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Confidentiality in legal transcription: Best practices

legal transcriptionOutsourcing transcription requirements to a professional transcription company is probably one of the wisest things law enforcement personnel, lawyers, or law firms do to save time and money in-house. But before you share your sensitive documents, you need to ponder why confidentiality is important in legal transcription and ask the right questions to ensure your files are secure.

The proceedings of some cases may be public knowledge, but what about testimonies, witness interviews, or wiretap recordings? As a lawyer, your field notes give you and your client a significant advantage in court, and the leakage of this data to unwanted and unauthorized personnel could turn the case on its head.

Wiretap recordings have a dubious history in America, but when all methods of obtaining data are exhausted, a court can sanction using wire taps for gathering evidence. Historically, transcripts of wiretap recordings have been considered more than a memory aid in court – they’re in fact mandatory for unclear recordings. Naturally, any data leakage from such a document could cause major disruptions in case proceedings.

A professional transcription company understands how sensitive these documents can be and are happy to disclose their legal transcription process as well as sign the necessary documents for strict adherence to industry ethics. That being said, let’s look at some of the best practices credible transcription firms adopt to ensure complete confidentiality.

Sign an NDA for confidential legal transcription

The first step to ensure confidentiality in legal transcription is to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with your transcription company. This makes it obligatory for them to keep your personal information as well as your project data secure at every point of the transcription process and even after it has been delivered to you.

For one-time jobs, many credible firms are obligated by the NDA to delete the transcripts and audio recordings from their servers once the relevant files have been delivered to you.

Train employees for industry ethics

Credible transcription companies conduct a thorough background check whenever they bring a new employee on board because of the stringent confidentiality standards of the transcription industry.

While a company may subscribe to complete confidentiality practices, it needs to ensure that employees are also thoroughly trained for the best practices in maintaining complete confidentiality about projects.

Security measures

Adopting appropriate document security controls and protocols such as encryption, Digital Rights Management (DRM), Enterprise Rights Management (ERM) go a long way to mitigate issues that may crop up due to unauthorized sharing or pure human error.

Custom document access controls can encrypt a file, limit access to a particular server or laptop, or revoke document access based on a number of pre-set parameters.

Divide files into parts (data fragmentation)

Another great way to ensure complete confidentiality of legal transcripts is to divide the recordings into parts and share them with different transcribers. This ensures that nobody has access to the complete transcript, thus proactively ruling out the prospect of unauthorized sharing.

However, a major drawback of this process is ensuring quality, accuracy, and continuity in a narrative. Without context, transcribers may find it difficult to create a transcript that flows logically. Also, any minor difference in skill set can adversely affect the output.

How we ensure complete confidentiality of your legal transcripts at iScribed

iScribed is happy to adhere to industry ethics and we follow strict confidentiality measures in-house and for all aspects of client interaction.

  • Our employees sign an NDA when they join us
  • All client interactions on our website are encrypted by SSL certificates
  • 99% of our employees do not have access to our clients’ personal information
  • All audio/video files shared by clients are deleted from our server after 2 weeks
  • Only those who have a direct link to a transcript can access it (which is basically you when you work with us)

Looking for an expert legal transcription service? We can help!


How iScribed helps lawyers close cases faster with legal transcription

legal transcription

It’s a no-brainer that we talk faster than we type or write, but did you know how fast?

On average, we speak about 140 words per minute, which comes to a mind boggling total of 10,000 words per hour. This is why law enforcement personnel as well as lawyers choose to record conversations with witnesses or clients instead of bothering to take notes.

But as a busy lawyer, if you had to keep going back and forth between a recording or your notes to create a strong bottom line for your case, you’d be letting your client down in more ways than one. This is where professional legal transcription comes in.

The problem

At iScribed, we understand that time and cost involved in documenting client briefs, interviews, and meetings can be overwhelming. Also, why would you ask a qualified legal secretary to type out a document when their stronger skill sets can be leveraged?

Imagine cutting hours out of repetitive workflows like reviewing an in-house transcription for accuracy or grammar and actually spending that precious time on building an ironclad argument. That’s how iScribed helps legal professionals like you every day – by providing high-quality legal transcription services to reduce your staffing costs and making your case building process leaner.

High quality transcriptions for dynamic legal professionals

Build stronger client relationships

Andrew C. is a trial lawyer whose clients are typically victims of violent crime. To be as thorough as possible, Andrew prefers to record his interviews rather than take notes, and this enables him to be a patient and sentient listener. (Now we all know how focusing on one thing at a time automatically helps us notice a lot of details that we would miss.)

Moreover, Andrew understands that focusing on the conversation during interviews helps to build trust in his clients who, as victims of violent crime, respond better to empathetic listeners.

Quick turnaround time

Andrew also travels a lot, and before boarding a flight, he uploads the recordings on our website, which we proceed to transcribe into Microsoft Word documents.

Transcribing non-technical documents is fairly easy, but working on legal transcripts can be more complicated. On average, it takes about 8 times the duration of a recording to produce a high-quality and accurate output (so a one-hour recording takes about 6-8 hours to be transcribed). Moreover, those not specifically trained to transcribe technical interviews or have the right tools take much longer.

But our transcription experts can do it faster, typing away at their usual 80 to 100 words per minute but also paying attention to nuances, context, and industry specific jargon.

So by the time he reaches his destination, Andrew has a legal transcript ready that’s accurate and error free. More importantly, since the documents are delivered in digital formats through a custom-access link, Andrew is assured that his project data is secure with us.

Helpful ready reckoners

Since we transcribe interviews into Microsoft Word documents, Andrew can print out, make notes on, or highlight key areas. He has also opted for our “timestamp” add-on for several projects, which has helped him find specific content in the transcript in court or while preparing other supporting materials for his case.

Your transcripts your way

Over the years we have helped many clients like Andrew find a quick and sustainable transcription cycle as well as streamline the entire process without making long-term investments. Are you looking for a trusted legal transcription partner? Reach out to us!


Why audio transcription of wire taps is highly challenging

Even though wiretapping has thrown up major challenges to the implementation of the Fourth Amendment as far as public memory goes back, in present times, it is considered valuable forensic evidence when sanctioned by a competent court of law (Title III, Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, 1963).

Using recordings as forensic evidence in a court of law often leads to questions about quality and authenticity of a recording (not to mention challenges in identifying the speakers), and this has led the FBI to develop targeted expertise since the early 1960s to validate the authenticity of such recordings.

United States v. McKeever (1958) is in fact a seminal case where the judge cited seven specific requirements for a recording to be accepted as evidence in a court of law, along with the importance of getting these recordings professionally transcribed.

The different types of audio forensic evidence

legal transcription

Audio forensic evidence can be both overt (obtained with the knowledge of the speakers, for example, recordings of police interviews, field notes by law enforcement personnel or lawyers,

depositions, or testimonies) as well as covert (obtained without the knowledge of the speakers, for example, wiretaps).

Covert audio recordings can be either obtained by intercepting a phone conversation (either landline or mobile) or from a concealed microphone (also known as ambient or environmental recordings).

Typically, transcribing telephone recordings are easier because of the relatively clearer audio quality whereas transcribing audio from a concealed microphone comes with a whole lot of challenges.

Usually, clear audio (or an overt recording) as forensic evidence is accompanied by a comprehensive and high quality transcript that plays the key role of being an aid to a jury’s memory, whereas a transcript of a covert recording, especially when the audio quality is poor, is indispensible and go beyond their role as a memory aid.

6 Major challenges in transcribing wiretaps or covert recordings

1) Background noise is the #1 nemesis

Since wire taps and other covert recordings are generally obtained without the knowledge of the speakers, background noise is one the biggest challenges professional transcribers face when working on these recordings.

Background noise (such as loud surroundings or other interfering noises) can also lead to audio distortion, for example, when a conversation gets heated, leading the speakers to talk faster or indistinctly.

2) Overlapping or indistinct speech

Audio transcriptions of wire taps and covert recordings can be challenging even when the issue of background noise doesn’t loom large. Indistinct speech could be as a result of the speakers holding the conversation at a fair distance from the planted microphone, and overlapping speech is a problem when there are too many speakers in the room, making a transcriber’s task quite trying.

Professional transcribers, however, are well equipped to deal with these challenges and approach such recordings systematically, working to distinguish the speakers, words and building links to produce high-quality audio transcriptions of covert recordings.

3) Other linguistic challenges

Linguistic challenges such as non-native speech, register, or accents add a bit more complexity to the mix. Such aspects of speech are often known to complicate clean recordings and certainly amp up the difficulty-level of transcribing covert recordings.

4) A whole lot of time and patience

Due to the distorted quality of such recordings, transcribers may spend a lot of time listening to the conversation over and over again to identify the speakers as well as the words spoken.

Naturally, transcribing a clean recording will take lesser time than transcribing a covert recording of the same duration due to the involvement of various extraneous factors.

5) Cognitive bias

Audio transcription of covert recordings are often primarily obtained for the police for investigative purposes (generally when all other methods of obtaining information have been exhausted) and transcribed by law enforcement transcribers involved with the case.

This could potentially introduce issues of cognitive bias, that is, a law enforcement transcriber may essentially produce an output that reflects what they wanted to hear rather than what they should have heard.

This is why when a covert recording has been vetted for authenticity and deemed as important evidence for a trial, second opinions are encouraged and the involvement of a professional transcription company becomes indispensable.

6) Maintaining confidentiality

While this is certainly not a technical skill that transcribers require, maintaining confidentiality about a transcribed document is an inalienable part of such projects. For this reason, a professional transcription company often signs non-disclosure agreements when taking on such projects.

Audio transcribers of wiretaps and covert recordings are highly-skilled and multifaceted professionals

Overall, audio transcription of covert recordings without a doubt needs the involvement of highly skilled transcribers who are not only experts in the technical aspect of audio transcription but also keen analysts constantly looking for innovative ways of adding value to such high-stake tasks.

And, such multi-skilled transcribers are hard to find in the wild as most professional transcription companies scramble to hire them!

Need to get a challenging recording professionally transcribed? Talk to us!


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.