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More Talking, Less Typing

Eric WranglerUsing Your Voice to Get More Done Each Day 

Trained law firm assistants who are good at their profession can type about 65 words per minute. Most IT professionals and many lawyers who don’t have word processing as part of their official job descriptions can still peck away at keyboards fairly efficiently, since many schools and jobs require students and employees to type at 40 words per minute. 

However, humans speak much faster – at an average rate of between 150 and 200 words per minute. If law firms could figure out how to get more done by speaking and less done by typing, they would become far more efficient. In the past, voice recognition software has suffered from many technical challenges, and the time involved in “training” the software was intensive. Fortunately, the technology has improved remarkably. Many voice recognition programs now require minimal training and few changes to attorney work habits. They also offer layers of security that may otherwise be missing when attorneys use their own smartphones and non-legal-specific apps. 

By understanding the improvements in speech recognition software and how to support rollouts in their law firms, IT professionals can manage and support the various integrations that will make attorneys and staff more efficient and effective every day. 

Recent Strides in Software and Hardware

Lawyers have always relied on their voices for their jobs, and old-fashioned dictation played an integral role for many years. However, traditional dictation has declined as the use of computers has become more prevalent in law firms, and younger lawyers have entered the practice with better typing skills than their predecessors. At the same time, the rise in “talking” smartphones has allowed new generations of law firm personnel to become far more comfortable with speaking instructions and information into a device. 

Law firms that tried voice recognition in the early days may be hesitant to jump back in. The first versions of the technology were dogged by many challenges. The software produced documents that were riddled with errors, which took a great deal of time to clean up and correct. Training was extensive, for both the software and the users. Often, these programs required attorneys and assistants to significantly change the way they worked, which led many lawyers to reject the programs immediately. 

Today’s speech recognition software have improved markedly, and they are getting more accurate all the time. When paired with workflow software, attorneys can dictate meeting notes into their phone. From there, the software converts the files into a Word document and sends it into the workflow process. Workflow software can then direct the file to an available assistant who has the bandwidth to quickly review the file and clean up any small errors or inconsistencies. Additionally, after this small effort, the assistant can route those corrections back to the author’s customized voice profile, which will “learn” from these corrections and improve its accuracy going forward.

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Freeing Attorneys from their Desks

Law firms can recognize many advantages to using improved voice recognition software, particularly with programs designed with law firm needs in mind. 

For law firms, one of the greatest advantages of voice recognition software lies in the ability to unchain attorneys and staff from their desks. Even the best typists work much more slowly on a phone or tablet than they do on a keyboard.

Consider how much time attorneys spend away from the office, whether they are traveling, meeting with clients, driving to work or are in court. While sitting at the airport waiting for a flight, attorneys can boot up their laptops, tap out a Word document and hope they have enough battery power to finish. Then, they need an Internet signal to send the file they have painstakingly created. However, with digital dictation and voice recognition software, attorneys can dictate the same document into their smartphone, and then hit “send.” By the time they board the plane and the flight takes off, the file will have been received into the workflow process and may even be completed. 

There are many uses for this type of technology. Attorneys can capture meeting notes as they are walking out the client’s door. They can immediately send required follow-up documentation while the substance of the meeting is fresh in their minds. They can dictate billing information as soon as they finish a task, rather than spending hours at the end of every month trying to recreate their schedules. After meeting with a potential client, attorneys can attach a photo of a business card with verbal notes for direct entry into the firm’s CMS system. They can do the same for expenses, sending a photo of a receipt attached to a voice file of required information.

Voice recognition technology can also improve informal communication within a team. Rather than typing up meeting notes about a matter, an attorney or assistant can dictate them. Since these are informal, internal minutes, the firm does not need to refine them but can use them as-is.

Benefits for the IT Department

While launching new software and processes can be daunting for the IT department, there should be few pain points when rolling out a speech recognition program. This is true for even smaller firms that may lack full-time IT staff. The efficiencies and user satisfaction will quickly compensate for any extra work. However, law firms need to carefully consider the right partners and workflow products.

By instituting a firm-wide program, attorneys and staff benefit from voice recognition software that works far more quickly and accurately than inexpensive apps. All the files dictated into devices will also be sent, stored and processed through encrypted/protected channels and reside on the firm’s physical or secure cloud-based servers. This ensures that resource-intensive speech recognition processing does not take place on desktops, laptops or tablets, bogging down those machines and slowing down the user. Also, a firm-wide voice recognition program will reside behind the firm’s firewalls, so confidential and privileged information will remain secure.

IT staff and others at the firm should look for voice recognition programs that require minimal training and changes to attorney and staff work habits. With today’s refined voice recognition software, “training” the software to recognize individuals’ voices and transcribe more accurately takes only a few moments. The firm should also choose an intuitive system that attorneys and staff can use easily, without extensive training or adaptions to the way they currently work. As most IT staff know, lawyers and staff will not embrace a new solution that requires too many changes to their work habits or piles on extra work.

With today’s advancements in speech recognition programs, there is no longer a need for lawyers and staff to spend their time typing away on keyboards and mobile devices. Instead, by using their voices, lawyers can work more efficiently and effectively and turn downtime into billable time. This not only improves client service, it makes everyone’s jobs easier.

Eric Wangler is the President of BigHand, a global provider of voice productivity technology. Eric has worked in the legal industry for more than 15 years, including years at Ricoh and IKON, and has been helping law firms around the world achieve excellence in operational and technology initiatives.  
 

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