Everything Old is New: Maybe You Should Start Dictating Again

Don’t look now, but maybe you should rethink typing your own documents and switch back to dictating. Now, reading this, you fall into two camps: the people that grudgingly learned how to type after years of dictating and the people that never learned to dictate in the first place. Likely only one set of you is happy about this development.

Now, you can mercifully take this all with a grain of salt, because the study was conducted by, surprise surprise, a company that handles digital dictation. And an external partner might very well be likely if you switch over to dictation but do not have on-site support staff to actually transcribe your dictation.

That said, their benchmarking tests do show a significant speed increase in switching back.


(Chart courtesy of bigHand)

Oh wait. That is only four lawyers that were tested. And no mention of the productivity cost gains you lose when you turn around and pay someone else to transcribe your dulcet tones.

So let’s face it: if you are itching to dictate again, you can wave this study around. If you refuse to ever do so, you can waive this study around and point out the fact that its methodology is sorely lacking. Either way, everybody wins.


  1. Avatar Sam Glover says:

    Setting aside the additional cost of having someone around to transcribe your dictation, speed and quality are not always related. It’s true that fast typing increases quality, but dictation doesn’t let you construct a document then way you can when you are free to move about the page.

    I call bullshit.

    (Disclaimer: I strongly dislike dictation and am confident I can spot a dictated brief at 20 paces.)

    • Avatar Jeff Taylor says:

      When I think of dictation, I think speech to text using Dragon or a similar product.

      I know you can use assistance in physically dictating, but I prefer speech to text. This saves time and I can still edit as I go. I just don’t need to worry about typing in the letters as I go. I can create sentences freely. I just dictated this message to you on voice to text.

      • Avatar Sam Glover says:

        Speech recognition software and dictation are different things. Dictation requires a recorder and a transcriptionist. Speech recognition is more direct, and like typing can be non-linear.

        It’s not just semantics. Dictation is a different skill that produces different (and in my opinion, inferior) results. It’s not really an alternative to typing, because typing still has to happen — just by someone else.

        Speech recognition software is just another way to directly input information.

        • Avatar Jeff Taylor says:

          Right, I think speech recognition is going to prevail as the “dictation” for most attorneys. That said, you can still dictate into a recorder and then run speech recognition, so I’m not so sure it’s all semantics.

          Unless attorneys have a competent transcriptionist, dictation probably isn’t an expense they’re going to add. (I pay enough for deposition transcriptions.) However, there are fairly competent services that can handle transcription for a fairly decent price. I know a number of medical providers who hire out their transcription. (Not to bring up the HIPAA/privacy issue.)

          • Avatar Sam Glover says:

            It’s the real-time-ness that I think makes the difference between speech recognition and dictation. Sure, the distinction may be lost in a few more years, but for now I think there are enough lawyers still talking into tape recorders that it’s a distinction worth making.

    • Avatar Harry Hackney says:

      The problem is the editing and revision and not the dictation. You can spot a poorly dictated and revised brief. You probably can’t spot a dictated and then carefully and thoroughly revised and edited brief. You can’t just spew what’s in your head and expect it to result in a well constructed document.

    • Avatar Derek Austin says:

      Someone who shall remained nameless said they could spot a personally typed brief at a similar distance (possibly in reference to the typo in your first paragraph). I told them they were very unkind :-)

  2. Avatar Thomas Seeley says:

    I was just talking about this with another lawyer. I definitely felt I was more efficient with my time when I dictated letters because it forced me to outline what I was going to say first. Finding someone who knows how and is willing to transcribe is a problem, and one I’m not interested in paying for.

    I wonder about using dragon or the built-in voice recognition in Mavericks or Windows.

  3. Avatar Guest says:

    Two things we’ll see again: (1) “Dictated but not read”, and (2) old jokes, such as the following. Q. Do you use a dictaphone? Secretary: No, he has me make the calls.

  4. Avatar Derek Austin says:

    Sadly, the article doesn’t reference the panel discussion that was the main point of Bighand’s release. (People speaking with strange accents so maybe it wasn’t thought suitable.)

    The discussion can be found here: http://eyelevel.com.au/bighand-nuance/topics/does-talking-to-yourself-make-you-a-better-lawyer/

    I wouldn’t take anything significant from the reported numbers as Lisa says, but I encourage you to check out the debate about whether young lawyers can think on their feet now. What do you think about that?

    (I work for Nuance Communications. These are my opinions, not Nuance’s.)

    • Avatar Sam Glover says:

      I’m watching it, but I don’t follow the logic. Dictating is supposed to make people better at oral argument? That makes no sense. Dictation isn’t oral argument. If you want to get better at oral argument, practice arguing.

      Dictation is also a substandard way to write. If you want to write faster and typing isn’t your thing, speech recognition software is far superior to dictation.

      • Avatar Derek Austin says:

        The argument is a little subtler than that.

        The first prong is that the ability to think on your feet is a precursor to oral argument, relationship management and dictation. It’s a skill that can be learned. Reportedly, that’s not happening so much nowadays.

        Second, many graduates who say they can “type” are slow at it. And dictation to speech recognition software is far superior to typing at any speed and to dictation for someone else to transcribe.

        • Avatar Harry Hackney says:

          I started out writing everything in longhand with a pencil and then giving it to an assistant to type. Yes, that was before we had computers and yes she was typing it on an IBM Selectric. Eventually (within the first few years), I got more comfortable with dictation and never wrote anything longhand again except the briefest of notes.

          Once computers became common, I switched to a combination of typing and dictation depending on how busy my assistant was and the type of document. Oddly, I came to believe that I could type longer documents (such as appellate briefs) more efficiently than dictating them. The reason being that I was less likely to lose my place and repeat myself if I could scroll back and review what I had typed. Consequently, there was less editing and fewer drafts.

          About a year ago, I started using Dragon. I have not picked up a tape recorder since. Dragon isn’t perfect, but then neither was my secretary’s transcription. Tapes tended to deteriorate over time and she would occasionally not understand what I was saying for other reasons. In some ways, Dragon is the best of both worlds. I can dictate AND I can see what is going on the page at the same time. It is probably not quite as fast as just talking to a tape, but there are fewer drafts and revisions once again. But it is probably faster than my typing.

          As for learning to argue, I never gave it much thought before. But I can definitely see where crafting your arguments out loud, as you do with dictation, would help you to learn to think and talk at the same time just as you must do in court.

          • Avatar Derek Austin says:

            Harry, do you have any recommendations for those new to dictation on how to get started?

            • Avatar Harry Hackney says:

              That’s a good question and I wish I had some pithy words of wisdom in reply, but I don’t. I’ve never been much for outlining. In fact, I had a real problem in a college English course where we were asked to prepare an outline but not write a paper. The teacher was exasperated with me. Her comment was “You’re papers are so logical and well laid out. Why can’t you do an outline?!” I just couldn’t. I’ve never liked doing them.

              All I can say is — start! Start and practice. You’ll eventually get the hang of it with practice. I’ve also always dictated the punctuation as well as my thoughts. Frankly, in nearly 30 years of law practice, I’ve only encountered one assistant that I would trust to do my punctuation for me and she was an English major. She also worked for a partner and not for me.

              For me the key, as I told Sam Glover above, is to edit and revise, revise and edit.

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