5 Key Skills for Legal Transcrisptionists
There are various types of transcriptionists -- general, medical, legal, business -- to name a few. The basic skill set required by all transcriptionists are generally the same. However, legal transcriptionists also need additional industry specific skills. Outlined below are the five key skills needed to be a good legal transcriptionist. ABILITY TO LISTEN – AND CLEARLY HEAR Transcriptionists convert audio (and occasionally written material) into text. Therefore, the first important skill needed by a transcriptionist in an enhanced ability to listen. This includes the ability to block out extraneous noise, be it on the recording or in the room. Many transcriptionists work from home. It is important that a transcriptionist not only block out the sounds around them, but that they also not accidentally ‘pick up’ a word spoken by someone else in the room, and then type it into their text. It happens – think about when you are writing an e-mail and your little one comes in and asks for some milk – haven’t you ever addressed your friend as “milk?” Those types of incidents have not escaped this professional – on more than one occasion. Also, transcriptionists encounter recordings with varied levels of clarity, where more than one party is speaking at once, where the speakers/dictators have heavy accents, and where the dictator is holding a conversation and dictating at the same time. You must be able to discern only what is actually meant to be included in the document. That’s where the ability to clearly hear becomes important. You need to be able to sort out voices – who is saying what, which speaker does that comment go to, is that comment part of the conversation I’m transcribing? A transcriptionist must have a high level of discernment and an analytical ability to follow, and make sense, of dictation, conversation, or testimony. The good news is that fees for “bad recordings” can be higher than those for clear dictation. Along with the ability to listen and hear, patience is a great virtue for a transcriptionist to possess. FAST AND ACCURATE TYPING SKILLS, STRONG PROOFREADING SKILLS, AND WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF COMPUTERS AND SOFTWARE PROGRAMS Transcriptionists are paid by production. They are paid either by the line or by the page. Hence, it follows, the faster I type, the more I make. However, if you are typing fast and not producing a quality product, you are not going to be working for very long – therefore, you need to accurately type fast. Most services require a transcriptionist maintain a 98% accuracy level. Also, a good transcriptionist will possess stellar proofreading skills. Frequently when proofreading your own work product, your eyes will see what your brain tells them to see. In other words, if your brain knows the correct spelling of a word, it may not catch a spelling error, if it remembers which word came next in a sentence it may not see that you have transcribed the wrong word – maybe you are off by just a letter or two. Excellent proofreading skills are a critical tool in a transcriptionist’s tool chest. Some tricks used by the best transcriptionists are reading the text out loud, or reading the text from backward, from end to beginning. Of course, spell check is a MUST! Never send out anything with your initials unless it has been spell checked. This includes e-mails and memos to friends, as well as any professional product. If a document has your name or initials, it should not have any words misspelled. Misspelling a medical or legal term can be forgiven – misspelling interrogatory just makes you look sloppy. Virtually all of a transcriptionists’ work is done on computers. A basic understanding of computers, word processing programs, spreadsheets, billing programs, and various other computer software programs is a must. Transcriptionists working for transcription services will be working on one of many professional platforms used by services. These platforms, for the most part, are MS Word based, but can have very different features and functions. Being able to understand and utilize those will be vital in being able to successfully do your job. GRAMMAR AND ENGLISH In addition to typing, a legal transcriptionist must consistently edit information they are transcribing to ensure clarity, grammar usage, and the proper use of punctuation and capitalization rules. This requires an excellent command of the English language, both formal and colloquial. The difference between discrete and discreet is not generally something everyone understands, but using the wrong spelling can be embarrassing for a professional transcriptionist. Part of a transcriptionist’s duty of “typing accurately” means making no grammar mistakes, and sometimes transcriptionists are expected to correct, or point out grammar errors, depending on the type of document being transcribed. Testimony is not changed as it is typed verbatim. Other documents such as pleadings, reports, memos, correspondence, etc. should be corrected or flagged. PROFESSIONALISM AND ETHICS As with any career, transcriptionists are expected to be professional. However, as many transcriptionists work independently from home, they have the added responsibility of maintaining their professionalism without supervision. While no one is watching to ensure a transcriptionist is working the hours they have committed to, the service for who they work is still committed to providing the completed work to their clients by a specified time. They rely on their transcriptionists to help them meet their deadlines. Missed deadlines can mean not only a loss of revenue, but a loss of future business. Additionally, much of the work that a legal transcriptionist will be transcribing is confidential in nature, and can be quite inflammatory in the hands of the wrong person(s). No matter how interesting a case may be, no matter how titillating the facts disclosed in an interview, those must never be shared without anyone other than those authorized by the client, be that a service or a private client such as an attorney. Everything a legal transcriptionist hears or transcribes is not for discussion or disclosure. The impact of disclosing such confidential information could negatively affect others’ lives. Legal ethics are not to be taken lightly. INDUSTRY SPECIFIC SKILLS As would be expected, a transcriptionist working in a specific area or industry must be well versed in the terminology related to that industry. For a legal transcriptionist, that is legal terminology. For a medical transcriptionist, that would be medical terminology. This includes more than just general terminology, but industry jargon as well. Training must be undertaken to specialize in a particular industry. And, a good transcriptionist will continually update themselves with the industry’s change, technology, and growth. Additionally, knowledge of the document formats, types of documents, and procedures used within a specific field is critical to successfully work in a specialized industry. A working knowledge of legal proceedings and legal systems, as well as legal techniques and legal procedures can play a vital role in the career of a good legal transcriptionist. As stated, formal training must be undergone to become a legal transcriptionist. There are many legal transcription programs currently available. Finding one to meet your specific needs, budget and time schedule is crucial to successfully completing a program.