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How can audio transcription help the legal industry?

Simply put, audio transcription is the act of expressing verbal communication in written form. Historically, the benefits of audio transcription can be traced back to 63 B.C. when Marcus Tullius Tiro, a slave belonging to the Roman philosopher, orator, and lawyer Ciceroa, developed a system of shorthand to keep track of Cicero’s speeches.

Over the centuries many short hand systems were developed to aid the transcription process, peaked during specific periods, and declined with the rise of modern technology. Regardless, the act of transcription has remained valuable in many professional spheres, including the corporate, medical, and legal domains to name a few.

What is legal audio transcription?

Legal transcription is the documentation of legal proceedings in a document or in a printed form. Essentially, lawyers, government officials, and law enforcement officials can hugely benefit from audio transcriptions of legal proceedings. In general, licensed professionals known as stenographers perform legal transcriptions in US courts to document real time proceedings.

audio transcription

The device used is known as a steno-type, and the most modern equivalents are equipped with super fast microprocessors to instantly translate a stenographer’s shorthand records into ready-to-refer documentation in various languages.

And here’s the thing, apart from transcriptions of court proceedings, audio transcriptions of conversations can also be presented as evidence in a US court of law once its authenticity and accuracy have been established (an opinion articulated by the Fifth Circuit in United States v Onori and followed in several other cases over the years).

To be comprehensive, legal audio transcriptions can document anything from depositions and hearings to interrogations and testimonies. Just imagine how much vantage point you have as a lawyer from such documentation. As an attorney, you need to constantly refer to all the facts, statements, quotes, and dates to make a strong case.

You can’t turn back time, but a professionally prepared audio transcript lets you revisit specific portions of trials, interrogations, or testimonies and can help you zero in on breakthroughs.

Now, to reap the most benefits from an audio transcription, legal personnel generally opt for verbatim rather than non-verbatim audio transcription.

Verbatim vs Non-verbatim audio transcription

A non-verbatim transcription is a cleaner version of a recording and is more reader friendly. Such transcriptions omit background noises, repetitions, and non-verbal utterances. However, the omission of such details renders it unsuitable for legal settings (non-verbatim transcriptions are more suitable for documenting meetings, lectures, or seminars).

A verbatim legal audio transcription file on the other hand leaves nothing out: it documents background noise (for instance, coughs, sound of a door opening or closing, footsteps, etc.), speech interruptions or repetitions (for example, speech fillers like “ah,” “um,” “err,” etc.), and even accents or grammatical errors. Closing a case successfully requires looking at many things minutely, and verbatim audio transcription samples help you do just that.

For instance, background noise can be indicative of an interview setting, speech fillers can tell whether a witness is being absolutely truthful or not, and accents or language/grammar usages can reveal a lot about an interviewee’s background.

Here’s how lawyers and law firms can benefit from audio transcription files

Audio transcription files often help to uncover details that can be game changers in a case. As an attorney, your primary goal is to build a rock solid argument for your client. You definitely need to pay tremendous attention to details and probably spend a lot of time piecing together clues and gathering evidence to make your argument stronger.

Audio transcription files help you save time and a lot of hassle by documenting proceedings, interrogations, or testimonies in detail, which in turn can make sifting through data and details much easier.

More importantly, audio transcription files can be valuable assets to a team of lawyers working on a complicated case involving multiple witnesses or conflicting police reports. Attorneys can easily refer to past information shared by the parties involved, information that conflicting parties do not have access to, and help make a case stronger.

Apart from testimonies or case proceedings, law firms can get recordings of field notes transcribed for a case file to improve team coordination and collaboration.

Authenticity of audio transcription files – whom should you hire for accurate transcriptions?

Anyone who has practical experience of working on transcription files knows that one too many issues can crop up during the process. In an ideal situation the interview room would be quiet, the witness would speak clearly, and there should be as little interruption as possible.

However, real life scenarios are vastly different. For these reasons, the authenticity of transcription files have been challenged at times. Courts in the US have often been divided in their opinion about audio transcriptions — some merely consider transcriptions as aids to assist the jury (People v. Feld, New York, 1953) while others have a more favorable opinion of audio transcriptions, categorizing them as opinion evidence in a case.

Sure, law firms can choose to get recordings transcribed in house or hire a freelancer. But transcribing in-house means investing in a lot of equipment and resources, and working with a single transcriber can lead to potential misinterpretation of unclear bits. Consider this: what happens when “I’m gonna” is transcribed as “Ain’t gonna?” (Hint: unforeseen disaster.) Plus, the turnaround time is much higher.

Typically, a legal audio transcription can be completed within 24 to 48 hours with a team of professionals working on it. Working with a dedicated transcription team roots out any occurrence of misinterpretation as multiple qualified professionals would be working on a file to produce the most accurate output. This is actually counterintuitive to the too many cooks spoiling a broth conundrum.

To conclude, approaching a legal transcription service can be beneficial for long-running cases to save both time and effort in house. Moreover, you can be sure that all legal terms and jargons will be incorporated in the output when experienced legal transcribers are putting their heads together to work on a file.