Speech Recognition and Dictation Solutions for Today’s Lawyer

Here’s an interesting podcast from The Digital Edge about speech recognition and dictation solutions for today’s lawyers.

If you are lawyer considering or currently using some sort of dictation equipment and/or speech recognitions softwares this podcast should give you more insights into using them.

In this episode of The Digital Edge, Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway interview law firm consultant Britt Lorish about today’s speech recognition and dictation solutions, added benefits of current dictation software, common misconceptions about Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and the best microphones and apps to consider.

Lorish explains that most lawyers who use dictation have embraced digital recording and filing, but many lawyers are still wary of using speech recognition softwares due to previous bad experiences. She talks about using softwares from dictation vendors like Philips, BigHand, and Winscribe in the cloud, and how Dragon is lagging in cloud-based usability.

Additionally, Lorish discusses custom commands, a system of automating commonly-used commands like adding a signature block, opening a document template, or inserting standard client/attorney language. These speech solutions, Lorish says, can greatly help lawyers with disabilities, those who type slowly, and can even help younger lawyers improve oral argument abilities. If you are holding back due to the previous reputation, you might want to reconsider the benefits of dictation and speech recognition.

Some of my favorite tips in the podcast are:

Analog vs Digital Dictation:

“They (lawyers) recognize the advantages of it: the sound quality, the backup capability. And because lawyers are more mobile now than they used to be, they don’t want to have to physically get a tape to their secretary or transcriptionist. They love and they really embrace sending those dictation files electronically.”

“As far as speech recognition, I think there’s a lot of people who tried it years ago and were disappointed with it. Specifically Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it’s probably the leader in that space.”

If I had to pick a favorite from that realm I would say it’s probably the Philips DPM-8000.

Transcript of the Podcast

The Digital Edge: Speech Recognition and Dictation Solutions for Today’s Lawyer – 3/10/2015

Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 86th edition of The Digital Edge, lawyers and technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises.

Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, director of the Oklahoma Bar Association management assistance program. Today our topic is speech solutions for today’s lawyer. We are happy to welcome our friend, Britt Lorish today. Britt is the managing partner of Affinity Consulting Group’s Virginia office. Britt is a former litigation paralegal and a former law firm network administrator. She is also certified in a wide variety of law office software and regularly consults with law firms throughout North America, Europe, and the Caribbean on legal technology, legal accounting, and practice management issues. She is also a former chair of ABA TECHSHOW. Thanks for joining us today, Britt.

Britt Lorish: Thanks so much for having me, Jim and Sharon, it’s always a pleasure to spend quality time with the two of you.

Sharon D. Nelson: We have spent a lot of time together and that’s a fact.

Britt Lorish: We have.

Sharon D. Nelson: Britt, would you open us up by explaining a little bit about how lawyers can use speech solutions today and how that may be different from what they did in the past, because there has been quite a sea change, I think.

Britt Lorish: Sure. In years past, I think we saw lawyers slowly move away from good old tapes and analog equipment that they had for dictation, and really slowly embrace digital dictation. For some, that was harder than others. I believe I had one lawyer tell me I’d have to pry his tapes out of his cold dead hands. But that really was short termed because he had a lengthy dictation that got destroyed in one of those old Dictaphone machines and the tape shredded. So for the most part, I think we’re past that. And most lawyers are really embracing digital recorders and digital dictation. They recognize the advantages of it: the sound quality, the backup capability. And because lawyers are more mobile now than they used to be, they don’t want to have to physically get a tape to their secretary or transcriptionist. They love and they really embrace sending those dictation files electronically. So digital dictation I think has definitely been embraced. As far as speech recognition, I think there’s a lot of people who tried it years ago and were disappointed with it. Specifically Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it’s probably the leader in that space. But honestly, Dragon has come so far in the past ten years that it’s really night and day from where it used to be. The accuracy out of the box is really pretty amazing and it improves rapidly as you use it. So it’s still a bit of a resource hog, you certainly don’t want to run it on a laptop or workspace station with minimal memory and processor speed, but that’s even improved somewhat. So you can’t really expect a software product of that nature where it’s running complicated algorithms to convert speech to text. You can’t expect it not to be a little bit of a resource hog. So I think most people have understood that, now, and are willing to buy PC’s or Macs that are capable of handling it. most importantly, though, I think the ability to combine digital dictation technology with speech recognition is really what I find most appealing. Because the speech recognition piece runs in the background, and it’s really not something the lawyer even has to think about. So at desire, the lawyer can just dictate exactly the way he or she always has, using whatever microphone he or she prefers, and then transmit it to their transcriptionist the way they always have. So the only difference is invisible to them. It’s an option that that dictation takes a detour on the way to the transcriptionist and it goes through Dragon for speech recognition. So that engine runs in the background and the transcriptionist simply gets the transcribed text from Dragon along with the audio of the dictation. So the only work that has to be done thereafter is formatting and proofreading, which is a pretty decent timesavings when you think about it. So I like this a lot. I think this is a really powerful solution for a lot of attorneys because the ones that I talk to are always saying I’m intrigued by Dragon, but I really don’t want to change my workflow and learn something new. I’ve heard stories that it takes a long time to train Dragon, I really don’t have any inclination to do that. So this way, they kind of get the best of both worlds; they get to use the power of it without really changing the way they work.

Jim Calloway: Britt, are these solutions all traditionally installed software or are any of them Cloud-based applications?

Britt Lorish: That’s a good question, Jim, and one we get really frequently now as more people are moving to the Cloud. The answer is yes to both. Most of the digital dictation software vendors that are well-known in the legal market have both Cloud and traditional terrestrial products. So companies like Phillips, BigHand, WinScribe, they all have both Cloud and traditional products. There are some features that are going to be available in the traditional version that maybe won’t be in the Cloud or vice versa, but most of the key features are in both. Nuance, who owns Dragon, has certainly provided companies like BigHand with the Cloud server-based speech recognition. So if you’re dictating over your mobile device, for instance, and you send it to your transcriptionist via the BigHand Cloud servers, it’s still going to have the options to transcribe via Dragon. Where you see the limitations on the Cloud side are with Dragon as a standalone product. So if you’re trying to use Dragon directly over, let’s say remote desktop, RDP, Citrix, or other remote protocols, it’s going to be really limited.

Sharon D. Nelson: So Britt if I’m hearing you correctly, lawyers who may be on hosted virtual servers can not use Dragon as effectively, is that right?

Britt Lorish: They really can’t use it in the way they might like; and to be honest, I find it a bit clunky. They used to support remote connections much more effectively, but for whatever reason, Nuance changed that and currently they’re only supporting that in their medical version; hopefully that’s going to change. But let me explain a little bit about what those limitations are. Dragon right now has to be installed on the local machine you’re dictating on, because it’s got to have direct access to the audio input from your soundcard and your microphone. So if you want to dictate into what Dragon calls its Dragon box – think of it as a Notepad or a Wordpad function within Dragon; you can do that, and then you can hit send and it will send the transcribed dictation over the remote connection into whatever application or screen you have open on your hosted server. So you can technically do it, but it’s really pretty clunky, and custom commands are going to work and this kind of defeats some of the power of Dragon.

Jim Calloway: Could you explain what you mean by custom commands in Dragon?

Britt Lorish: Sure. Custom commands are probably my favorite part of Dragon. Basically, anything you do repetitively can be automated. So let’s say you regularly want to insert standard attorney client privilege language. You can create a custom command for that. Or maybe you want to insert your signature block; you can do a command for that. Or open a particular document template you use all the time. The options are really almost unlimited. I use them a lot for things I would otherwise use a keystroke for; like if you do control + F for a find, or any keystroke, really, you can do that by voice. I even have them in my billing and practice management databases. So for instance, in tabs and PracticeMaster, I have commands for things like create new fee, open calendar, create new record, tap 5 times, things like that. It’s really pretty amazing some of the things you can do with the commands, and it really automates daily activities. I kind of refer to them as voice macros, I think a lot of people relate to that. They’re used to the concept of autotext or macros within their word processors, so if you think of the custom commands the same way, but they’re just executed by voice instead of by text.

Sharon D. Nelson: I’m thinking a lot of the people listening might be interesting in using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. So which version do you recommend, because there are a number of versions and there’s I think a pretty big differential in cost.

Britt Lorish: Yeah, there are. There are three main editions that lawyers might want to consider. I don’t count the home edition because that’s not really a business-user license. But there’s premium, there’s professional, and there’s legal. Now premium’s going to be the least expensive and legal’s going to be the most expensive of those three and obviously pro in the middle. I tend to recommend pro the most, but I really try to find out how the attorney’s going to use it before I make any recommendation. The retail on those, just so you know, is $199 for premium, $599 for pro, and $799 for legal; but a lot of consultants will discount those prices. I would say about eight out of ten times I wind up recommending pro after talking to the average attorney. I think the reason I do that is because with premium, there are some significant limitations for business users, and typically the bump in price to go to pro is worth it for the added features. Legal is basically pro with two key additions. Legal has a dictionary of about 25,000 legal terms, and then it autoformats citations. So when a lawyer asks me which one they should use, one of my first questions is do you do a lot of brief writing. Because if you do, then the legal version might be worth it. It’s a couple hundred bucks extra, but for brief writing it’s great. Otherwise, it often isn’t necessary and they can get everything they need from pro. Pro allows for roaming profiles, and what that means is you can synchronize your voice files across multiple computers, including your transcriptionist’s. So that means when you transcriptionist corrects your dictation, it actually makes your voice file smarter. It also means if you’ve got multiple computers that you use Dragon on, home, business, wherever, your voice files are going to stay synced. And that’s a real benefit for most users. Premium can’t do this, it’s not network capable, and it’s got other limitations on the custom commands. And since I’m such a big custom commands buff, I think that having the more advanced custom commands capabilities really allows for more sophisticated workflow.

Jim Calloway: Britt, I recall a few years ago talking to a lawyer and he said exactly what you said. He loved paying extra for legal because he did mostly brief writing and loved the fact that it would get the citations right, eight out of ten times was what he told me.

Britt Lorish: Exactly.

Jim Calloway: As you know, I’m a daily user of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and often do demonstrations in my office for lawyers just to show them that it really does work. What do you think are the most common misconceptions about Dragon?

Britt Lorish: I would think probably the most common misconception is that it doesn’t work. And then of course I’ll ask them when’s the last time they tried and they tell me ten years ago. I think it’s like any software. You can’t expect the version ten years ago is going to be as good as the one now. I first tried it in 1997 and gosh, that was almost 20 years ago now. I hated it back then, but I love it now. As far as other misconceptions, the other one would be that it’s only for dictation. People don’t see it as a way to control their whole computer by voice and automate their tasks, which it’s perfectly capable of doing. So they can read and reply to email by voice, they can Google things; I could say, Google Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, and Dragon would go out, open your default web browser, go to Google, put in the search term, and bring back the results. All with one voice command. So that’s a pretty incredible thing, and particularly for people with carpal tunnel, other disabilities, it’s pretty huge to be able to control your whole computer. I actually installed it a few years back for Judge here in Virginia that has that – you may know him, Sharon. He was really struggling with the use of his arms, and we put Dragon in and he really loved it and embraced it. Dragon is section 501 (c) certified for people with disabilities. And I’ve seen a lot of veterans and other people with limited use of their hands really benefit from the software.

Sharon D. Nelson: You’re actually bringing to mind a moment in Techshow I’ll never forget. I was standing next to a gentleman and we were watching an old demonstration of Dragon and it was not doing very well. And so I said to the guy next to me, you know, this thing doesn’t really seem ready for prime time, who would use it? And of course he turned around to me and he had no right arm. And so that sort of answered the question. And it certainly is wonderful for that but it is wonderful for anybody these days and I think that it is ready for prime time. I’ve been very impressed by the recent versions and how responsive they are to the human voice in a very short time.

Britt Lorish: Absolutely.

Sharon D. Nelson: Well let’s pause now for a commercial break, and then we’ll be right back.

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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on The Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is speech solutions for today’s lawyer and our guest is Britt Lorish, who is the managing partner of Affinity Consulting Groups Virginia Office, and a former chair of ABA Techshow. So, Britt, what type of recording devices do you use with these various solutions?

Britt Lorish: Well honestly, you can use almost anything with decent sound quality nowadays. There are a lot of attorneys that still love their traditional slider switch digital recorders. They just really love that slider switch feel, you know? So there are push buttons, digital recorders too; USB mics. If I had to pick a favorite from that realm I would say it’s probably the Philips DPM-8000. It has an added bonus, not only is it a really solid, sturdy product, but you can bounce it off the floor a few times and it probably won’t break. But it has the added bonus of being able to use it as a USB mic when you are connected to your computer, so that’s pretty great. Some lawyers like array mics that they can just set on their desks and push a button to activate. I’m personally not a great fan of those, I think they get more background noise, but you can use them. I personally use a bluetooth mic because I use it for a wide variety of things on my laptop including Skype, and Microsoft Lync and a number of other things. So I like to just have one mic for everything. I personally use a Plantronic CO53 and I love it, so that’s my personal preference. But mobile devices I think are fast becoming the microphone of choice for a lot of lawyers because everybody carries a smartphone with them all the time; so why not use it as your mobile recorder as well? It all really depends on your personal preference.

Jim Calloway: Do you find that younger lawyers are embracing speech solutions or are they just so good at keyboarding that they don’t really explore those options?

Britt Lorish: I think some are resistant. There’s definitely a handful that I’ve talked to that say I’d never use it, I’m just too good on a keyboard. But when faced with certain facts, a lot of them are willing to concede. So the bottom line is everyone can speak faster than they type. Even the fastest typist. I mean, I’m pretty fast on a keyboard, Jim, but I’m also a Northerner, and I’ve been known to talk pretty fast. So Dragon is almost always faster than typing for me. Obviously this doesn’t apply when you’re in a public location, you wouldn’t want your voice overheard, you’re discussing confidential information; things of that nature. So obviously you have to use judgement, but it’s a big timesaver for even younger attorneys. I think one of the things that has come about for me in doing this over the last 10 or 15 years is that I really noticed and heard a lot of more experienced attorneys complaining to me that they think younger attorneys are less adept at oral arguments because they don’t practice formulating their SOPs. And they say that attorneys who dictate, really have to stop and formulate their thoughts before they speak, they think before they speak. And in doing so, they actually develop more eloquent oratory skills. And I really had to stop think about that and go you’re right, you’re probably really right. When all you do is pound on a keyboard all day, you’re not practicing your skills in the oral argument perspective. So I really think that’s a really great argument when and I often will speak to young lawyers when they sort of poopoo the idea of speech solutions. I say, well have you thought about it this way, and often that resonates with them.

Sharon D. Nelson: Well you really hit a button there with me when you talked about the older versus experienced, because i find that the older I get the more I like to be called experienced; so keep up that good work, Britt. You referred to some of the younger attorneys, and I know it’s pretty hard to pry their smartphones away from them; so I’m guessing that they’re using these solutions a lot on their phones as you’ve mentioned. So is that really where they tend to be and what kind of apps are they using?

Britt Lorish: Yeah, they’re definitely part of the mobile generation, without a doubt. And there are some great apps out there I would have to say. Some of it’s going to depend on what their firm is using for digital dictation, et cetera. But all of the big players out there have apps; so BigHand, Philips, WindScribe, Dragon has several apps, actually. There’s also some low cost ones. So if they’re a solo or real small firm that doesn’t have an enterprise solution or bigger firm product, they can have some products that work for them at a very low cost. Dictate + Connect by Dictamus; that’s about $16.99, I think. There is a free version but you probably don’t want to use it because it limits the length of dictation and you can only have a few at the same time; so I don’t really recommend those free versions, but there are some pretty inexpensive ones. Express Dictate I think is another one, Voxy might be another one. Obviously, I tend to work more with the BigHand, the Philips, the Windscribe, things like that, but there are some other products out there and definitely the younger attorneys are embracing those.

Jim Calloway: Well, Britt, I’m sure a lot of our listeners are having the thought that they do after hearing many experienced and knowledgeable technology consultants. Okay, you’ve mentioned a whole lot of solutions. Since there’s so many solutions, how can a person decide if that solution is right for me?

Britt Lorish: Well, a lot of that comes down to personal preference. Different things are going to appeal to different people. There’s going to be different factors: price, ease of use, the functionality, the reliability, the size of the firm might factor into it. For instance, if the firm is a really large firm with multiple offices and they are seeking out a new digital dictation product, a lot of those times, they’ll have multiple offices with shared typing pools, sometimes in different timezones. So for instance, they might have a New York office and an LA office. Well, they’re going to want a product that’s going to allow them to do shifting of the transcription pools; so when it’s 5 o’clock in New York, transcription goes to LA for transcription because the attorney still wants somebody working on it. Those are really big enterprise solutions that the smaller firm’s not going to care about. So there’s going to be a lot of little things like that that you have to really think about your workflow, what’s important to you, what’s your budget, a lot of things like that. I don’t think there’s a one side to this all at all. I really believe in evaluating the workflow and finding the best solution to match each all the way from microphones to software.

Sharon D. Nelson: Well I think Jim and I could agree with you, that’s probably what all three of us recommend. I want to especially thank you as I know Jim does too for providing such a content-rich conversation. This was really great and I always learn something when I talk to you, Britt, so thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us.

Britt Lorish: Thanks so much for having me, Jim and Sharon, I really appreciate it.

Sharon D. Nelson: That does it for this edition of The Digital Edge, lawyers and technology; and remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at LegalTalkNetwork.com, or on iTunes. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us on iTunes.

Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.

Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.

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