As a former practicing litigation attorney and now as a consultant to solo and small firm attorneys I am always looking for technology that is easy to implement, that has real utility, and that I actually use. Over the years, I have downloaded and then failed to implement many software programs due to time constraints, difficulty in use, or a lack of practical impact on my practice. One program that has consistently fallen into this category - over several generations -- and to my complete frustration is Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking. Now I have to admit, that I may pose a certain challenge to the program given that I have a Southwestern accent slightly undone by living in Massachusetts for fifteen years, but the implementation was always difficult.
I have always wanted Dragon Naturally Speaking to work effectively. The concept of simply dictating to the computer to produce documents, open applications, and search the internet or my computer without using a keyboard or mouse fascinates me. Yet, in the past I always failed to use the program after it was installed on my computer. Consistently, I would find myself reverting to keyboarding my documents and using the mouse to open applications. This frustration included my most recent attempt with Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 Preferred. By the way, keyboarding is not incredibly efficient for me. I believe that on my best day I was keyboarding no more than 35 words per minute. But, the time has come to again give Dragon another try. This time I was given the opportunity to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Legal, a significantly more expensive product than Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred.
The first question was should I bother trying the program given my past experience. Nuance told me that the product was better than ever, it promised 20% more accurate results than in version 9, and it promised that the transcribed words would appear in half the time. I was assured that these changes would make the product an indispensable tool on my desktop. It was not these promises that encouraged me to try again; rather, I believe dictation can be very efficient based on my past experience dictating using cassette tapes. I am also concerned about the possibility of developing carpal tunnel syndrome as I start suffering from pain and numbness in one arm after keyboarding and using the mouse for extended periods. Based on the promise of increased efficiency, and, hopefully, a decreased likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, I decided to try again.
I loaded the software on my HP tablet, HP Pavilion tx2000, with a 2.20 GHZ AMD Turion 64 X2 processor, and 3.00 GB of memory. I run Windows Vista Business, Service Pack 1. I also run a lot of programs, Windows Office, PracticeMaster, Internet Explorer, TweetDeck, Skype, TimeBridge Connect, and the list goes on. Obviously the demands on my computer are substantial and all of the programs increase the likelihood of conflicts. Dragon now also supports Vista 64-bit PCs.
So, after using the product for 60 days, what do I think? In short, I will keep using the product this time because I believe that this is a tool which can greatly increase my efficiency and give my hands a break from the keyboard. My test started well because Dragon was easy to install and the initial set up consisted of only a few audio tests. The software allows you to improve the available vocabulary by doing an analysis of e-mails and documents on your computer. However, the actual software training tools were not as prevalent as in Dragon 9 Preferred which walked me through more initial training. I would strongly encourage users to take the time implement the tools for increasing the vocabulary and do all of the training provided before you jump in. It is hard to appreciate the breadth of the tools provided without going through the training and the usability of the program will greatly increase. Nuance is finally also providing better after sale training by recently introducing a Dragon Customer newsletter which provides tips and tricks for more effective use of Dragon and is promising video webinars.
There are number of things that I really like about Dragon 10 Legal. I like that dictating is truly faster than typing and that I can now dictate Word documents, e-mails, enter client information into PracticeMaster and even enter posts on TweetDeck. I find that I can move through e-mails faster than before by using voice commands to “reply”, “reply all”, and “forward”. Once the new e-mail is up, I can quickly dictate my responses, and then by voice command send the e-mail on its way. This can all be done without ever touching the keyboard or mouse. The voice commands are powerful tools for increased efficiency. For example, when dictating this review, I wanted to find out existing prices for the Dragon 10 software line. To accomplish this I simple did a voice command to "search the web for dragon naturally speaking 10 legal". I can also use Google Desktop to search my computer by using a voice command “search computer”. After finding the information I can then switch back to my Word document and begin dictating again.
When dictating in Word or Outlook I find the power to make custom words, custom voice commands, and macros powerful tools to make working more efficient. You can use a single voice command to insert e-mail signatures, or boilerplate text, to set the font type, or make the words bold, italics or underlined. Because my wife's name is Katherine, I have set up a command in which I dictate "Catherine with a K". This shortcut keeps the software from guessing and me from having to correct the spelling every time I dictate her name. Then, to save the Word document, I give the command "save document". Now, I wish to e-mail the document for review. So, I simply state "e-mail document" and the document is attached to an e-mail in Microsoft Outlook ready to be sent.
Another feature that I use is the mobile dictation. When I purchased Dragon 9 it came with a digital recording device which I use with Dragon 10 Legal. Now, when I am returning from an office consult, I simply dictate my notes (as I used to with a cassette tape after a deposition), download the information, and I am presented with a first draft text document within minutes of completing the download.
Can this be a useful product for you? Yes, but the return on investment requires a long-term view and commitment to the program. To successfully implement the product you must develop new habits in how you use the computer. You also must learn a new language to effectively use the voice commands. Therefore, like any software implementation, Dragon 10 is more successfully implemented if done with a plan. To succeed you need to create a training plan, you need to anticipate and be prepared for a decrease in efficiency for at least a month, and make a commitment to using the software. Warning, do not start using Dragon shortly before the big brief is due because you will quickly revert to keyboarding.
Although the advertising states that no training is required, take the time to do all the training that is provided. In addition, load the program on a fast machine, with lots of memory, and a high quality audio sound card. Second, take the time during installation to enhance the vocabulary. You will also find that an important habit to develop is “microphone discipline” (i.e., turn off the microphone when it is not in use). This prevents a lot of errors. Finally, because you do not get spelling errors, only incorrect words, you must be diligent about proofreading.
To continue gaining productivity, I've had to make a commitment to open up the product as soon as I come to work, put on the headset, and keep my hands away from the keyboard. However, as I break the habit of keyboarding, I find my ability to dictate and issue computer commands has consistently improved. I have gotten better at dictation. Have I increased my overall efficiency? I don't know, but I think that I am getting there.
So what will you have to pay for this software? My Google search showed pricing for Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Preferred: $129.00 - $189.00; Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Professional $695.00 - $908.00; and Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Legal: $749 - $1299. The additional cost for Professional and Legal gives you the additional ability to dictate in Microsoft Outlook and PowerPoint. The higher-end products are also certified for accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, have the ability to import macros and vocabularies and have multiple custom vocabularies created using text documents. I was impressed by the ability in these products to create voice commands to complete computer task, and the ability to create templates. The Legal edition is pre-configured legal vocabulary containing nearly 30,000 legal terms and is preconfigured to format legal citations.
If you will only dictate in Word or WordPerfect buy Dragon Preferred. For me, however, the power of dictating to a computer lies in my ability to move across applications, work in Outlook and deal with e-mails, create macros and custom vocabularies, and the ability to create templates. This ability to broadly use the product across multiple applications is what makes the Dragon Legal edition a worthy purchase, especially at the lower price points.