Published: 2013-02-22

Digital Dictation - Leverage Voice Technology to Work More Efficiently

Wheeler & Beaton is a small law firm in central California specializing in Social Security disability and Workers' Compensation law. With only two attorneys on staff, the firm must leverage technology in order to maintain productivity, work more efficiently, and control administrative and staffing costs. For quite some time, the process for dictating memos, letters, pleadings and other briefs was conducted with cassette tapes. The cassette system was slow, however, and we always had to buy and dispose of tapes, which added to our dictation expense.

As the firm's office administrator, I advocated updating our speech technology for years. Yet despite the shortcomings, the attorneys had become used to their dictation workflow. For example, the cassette tapes did not allow them to insert information into the initial recording. When one of the attorneys had information to add, he would jot notes on a piece of paper, wrap the paper around the tape and secure it with a rubber band. Not only was this cumbersome, it sometimes corrupted the tape and required the attorney to re-record the entire document.

About two years ago, the attorneys were convinced to try a new approach to dictation. I assured them they could still dictate the same way they always had--only the equipment and transcription process would be different. If they did not like the new approach, I promised we could go back to the old way. Not surprisingly, within two weeks, the attorneys couldn't live without the new system.

The practice decided to invest in technology based on a recommendation from our voice solutions vendor Executive Communication Systems (Ventura, Calif.), who offered a solution that would work well with the firm's speech recognition software. Since implementation, we have found the integration between the two systems to be very smooth, supporting a much more streamlined dictation/transcription process.

For the handheld recorders, we chose a Philips model with a slide button switch that mimics cassette tape systems. This simple feature made the transition easier. The attorneys did not have to change anything about how they record their notes, and it was easy for them to take the handheld recorders with them when they weren't working in the office.

More Flexibility, Better Workflow

Digital technology now gives our attorneys more flexibility about when and how they dictate. It allows them to return to a recording and insert information, for example, which was not possible with cassettes.

After finishing a recording, an attorney docks the digital recorder and uploads files to the PC's dictation and transcription software. The recordings can be transferred directly to our software--where they appear in the transcription "to-do" list in the appropriate inbox category.

An interface with the practice's speech recognition application lets us transcribe text with a fairly high accuracy rate up to three times faster than typing. After the computerized transcription is created, a transcriptionist or secretary reviews the text and makes any necessary corrections. If the transcriptionist needs to hear a portion of the recording, they can simply point and click on that section for review.

In addition to these workflow benefits, the digital equipment is less expensive than the previous cassette system. There are no more tapes to buy, and the batteries in the recorders are rechargeable and have a long life. We have yet to replace them, in fact.

Digital dictation recordings are also more secure. The digital recorders create files in Digital Speech Standard (DSS) format, which provides built-in encryption and other security features to help protect client confidentiality.

Moreover, the DSS file format tends to be more robust than other file formats, such as MP3, because it was specifically designed for the human voice. DSS compresses voice data for easier file storage and transfer, which means even for short recordings, an MP3 file can often consume 20 MB or more--resulting in files that are difficult to email.

One of the key benefits of using Philips hardware in conjunction with speech recognition software is the amount of time the new dictation process saves for the practice. Before, it took three legal secretaries to listen to, transcribe and edit the practice's dictation; now it only takes one. We have become much more efficient, doing more with less.


About the Author
Anna C. Adelmann is the office administrator for Wheeler & Beaton, which has offices in San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria, Calif. The practice specializes in Social Security disability and Workers' Compensation law.