Why Dictate?

Simple. To get more stuff done with less effort.

It’s not just “documents” when you dictate – if you can intelligently formulate a request and speak it – you can delegate it and get it off your to do.  In his groundbreaking work Getting Things Done, David Allen lists “dictation” as one way to get what is in your head out and useable.  I agree.

I remember reading a stat that said speaking is 7x faster than hand writing and 4x faster than keyboarding for the average typist.  In other words, you can speak much faster than you can write or type.

Here’s the catch – even if you type fast – with more than 4 fingers – do you want to be the only person charged with creating the documents, spreadsheets, reports, letters, stipulations, and all the other “documents” required to run the firm?

I’ve heard it a million times – “I think while I’m drafting/typing”. To that I say – right – you’re thinking while drafting – now send the thoughts through your mouth, instead of your fingers!

There’s other reasons why typing while “drafting” can work against you.  For instance, the tendency to self-edit not only constantly interrupts the creative part of the drafting process, it certainly increases the amount of time it takes to get the job (an initial draft) done.

And what about all that typing which isn’t “drafting”? Things like entering time and billing, contacts and calendar entries? Then there’s also all that administrative typing – which is a lot more data entry type of work – do you  like being the only person who has to do it all … all of the time?

The solution is as easy as asking. That’s what dictation truly is — asking someone to put keystrokes on a page, or data into a form, or to get a task done.

Dictation works so well, it has been a business process mainstay literally for centuries.  From boss/thinker/employer to assistant/secretary/person that makes it so – for so long as there have been bosses, there have been those running behind taking notes and getting the work done.

It was in the 1970’s that the process went from a boss speaking their needs to another human being frantically scribbling in Gregg or Pittman (steno) to recorded on tape and the productivity gains were enormous and immediate!   Attorneys and professionals could get their work done from anywhere – so long as they had their recorder, fresh tapes and batteries; and staff could spend more time at their desks, plugged in and working independently of their attorneys.

Tape vs. Digital

Tape based dictation was a definite improvement to the business process of dictation.  Not only did it liberate lawyers from their offices, assistants were no longer tied up for hours “taking dictation” and office tasks and responsibilities, including making calls, speaking with clients/adversaries/clerks and the courts, following up on things could all easily be recorded for the assistant to fit into the flow of the work that day.  If there was a priority – she would be asked to hunt for it on the tape – or the rush would be dictated onto a new tape.

While recorded dictation was an improvement to the process, it still left one huge problem:  the tape.

Tapes have issues – the first and foremost is that a tape is a physical something that requires a physical transfer – either everyone in the same location; someone driving into the office to leave  on their assistant’s chair; or through the use of couriers and overnight mail.

There’s also the physical things which can happen to a tape – it can get mangled, broken, or lost.

Also, as illustrated in the example of the rush job above, tapes are linear and not a good medium for the management of the work contained on them.

What Do You Need To Dictate?

Seriously not much! Used to be you had to have expensive equipment – recorders and the transcription machines were required to complete the process.  Now an inexpensive app on a smartphone is all that is needed to use the power of your voice to get things done!

For those transitioning from tape based dictation to digital – I recommend you get a unit with a slide switch. Professional dictation equipment ranges  in price from $250.00 for the button controlled units to about $500.00 for those with a slide switch.  Along with the recorder, software is provided for the transfer of the digital file created by the unit to a computer, generally through a USB cable or a cradle.

Dictating is straight forward and quite similar to an analog (tape) recorder. When purchasing a unit, note button size, shape and location. Be certain that the unit is not so small, or button placement so awkward that it is uncomfortable to use. Also be certain that the recorder has all the functions needed. Some less expensive recorders, for instance, do not have the ability to transfer the file, making them useless for dictation purposes.

Another option is digital dictation software which turns a computer into a dictation machine.  As with many types of software, development of digital dictation applications range from basic to the extremely comprehensive and industry specific. Most dictation software has a free trial period (usually thirty days) and can be downloaded directly from a developer’s website.

Last is my favorite way to set up clients of LegalTypist – the app Dictate + Connect.  Download this app to your Apple or Android device, and for less than $20, have the ability to dictate on you all the time!  Unlike apps for speech recognition or Siri – Dictate+Connect is a true dictation tool; does not send your files to their servers or scan any content; and can be set-up to automatically transfer files to your assistant or typing service.

How To Dictate:

Just as you do not innately know how to use a computer, or write, dictation is a learned skill. For those just starting out, here are a few tips:

  • Organize your thoughts and documents before you begin. Some find it helpful to make an outline prior to starting their dictations.
  • Do not begin speaking for at least 1-2 seconds after you have pressed the “record” button and do not press the “stop” button for at least 1-2 seconds after you have completed your final syllable.
  • Begin your dictation by letting the typist know what s/he can expect.  Specify the type of document you would like prepared and how you would like that document to be formatted (as a letter, memo to file, pleading, etc.)
  • Speak clearly and slowly and be sure to clearly articulate unfamiliar words, names or terms d’art.  Which you should also spell.
  • When spelling out words, say the word, spell it, then say it again.  When it comes to spelling, it is important to articulate letters in the alphabet that sound similar, such as “m” and “n”.
  • Any special commands, such as underlining or bold, say before the words.  So give the command: “begin bold” blah blah blah and to end the command, say: “end bold”.  Example:

This is an example.

You would say: “bold centered this is an example period end bold.”

  • It is better to give commands before the words you want affected. So Getting Things Done would be dictated as: “begin italics, initial cap, getting things done… end italics”.
  • Dictate punctuation such as “period”, “comma” and “new paragraph”.
  • When dictating numbers always say zero instead of “o”.

Dictating Numbers

0 is always “zero” not “o” or “oh”
1,000 one thousand
1967 nineteen sixty seven
3.17 three point one seven
52,487 fifty two thousand four hundred eighty seven

Common Dictation Commands:

. period ( open parentheses
, comma ) close parentheses
: colon ; semicolon
new paragraph ? Indent
@ at symbol & ampersand
§ section symbol / slash

Special formatting:



Say: “heading bold centered underlined all caps – to get this heading style – new paragraph”

Numbered Paragraphs

Numbered paragraphs are common, especially in legal.  You can say: “Next numbered paragraph” – rather than keeping track of each paragraph.  Additionally, you should instruct your assistant to use automatic paragraph numbering –  “Please use automatic paragraph numbering” will suffice.  This way, should you make revisions that impact the numbers, the numbers will automatically adjust.


Legal case sites are either underlined or italicized.  If you explain your preference at the start of the dictation, your transcriptionist will already know which to use and you can just dictate each cite without the instructions.


A quote is usually surrounded by quotation marks.  “If this is what I wanted.” I would say “open quote if this is what I wanted period end quote”

If a quote is more than a line and half long, it should be indented.  Once indented, a quote does not require quotation marks.  All quotes should give a cite.  This cite is not contained within the indent.  For example:

I’m quoting myself saying this stuff to you.  I’ve decided to ramble on much longer than a line in explaining this concept.  Now I’ve created a quote too long to be left as part of the text.  This is what it looks like when it’s indented.

Andrea Cannavina, Digital Dictation 101.

To get this type of quote, you’d say:

“Quote.  Single space, indent both margins.  Here’s where the language goes … return to margin. Andrea Cannavina, Digital Dictation 101”.

With time, every dictator improves and becomes comfortable dictating.

Digital dictation is the way to work in the here and now—and all the way into the future.

It can be used to immediately modernize and simplify the workflow of an entire office.  Digital dictation will save you time and money and increase the overall productivity of everyone.  If you’ve never used dictation, you can reap the same level of reward as when the process jumped from human to tape – and become immediately mobile and able to process work not only away from your office – but away from your keyboard too!

5 Don’ts For Any Cloud Based Player

I have been “in the cloud” since adopting Onebox for my company’s virtual pbx a dozen or so years ago.  In fact, I found the “cloud” to have so many advantages over hosting my own solutions, I took LegalTypist 100% digital after finding a secure tech I could configure and use with attorney client work product<- that was about 2004.

Jump forward a decade and there’s cloud-based any and everything!  The problem with that is – for lawyers and their work product especially – are all those cloud solutions aware of your ethical obligations to maintain confidentiality? What about your duty not to inadvertently disclose <-do they even KNOW about that one?!

You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I’ve spoken with CEO’s who think that by putting the word “legal” in front of “project management” you somehow end up with a “solution” that is secure enough for attorney client work product or that will actually work for lawyers and law firms. Certainly over the past decade, I’ve beta’d enough tech to spot when users are not the focus and marketing and sales are far ahead of a reliable and stable product.

So let me share with you now my top 5 Don’ts For Any Cloud Based Player:

  • Don’t listen to any tech company looking to help you become independent of your obligation to understand the most basic information about the location, access and use of your client’s data, and the files you need to run your practice.  At a minimum, ask where the servers physically reside; who has access to them and who is available to help you when there is an issue.
  • Don’t listen to any tech company looking to help you outsource your IT.  They are no more “IT” guys than they are legal project managers (or even remotely familiar with how things get done in a law firm).  Having a relative who works for a law firm is not really the standard I want to see from a company entrusted with my clients’ practices.  If an attorney who has had a successful practice is not somewhere on the corporate team, be especially wary and up your BS meter when the IT *cough* sales people start “helping” you.
  • Don’t click “OK” or “I Agree” until you READ the FULL Terms of Service. Period.  Don’t “skim” them. I don’t care who you know who is an attorney who says s/he uses it. Doesn’t matter what anyone else does – you have to read (and understand) the full TOS for yourself.  If and when you do hit “I Agree” – make sure to print the TOS to pdf or paper and put in a folder for future reference.  Many companies change their “on line” TOS, so you really do need a physical copy of what you actually agreed to.
  • Don’t sign up for a whole year because it is cheaper and you think you’ll be more committed. You won’t! You’ll just be out more money for a product you may or may not use (or which may or may not work for you and your firm). The reality is that these are all legal tech start-ups and may not be here in a year!  They also may not do what you are lead to believe when you sign up. Or perhaps it can, but you have to pay for and populate a third party add on or hire a consultant first.  The point is, always get a 30 or 60 day free trial before you buy into anything and actually test it during the free period to see what YOU can get it to do without investing more than a few hours of your time.
  • Don’t have only one way to connect to the internet. When your data, files and client information ONLY RESIDE in the cloud – and you can’t get a connection – then what? Sit around and do nothing until you get service back? No! Use an alternate method to connect to the web – even a dial up or your cell phone is better than nothing.

Does the above mean that a cloud application is NOT for you. No. But you do need to be aware of your options and the risks involved when migrating business functions and/or client data to the cloud.

You also need to be aware of when you are being sold – and it is just as true for attorneys as anyone else – if it sounds too good to be true, chances are, it is.

No piece of technology or shiny object will magically give you back hours every week or get the paying work done and out the door.  The fact is, many make simple processes far more complex and time consuming than the average solo needs; and a few require you to pay and incorporate third party products or hire on consultants in order to make their tech actually do that which you were told it would when you were sold.

For a more comprehensive review of 9 of the practice management solutions available, here is a link to the most downloaded report on LegalTypist.com:  The Sorry State of Legal Practice Management Software <-downloaded over 15,000 times!

Written in 2014 by attorney-geek, Avi Frisch, you would think in 3 years the companies listed would have corrected the issues raised. Nope. Avi tested again at the end of 2016 – and everything appears to remain the same.

Network, network, network

As a Virtual Assistant, I get to meet so many people. Well, maybe “meet” is the wrong word. I get to connect and communicate with many people – most of whom I will never meet face to face.  I work remotely, my clients are remote, my network of qualified Digital Assistants are all remote – and the work gets done and, more importantly, everyone is happy.

Most of the time, I don’t even speak with a client again after they have signed on – unless there is a problem or they wish to upgrade or add services within their workflow  (or the occasional “Hi, how ya doin'” type of call, of course).Given this set of circumstances, many would say I’ve got it made. I have recurring, steady work from a growing pool of clients who never really need “me”.

However, any successful business owner will tell you – you can NEVER stop trying to find and connect with people. Bringing in new business is the lifeblood of any business.

Networking is obviously what I need to keep my name and my business in front of as many people as possible. In today’s day and age, networking takes on two forms: on and off line networking.

My off line networking includes annual trips to LTNY and #ABATECHSHOW

For on line networking I am a member of many sites: twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, along with the list serv maintained by the ABA known as Solosez.

However, there has always seemed to be something lacking for those who work in legal to truly connect outside of just a list serv.

So I made a place:


Go join:  http://www.virtualbarassociation.com The only requirement for membership is that you are actively employed at a law firm. Already loaded are 6 podcasts relevant to working on and through the web and everyone also gets a free copy of my ebook, along with copies of the reports and other goodies – like discounts!

But that’s not all!

Every month there is an educational webinar – March 28th is Vik Rajan covering Websites 101 where you will learn a lot more than just the difference between a website and a blog.  He even taught me a thing or two!!

These monthly webinars are called Lunch-N-Learn’s and are free to every VBA member; or if you can’t attend live, all Lunch-N-Learns are recorded and made available for any time download from the Member’s Only area.

I could go on and on … but just join: http://www.virtualbarassociation.com so we can all connect, learn and laugh and most importantly #dolawbetter

Through the Years #ABATECHSHOW Edition

I missed TechShow this year and was reminiscing with a colleague. As I was going through my files, I came across a lot of pix so threw together this collage of some of my favorite images/peeps:

Here are most of my ABATECHSHOW posts, including the most popular – all the 60 sites in 60 minutes in one spot:

2013:  The Wrap Up Part 1

2012:  ABATECHSHOW – Why go?

2011:  ABA Techshow – Q. What’s Going On? A. LOTS!!

2010:  Techshow Update Day 1

2010:  TechShow Update – the wrap up

60 Sites in 60 Minutes 2000-2016 #ABATECHSHOW

LTNY17 & the VBA Launch

Those of you who know me, know I have been attending the “largest legal trade show” (aka LegalTech NY) held in New York City, for years. In fact, I just realized that 2017 marks my 10th year attending LTNY!

That’s a full decade of braving the bleak and nasty January weather of NYC, with just one exception, 2010, which I dubbed Ice-A-Palooza as all of NYC was literally frozen over so badly mass transit was shut down and I could not physically get into the City.

Now, why have I braved the nasty weather each year for LTNY? Lots of reasons, including:

  1. to snuffle out the latest and greatest to report on and/or recommend to my contacts, colleagues and clients
  2. to enjoy the hustle and bustle of being in the same place as a lot of other legal geeks
  3. to host events – including lunches, swag-a-thons and dinners
  4. to meet with select vendors and discuss their product and company news
  5. to hang out, grab a beer and/or a hug from the people I have connected with through the years, including: @david_bilinsky @nerinopetro @jeffreyTaylor @bschorr @BobAmbrogi @CarolynElefant @glambert @tim_baran @DonnaSeyle @rajuip @jimcalloway @ChelseyLambert @themaclawyer @mrsmaclawyer @allisonshields @craigbayer @markrosch @kprochnow @Wolf_Pinther @rtrautz @danpinnington @bburney @cesiagreen @stephkimbro @Molly_McDonough @barronhenley @nancyduhon @blorish @macsparky @jackhaycock @cschlein @JoanHFeldman @WilliamWilson @IndySoloEsq @rjsisson @NatalieKelly @AlanKlevan @RoeFrazer @JaredCorreia @familyLLB @glambert @MonicaBay

… and 2017 was no different! I did go in to snuffle; I did enjoy the hustle; I also enjoyed hosting a dinner and I got my hugs and one-on-one conversations.

However, the event itself was really quite different this year.  The organizer, ALM, made several (significant) changes, including:

  1. expanding to add “6 mini-conferences” — LegalMarketing, LegalPros, LegalCIO, LegalWomansForum, LegalSmallFirm and LegalExecutive, in addition to LegalTech
  2. rebranding the event to “LegalWeek – The Experience”
  3. charging a fee for Expo Hall passes

This was also the first year I requested and was provided an official Press Pass.

To start, I thought it extremely odd that ALM was charging a fee just to enter the vendor Expo Hall.  The fee ranged from $15 (if you thought to look before 12/31) and went all the way up to $115 if you registered on site. None of those who normally attend with me were willing to pay in order to get sold to, and I really don’t blame them.

When I spoke with the vendors, I mostly received surprise about the new fee. They had no idea.  Some, upon reflection, believed it would stop those just there to grab the swag and candy.

My thought: isn’t that what swag is for? So lots of people from lots of different places grab and keep it?  For instance, I still have the @LitSoftwareApp phone holder I received years ago. It sits on my desk and makes me think fondly of the company even though I still don’t have or use an iThing!

I get it though. Except I think those they are referring to are the homeless – who in the past would grab the passes thrown out by those leaving and literally dine on the food stuff put out by the vendors. Obviously, charging a fee won’t stop this practice –  better security is the only answer.

As for the rebranding of the event – it’s still only 3 days long so the rebrand to LegalWeek is truly confusing. Also confusing was the hashtag.  Most events have 1 hashtag. There were several for LegalWeek, and the one I thought they would use in order to match the new name “LWNY” was not one of them. #LTNY17 and #LegalWeek17 were the two most popular.


Given I was on a full press pass and able to go into any session, I was really looking forward to attending some of the educational sessions this year and live tweeting like in the old days.

My plan was to do the Expo Hall and private meetings on the first day, so I would be able to attend and review the educational sessions that were before/after my lunch and Swag-A-Thon on Day 2. That said, the best laid plans of mice and men …

While I appreciate that ALM was gracious enough to extend me a full Press Pass, they did not think the group of 10-12 attorneys I normally bring with me as worthy of entry to even just the Expo. That necessitated cancelling my annual Swag-A-Thon and the lunch I host each year right before it.  This also effectively removed all the fun stuff I had planned for Day 2.

So when you add up my inability to locate the actual rooms, coupled with the confusion over which of the newly created mini-conference tracks would actually be of interest or value, with the cancelled fun stuff on Day 2 – I chose not to take another day off of work and only traveled in the one day.

My 3 suggestions to ALM for next year’s LegalWeek:

  1. make it a full week event
  2. use the hashtag “LWNY18”
  3. give out a physical agenda and map

My Day @ #LTNY2017

Armed with my coffee and a knapsack containing only the most absolutely necessary items (so I did not blow out my shoulder), I headed out before 6am with my bullet journal, two fully charged battery packs and the ShareFile multi connector I got as swag last year.


Previous years had already taught me to munch on something on the way in order to stop my overly loud rumbly tummy around bowls of candies in the Expo Hall, so I grabbed a coffee cake muffin from the Dunkin Donuts right across from the Hicksville LIRR station.


Upon arriving at the Hilton, everything was set up pretty much the same as it had in years past, sign in and Expo Hall on the upper level. There was a very short line for check in and I was handed my pass and not really anything else. I stood there a moment, thinking the person had forgot to hand me the bag with the pamphlets, flyers and other eye candy and giveaways of their vendors. Nope.

When I asked how I was to find the sessions, I was directed to download the app; but no one could help me when I mentioned I used a Windows based device.

Similar to recent years, once in the Expo Hall I noticed it was not jammed.  In fact, given the price was anywhere from $15 to $115 just to get in to see the Exhibits, I was actually surprised to see as many people as I did.

That said, it was still not as dynamic nor fun as the day s of my youth:


But I did get to see familiar faces, including the Ladies of Perfect Law who always look fabulous:

and some of my favorite brands/services and/or people, including:


After touring the Expo Hall, I was finally able to locate a Session sponsored by ShareFile (up 2 escalators, through an empty hallway and around the corner) and tweet a few of the pearls provided by @JKrause and John McHugh <-who ALWAYS crack me up:


Next, as I literally tried to figure out where the rest of the educational part was going on, I bumped into David Roden, Director of Technology of Goodell & DeVries, a Baltimore, Maryland firm (http://www.gdldlaw.com).  David and I met a while back on twitter when I hosted the weekly #legalchat and we’ve remained in contact.  Since it was getting late anyway, and the weather was nice enough, David and I strolled down 6th Ave – to grab a beer before the dinner I was hosting at Reichenbach Hall (in honor of the launch of the Virtual Bar Association)


The bartenders and staff, beer and food were nothing short of authentic and absolutely fantastic!  A great time was had by all and I definitely give Reichenbach Hall two solid thumbs up.  Many thanks to everyone who joined me, including @FernSummer @OliverClarity, Vik Rajan, and @d_roden

To learn more about the Virtual Bar Association (or if you are actively employed by a law firm and want to join), click on the pix: