Leveraging Dictation Technology to Save Time and Overhead

Lawyers used to dictate drafts of correspondence and documents for their assistant to transcribe, in order to improve their efficiency over handwritten drafting. As word processing software became more user-friendly, however, lawyers began doing more and more of their own typing. Most found it easier to draft when they could immediately see and edit their work product. Today both solos and big firms save on overhead by using fewer, and sometimes less skilled, administrative assistants, which increases the need for lawyers to type more.

Some of those cost savings may be illusory, however. Lawyers wind up doing a lot of tasks that don’t require legal expertise, and for which they can’t charge their high billing rates. Additionally, most of us can still speak a lot faster than we can type, which slows us down when we draft routine letters, emails and simple documents.

Some Better Solutions

Finally, the accuracy of the Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software by Nuance has improved enough to make it easy and efficient to use for dictation transcription. Many lawyers shy away from it, however, due to bad experiences in the past. One lawyer told me about cursorily wrapping up his voice recognition dictation years ago with “Very truly yours.” His letter came out with a closing of “Very hairy cheerleaders.”

To see how well it works today, check out some video demos on YouTube like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob0ZCbf9TYU and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDyUnHMqOSQ. I actually used Dragon NaturallySpeaking for writing most of this article.

If you are still gun-shy about the quality of voice recognition transcription, there are some opportunities to “try before you buy.” Try out the free iPhone app called Dragon Dictation to dictate and send e-mails, texts, and Twitter and Facebook updates. For Blackberry, try Dragon for E-mail and for an Android smartphone, try the FlexT9. You are limited to a short duration for your dictation time, but you will get a good sense of how well the software recognizes your voice, and you can e-mail the transcription to yourself.

Once you’re convinced, the basic version of Dragon Naturally Speaking costs about $100 on the Nuance website. You can purchase the premium version on Amazon.com for $139, instead of the $199 advertised by Nuance.

Dictating For Human Transcription

If you still want a human being to transcribe your dictation, there are some solutions short of hiring additional help. Here are two services that are familiar with working with attorneys and allow you to dictate using your telephone:

Copy Talk facilitates dictation from anywhere on any telephone. Keep their phone number on speed dial on your office phone and cell phone. Your transcript is returned to you by e-mail within a few hours. This product is for power users, because you can submit an unlimited number of dictations 24/7. For a monthly subscription fee of $79.95 you get four minutes per topic, and you can include five topics per phone call. I usually find that I must break an article like this into at least two topics in one phone call. Since there is no per use charge, you can feel free to employ Copy Talk for little reminders to yourself, email instructions to your assistant, etc.

SpeakWrite dictation may be submitted by telephone, by free software on your computer or by uploading a file from your digital recorder. There are also free apps for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android, which allow you to record and submit your dictation for transcription. The apps contain an editing feature that allows you to back up 5 seconds to edit your dictation. SpeakWrite charges by the word with a minimum charge of 100 words per document, at a price of 1.5 cents per word for legal transcription.

Optimizing Your Assistant

Even if you have a full-time administrative assistant, you may want to try out one of these options. If your assistant has difficulty keeping up with all the work you assign, your software or transcription service can do the first round of typing up what you dictate. Later your assistant can proof it, clean it up, and send it out. That saves your assistant’s time for doing things that can only be done by someone familiar with your office and your clients.

Please Share Your Experience

If you have other techniques for speeding up your drafting, please share them with me in the comments below. I hope you will also experiment with some of these options and let me know how they work for you.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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5 comments on “Leveraging Dictation Technology to Save Time and Overhead

  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the speech recognition solution for the Mac is also from Nuance, and it’s called Dragon Dictate. It runs the same engine as Dragon Dictation and Dragon SpeakNaturally and I use it all the time to save my aching hands (too many years playing the piano).


    • Thanks Victor. I failed to mention the Mac version of these apps.

      Another benefit is that they can be particularly helpful for people with carpal tunnel syndrome or other disabilities that make typing difficult. (Not to mention the lawyers who just never learned to type.)

    • I agree with Victor on the Mac version. Over the years I found dragon to lack the basic understanding to use as a everyday tool. I spend more time re-typing documents or changing the wording to make it worth using. However the latest version works well. It is not perfect and I notice if I’m tired and run words together or my west-Texas slang slips in the program will struggle. When I dictate clearly it works well. I use it to dictate notes to file, emails to clients and basic letters. I do not use it to write briefs or long items but it works well for what I do.

      • Stephen-
        I had a similar experience years ago with Dragon, but I have been impressed with how well it recognizes my Texas twang now. I like the fact that I can see contemporaneously whether I am understood (as opposed to dicating to a human who gets a garbled transcription back to me hours later, when it’s no longer clear to me exactly what I was trying to say).

        I don’t like being tied to my computer for dictation, however. Still looking for Dragon to provide unlimited iPhone dictation for owners of the software, instead of the 30 second limit of Dragon Dictate.

  • Great recommendations. I use Dragon Diction routinely for my business and personal needs while I’m out and about and in the car not wanting to text, etc while driving (app is available for smart phones). Thanks for sharing!

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