Rough Draft Transcripts

Lawyers usually rely on audio transcription services to get court hearings, depositions, trials and other legal proceedings transcribed accurately and on time. Experienced legal transcriptionists are highly skilled and can provide error-free verbatim transcripts from audio recordings. However, rather than wait for a certified final transcript from the court reporter or legal transcriptionist, lawyers often request rough draft transcripts to help with case preparation. A valuable and cost-effective resource, uncertified rough draft transcripts provide important information to help lawyers prepare for the next day’s proceedings.

What is an uncertified rough draft transcript? It is an ASCII or “unofficial” transcript that is the court reporter provides shortly after the day’s proceedings and which has not gone through review, proofreading, and editing necessary to produce the final accurate error-free verbatim certified transcript. ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) is a code for English characters and numbers that most computers use to store text. The code is easily read by most computer programs and is easily transferred from one computer to the other.

Also referred to as a “dirty ASCII”, the rough draft transcript is emailed to the lawyer on request at the end of a deposition, hearing or other legal proceeding. As the rough draft transcript may have misspellings, untranslated steno outlines, missing punctuation and incorrect words, it comes with a disclaimer that the lawyer cannot quote from it in the court. However, the rough draft transcript is generally free of untranslates and mistranslates, making it a useful tool for litigation teams to work faster and more efficiently.

How do lawyers and their co-counsel benefit from unofficial rough draft transcripts? Here’s how:

  • To Prepare for the next day’s Proceedings: Rough draft transcripts go a long way in helping legal professional plan for the next day’s hearing. The unofficial transcript can be reviewed, and used to search for keywords and phrases, and highlight issues. Portions of the testimony can be moved into other documents. All this can be done without affecting the integrity of the original ASCII transcript.
  • To Make Notes: For proceedings that stretch over many days, making notes can be time consuming and also difficult to manage from only your memory. Reviewing the rough record and making notes directly on the transcript can prove very useful for the next day’s proceedings. The notes can be distributed to your staff for further follow-up and inquiry.
  • To improve Witness Preparation: Having a rough record of how the witness answered questions helps lawyers tweak witness preparation. It reveals whether questions were answered completely and helps identify potential chinks or slip-ups in the witness’s testimony. Using this information, the lawyer can tell the witness how to improve his testimony. The rough transcript can also reveal weak points in opposing counsel’s witness testimonies, questions, and arguments, which can be used to develop the rebuttal and cross examination.

An important point to keep in mind is that quality matters even when it comes to the uncertified rough draft legal transcript. In fact, it is mandated that “only court reporters who possess the capability of providing a substantially readable transcript should attempt to provide an uncertified rough draft transcript” (www.ilcra.org/code-of-ethics). Minimum writing skills recommended include conflict-free writing, untranslates of one percent or less, standard punctuation included, and speaker identification defined. The goal should be to provide a usable rough draft transcript with as few mistakes as possible. To produce a usable ASCII, an article from JD Supra recommends identifying the participants correctly and making sure that the spellings in the case caption, and those of counsel and the parties are correct.

Lawyers can order an uncertified rough draft transcript at the time of scheduling the court reporting service. This will help the court reporter to be better prepared and make arrangements to provide a cleaner rough draft.

When it comes to final legal transcripts, busy court reporters and lawyers often rely on digital transcription service providers. Experienced legal transcriptionist are well-versed in legal jargon and court proceedings and also knowledgeable about transcript formatting/rules by jurisdiction. They will carefully go through the rough draft, and ensure that there are no spelling errors, incorrect words or missing punctuation. A professional legal transcription company would have multi-tier quality checks in place to ensure that the end product is as accurate and complete as possible.