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The Top Three Reasons Law Firms Are Not Using Digital Dictation Technology
In my profession it is common to ask a lot of questions. True, it is necessary. A Virtual Assistant is someone who needs to know as much as possible about a particular client’s systems or way of doing things in order to better configure and use the technology available to help them. do it better, faster, at less cost — whatever the customer wants to win.
I started my VA career almost eight years ago and limited my practice to virtual assistance for the legal industry. Over the years, I have asked many attorneys, law firm administrators, paralegals, human resources managers, private investigators, IT administrators, managing partners, office managers, secretaries, and others about the processes used in their firms. Some use document management software, some don’t. Some have websites, some don’t. Almost without fail, when asked what lawyers use for dictation, the most common answer: a tape recorder.
This is good, because dictation is a very efficient process, even with tape. According to Dictaphone, in 1952 recorded dictation was created as “a time saver over handwriting and shorthand among lawyers, doctors and other professionals”. The first mini-cassette recorder was marketed in 1973. Can you believe it? The same little tape recorder still in use in most US firms today is the technological equivalent of listening to music on an 8-track!
In any case, if your firm uses tape-based dictation, then it is already understood that recording the firm’s actual work product is a good way to do things, and if your firm does not use dictation, perhaps you should start with digital, so keep reading.
Why upgrade to digital dictation?
Although not as old as dictation itself, digital dictation has been around for quite some time. The medical profession has been using digital dictation technology (phones and portable recorders) for over a decade. Why? The upgrade to a digital dictation process provided hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices and insurance companies:
o the ability of doctors to work remotely with nothing more than a phone or portable recorder and internet connection
o document workflow centralization for multiple users, multiple page operations
o ability to monitor work in progress and overall productivity
o the ability to track and report various metrics and criteria
o the ability to use remote transcribers and save on staff costs
As I see it, any size firm has as much to gain as a comparably sized medical practice by upgrading to a digital dictation process – so the question remains, with so much to gain, why wouldn’t they!? (Read the above list again – with your firm in mind.)
Why aren’t firms using digital dictation?
The main reason, I believe, is that no one has put 2%2B2 together yet. Since digital dictation technology is not “new”, it has not received much attention outside of the medical industry. However, only recently, British and other European law firms have been in the news discussing how the improvement in digital dictation has been easier and better than expected.
What about here in the US?
Listed below (in reverse order) are the top three answers I’ve received over the years to the question, “Why hasn’t your firm upgraded to digital dictation?”
Number 3: “Digital Dictation, Isn’t It Speech Recognition?”
No, speech recognition is not digital dictation. Speech recognition is software. It takes the human voice and converts it into text. Speech recognition software requires training for each specific user—hours of training for most applications, making implementation of this technology impractical in most enterprise settings.
Digital dictation is recording your voice with software or hardware that provides dictation functions – pause, rewind, insert, and so on. However, with digital, the recording does not go to tape, it is saved as an audio file (ie .wav, .dss). Unlike speech recognition, digital dictation requires a transcriber and software to type recorded thoughts.
By the way, one reason why I firmly believe that speech recognition software can never replace a good legal secretary/transcriber – no matter how much you train it, it can never catch up when you say “defendant” and you have to say “plaintiff”! 😉
So while you may have heard or read about the pitfalls of speech recognition technology, digital dictation is an entirely different animal.
Number 2: “If it ain’t broke…”
Yes, it’s true that tape dictation works and has worked for decades, but so does a typewriter, an abacus, and even a compass for that matter. The improvement in digital dictation is not a fix, it is an improvement of a known process. It is the natural evolution of dictation – from human being (secy), to recording (tape), to digital (sound file).
When you go digital, the thing to note is that those doing the recording no longer need to be in the same physical location as the person doing the transcription – or in today’s parlance: they can work remotely! Depending on how the capture process is set up, as long as the firm’s dictators have access to a phone or the Internet, they can produce billable time.
Since the digitally created dictation file is electronic in nature, it can be manipulated much like any other computer file — stored, routed over networks, etc. This makes the dictation file itself much more convenient and user-friendly in today’s electronic environment (networks, multiple offices, document management software, storage requirements).
Along with remote work opportunities for firm dictators, the upgrade to digital dictation provides reporting and tracking for each file as it travels through the process or all metrics that a tape-based dictation system simply cannot provide. Get a tape and ask a lawyer what’s on it and see what s/he says! If it were a digital file, however, you always know the date and time a file was created, by whom, how long it is, what client it is for, what issue it belongs to, and more.
So from an administrator’s and a dictator’s perspective, the upgrade to digital dictation offers quite a bit of improvement to the way work is done.
and… my all time favorite answer to…
“Why hasn’t your firm upgraded to digital dictation?”
Number 1: “We don’t like change.”
I’m not kidding! I have heard this exact phrase more times than I care to admit!
Besides, of course, this answer helping me understand that firms can take forever to make a decision, it presents a conundrum. Why? When upgraded to digital, not much actually changes in the process for the dictator. In fact, Olympus and other major manufacturers even have portable digital recorders in their professional line that have a slide switch. Really, a digital recorder that mimics the functions of an analog recorder.
So when set up right, apart from the fact that a lawyer doesn’t have to get up from his chair to deliver a tape to his secretary (or leave it on her chair), when digitally enhanced, dictators don’t “do” nothing different. .
Wrapping it all up
At some point, every firm must weigh the pros and cons of any technological improvement. With more and more hardware and software needed to stay competitive, it’s no wonder no one is looking for another “upgrade.” Unlike many technologies available today, however, digital dictation technology is not “new.” It is very stable and has been tested, successfully implemented and used in environments of various sizes for more than a decade.
This should, IMHO, make an upgrade to digital dictation a must for any firm’s 2009 technology budget.
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