The History of Transcription and Law Firm Productivity

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Whether documents reside as paper in a client’s redwell or as electronic files in a computer, the process of their creation has changed little over time – someone types them. In fact, along with dictation, typing has been a business process mainstay of not just the legal industry, but corporate America, for decades.

Up until the 1970’s, the dictation to transcription process generally meant a secretary sitting in the same room with her “boss”, physically writing down every word uttered into a notebook using shorthand. After this time consuming task, she would then travel to her desk and typewriter and transcribe her notes as a first draft. The attorney would make revisions by hand and the document would be retyped from scratch on a new sheet of paper until final – when it was typed one last time from scratch onto letterhead, usually with several carbon copies. I’m sure anyone who was raised in the PC era can’t even imagine typing the same base document over and over – but that was how it was done!

In the late 1970’s, the introduction of two pieces of office automation dramatically improved on the document generation process: the cassette recorder and the electric word processor.

Instead of tying up a secretary for hours, a cassette recorder allowed attorneys to dictate to a tape which was then handed to their secretary for transcription throughout her day or, for larger documents, to the firm’s word processing department. With the introduction of recorded dictation, law firm productivity soared! Secretary’s could answer phones and handle administrative tasks as they transcribed and attorneys enjoyed the new freedom of being able to “work” independent of their secretary and even office — so long they had their portable recorder, batteries and fresh tapes they could produce and get the “work” done.

The next improvement to the process, or electric word processors, removed the double entry work of documents created on typewriters and law firms adopted this “new fangled” technology with arms wide open. Leading the way was Corel’s WordPerfect® which was created specifically for law firms and DOS, long before Windows and the far inferior (IMHO) Microsoft® Word were even a thought. To this day, WordPerfect’s Fkey functions remain etched in my memory and it’s Reveal Codes feature make it an “intuitive” application for most beginners.

The next improvement to the document generation process will undoubtedly be recognized as the jump from analog to digital dictation and the options that then become available.

Hard to imagine, but this one relatively minor change in how dictators produce the work, can provide heaps of benefits for everyone – from the ability for dictators to work from any internet connection or telephone; to the ability of HR personnel to track and monitor the actual work in progress at a firm; to the flexibility to send files “in house” or to lower costs, to a transcription provider or Virtual Assistant.

While it is true that in today’s world many attorneys draft their work while sitting behind their keyboards, if an attorney is fairly computer literate and can type at a decent rate using all fingers (OK, 8 is OK too!), then through cutting and pasting of previously created documents and other software enhancements, this method of document creation can be an efficient use of time. However, since all attorney time is usually billable, the argument could be made that less than proficient attorneys should not draft documents through keyboarding, otherwise clients end up paying for administrative tasks at attorney’s rates. Also, one needs to pay careful attention to meta data (the hidden information in documents) when cutting and pasting.

Just as music and video have moved away from “tapes”, so too will dictation. The dictation/transcription process remains the best method to get the work done and upgrading to digital is actually inevitable. Word on the street (aka LegalTech NY) is that analog transcription machines will shortly become scarce then the little tapes will start going up in price. If you see that, you know the time draws near to investigate digital equipment. Also, if your current equipment breaks, really consider upgrading to digital. Everyone in your firm will be happy you’ve made the switch – including you.

My recommendation are products with a slide switch by Philips or Olympus and ordered through Bret Williams of www.AmericanDictation.com. Bret is an Authorized Dealer who is happy to provide preferential pricing and free shipping on orders over $200 just for mentioning “LegalTypist”.;)

While I try to follow the motto my dear ol’ mom instilled in me as I was growing up: “If you don’t have something nice to say… don’t say anything at all,” I do feel constrained to caution would be upgraders away from Sony products. I have had nothing but trouble with their proprietary file types and dictators report their buttons and functions are almost impossible to understand. For those accustomed to dictating to tape, I recommend models with a slide switch like the Phillips 9600 — so it feels just like a tape unit but without the tape! For those who are new to dictation – there are the less expensive models which use bottons on the front, instead of the slide switch. I generally recommend these mid-provided digital dictation units for those from what I call the “Game Boy” generation.

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Source by Andrea Cannavina

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