Legal Transcription: Dollars and Sense
Legal transcriptionists listen to voice files, usually MP3's via the internet, and transcribe those voice files into legal documents. The documents produced include memos, correspondence, pleadings, discovery, contracts, agreements, patents, bankruptcies, and patents (among others). The majority of legal transcriptionists (LTs) work from home; approximately 15% of LTs work in a traditional office setting such as law offices, corporations, or government agencies. Many LTs who work from home are employed by nationwide transcription service providers. These providers cultivate and grow clientele, receive the work to be transcribed—including the time frame in which the material needs to be completed— and then source those jobs out to LTs working from home. LTs may also work as freelance transcriptionists, also called independent contractors. In this situation, an LT will market themselves and grow their clientele. This takes more work on the 'front' end in order to secure clients, but will be worth the time at the 'back' end when they do not have to share their earnings with service providers. A legal transcriptionist's earnings will depend largely on their typing speed and proficiency. Other helpful skills include a solid understanding of legal terminology, a good command of the English language, proofreading skills, and proficiency with software applications. LTs working for a service may be required to maintain a production pace and accuracy level. For example, they may be required to transcribe 1000 lines in an eight-hour shift, and maintain a 98% accuracy rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track salary information for LTs, but they can expect to earn a salary of $20,000 to $60,000 per annum. LTs who work as independent contractors (freelance) tend to have higher earnings that those working for a service. Also, LTs working for legal firms tend to earn incomes on the higher end of the scale. LTs are typically paid by the recorded minute or hour while others may be paid by the page or number of lines. A quick survey of current incomes for LTs showed the following examples: • An LT service offering a rate of $51.00 per hour of recorded material. It is important to note that this does not mean $51.00 per hour worked, but rather $51.00 for a voice recording that was one hour long (rounded to the nearest minute). The typical ratio is 1:4 - that is typically it will take an LT 4 minutes to transcribe 1 minute of voice. Hence, it will take four hours to transcribe one hour of recording. In this situation, an LT would earn approximately $13.00 per hour. This ratio can be as high as 1:8 for difficult recordings. • In Maricopa, Arizona, a government agency was seeking qualified LTs, and the salary was $13.40 to $19.53 hourly dependent on experience. Here we see how LTs can earn a better income by working for law firms or government agencies. • For home-based independent contractors, the rates being charged were anywhere from $3.50 to $1.00 per recording minute. The variance was created by turn-around-time, i.e. whether the job had to be completed within 24 hours or within seven days. In cases where verbatim transcription was requested, a premium of .20 per minute was added. Verbatim transcribing means transcribing all words and sounds including "uh," "huh," etc. An LT's earning potential is dependent on whether they choose to work for a service provider, work as an independent contractor, or for a large law firm or government entity. Their earning potential will also be dependent on their skill and proficiency. When deciding to be an LT, or where to work as an LT, earning potentials need to be taken into account, as well as what work environment an LT will choose to work in.