Let’s talk about using dictation software. It’s not something that a lot of lawyers are using right now, but maybe they should. The few lawyers I know who use it regularly swear by it. I’ve started experimenting with dictation software and I thought I’d share my observations.
I am dictating this entire passage using software called MacSpeech Dictate, which costs about $160 on Amazon (comes with headphone). It runs on the same speech engine as Dragon Naturally Speaking software, which is a Windows-based program that costs about $145 (does not come with headphone). So, for very little money, you can start using off-the-shelf dictation software to crank out text at an alarming rate.
The first step when you get the software is to train it to understand your voice. This process takes about five minutes, and in the course of doing so you will learn basic things, such as that when you end a sentence you have to say the word “Period.” In other words, you have to specifically describe the punctuation that you want to be applied to your text. At first, this seems a little awkward. But, once you get the hang of it, it becomes natural and effortless. The amazing thing is how quickly you can dictate passages of text that would take you three or four times as long to type.
To give you an idea of how quickly it will type passages of text, I will record the time it takes me to dictate the following passage that I am reading from an investment newsletter I got from Charles Schwab.
One step closer… to job growth; Birdseye lookahead and year in review
Year is always a time for reflection, and investors have a lot to reflect on in the year coming to a close. From an Oregon outlook in the early part of the year to hope and relief as the year closes, it’s been a wild ride. From my perch, it’s been fascinating and enlightening to watch the disbelief with which our optimism was met last spring turned to something closer to resignation, but nothing approaching euphoria.
Many remain incredulous at the optimists, at the market’s phenomenal rally since March, and the continued better-than-expected readings on the economy. But with each successive piece of better news, a little more confidence creeps into the picture. As we head into 2010, it’s instructive to analyze the latest market action in order to see what possible themes might be developing.
The above passage took me exactly 60 seconds to dictate. There is no way that I could type that passage in under a minute. But, let’s not speculate, let’s see what happens if I type it myself:
One-step closer … to job growth; Bird’s-eye look ahead and year in review.
Year-end is always a time for relrection, and investors have a lot to reflect on in the year coming to a close. From an Armageddon outook in the early part of the year to hope and relief as the year closes, it’s been a wild ride. From my perch, it’s been a fascinating adn enlighting to wathc the disblieve with which our optimism was met last spring turn to something closer to resignation, though nothing approaching euphoria.
Many remain incredulous at the optmist, at the market’s phenomenal rally since last March, and the continued better-than-expected readings on the economy. But with each succesive piece of better news, a little more confidence creeps into the picture. As we head into 2010, it’s instructive to analyze teh latest market action in order to see what possible themes might be developing.
It took me 3 minutes and 30 seconds to type that same passage, which is almost 4 times as long. Note that both passages contain inaccuracies. I’ll be honest and say that when I was typing I often backed up as I tried to clean up mistakes. Obviously, this is one reason I was slower when I typed. But, even if I hadn’t stopped to fix typos I probably would have only shaved about 30 seconds off of my final time. That means that the dictation software is at least three times faster than my typing.
True, the dictation software made some mistakes. The first words in the passage are supposed to be ‘Year-end is always a time for reflection.’ The dictation software missed the word ‘end’ after ‘year.’ And the dictation software used the word ‘Oregon’ instead of ‘Armageddon,’ which is a big difference, and renders that sentence almost meaningless. People who dismiss the value of dictation software often point to such mistakes as deal-killers. They say “well, spell-check would never catch that kind of error and so how am I supposed to proof-read the document?” The answer is you should proof-read by reading, and not by relying on the computer software’s spell-check function.
All of the dictation mistakes are obvious to me as I read them and are thus easily correctible. It took me exactly 26 seconds to proofread the dictated passage and correct the errors. So, factoring in the time for making corrections, the dictated passage was still completed in about one-third the time it took me to type it.
Enough about problems. Now let’s talk about the unexpected benefits of dictating. First, notice how it knew to hyphenate the phrase ‘better-than-expected’ in the second paragraph (I didn’t tell it to do that, even though that’s how it was written in the brochure that I was reading from). Also, note that when I said ‘twenty-ten’ in reference to the current year, it spelled out 2010. These are the kinds of results you probably wouldn’t expect. I certainly didn’t. So, while you do have to describe basic punctuation as you dictate, the software will correctly apply certain punctuation that you might not think about, or even know is applicable.
Yes, you do have to get used to using the software. And it can take some time to get past the initial frustration of learning something new. But, if you knew that using the software was going to cut your typing time by 30%, wouldn’t you be interested? Let’s face it: very few people have exceptional keyboard skills. I’m considered a decent typist by many folks, but the reality is I can’t type 40 words a minute with acceptable accuracy. Having to think about what I’m typing at the same time that I think of what to say takes more brain effort than I’d like to have to use. The real power of dictation software is that it frees you from paying any attention to typing, and allows you to focus completely on what you want to say. That fact alone makes it worthwhile for me.
Dictation software used to be expensive, and hard to set up. And it used to require a lot of computing horsepower, more than the average computer had. All that has changed, and programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking and MacSpeech Dictate are leading the charge. Speech recognition software is ready for Prime Time, and it just might be something for you to consider using in your law practice. If you’re willing to take the time to learn how to use it properly, that is.