Managing Time by Teaching Old Tools New Tricks

Dictation remains a dependable time management tool for lawyers, even for the newbies.  Despite my respectable typing skills, dictation was something the old-school lawyers encouraged when I started practicing.  The learning curve is relatively easy after you get used to concisely thinking out loud.  You can always talk faster than you can type, the question being how coherent it is.

When it comes to time management, dictation is great not only for drafting documents (obviously), but also for delegating tasks to others.  This is especially useful if you are on the move and do not want to lose thoughts on a project or assignment.

As with other facets of our industry, dictation is trying to evolve with technology.  (Of course, only in our profession would lawyers still use cassette tapes for dictation when the same media is no longer used for actual music – you know who you are.)  Digital dictation has become popular with devices that create electronic files that can be downloaded to the computer.  Some systems allow lawyers to dial a toll-free number and then use the telephone as a dictation device (of course if you are like me and use an AT&T iPhone, poor coverage can spoil eloquent and brilliant prose).  Dragon Dictation also is fascinating software, allowing the dictator to see words appear real time on the computer screen.

These methods are all well and good, but, like everything, I feel there is usually a better way to do things and to become more efficient.  To that end, I believe an effective, time-saving dictation system has two components: (1) the human talent (for my firm it is Cybertary, through Barb Etherington, our virtual assistant partner); and (2) the firm’s technology platform ( and iPads/iPhones).  Here is the 3-part Burton Law method of dictation that we developed:

STEP 1:  Dictating the Content.  Dictamus is a great iPhone/iPad app that turns the device into a digital dictaphone with all the expected features, such as record/play/fast forward buttons, etc.  It allows the lawyer to easily go back into the middle of a file and add or over-write content.  When finished, the user can upload the file directly from Dicatamus into their (or Dropbox) account.  This saves the dictation file directly into the law firm’s content management system.

STEP 2:  The Transcription.  After the file is uploaded into from Dictamus, Cybertary takes the file and has control over the processing.  Cybertary sends the file to SpeakWrite for the actual transcription.  SpeakWrite is a wonderful tool.  The user uploads a sound file through the website.  SpeakWrite then randomly assigns the file to transcriptionists around the country who have been vetted and are subject to confidentiality agreements.  SpeakWrite returns the transcription within three hours of submission, but, typically, it is returned within an hour or two.  This return rate occurs on a 24/7 basis – submit a file before going to bed and it is sitting in your email when you wake up.

Here’s the best part:  SpeakWrite’s transcription is some of the best I have seen.  This is especially fascinating considering the transcriptionists have no clue who the content originator is, including knowing the lawyer’s particular dictation quirks/poor habits.

Why use SpeakWrite?  Efficiency.  If our lawyers submit a large volume of dictation projects simultaneously through Cybertary, then SpeakWrite will process all of those files within the same period of time as if only one file had been submitted.  This can occur because of SpeakWrite’s dedicated army of transcriptionists. It dramatically cuts down the total amount of time it takes for a document to be created.

STEP 3:  Finishing Touches.  When SpeakWrite returns the transcribed document, Cybertary, knowing our clients and firm formatting, does any necessary cleanup work, including putting the content on the firm’s letterhead.  Cybertary then sends the document to the lawyer for review and to be finalized.  And, voila!  A document is quickly born with minimal touches by the attorney.

Dictation on its own is an effective time management tool.  Combine that, with cutting edge technology, and you are ready to efficiently produce work product in your office, at home, in the airport, or while waiting in line overnight for the latest Apple product to be released, among other places.  And, yes, I produced this blog post using the above-described process.


Job Number: 11299-001
Custom Filename: SFI Post
Date: 10/26/2011
Billed Word Count: 723

6 Responses to “Managing Time by Teaching Old Tools New Tricks”

  1. I cannot agree more that dictation is a great way to get things done!

    For attorneys and law firms that prefer to keep their work product within the United States, or those who prefer a dedicated team of typists assigned just to their account (who are signed to confidentiality), consider

    Over 10 years of helping US based law firms of all sizes upgrade their processes from tape based dictation (or no dictation process at all) to digital and off site transcription/secretarial needs.

    As a partner of Clio, we offer discounts on set up and also the exact same workflow as described above AND we work in each client’s Clio account to do so much more than just transcription. We perform data entry, calendaring, billing and the other administrative and secretarial functions available right from within Clio.

    As for transcription, our turn around times vary and we contract to 24 hours, but even our largest client of 80+ attorneys receives same day service at no additional cost. That’s because once a workflow is in place … well, it just works.

  2. Mr. Burton’s original idea of using Dictamus with or even Dropbox saved this virtual assistant a lot of time and aggravation. A good point that’s made – it’s a good idea to have some control over the processing of the document through a company like Cybertary – a company that is rehearsed with the law firms’ preferences for final drafts and such. Mr. Burton’s suggestion of using Speakwrite is a good one. I’ve found that they use professionals both in the U.S. and Canada and they guarantee 3 hour turn time.

  3. I’ve only been using Speakwrite for a very short time but I love their service and it has worked seamlessly. I too use and Dropbox and find that it makes life so much easier for working in a virtual environment. I always enjoy Mr. Burton’s posts and find his suggestion innovative and “outside the box”.

  4. […] Dictamus – a critical piece of dictation workflow – described here; […]

  5. […] reminded of the post I wrote below about the creative use of dictation. This originally appeared on Small Firm Innovation in 2011, but is still a concept that I use. Here is a slightly updated version of the […]

  6. […] documents it has become a much more efficient process. In fact, dictation can be an effective time-saving technique once you get the hang of it. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “dictation” is […]