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Using TypeWell In Law School

Andrew Hansen has been a TypeWell transcriber since 2008. He completed the Turbo Courselet in 2011 and attended the Professional Development Symposium in 2012. Andrew completed TypeWell's new Skill Assessment in early 2017 and (not surprisingly) he currently ranks #1 on the Skill Assessment leaderboard. He works at All HANDS IN MOTION in New York, NY

This past academic year, I had the privilege to provide TypeWell services for a first-year law student. I’d like to share my thoughts about this experience in the hopes that it might open up new avenues of work for TypeWell transcribers, in subject areas that had previously been seen as too dense or high pressure for our meaning-for-meaning style.

I believe TypeWell services can be used no matter what level of material is being transcribed, depending on the skill level of the transcriber and the needs of the consumer.

When first approached about working in a law program, I was very hesitant. Growing up, I had seen my share of movies and TV shows set in the first year of law school. The professors were strict and harsh with students and brooked no nonsense. The students were all super competitive and high-performing, trying to take advantage of each other’s weaknesses in order to achieve success. This law school mythology bolstered my opinion that CART was the only appropriate speech-to-text service for such a setting.

But then I thought about the many advanced conferences and events I have transcribed over the years where my real-time transcription has been projected on a screen for the entire audience to see. Some of these events were incredibly high-pressure and high-profile. From these past experiences, I had learned to transcribe a slightly more verbatim style while maintaining the TypeWell formatting and sentence structure our clients expect.

My employer, Janice Rimler of All HANDS IN MOTION, had every confidence that my fellow transcribers and I had the skills to successfully provide service for this law student. An added caveat to this undertaking was that this particular student had used TypeWell services in undergraduate classes and knew exactly what to expect.

These factors helped my teammates and me to accept what would become an exciting, exhausting, challenging, and ultimately satisfying semester of work.

From the beginning, transcribing these law school classes presented more challenges than usual. Some of the classes were only an hour long and would, under normal graduate school parameters, have one transcriber. But, because the lectures moved so quickly and dealt with such dense material, my coordinator insisted that all of the classes be teamed. This turned out to be incredibly helpful because when I was not typing, I was Googling terms and legal cases which I was able to “feed” to my teammate through TypeWell’s chat window in the Web browser.

a row of textbooks on a shelf titled Law Cases

We were provided digital copies of the textbooks for each class, which helped us look up specific legal cases and terminology even faster. We were also allotted paid prep time for each class. Skimming through the text before each class was a nice way to get my brain familiar with the vocabulary that was I was about to hear. Once I had access to the texts, I was never too surprised by new terminology or strange case names. It also gave me the time to add special terms or names into my Personal Abbreviation List (PAL) beforehand, rather than add them on the fly.

Speaking of the PAL, I don’t think I could have made it through these law classes without that feature.

I have to admit that I have always relied on my PAL pretty heavily. Before training with TypeWell, I was a transcriber for a company that used an abbreviation program where you created your own dictionary of shortcuts for words and phrases, so I was quite used to typing with abbreviations. My dictionary in that other program contained over 3,000 words.

Thankfully, TypeWell’s abbreviation design is so robust that I no longer have to memorize thousands of abbreviations. But I definitely add words, phrases, and names into my PAL that are specific to each class I’m transcribing, as well as words that are just hard for me to type. Even if this were not the case, I would have definitely started using my PAL constantly once I started these law classes. Law professors are throwing out cases with crazy names left and right throughout the semester. It was absolutely necessary for me to have those case names abbreviated in my PAL so that they expanded with correct spelling and formatting every time, without me having to think about it. The less we have to think about things like spelling and formatting, the easier we can keep up with the flow of the lecture.

The student has been satisfied with our service, and we’re now close to wrapping up the second semester.

I do want to make a point about CART versus TypeWell. I went to school for a couple years to train as a court reporter, but I ran out of money and patience. Then I discovered TypeWell and moved on with my life. Because of this experience, I have an incredibly high regard for court reporters and CART providers. There are certain settings that absolutely require a completely verbatim transcript, such as court proceedings or depositions. However, I personally believe that in the educational setting, TypeWell can be used no matter what level of material is being transcribed, depending on the skill level of the transcriber and the needs of the student.

Overhead photo looking down into a library full of students working at tables

Over the eight years I’ve been a TypeWell transcriber, most of the students with whom I have worked have been hard-of-hearing, with residual hearing due to a hearing aid or cochlear implant. They generally prefer to listen to the professor without looking at the TypeWell transcription. When they miss something or are confused about what they think they heard, they look down at their tablets, quickly find what they missed, glance to the bottom to catch up with what is currently being said, and then look back up to continue listening directly to the professor. This is when the TypeWell style of transcribing shines. We are trained to transcribe grammatically correct sentences in short paragraphs with the correct use of capitalization and punctuation as well as speaker identifications.

This style of real-time transcribing allows readers to quickly and efficiently find bits of information they might not have heard.

This is something that the standard CART approach does not do. Generally, a CART transcript is in all caps with a double "greater than" symbol (>>) to indicate each new speaker and no paragraph breaks at all. I have had students tell me this is one of the reasons why they request TypeWell over CART.

In my mind, it makes perfect sense that a hard-of-hearing student or anyone who requires transcription services in a high-level setting such as a first-year law class would actually benefit from a TypeWell style of transcription, as long as the transcribers have the skill level and the temperament to keep up.

Ultimately, it is the student’s decision regarding which service he or she prefers, and that is the way it should be.

I just don’t think TypeWell should be dismissed out of hand once a student reaches a specific graduate level of education. In fact, my teammates and I transcribe graduate level courses all the time, some of which are just as intense as these law classes have been. Depending on the student, I actually think TypeWell can be better equipped to provide the kind of service a student needs to thrive during these intense graduate-level classes.

Overall, I have had a very positive experience transcribing for a law school. I love being challenged. I always prefer a class where my fingers and brain have been working like crazy versus a class where I just sit waiting while the students do silent class work. I assure you, there is not a lot of silent class work in law school!

If you are thinking about taking on something like law school, keep in mind that the transcriber needs to be a fast typist as well as a fast thinker. The transcriber can’t freeze when something goes wrong or when he or she misses something. The transcriber needs to be able to troubleshoot technical problems without panicking.

Most likely, a transcriber right out of training is not going to be anywhere near prepared to tackle these kinds of classes.

But, someone who has transcribed in high-pressure situations (such as a conference where your real-time transcription is projected on a screen for the entire audience to see) and who has transcribed dense classes (such as a semester-long, 3-hour master’s level class on global urban planning and architecture) should feel confident to take on law school.

I’m pretty psyched to see what is in store for next semester!


Andrew Hansen

Andrew Hansen is a TypeWell transcriber in New York City with All Hands in Motion Professional Sign Language Interpreters LLC.

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