What To Do With All The Half-Finished Tracks Music Production The Top Three Reasons Law Firms Are Not Using Digital Dictation Technology

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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. Really, it’s 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 to define and make the best use of available technology to help them do it better, faster, at a lower cost — whatever the client is looking to gain.

I started my VA career almost eight years ago and limit my practice to virtual assistance to the legal industry. Over the years I have asked many lawyers, law firm managers, attorneys, HR managers, private investigators, IT managers, managing partners, office managers, secretaries and others about the processes used in their offices. Some use document management software, some don’t. Some have websites and some don’t. Almost without fail, when asked what lawyers use for dictation, the most common response: a tape recorder.

This is good, because dictating is a very efficient process, even with tape. According to Dictaphone, in 1952 recorded writing was determined to be “a time saver over handwriting and stenography among lawyers, doctors and other professionals”. The first mini-cassette recorder was marketed in 1973. Can you believe it? That little tape recorder still in use in most US companies today is the technological equivalent of listening to 8-track music!

In any case, if your office uses tape-based dictation, then it goes without saying that recording a solid work product in practice is a good way of doing things and if your office doesn’t use dictation, maybe you should start with digital so read on.

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 (communication and portable recorders) for over a decade. Why? An upgrade to the 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 an internet connection

o Centralization of the workflow of documents for several users, multiple operations on the site

o The ability to monitor work in progress and overall productivity

o The ability to track and report on various indicators and criteria

o The ability to use transcripts remotely and save on personnel costs

The way I see it, any company of that size has as much to gain as a similarly 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 office in mind.)

Why don’t companies use digital dictation?

The main reason, I believe, is that no one has put together 2%2B2 yet. Because digital dictation technology is not “new,” it has not received much attention outside of the medical industry. However, just recently, British and other European law firms have been in the news discussing how the upgrade to digital dictation has been easier and better than expected.

What about here in the US?

Below (in reverse order) are the top three answers I received over the years to the question: “Why hasn’t your office been upgraded to digital dictation?”

Number 3: “Digital dictation, isn’t that speech recognition?”

No, speech recognition is not digital dictation. Speech recognition is software. It takes the human voice and converts it to text. Speech recognition software requires training for each specific user—hours of training for most applications, making implementation of this technology impractical in most company settings.

Digital dictation is the recording of your voice with software or equipment that provides dictation functions – stop, rewind, insert, etc. 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 the recorded thoughts.

By the way, one reason why I firmly believe that speech recognition software can never replace a good legal transcriptionist – no matter how much you train it, it will never catch when you say “defendant” and you should say “plaintiff”! 😉

So, while you may have heard or read about the pitfalls of speech recognition technology, digital dictation is a whole different animal.

Number 2: “If it ain’t broke…”

Yes, it is true that tape writing works and has worked for decades, but so does a typewriter, an abacus, even a compass for that matter. Upgrading to digital dictation is not a fix, it’s an improvement to a known process. This is the natural evolution of dictation – from human (Sassi), to recording (tape), to digital (sound file).

When upgrading to digital, what needs to be emphasized is that the person doing the recording no longer needs to be in the same physical location as the person doing the transcription – or in today’s parlance: can work remotely! Depending on how the capture process is set up, as long as the company’s dictators have access to a phone or the Internet, they can generate billable time.

Because the digitally created dictation file is electronic in nature, it can be manipulated like any other computer file – stored, routed over networks, and so on. This makes the dictation file itself much more convenient and user-friendly in today’s electronic environment (networks, multiple offices, document management software, retention requirements).

Along with telecommuting opportunities for office dictators, upgrading to digital dictation provides reporting and tracking of each file as it moves through the process or all the metrics that a tape-based dictation system simply cannot provide. Pick up a tape and ask a lawyer what is on it and see what he says! If it was a digital file, on the other hand, you always know the date and time the file was created, by whom, how long it is, what client it is for, what matter it pertains to, and more.

So, from both a manager’s and a dictator’s perspective, upgrading to digital dictation provides quite a bit of improvement to how work gets done.

And…my favorite response of all time to…

“Why hasn’t your office upgraded to digital dictation?”

Number 1: “We don’t like change”.

I am not kidding! I’ve heard that exact phrase more times than I care to admit!

Besides, of course, this response helping me understand that friendships can take forever to reach a decision, it presents quite a conundrum. Why? When upgrading 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 with a slide switch. Really, a digital recorder that mimics the functions of an analog recorder.

Therefore, when it is configured correctly, apart from the fact that a lawyer does not have to get up from his chair to hand a tape to his secretary (or leave it on her chair), when upgrading to digital, dictators do not “do” anything different.

wraps everything

At some point, every company has to weigh the pros and cons of any technology upgrade. With more and more hardware and software needed to stay competitive, it’s no wonder no one is looking for another “upgrade.” But unlike so much of the technology available today, digital dictation technology is not “new.” It is very robust and well tested, successfully implemented and utilized in environments of various sizes for over a decade.

This should, IMHO, make upgrading to digital dictation a must for any company’s 2009 technology budget.

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