The Changing Face of Dictation
This article was originally published in issue 11.02 of the Australasian Legal Business (ALB) Magazine and is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ALB, please visit their website at au.legalbusinessonline.com. You can download a PDF of this article here.
by Florian Stroehle, Winscribe
“Computer,” “- Yes Captain”. “Give me the co-ordinates for the last known location of the Romulan Spaceship”. “- Not a problem, sir.”
Star Trek, the popular science fiction franchise that continues to fascinate millions of, let’s face it - geeks - has been fantastically adept at predicting future technological breakthroughs: Conversing with computers, check. Powerful handheld devices that let us communicate and carry out a number of applications, check. Printing 3D objects, check. Intergalactic space travel at warp speed, well maybe not quite.
Let’s concentrate on the first item in this list, human-computer interaction. Over the last decade or so, astonishing developments have taken place in the legal workplace. Previously technophobe senior partners have become early adopters of technology with the emergence of the iPad and the general tablet/smartphone revolution. They now ask demanding questions of IT professionals, and drive the need for “enterprise” solutions – no pun intended - that are integrated, secure and scalable, but deliver the same kind of ease of use as the consumer applications that they can so easily access.
The need for these solutions is pressing, as devices are increasingly being brought into the workplace at an astonishing rate. According to a recent LexisNexis study1, over 90% of fee earners currently own a smartphone and over 15% a tablet device. The latter number is expected to grow rapidly.
At the same time, affordability and computing power have developed with opposing trajectories. The cloud provides a limitless supply of affordable computing power that continues to be both exciting and scary. While security issues need to be assessed and addressed, it affords legal firms the option to consume legal IT services “on demand”- also sometimes called software-as-a-service (SAAS) – with a promise to deliver drastically reduced hardware acquisition, operating and maintenance cost; alongside instant effortless upgrades; and a host of other benefits.
Speech recognition technology, being talked about now for almost twenty years, has also finally arrived on “the Plateau of Productivity” according to the Gartner Hype Cycle2. More and more, we can expect to talk to our machines and expect them to understand what we say. While the dream of your own Starship Enterprise “Bridge” in your corner office may still be a while off, professional speech recognition solutions have improved dramatically over the last few years and in combination with legal process outsourcing are leading to faster document turnaround times, while improving efficiencies and reducing costs.
So where does an “old technology” like dictation fit in? In fact, it fits in rather well. But let’s hear about that from some Australian legal firms instead.
But before we jump let us address a common observation. Younger lawyers are nowadays less likely to dictate than maybe ten or twenty years ago. They are content to self-type. Yet this practice can be a significant disadvantage to a firm.
Most humans speak at an average of 120 to 200 words per minute, an experienced self-typist will average 45, take formatting into account and you’re in the low tens to twenties. Why use your highly skilled fee earners to carry out this work when you can have someone far better equipped do the job do so more effectively? The demonstrated benefits of the division of labour are one of the fundamental reasons for the economic success of the industrialised nations. So why goback into the dark ages?
Intellectual Property firm Spruson & Ferguson, headquartered in Sydney, deals with innovative technology on a day to day basis. To be taken seriously in this competitive sector, Spruson leverages its own use of technology to create the best outcomes for its clients. That means having a dictation solution that is stable and secure, which allows its fee earners to handle client affairs wherever they happen to be.
After using digital dictation for a number of years, Spruson & Ferguson introduced Winscribe’s mobile dictation solutions for iPhone, iPad and Android devices last year.
As Principal Edward Genocchio puts it: “Everything we do revolves around deadlines. These deadlines are critical and must be met. I personally love the use of the iPhone and iPad, and having mobile dictation on both of them enables me to be more productive.”
“I can dictate in front of clients, at the airport, wherever I happen to be. I can get the job done, and without [these apps], I can’t do that.”
He noted that while on a cross-country flight in the United States, “I was amazed to find out that I could use Wi-Fi in flight. So where I would normally sit idle, I managed to dictate instructions to my P.A. back in the Sydney office, which made it very productive for me”.
The move from analogue tapes to digital dictation was a logical one for the firm. Similarly, the transition from digital dictation to mobile dictation was a natural progression.
IT Manager Simon Saunders comments: “Deployment was easy. It literally took minutes, downloading the apps from the respective online stores of Apple and Android. That’s well and good from my perspective, but from the fee earners perspective, it has given them flexibility, it has really opened the door to productivity.”
Simon adds, “What’s important is to make sure that you work with your partners and fee earners and provide guidance to those that may need more help. Mobile dictation can provide significant cost savings to a firm, and make fee earners’ work life more enjoyable and productive.”
Alongside the mobile revolution, cloud technology is currently changing the way many legal firms consume legal IT solutions, such as dictation.
The central notion of software-as-a-service is simple. You get access to an IT solution when you need it, and let others worry about server hardware, maintenance and upgrades. In effect you are consuming a service, rather than purchasing a product. It is increasingly an appealing choice for many legal firms.
At the cutting edge of this development is Victoria Legal Aid (VLA), which recently signed an agreement with Winscribe for the supply of a cloud based digital dictation solution to its frontline lawyers working across the State of Victoria.
Chief Information Officer for Victoria Legal Aid, Hans Wolf commented: “The reason why VLA has decided to go for a software as a service approach is because we believe the vendor, as the subject matter expert on their own product, will be able to secure and maintain the system better, thus freeing up VLA’s ICT resources to concentrate on bringing more innovation to VLA.”
“Furthermore, by hosting the solution in the cloud, cost savings are achieved as the need to have an internal server and all its associated costs are negated. “
Making sure that tax payer’s funds are used to provide legal services, rather than for ICT upkeep & maintenance makes perfect sense for VLA.
Added to this, is Winscribe’s ability to run as a secure integrated cloud based installation that connects the separate offices and links each lawyer with a virtual typing pool of transcriptionists that can work from any location across the State of Victoria, or indeed anywhere with access to the internet.
The networked dictation approach means that work can be distributed more effectively, smoothing out peaks and troughs in demand and supply for transcription services within the organisation, another source of cost savings for VLA.
Winscribe’s cloud based dictation solution also allows Lawyers to be flexible in their work practices.
“Winscribe’s iPad dictation application allows us to utilise existing iPads provided to all lawyers, which minimises hardware purchases. The ultimate goal is to increase the efficiency of our staff and promote cost savings through the use of technology”, says Ken Chee, VLA's Project Lead.
“By giving our lawyers the ability to create, send and review dictations on their iPads, we will see an improvement in document turnaround times. I’m confident that our lawyers will appreciate the flexibility and convenience of being more mobile. They can do so while resting assured that their dictation is being sent securely, without the need for a VPN, or a change in our Firewall”.
Another forward looking firm, PK Simpson Compensation Lawyers, based in Sydney, processes their dictation through Speech Recognition (SR) technology in combination with legal process outsourcing (LPO) in order to save costs and at the same time improve its customer service by dramatically reducing document turnaround times.
PK Simpson’s Chief Operating Officer Bruce Bravo explains, “We started using SR about three and a half years ago. We wanted to move all our transcription to our sister legal process outsourcing company LPO Ezy (formerly PK Simpson Law Philippines), based in the Philippines. The idea was for highly competent Filipino staff to do the typing, not just plain typists (to ensure the highest quality output possible). The problem was most of the highly competent staff we could hire couldn't touch-type or speed-type.”
The solution was to use Winscribe’s integrated speech recognition capabilities to automatically “pre-type” the document, ready for the LPO team in the Philippines to proof-read and quality check.
The results have been quite staggering, “When we had a team of Sydney based transcriptionists, we had a turn-around time of 2-3 weeks, after we implemented SR and our Manila based LPO, our turn-around time is now, on average, 20-30 minutes after dictation. That’s an unbelievable hundred-fold improvement.”
Not only did client responsiveness improve dramatically, the combination of SR and LPO has also led to significant cost savings for PK Simpson, “We have the production capacity of about 100 staff, but an actual labour cost equivalent of only 67 Sydney staff. By combining speech recognition technology and legal process outsourcing, we have gained a significant cost and service advantage, and we believe it goes a long way towards future-proofing our legal business.”
PK Simpson’s fee earners use Winscribe’s iPhone dictation application to send dictations for transcription on the go, however PK Simpson’s COO believes traditional dictation hardware is better suited to speech recognition: “We find the accuracy of specialist dictation hardware is superior to smartphones or tablets. In our experience the quality of the microphone of the device is key in SR accuracy”, says Bruce.
This is supported by recent accuracy tests by Nuance, the makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking. It found that specialist dictation hardware from certain device manufacturers such as Philips performed better in speech recognition accuracy tests than smartphones, tablets, and some of the other manufacturer’s dictation hardware.3 The reason for this can be found in the design philosophy behind these devices. Professional dictation hardware is designed to minimise handling and background noise, an important factor in obtaining clear audio for automated recognition.
Bruce identifies one key success factor for firms that are looking to use technology to improve operational efficiency: “Any dictation, SR or LPO initiative should involve process re-engineering (for the better). For some principals and partners that sounds too daunting and traumatic, but in our experience it is not if you deal with experienced firms that have process improvement in their DNA.”
In the end, every legal firm is looking to improve the service it provides to its clients; maximise the profits from its operations; and provide an enjoyable, productive work environment for its fee earners and support staff.
The answer to all three is not science-fiction. It is already here and has been for a long time. It’s called dictation.