporter certification, is granted through a test offered twice yearly. The transcriber must be a member of USCRA (as of 2010, a full-time professional membership is $150), and pay the test fee of either $150 for the single test or $250 for two (as of 2010). The test is a practical exam, consisting of two segments of dictation and warm-up segments on a recorded CD. Speed and accuracy are graded. This certification will prove the transcriber competent to work as a federal court reporter.
The AAERT offers three certifications, the certified electronic court reporter certificate, certified electronic court transcriber certification and certified court reporter and transcriber certifications. To take the exams, the individual must be a member of AAERT ($125 as of 2010), pay a test fee of $150 (as of 2010), have a high school diploma or equivalent, have one year experience in reporting or transcription and be eligible to gain notary public status in their home state. There are both practical and written sections of the exams, testing both legal vocabulary and knowledge and technical and typing abilities.
The NALS offers the Accredited Legal Secretary certification. While this certification is directed more at persons wishing to hold secretarial positions in legal offices, in order to attain it, one must demonstrate knowledge of legal terminology and functions. This is the only one of the three outlined certifications that has an educational requirement (completion of either an accredited legal or business course, or completion of the NALS legal training course) for sitting for the exams. The certification exam is broader in scope than either of the previous, including business and office management knowledge and a section on ethics and judgment. It is not necessary to be a member of NALS ($143 per year as of 2010), and the fees to take the exam range from $50 to $100 as of 2010, depending on student status.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job opportunities in the years between 2008 and 2018 for court reporters and transcribers will grow 18 percent, which is faster than average. Those with certifications will have a better chance at gaining employment than those without.
- Education-Portal.com: Legal Transcription Training Programs and Education Requirements
- United States Court Reporter Association: FCRR Exam
- American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers: Certification Testing
- NALS: ALS
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition: Court Reporters
- Photo Credit secretary image by DXfoto.com from Fotolia.com
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