Highly efficient dictation software makes for the perfect mix of old-school skills and new tech. Maybe the young dogs need to learn some old tricks!
Like most older, or as I prefer, seasoned attorneys, I learned early to dictate. Tape-based dictating machines and handhelds were my constant office companions. Instead of typing, I spoke to the recorder – micro-cassette tapes went to my smoking fast secretary, content quickly came back to edit and finalize. It was very efficient – still is. But, with the advent of computers, digital content, emails, texting, smartphones, iPads and other tablets, and now Ultrabooks, keyboards and typing rule. Dictation is, or has been, a skill in decline for attorneys. A walking tour around any law firm, including my own, reveals scores of attorneys staring at screens and typing. Don’t get me wrong, this is not some old-guy rant against the computer-based, digital, interactive world we now live in. I love my tech, my software, my phone, my software, my iPad, my computers, texting, social media, etc. I love all this stuff and am always an early adopter of new tech and software. If used wisely, all this stuff increases efficiency, allows better communication with clients, streamlines the storage and use of data, makes trial presentations more effective, makes timekeeping and billing more efficient, lowers marketing costs, etc. Overall, the tech advances of the last 10-15 years, without dispute, have made attorneys better, more efficient, and more profitable. And, I love my screens like everybody else.
But, that does not mean attorneys, including younger attorneys, should ignore and discard old skills that work. At its core, attorney work is largely about getting our thoughts, analysis and arguments on paper or on a screen and then out to the intended recipient, whether it be a client, opposing counsel or the court. Attorneys dictating – speaking – into content is a highly efficient means to get that work done. And dictation software makes that process even more effective and efficient. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking on computers with a small bluetooth earpiece. I speak and the computer types what I speak directly into whatever program I using, Word, WordPerfect, billing software, Outlook and other email software, etc. And it really works quite well. The accuracy of the software is much improved from earlier versions and improves dramatically with regular use. And the dictating skills I learned as a young attorney lend themselves quite well to the software.
On a daily basis, I use a mixture of typing some short letters and some emails, dictating with the software into the computer, and more traditional dictation for my assistant to process using micro-cassettes. I edit primarily on the computer. But, as a general rule, with first drafts and new content, the more I touch the keyboard, the less efficient I am. Better to speak into content, rather than type into content. I find the dictation software particularly effective with email, which makes up a large part of the working days of most attorneys. I dictate, edit, spell-check, send and receive most emails, of varying lengths, largely without touching the keyboard. It is very fast and effective. It also works quite well with billing software – with billing software open, I directly dictate my time entires as billable events occur. Overall, I find myself using the software – speaking into content – more and more, and typing less.
Some attorneys – mostly younger attorneys who grew up with computers and keyboards – will argue they can compose and type just as fast as dictating the content . Maybe so, but I just don’t know. I would bet that for the vast majority of attorneys, dictating content is always faster. And with dictation software that actually works, speaking, rather than typing, into content makes even more sense.
And there is always the more serious issue of whether a client is paying for attorney work, or for an attorney doing his/her own clerical work. If an attorney can dictate a letter, email or brief using dictation software or a tape for a non-billed clerical staff to process in .2 hours, but it will take .3 hours to compose and type that letter or email, should the client be billed for that additional .1 hour for the attorney to do what can only be characterized as non-billable clerical work. I know that office work flow and attorney content generation are more complicated concepts than this simple example. But, there is a point to be made here – when does a lawyer cross the line from billing for attorney work to billing for doing his or her own clerical work?
So, I would encourage those of you who cut your teeth as attorneys on dictating content to look anew at those old skills and try the new dictation software. And for younger attorneys, I would encourage you to consider whether being a master of, or perhaps, a slave to the keyboard is always the most efficient and fair – to the client – way to work. Perhaps using some old tricks mixed with new tech will make you more efficient and effective for your clients, and more profitable and indispensable to your law firms.
Case in point, I left my bluetooth earpiece at the office and it took me a hell of a lot longer to type this than it would have taken to speak it!