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”.
|0||is always “zero” not “o” or “oh”|
|1967||nineteen sixty seven|
|3.17||three point one seven|
|52,487||fifty two thousand four hundred eighty seven|
Common Dictation Commands:
TO GET THIS HEADING STYLE
Say: “heading bold centered underlined all caps – to get this heading style – new paragraph”
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!
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.