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  Your Practice Management Advisor

The Advantages of Digital Dictation

August 2009
It's the same concept of dictation that lawyers have used for decades, but find out how technology advances now make this lawyer's friend far more superior.

The great advantage of digital dictation is that lawyers can still dictate into small, hand-held devices as they have been accustomed to for double-digit years. However, as compared to its analogue counterpart, digital dictation is far superior in many ways, for both the individuals dictating and those transcribing.

A digital file can be edited by a lawyer before it is sent to a transcriptionist. Also, a priority rating can be attached, something remarkably difficult to do with recordings that are stored sequentially on traditional tapes.

A digital voice recording unit can either be linked directly to a PC or it can be used independently, with data transfer to a computer system when and if need be. Once in the system, the voice file can be transferred to a specific location on the network. This location could be the lawyer’s own secretary in the next room, one who is working at home, a departmental secretary down the hall, or a group typing facility in a firm. Even further, transfer could be sent to a transcription centre in another country, via the internet. Whichever method is chosen, it is possible to use the available resources much more efficiently than having the physical location and availability of a secretary as the key factor in the dictation equation.

What about the issue of not having the physical file with the dictation? There are ways of working without the actual file being in a transcriptionist’s possession. Practice management and other software interfaces can help with this. If names, addresses, and other “foundational” aspects of the dictation can be accessed directly from a database, and if a user can see the history of a matter, having possession of the physical file may not be a vital component of the end product.

Some digital dictation software systems use a special proprietary format called "Intelligent Audio File" ("IAF"), which goes well beyond the mere creation and transmission of electronic audio files. Some allow you to transmit form documents, cut and paste text, graphic images (and more) directly into an audio file, and exactly at the point in the file where the transcriptionist should be aware of its inclusion.

Consider one following example: You’re dictating a brief and need to include a portion of text from a statute. At the current time you might do this by printing the statute out, highlighting the portion you want inserted into your dictation, and providing dictated instructions to include the highlighted text from the hardcopy attachment into a particular area in the brief.

With IAF format, it would work like this: Highlight the relevant text on a screen, press insert, and the piece of text is automatically pasted into that area in the dictation as it is being transcribed. It doesn’t get much easier, more efficient, or fail-safe in that the margin for human error is greatly decreased, if not eliminated altogether.

So, if you’re in the market to update your dictation processes, think about the following advantages of digital dictation as compared to its analogue predecessor:

  • Compact in size
  • Low maintenance due to few moving parts
  • High quality recording in a variety of formats
  • Compressed recordings
  • Ability to transmit over the internet or a private network
  • No more expensive than traditional analogue tape based recorders
  • Ability to play back in remote locations with little or no depletion in sound quality
  • Some with seamless interface to voice recognition software


Even more efficiencies and versatility are available when pairing voice recognition software (“VRS”) with digital dictation. Over the years, many lawyers have come to associate voice recognition software with unfriendly single-use solutions and related user hassles. As a result, many continue to relegate VRS to its previously well-deserved seat in the back, continuing with the general population’s “group think” - - that it isn’t worth much. The time has come to sit up and pay attention.

There are many versions of speech-to-text transcription software available. A popular choice is Dragon NaturallySpeaking, from Nuance Communications, Inc., with a recent release of version 10. With some major competitors, the playing field has substantially broadened. Even so, Dragon remains a major VRS force with several editions from which to choose. Powerful features in Legal Edition 10 include a preconfigured legal vocabulary with over 30,000 legal-specific terms and phrases, and the ability to format legal citations. It creates custom voice commands to instantly build and format templates for contracts or other legal documents or automate complex tasks with a spoken word or phrase.

Coupling the power of VRS and digital dictation can result in a win-win scenario. For instance, a lawyer can dictate remotely and send the dictation directly to home base, where it can be transcribed, hands-free, with VRS. A transcriptionist can listen to the recording to proof the document, ensuring that the end product comports with the dictation.

Of course, this second layer of involvement can be done onsite without the aid of digital dictation. However, many believe the real benefit comes from implementing a digital dictation workflow solution with integrated speech recognition, taking into account the entire document creation process and simplifying the transcription of dictation.


In conclusion, if you want to save time, earn more money, and experience “keyboard liberation” consider purchasing digital dictation and voice recognition software. With a little patience and proper usage, you’ll soon consider your purchases wise investments.

Discussion of Dragon NaturallySpeaking transcription software does not constitute a guarantee or warranty of the product or an endorsement over other software products not mentioned.

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About the Author

JoAnn Hathaway is a Practice Management Advisor for the Practice Management Resource Center at the State Bar of Michigan and Time Matters Certified Independent Consultant for Lexis Nexis . In this capacity, she provides practice management, risk management, and technology guidance and training to Michigan's 40,000 lawyers and staff.

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