From the moment McCune & Harber, my Los Angeles-based firm, opened its doors in 2001, we've used a digital dictation system. With sixteen attorneys working private and public entity defense, insurance defense, personal injury, discrimination, and employment litigation, we wanted to avoid the inefficiency and security risk of tapes lying around. We were told our digital system would likely last three to five years, but managed to stretch its use for nine years.
By the time we started searching for a new system in early 2010, however, we had used the old one for so long we didn't realize how its limitations were affecting our productivity. Our old system would not allow multiple dictation folders to map to the same location, for instance, which made efficient file management difficult. So, as we began to evaluate the newer options available, we also began to evaluate how the technology could actually improve our workflow.
Criteria: Ease of Use, Flexibility, Ease of Installation
With guidance from our office technology dealer, we reviewed solutions with three criteria in mind:
- Ease of use;
- Flexibility; and
- Ease of installation.
Like many legal firms operating out of a single location, we didn't believe an enterprise solution was necessary. It was somewhat eye-opening, therefore, to learn some of the workflow benefits offered by server-based digital voice solution.
Case-in-point: In the past, our attorneys docked their handheld recorders into specific PCs and downloaded all of their recorded files at once. Periodically, their secretaries manually searched for new transcriptions. What our attorneys couldn't do was select only certain completed dictation files for download, while saving those not yet finished. Secretaries didn't receive notification when new dictation files were downloaded, nor could they access dictation remotely.
It's these kinds of workflow benefits that should not be overlooked when evaluating latest voice solution options. Another benefit we discovered when searching for a new system was remote access to files. While I have to admit that only one of our attorneys and two secretaries currently use our new system's online capability to work remotely, we anticipate more doing so in the future. By allowing secure access to dictation files without the safety risk associated with emailing sensitive legal information, the technology opens up the possibility of outsourcing transcription, or allowing employees on extended leave to work from home.
More importantly, attorneys within the office find their dictation a little easier. The Philips SpeechExec Enterprise software lets them dictate as they always have, but after placing their handheld recorders into their docking stations, files automatically transfer to individual folders on the server. If we have technical difficulties with a particular computer, attorneys still can transfer files from any other docking station. Since each attorney's files automatically are labeled to start with their initials, it's easy to tell them apart.
The system also accepts multiple dictations at the same time, which lets attorneys change gears on the fly and select exactly which files to download just by marking them "complete." As with most digital solutions, they retain the flexibility to insert notes into any point in an audio file when needed.
The biggest benefit, though, comes from the fact that having all PCs linked to the same server allows secretaries to see all dictation in the queue--not just those of the attorney for whom she works. Files still can be flagged for specific transcriptionists, but there is added flexibility now. If a secretary happens to be out sick, files don't have to languish until her return--others can access the files and fill in.
Our IT department appreciates workflow benefits from the system as well. The ability to make one global change to all PCs simultaneously via the server--as opposed to upgrading each PC separately as was required in the past--saves a huge amount of time. They also can remotely access the system to troubleshoot any problems on hardware and software as they arise.
Transition to Digital
It was important to us that our new system be installed with minimal disruption, as we absolutely cannot afford downtime. Fortunately, because we opted for a small dedicated dictation server, All Makes Office Machine Co., Inc. was able to create all of our folders and the necessary IT relationships ahead of time. The actual transition took only three days, with most of the work taking place the first day. The attorneys continued using the old system uninterrupted while the new one was being implemented. They literally emptied their recorders at the end of the day, and immediately were live on the Philips solution.
In the end, we think it is important for legal firms to consider the productivity gains possible through an enterprise-wide voice solution. It's been a positive investment in our firm's future that already is paying dividends.