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Siri, Apple’s iPhone 4S speech-to-dictation feature may be one of the latest and greatest tech toys, but is it really practical for lawyers? Has this technology truly evolved to the point where lawyers can actually use it in their day-to-day practice? Has voice-to-text dictation finally come of age?
I think it has. In fact, recently I used my iPhone’s speech-to-text function to dictate a short 4 page memo for my law firm and found that it worked well. All in all, I was quite happy with the results. I especially liked that I could hold the iPhone right in my hand, so it felt no different than a dictaphone. And, it was nearly instantaneous and far more seamless than the old school dictating from year’s past — where I dictated a memo, gave the tape to my secretary and then sometimes spent days going back and forth with my secretary to get the memo into a final draft.
The mechanics of using the iPhone’s built-in dictation system was easy. I simply dictated the memo using the iPhone’s default “notes” app, then emailed the note to myself, cut and pasted the text into a Word doc, made a few edits, and sent it on its way.
One drawback to this method is that after a few minutes of dictating, the app will automatically stop allowing input and will then transcribe your recent block of speech into text. While some might find this interruption to be distracting, it didn’t phase me at all. I simply waited a moment, then continued on with my dictation.
Now some will no doubt raise issues of security or waiver of attorney client privilege as a barrier to using this method of dictation. This is because your iPhone sends your recorded speech to Apple’s servers in order to process it and convert it to text. Apple also may retain the data in order to allow their program to “learn” from the speech input provided.
Whether the data sent to and retained by Apple will be deemed to be a violation of ethics obligations remains to be seen since, to my knowledge, no ethics decisions have been issued that are on point.
Nevertheless, I believe that based on prior ethics rulings, using Siri for speech-to-text dictation is an acceptable practice.
First, I would argue that Apple’s servers are analogous to the third party servers through which emails between lawyers and clients travel, and the use of email between lawyers and clients to discuss confidential information was given the green light by ethics committees as far back as the late 1990s. (See, ABA Formal Opinion No. 99-413).
Second, I would suggest that the processing of speech by Apple’s servers is akin to Gmail’s servers scanning your emails to deliver up relevant ads. The New York State Bar Association gave this practice its blessing in 2008 when it concluded that it was ethically permissible since the contents of emails were being processed by a machine, not a person, for the limited purpose of serving up relevant content. (New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics Opinion 820-2/08/08).
So, the bottom line is that I believe that the use of Siri by lawyers for dictation purposes is both ethical and worthwhile. And, in my experience, it is incredibly easy to use, is very cost effective, and offers a much quicker turn around (ie. nearly immediate) than using the services of a legal assistant, virtual or otherwise.