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What Is a Legal Voice Writer? And How Does It Differ From a Stenographer?

Jake Gibbs

Jun 21, 2024

A man sits with his hands folded under his chin preparing to transcribe a conversation that’s happening off-camera in front of him.

RevBlogLegalWhat Is a Legal Voice Writer? And How Does It Differ From a Stenographer?

We all have that image of the classic court reporter in our heads: A person in the courtroom, leaning over a little machine, typing away faster than the eye can see. While the job of the court reporter has evolved over the years (as all jobs do), it’s still largely the same: lots of typing in the service of creating a perfect record of legal proceedings.

But there’s a different way to record courtroom activities, and it doesn’t involve typing away at 225 words per minute. A voice writer, or voice court reporter, uses their voice to report exactly what happens in a legal situation.

What to Know About Voice Writing

Voice writing is a form of legal transcription where a reporter dictates all spoken words, sounds, gestures, and reactions that happen during court proceedings. But doesn’t a person in the courtroom audibly dictating the events get distracting? Great question! The answer is that no one hears a peep uttered by a legal voice writer because they dictate into a sound-dampening device called a stenomask, which is a court reporter mouthpiece that records everything the voice writer says, verbatim.

The stenomask connects to a computer that uses speech-recognition software to turn the spoken words into a text format that can be used to create a transcript or video captions in real time. This real-time transcription allows hearing-impaired people, judges, attorneys, and other legal personnel to receive instant access to readable court proceedings. The same technology can also be used for academic lectures, seminars, or church services.

Voice Writer Responsibilities

A voice writer’s primary job is to provide a verbatim depiction of legal and court proceedings. They’re not only responsible for word-for-word depictions of what is said; they also identify every speaker and describe emotional beats, gestures, intent, and other courtroom noises. The ultimate goal is accuracy; voice writers are expected to be at least 99% accurate in their depictions.

Physical Challenges of Voice Reporters

A voice writer’s job is more physically strenuous than it appears. While stenographers and court reporters can struggle with carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist challenges, and back issues from sitting and typing all day, speaking nonstop comes with its own set of challenges. A voice court reporter has to talk into a restrictive mask for hours on end, which can cause vocal cord challenges, hoarse throats, and even painful cold sores. Talk about a job that deserves hazard pay!

Tools of the Trade

In addition to a stenomask, the hand-held microphone that acts as a padded mask that contains sound-dampening technology that allows the voice writer to speak without being heard, legal voice writers need a few pieces of equipment to do their jobs:

  • A laptop that’s powerful enough to run voice recognition software
  • Voice recognition software
  • Transcription software (or a reliable transcription service)

More often than not, the voice writer will have to purchase their own equipment, but there’s a chance an employer would provide some of it. If purchased yourself, your equipment is likely tax deductible.

Benefits of Voice Writing Services

The top benefit of voice writing is the ability to produce transcripts in real time. This provides everyone — from the hearing impaired in the audience to attorneys, judges, and jury members — with instantaneous access to an accurate record of legal and court proceedings. As the reporter dictates, text can appear on-screen in the form of transcription or captions.

A voice writer can produce more than 300 words per minute at 99% accuracy, making near-perfect legal transcription available almost immediately. That’s efficiency you can trust.

Voice Writers vs. Court Reporters vs. Stenographers

Though their ultimate goal is almost exactly the same, there are some differences between voice writers, court reporters, and stenographers.

Stenographers transcribe vocal content using a technique called “shorthanded” or “steno.” They type in real-time in a stenography machine using a series of custom symbols that allow for a much speedier method of typing. The steno’s output is then transcribed.

Court reporters turn spoken words into verbatim court transcription, which is then used through the legal process as an accurate depiction of courtroom events. This is accomplished almost in real time, although fully proofed transcriptions are not created instantaneously. A court reporter may have additional duties aside from feverishly typing events as they happen. They may have the authority to swear in witnesses or force someone to repeat what they just said.

Voice writers’ output is the exact same as that of stenographers and court reporters, except that they speak instead of typing. In all cases, the ultimate goal is the utmost accuracy in the final transcription.

How to Become a Voice Writer

To become a voice writer court reporter, you generally need to have the same qualifications as a “regular” court reporter with one notable exception: typing skills.

Some states require a specific license for court reporters, and most employers require certification by the National Verbatim Court Reporters Association (NVRA).

The NVRA certifies voice writers and steno writers as court reporters, real-time reporters, CART providers, broadcast captioners, and other related professionals. Beyond any licensing considerations, NVRA certification clearly demonstrates that the voice writer, steno writer, or other related professional has attained a level of professionalism and skill well above that of others in the field.

Before you’re prepared to take the NVRA’s certification course, you’ll need some standard education, in the form of an “official” court reporting program. These are available from public universities, community colleges, and even schools dedicated to court reporting. A court reporting program often results in an associate’s degree and usually a court reporting certificate.

Notable programs include:

While voice writers need to be just as competent with grammar, spelling, and punctuation as other court reporters, they have one inherent advantage: their “tool” is their voice. So rather than learning a skill like typing, they only have to hone something they were born with. Whereas a major part of court reporting schooling is building up to 225 words-per-minute typing skills, a voice writer can achieve a speed of up to 350 words per minute without lifting a finger.

Not needing to type fast is a great reason that voice writing is becoming a popular career path, even if some states don’t yet recognize voice writing as a valid form of court reporting. Currently, Idaho, Illinois, and New Jersey do not allow voice writing in courts.

In states where it’s allowed, voice writing can be a lucrative career. According to Zip Recruiter, the average salary for a voice court reporter is $39 an hour, with wages as high as $66 an hour in some places. If you’re looking for a job as a voice reporter, Zip Recruiter points you toward California, which contains eight of the top ten best-paying cities in the country for voice writers.

Voice Writing Can Be a Great Career

While AI court reporting remains a possibility, we’ll always need human court reporters to protect the sanctity of the legal record. Rev is in the business of helping humans do their job accurately and efficiently, and that includes voice writing, which is a perfectly cromulent form of court reporting. Whatever kind of court reporting you might be doing, if you need assistance with legal transcriptionist duties, Rev is here to help with quick turnarounds and affordable pricing.

Affordable, fast transcription. 100% Guaranteed.