Human Touch in Legal Transcription Remains Irreplaceable (Or At Least Until AI Can Be Held Liable)

5 Jul 2024

In legal technology, the role of human expertise in transcription services, particularly legal transcription services, remains a topic of debate. I spoke with Ben Walker, founder and CEO of DittoTranscripts, a leading provider of various transcription services including legal, law enforcement, medical, academic, financial, and insurance transcription services to dig in deeper on the future of legal tech. Walker shared why the human touch in transcription services continues to be irreplaceable, at least for now.

Ben Walker, founder and CEO of DittoTranscripts

According to Walker, the legal transcription services industry has undergone significant changes in recent years. "The current role of transcription in the legal industry is supplementary to court reporters or stenographers," he explains. "With almost all in-person court reporting schools closing down and many court reporters retiring, there's a large gap in services. More law firms and courts are turning to legal transcription services to fill this void."

Walker notes that legal transcription services often offer more competitive pricing, usually 25-50% cheaper than traditional court reporters. However, he's quick to point out that the use of AI in transcription services, including law enforcement transcription services and medical transcription services, while more available, hasn't significantly improved in quality.

"A few large court systems have attempted to use AI on a daily basis in India and Australia, but the results have been so bad that the transcripts aren't usable for court purposes," Walker reveals. "Courts will not accept transcripts provided by an AI service unless a human has edited it and signed off on it as being true and accurate."

Human vs. AI in Transcription Services

When asked about the key differences between human and AI-generated transcriptions across various fields like legal, academic, and financial transcription services, Walker is unequivocal. "Human-generated transcripts have a certification page attached at the end, and the transcriptionist signs it confirming they transcribed it and it is true and accurate. They can then be called to testify on its authenticity if needed. AI transcripts do not have certification pages and AI cannot be called to testify in court."

Walker points out that AI transcripts are currently only about 50% accurate, making them of limited use without significant human intervention, whether for legal, medical, or insurance transcription services.

Walker provides concrete examples of where human transcribers excel over AI across various transcription services. "AI often transcribes homonyms incorrectly such as 'hear' and 'here'. 'There', 'they're', and 'their'. 'Wear' and 'where'. AI often can't tell the difference between speakers, or even a man's voice vs a woman's voice, so the speakers are often not identified properly."

The company ensures accuracy by hiring "only the best transcriptionists in the US" for all types of transcription services, including academic and financial transcription services. He elaborates, "All of our transcriptionists have passed our extremely difficult tests and made it through our probationary period. When we hire them they usually have five or more years of experience, pass criminal background checks, and take great pride in their work."

On the critical issue of handling sensitive information across various transcription services, Walker is proud of his company's protocols. "All of our work is done on HIPAA and CJIS secure environments. That means no one else has access to their computers, they are password protected, and our online platforms meet or exceed the requirements set by HIPAA and CJIS. Our transcribers have also all signed confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements."

Legal Implications of AI Transcription

Walker doesn't mince words when discussing the potential consequences of relying on AI-generated transcriptions in legal proceedings or other sensitive areas like law enforcement transcription services.

"The court will throw it out and not allow it to be used. The judge will more than likely reprimand whoever attempted to enter it as evidence as well."

He stresses the importance of human accountability in all transcription services. "Transcripts introduced in court have to be certified by a person so that there is someone who can say, 'yes this is what I heard.' Those transcripts are read and used by all the attorneys involved and the judge, so they have to be done at 99% accuracy or higher and AI is not capable of that."

Looking ahead, Walker believes that significant advancements are needed before AI can become truly reliable in any transcription service, whether it's legal, medical, academic, financial, or insurance transcription services. "AI would need to be 92% or higher in accuracy in order for the editing to be as fast as our transcriptionists typing it straight away. That includes speaker identification, spelling, grammar, and punctuation all being 92% or better."

However, he does see potential for collaboration between AI and human transcribers in the future across all transcription services. "Once AI is at the 92% or higher rate transcripts will be completed much faster and the costs will go way down. Once that happens more people will be able to afford transcripts and the industry will more than likely start growing faster than it already is because accessibility will be better and cheaper."

Walker shares that clients consistently value the human touch in all types of transcription services. "Our people know what they're doing and don't miss things like AI does. We identify each speaker correctly, spell everything correctly, and use the proper grammar. These might sound basic, they aren't though when it comes to certified transcripts you can submit to a court of law or use in medical, academic, or financial contexts."

On the ethical front, Walker raises important concerns about AI use in transcription services, including issues of bias, data security, and ownership. "Who has access to that data once you've uploaded it? Who would own the transcript or summary once you've uploaded your file to OpenAI or Google Gemini? Finally, who would take responsibility for any mistakes made in the transcripts or summaries?"

As the industry evolves, Walker and are preparing for future advancements while maintaining their commitment to human expertise across all transcription services. "We are patiently waiting to see if AI can get to the 92% or higher threshold. Once that happens we will start using it immediately. Because there are so many factors that affect this threshold though, I am not sure it is going to be anytime soon."

Walker also notes that recent legal developments could impact the transcription services industry. "The Supreme Court's recent decision to curtail the power of federal agencies will have implications for the legal transcription services industry. All of those decisions that were made by a federal entity over the past 40 years are now subject to litigation, which means more court hearings, which means more transcripts being ordered."

While AI continues to advance, Ben Walker's insights clearly illustrate why the human touch in transcription services remains irreplaceable for now. The combination of accuracy, accountability, and ethical considerations ensures that human transcriptionists will continue to play a vital role in legal, law enforcement, medical, academic, financial, and insurance transcription services for the foreseeable future – at least until AI can be held liable in courts.