What is Our Work as Transcribers/ Translators Worth?
February 22, 2012 § 5 Comments
Not long ago I was having lunch with some of our colleagues who do a lot of transcription work for the courts. Inevitably, the conversation turned into a discussion about the enormous amount of work involved in a transcription/ translation assignment. Although I do not devote much of my professional practice to this interesting and difficult discipline, I have had my share of transcription jobs throughout the years. I know first-hand how demanding and time-consuming a transcription can be.
When an attorney retains you to transcribe a police interview, wiretap, telephone call, or foreign-court testimony, the case starts with the transcriber (Often a translator or a court interpreter) getting a bunch of tapes, CDs, or MP3s. The first step is to figure out how to open the files that contain the audio and video recordings; and as many of you know, this can be hard and frustrating. Once the files are open, the transcriber needs to listen, “clean up”, and listen again, over and over, until she can understand and transcribe everything that was said. This can take an incredibly long time. A rule of thumb for many transcribers is about one hour of work for one minute of recording. Then comes the checking of the transcription work, and finally the translation process begins: translation, proof-reading, review.
By the way, we cannot forget the court testimony, including all the preparation and waiting time at the courthouse. In all: It is a complex, detail-oriented, demanding, and often underappreciated area of our profession.
In my opinion, this type of highly specialized work has to be well remunerated, and I believe that the transcriber must charge differently for the three main aspects of the transcription service: She should charge a professional fee for the time it takes her to transcribe the recordings, a per-word fee for the translation part of the assignment, and then again a professional fee for the time spent in testimony preparation, time waiting around at the courthouse, and time spent on the witness stand. Some colleagues believe that this is way too complicated, and they opt for charging a pre-determined professional fee for the time spent doing the job, all aspects included, without any distinction between transcription and translation work. This first system has always worked for me, but since I do not do as many transcriptions as some of you, I ask you to give us your opinion.