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BigLaw: Should Large Firms Invest in Speech Recognition Software?

By Roy Greenberg | Monday, September 27, 2010


Originally published on September 20, 2010 in our free BigLaw newsletter.

Speak and your words appear on screen. What more could a busy lawyer want? Speech recognition is a mature technology that routinely produces astonishing results. So why haven't more large law firms adopted it?

Many lawyers misunderstand Dragon NaturallySpeaking (Dragon), the best-known speech recognition software (available for both Mac OS X and Windows). Dragon doesn't turn lawyers into secretaries. You don't use it to generate finished work product. Nothing beats an experienced assistant for formatting and polishing the first draft of a dictated document. Also, if you assemble documents based upon pre-existing clauses, consider document assembly software instead of speech recognition software.

However, nothing beats Dragon for quickly generating first drafts of unique documents. Your staff can format the document to meet firm style guidelines, and then return it for further review. The more expensive editions of the Dragon line enable you to send your assistant your dictation as both voice and text files. I haven't experimented with this feature, but it should help large firms incorporate Dragon into their workflow.

Lawyers as Typists Is a Red Herring

Once upon a time, lawyers would consider it a waste of their billable time to sit in front of a typewriter or even a computer. Nowadays, many lawyers not only type, but can do so at high speeds. For this reason, many large firms have eschewed speech recognition software. But Dragon can prove more efficient at certain tasks even among the speediest typists at your firm.

For example, email responses usually require a few short sentences. Dragon contains specific time-saving commands for Microsoft Outlook. You can trigger most Outlook functions by speaking the command (i.e., say "Send" instead of clicking the "Send" button). You can easily create your own commands, so that saying "Sign Email" inserts the firm's name, contact information, and any disclosure notices. Set up one command to insert multiple addresses into your email when you regularly contact the same groups.

Speech recognition software is also the best way to take notes of your telephone conversations. Purchase a headset that enables you to press a button to choose between answering your phone and dictation. In my own practice, Amicus Attorney dials my client and opens a message slip for conversation notes. Most practice management programs offer a similar function. If my client places me on hold during the conversation, or at conversation's end, I dictate file notes. Notes tend to be longer and ultimately more useful when dictated.

Remember that speech recognition includes number recognition. You can switch Dragon to "numbers mode," which tells the program to recognize all speech as numbers. Few lawyers have the typing skills to input numbers into spreadsheets as accurately as Dragon.

Many other programs require minimal input without review or revision: databases, document management systems, litigation support software, etc. No one dictates this information to staff for transcription. These programs are all well-suited to Dragon.

Consider Hiring a Pro to Help Your Lawyers Become Pros

If you want to test Dragon for law firm use, set up a fair trial. As with any powerful software, hire a consultant. The software is not analogous to common programs and benefits from subtle fine-tuning. Dictation results without proper set up are amazing, but the gold standard of near-100% accuracy requires a consultant's guidance. A consultant can help you remove such dictation stumbling blocks as recognition of client names and addresses. Dragon can learn this material by reviewing your email and documents, but it's best to let your consultant implement this feature.

Every large firm relies on email, a concept unknown to most of them 20 years ago. Speech recognition software is poised to make similar inroads into daily practice.

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Topics: BiglawWorld | Dictation/OCR/Speech Recognition
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