Easy Dictation for Attorneys: a Demo of Dragon NaturallySpeaking Voice Recognition

Dragon boxBottom line: I heartily recommend voice recognition software to busy attorneys who have fairly new computers (e.g. no more than 3 years old). Ernie Svenson of Paperless Chase in his blog post reviewing Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

I second the recommendation—attorneys should try Dragon voice recognition software because it is so useful and so inexpensive ($101.03 today on Amazon for Premium version 12 for Windows). In today’s blog post, I’ll share how I use dictation software for litigation, and show a video demonstration of how I get good results just using my laptop’s built-in microphone (no headset)!

Dictation Beats Typing (Sometimes)

When I started as a litigator at a San Francisco law firm, I was handed a Dictaphone cassette recorder and encouraged to dictate tapes for my secretary rather than type on a computer. I was told that I could be much more fast and efficient in writing if I spoke into my cassette recorder rather than if I tried to type it myself.

I was dubious because I think and edit as I type. I still do (I’m typing this sentence, although I dictated much of this post). Over the years, I have continued to use a computer keyboard as my main way to get words onto a screen.

However, I also learned to dictate to supplement my typing and give my aching wrists a break. I never learned to write legal briefs with dictation (some of my partners were very good at doing finished legal briefs with the Dictaphone) but I did find that dictation was incredibly useful for capturing thoughts and notes, and for first drafts. For example, when I returned from a witness interview with a legal pad full of scrawled notes, I would then make myself sit down in the next day or two and dictate a memorandum about the meeting. This digital form of the notes was infinitely more useful than my scrawled notes. I could return to this memorandum months later and it would be a clear record of what I had wanted to remember from the meeting. Moreover, this digital form of my notes was much more useful in that I could do things like put chronology entries and to-do items into my CaseMap database of the case using the dictated memo as a source. (See this post about why interview notes in a case management database can be so much more valuable than notes in a word processing memo).

Dragon NaturallySpeaking—Dictation Without Secretarial Support

As a litigation consultant helping attorneys with graphics and technology, I no longer have a secretary, so I now use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for my dictation needs. Of course, even if I had access to a secretarial pool, I would still use Dragon for the following reasons:

  • Instant feedback: With a dictated cassette at my former law firm, I needed to wait until the tape came back from the secretarial pool with the memo, and then edit the memo. Now, I dictate, and see it come up on the screen, and I can make my changes immediately.
  • Integrating dictation and typing on time sensitive projects: As a litigator, I often wrote under very tight deadlines as I tried to get a pleading out of the door. In this circumstance, I found dictation difficult to use because I needed to keep typing and editing and I could not wait for the dictated tape to come back. Now, I can integrate typing and dictation on the same project, even under a time deadline. (For example, I dictated a portion of this paragraph, and I typed and edited on the keyboard for the rest).
  • More efficient and valuable uses for administrative support: Law firms are continually cutting back on administrative support costs, and having secretaries standing by to transcribe dictated memoranda is largely a thing of the past. If you have great assistants to help you on your cases, think about other ways they can help get results for your client.
  • More natural speaking style: I recently used Dragon NaturallySpeaking to prepare an outline for a closing argument. In the outline, I showed demonstratives, exhibits and key testimony from the trial. I then added my suggestions for closing arguments about this evidence. Using dictation software gave me a better closing argument that sounded more like speaking than typing.
  • Document/transcript review: I like to use Dragon when I do a document review or transcript review and I want to make entries into a table or database as I go. On a recent project, I reviewed a document production of several hundred documents and I wanted to create an index of the documents as I went. I had a database that allowed me to pull up images of the documents and review them. I would click into the description field of the database and dictate a description of the documents as I went. This is a project that I could not have done with a Dictaphone, but using digital dictation on my computer allowed me to accomplish it easily.

A Video Demonstration of Digital Dictation

In the video below, I demonstrate my experience using Dragon. As I mentioned above, I use Dragon without a headset, and I find it quite useful with good accuracy in capturing what I speak.

Closing Thoughts: You Need a Capable Computer, and Try it On Your iPhone Too

As mentioned in the recommendation that opened this post, you need a modern computer to run Dragon because it can be a drain on resources. I use a Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop with Windows 8.1, an Intel Core i7 CPU and 8 gigs of RAM. In order to improve the responsiveness of Dragon, I like to restart my computer shortly before starting Dragon. This clears out other competitors for system memory.

One other closing thought on the topic of voice recognition: try it on your phone too. I use the Apple iPhone’s voice recognition daily to dictate emails, texts and Google searches, and I love it.

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