Maybe you already have an iPad, or maybe you’re planning to get one in the near future. Either way, you probably want to know the best way to put your new tool to use in your practice. After all, an iPad is only as good as its apps. With that in mind, here is a list of what I consider to be the most essential free iPad apps for lawyers:
1. Dragon Dictation
If you’ve dreamt of having an app that will convert your dictation into print, Dragon Dictation is for you. The app uses voice recognition software to convert dictated notes to text. In fact, if you’re daring enough, Dragon Dictation will even integrate with Facebook and Twitter so you can easily dictate status updates. It is surprisingly accurate too (although I recommend carefully reviewing these before making them public).
Fastcase is a powerful legal research tool providing access to a free law library incorporating case law for all 50 states and access to statutes for most states and the federal government. There are some holes in the offerings including only access to select codes and regulations (and no access at all to statutes for Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio, and Pennsylvania). Nonetheless, unlike Westlaw or Lexis, access to the Fastcase law library from the iPad app is completely free.
3. Westlaw Next
If your office uses West for legal research, then this app is essential. It creates an iPad-friendly interface for Westlaw Next allowing you to perform all of your legal research on the go. The Westlaw Next app automatically syncs with the Westlaw Next website so you can begin your research on your iPad and later complete your research at the office. The app also incorporates KeyCite, Folders and allows you to access your search history.
4. Lexis Advance HD
I should preface this one by noting that Lexis Advance HD is still a new app with some major bugs for the Lexis team to figure out. Still, if your office uses Lexis for legal research, you’ll want to download this app for your iPad. Like the Westlaw Next app, it allows you to perform legal research on the go. You can use Instant Search to run a search without having to select a specific source, Shephardize case law, and use Work Folders to synchronize your search results to view them on your work computer.
As I recently discussed in my post about using Evernote to improve your practice, Evernote is absolutely essential for lawyers on the go. I use Evernote for nearly everything. Evernote allows you to store your case files in the cloud and easily search those files from any location. Evernote also allows you to create and format documents. Evernote allows you record dictated messages. Best of all, the app and the basic account are free. I honestly believe this is the best app you’ll download for your iPad. Paired with the Penultimate app ($0.99) you can even take handwritten notes on your iPad and save them to Evernote – effectively replacing your yellow legal pad.
6. Adobe Reader
Odds are you deal with PDFs everyday in your practice. Whether it is notices, pleadings, motions or giant discovery productions, you’ll want a smooth and easy way to view your PDFs on your iPad. Adobe Reader app doesn’t offer much in terms of functionality and editing, but it does allow you to easily view and read PDF files on your iPad.
I’ll presume you are already promoting your practice and engaging with colleagues and clients on Twitter. You should be. The Twitter app is a fantastic way to navigate Twitter on your iPad. In fact, in my opinion, the Twitter iPad app offers a better user experience that their regular website. The Twitter app allows you to easily switch between multiple accounts, tweet on the go, and creates an easy to read conversation view of your direct messages with other users.
This is an essential app for the attorney blogger on the go. It can be a frustrating experience trying to create and edit posts from the regular WordPress.org web dashboard from your iPad. The iPad app mostly solves that problem by creating an easy to use interface that allows you to moderate comments, create or edit posts and easily add images and videos to posts on your iPad.
For more information, please visit quikscribe.com and digidictate.com
If you still use a Dictaphone, your law practice is on the fast track to obsolescence.
In fact, you may already be a dinosaur but just don’t know it yet.
That’s according to Sam Glover, whose popular Lawyerist.com blog offers law office management and marketing tips.
At the September 2014 Clio Cloud Conference in Chicago, and some months earlier in this blog post, Glover identified six technologies every lawyer should have gotten rid of long ago:
- Fax machines
- Windows XP
And yet, are some of these technologies still in use in your office?
I’m guessing yes. Most of you probably have a physical fax machine. Ditto a copier (pun intended). And maybe even a typewriter or two lying around.
You’re not alone. Lawyers from Nevada to New Jersey wrote Glover defending their continued use of the maligned machines.
Some said they used typewriters to fill out forms required by banks and real estate companies. Others said physical fax machines were more secure and less vulnerable to hackers than e-faxes. One said his local court required hard copies of certain documents.
Time Is Running Out On The Dictaphone
And then there is Brian Focht. The self-professed techno-geek and author of the Cyber Advocate blawg says he attended the Cloud Conference and sat squirming in his seat as Glover pronounced the Dictaphone deader than a dodo. Here is what Focht posted about the episode:
“[Glover] asked the crowd if anyone still used one. I didn’t raise my hand. Sure, I type or use voice recognition for most of my practice, but I have one plugged right next to my monitor (where it most often serves as a speaker). The senior partners in my firm all still dictate their letters, motions, briefs, and pretty much everything else into their handy dictaphone, to be transcribed by a legal assistant.
I knew that full-time use of a dictaphone was probably obsolete, and employing someone for the sole purpose of transcribing your dictation is far more expensive than the best voice recognition software available. Yet even I was surprised by what I found on my return to my office.”
What Focht found was that his dictating days were coming to an end – whether he liked it or not.
“I hadn’t been back for more than an hour when I spoke to our firm’s office manager, who informed me that we had been contacted by our IT company and told that they would no longer be supporting our dictation equipment. I didn’t understand. Our digital dictaphones were newer than our desktops (not saying much, but…). And it wasn’t that there was something to upgrade to. Apparently, she had been contacted by other local office managers about the same issue. They all called, wondering what solution was available. For us, apparently, it involved begging for another year of support, to which our IT firm relented. That’s it – one more year.
Ready, Set, Dictate
All of this reminded me of my very first law job way back in the early 1980s.
The New Associate Orientation process consisted of:
- Getting taken around the office and introduced to my new colleagues (15 minutes).
- Receiving a guided tour of the law library (10 minutes).
- Learning how to use the copy machine (5 minutes).
- Learning how to use the Dictaphone (3 full days).
- The Dictaphone was a wondrous device indeed. There was a trigger-activated handset, a foot pedal, a black box straight out of Star Trek and a long wire that snaked across the floor and disappeared into a hole in the wall.
Amazing. I pulled the trigger. I spoke into the handset. Pretty soon a secretary brought me a piece of paper that contained the four words that I had spoken just minutes before.
They had been perfectly transcribed. They looked lovely on the page. They were: “Testing, one, two, three.”
For more information, please visit quikscribe.com and digidictate.com
In 2009, Apple coined the phrase “There’s an app for that”TM. Never has this statement been truer. As of May 2015, Statista reported that Android users were able to choose between 1.5 million apps, and Apple users have access to 1.4 million apps.
The budding availability of different mobile applications also parallels the growth in mobile device usage, as a whole. In fact, Gartner reported that global smartphones sales reached 336 million units, an increase of 19.3 percent during the first quarter of 2015. While much of this growth is consumer-driven, many organizations are now finding great benefits in the increasing variety of mobile devices and applications that are available to support their mobile workforce. The 2014 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report showed that 91 percent of US lawyers now use a smartphone for law-related tasks, and 49 percent of lawyers are also using tablet devices.
Lawyers can now practice from anywhere and at any time with the dramatic improvement in mobile technology. Today’s mobile devices are e-readers, mobile law libraries, scanners, and time and billing managers. Applications for mobile devices even allow you to create and manage your office documentation, spreadsheets, and presentations. But, perhaps, there’s not a more natural progression than merging your mobile device with speech technology tools such as digital dictation and speech recognition.
Historically, lawyers used analog tapes or digital handheld recorders to capture their dictations. These methods worked for decades, but using analog and digital handheld recorders have their limits. With analog dictation, tapes can be lost and can break. This results not only in rework, but also the loss of secure client information. Tapes also hold up the document turnaround process as often a single tape contains multiple recordings, and tapes require physical delivery to support staff for transcription.
While digital dictation via digital handheld recorders solves many of the issues that occur with tape-based dictation, it can also have its own drawbacks. Using a digital handheld recorder, the user typically captures dictations on the device, docks or plugs the device into a PC using a USB cable, and then uploads the audio files to be emailed for transcription or uses a digital dictation workflow system to route the uploaded audio files to support staff. This setup requires attorneys to be in their office or at a computer before they can send their dictations to be transcribed. With mobile dictation through smartphones and tablet devices, this isn’t the case.
Dictation through mobile devices is one of the latest progressions in speech productivity technology. Imagine having the ability to capture dictation at a client’s site or in transit, and being able to immediately send work to your assistant or back to the office for completion ? before ever returning there yourself. Mobile dictation helps to make productive use of your valuable time. Legal professionals can dictate case notes, tasks or directions to support staff, time for billing, etc. and send those recordings instantly to support staff for transcription or follow-up, without requiring the device to be docked or connected to a computer. This allows for a more efficient delivery of information, saving legal professionals energy, time, and money.
There are several other advantages to mobile dictation, including:
- Improved productivity
- Improved document turnaround time
- Better client responsiveness
- Reduced hardware costs and maintenance, as mobile dictation users no longer need to carry and maintain both a smartphone or tablet and a handheld recorder
Furthermore, some mobile dictation applications, like Winscribe, work with speech recognition engines to allow for even greater efficiency gains. With the accuracy of speech recognition engines now averaging 95 percent or greater, mobile dictation with voice-to-text capabilities can enable even quicker document turnaround and client responsiveness, as speech-recognized dictations usually only require minor edits before delivering a final document.
In the fast-paced world, where the dynamics of legal practices are changing, lawyers are becoming more mobile. Moreover, many firms are under competitive pressure to deliver information quickly. Wouldn’t it be great to have a tool to make your work more efficient? Mobile speech technology could be that tool, and it can certainly help to satisfy your APPetite for efficiency!
Outsourcing dictation can save a law firm thousands of pounds, but it must be managed carefully, writes Jonathan Rayner.
On the one hand, there are those who demand to know why anyone would consider such madness. After all, just having a temporary secretary for a day throws you off your stride; it would be much worse if you had to rely on strangers full-time. And anyway, they assert, it is a solicitor’s duty to respect client confidentiality. Why even contemplate farming out commercially sensitive or personal data to another body? It is enough to get you struck off the roll.
On the other hand, there are those who wax eloquent on the subject. Outsourcing, they proclaim, allows you to reduce staff overheads and concentrate resources on fee-earners. Also, there are tried and tested mechanisms in place to ensure confidentiality, quality and compliance with Solicitors Regulation Authority rules. Outsourcing is a no-brainer, they say.
So, outsourcing dictation is either wanton recklessness or law firm management of the highest order. The Gazette sought a balanced view by speaking to users, regulators and providers of the service.
Shifting the dynamic
Gary Storer, practice manager at West Midlands firm QualitySolicitors Silks, says that outsourcing to transcription and digital dictation company dictate2us has been a ‘success’ for the firm and saved it ‘thousands of pounds’ over the last three years. He says: ‘Importantly, it allowed us to shift the dynamic of the firm in the light of the economic downturn. A fee-earner and secretary working as a unit is no longer a sustainable model. Outsourcing meant we could let some people go, while focusing others on becoming multi-functional.
‘The process is easy to use. We dictate as though the secretary is there in our office and then transfer it to the dictate2us website. It’s a quick turnaround and, in our case, the finished job is filed directly on to our case management system.’
Jamie Abrahams, operations director at niche London real estate and commercial firm Harold Benjamin, makes the unusual claim that he would like to spend more money with digital dictation company DictateNow. He says: ‘Our decision to outsource was prompted more by a wish to increase efficiency than to reduce costs – although that was also an important consideration. We have massively increased turnover and profitability in the last two years. If we are spending more with DictateNow, then we must be generating more work.’
Harold Benjamin now outsources everything that previously would have been typed in-house. As a result, the firm no longer employs secretaries in the traditional sense and, despite fee-earner numbers climbing 20% since January 2013, has not needed to put in place a proportionate rise in administrative support. Abrahams says: ‘The people who used to type in this building have been encouraged to move on to become paralegals or legal executives, which again has improved efficiencies.’
So outsourcing has been a success? ‘Definitely,’ replies Abrahams. ‘It is helping us do it better for less with no long-term contractual obligations. The arrangement is based purely on results and can be cancelled at any time.’
The providers of outsourced dictation are, unsurprisingly, equally enthusiastic about its benefits. Take transcription provider Voicepath, which boasts more than 200 law firm clients, ranging from large nationals to high street practices. Many of its client firms have agreed to provide testimonials for Voicepath’s website.
Hertfordshire firm Debenhams Ottaway, for example, says: ‘We have calculated that we have saved £500,000 in salary costs alone through using Voicepath.’ London firm HowardKennedyFsi claims that Voicepath’s services have enabled it to ‘revolutionise our business practices beyond the simple adoption of digital dictation’. Lancashire firm Scott Rees & Co praises Voicepath for the ‘fast and accurate turnaround of the work we send them’.
There are similar paeans on the website of DictateNow, whose clients range in size from sole practitioners to top-100 law firms. International firm Ince & Co praises DictateNow’s reliability and its ‘seamless integration into our operation that engenders confidence and removes the pain’. National firm Lewis Silkin commends the provider’s ‘quality and accuracy’ and adds that much of the firm’s work is picked up by the same typists so that they are more ‘an extension of our team… than an external service provider’. Wandsworth Borough Council, more technically, endorses DictateNow’s ‘hosted server system, which considerably reduced the implementation cost’ and allows the council to outsource whenever its secretaries are absent or busy.
Lost in translation
The only criticisms appear to concern offshoring. Many law firms have brought their dictation back onshore because of time-consuming – if sometimes amusing – errors that have crept into their letters and other documents when processed by non-native English speakers. One solicitor, for example, complained that south-east London’s Brockley came back to him as broccoli. A lawyer from the south-west, moreover, was somewhat taken aback when her letter telling a client that she had ‘calculated the costs’ was returned with the disclosure that she had ‘copulated the costs’.
Rule one of how to outsource dictation, then, is to keep it in onshore with a reputable provider. Rule two is to check that the service is such that the law firm remains compliant with the SRA Code of Conduct 2011. The Law Society’s website carries a detailed October 2011 practice note on all forms of outsourcing, including due diligence, IT, Companies House filing and ‘legal secretarial services [such as] digital dictation to an outsourced secretarial service for word-processing or typing’.
Compliance places a heavy obligation on law firms. Practices remain responsible for all outsourced work – you cannot blame the outside supplier. SRA principles apply: you must provide a proper standard of service to your clients, you must comply with your legal and regulatory obligations, and you must run your firm in accordance with proper governance rules. Your client care letter, moreover, should inform clients what aspects of their work are being outsourced.
On the subject of confidentiality, the SRA code says you can only outsource services when you are satisfied that the provider has taken all appropriate steps to ensure that your clients’ confidential information will be protected. Note the words ‘when you are satisfied’. It is your responsibility to check that the provider is able to do what it says it can do – and is doing it. If things go wrong, it is your head on the block.
Finally, and assuming you have not been scared off by the regulatory obligations, you need to carry out a risk assessment. For example, there are only a limited number of outsourced dictation providers, while there are thousands of law firms each carrying out hundreds if not thousands of transactions a year. How can you be sure that there is no conflict of interest, with the same provider supplying the firms on both sides of a transaction? There is a risk that commercially sensitive information could be leaked. How would you explain that to your client?
Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes, and so if you choose your provider wisely, then you probably won’t have embarrassing questions to answer. The wisest move is to ask a prospective provider for the name and contact details of one or more of its existing law firm clients. Speak to these firms, ask what difficulties or obstacles they had to overcome to begin using the service. Ask them about the benefits: has it reduced headcount, saved money, protected confidentiality, sped up processes, made life easier or more difficult? Would they recommend the prospective provider?
Graham and Daryl Leigh, legal director and chief executive respectively of Bury-based dictate2us, are confident that their company not only ticks all the boxes, but offers additional features too. Daryl Leigh says: ‘We provide a specialist typist for each legal sector, whether commercial, criminal, family, property or the rest.’
Graham Leigh notes the appeal of the firm’s international service. ‘We provide transcription in any language, such as Cantonese or Mandarin in Hong Kong,’ he says. ‘We can take a Russian language document and transcribe it into Japanese, for instance. This means different time zones and long hours because we have turnaround undertakings to meet – we say that a piece of dictation less than five minutes long will be turned around in an hour, any time of the day or night. We even type in braille.’
He ends by stating that confidentiality and data protection are ensured by ‘military-grade encryption’ and by ‘confidentiality agreements’ signed by typists, editors and everyone involved in the quality control process.
Account manager Jonathan Shiels at Leamington Spa-based Voicepath claims that his company’s legal typing and transcription service ‘helps law firms do more for less’. He says: ‘Firms are not increasing headcount in these difficult economic times. This is unsurprising given that, in London, the average salary for a legal secretary is £45,000. Firms can save up to 60% in costs if they outsource some of the work.’
Change in attitude
Voicepath was established in 1998 and in the intervening years, Shiels says, there have been fundamental changes in attitudes to outsourcing and the way the service is delivered.
‘Outsourcing used to be regarded as back-office support, but now it is seen as a viable extension to a firm’s business model. It frees up fee-earners’ time so they can concentrate on high-value work and on meeting targets. It also gives firms flexibility without commitment – they can choose when or when not to use us, and how urgently they want the work done. We can do it overnight or with a 45-60 minute turnaround time – it’s the client’s choice.’
Shiels adds that developments in technology have also transformed outsourcing. ‘Firms used to use analogue tapes, with one tape per user,’ he says, ‘but the new digital platforms have changed everything. Lawyers can dictate directly to us on their mobile phones, for instance. The evolution of voice recognition programmes has also been epic. The programmes can recognise accents and allow files to be uploaded, which we can then tailor and format in one streamlined process.’
So, how best to outsource dictation? Choose onshore, not offshore, to avoid a broccoli moment; canvass providers’ existing clients for a recommendation or otherwise; ensure SRA compliance – or face the consequences; and check that the provider is using the most up-to-date technology.
The better the sound quality on your recording, the less time it will take to transcribe. The following tips are given purely for guidance and the time taken to transcribe recordings can vary.
- Get to know your recording equipment, how it works and how to maintain it. Ensure you are aware of where all the buttons are located. If you are unsure, refer to your user manual. Try to remember to have your dictation equipment serviced at least annually; this will ensure that your equipment stays in good condition and that recording quality remains high.
- Before you start your dictation, organise yourself. Assemble all the information you may need before you start dictating, this ensures that you have everything to hand and helps maintain your concentration.
- When dictating, if you need to find a file or a piece of information, Stop the dictating machine. Once you have started your recorder, pause for a moment before dictating, and when you have finished speaking, allow the recording to continue for a second, this will help to ensure that none of your dictation has been clipped off.
- Try to speak clearly and at a regular pace, spelling any difficult and unusual words, or names with various different spellings.
- When dictating a letter state the recipient’s full name and mailing address as clearly as possible, and spell any unusual street and town names. Also spell ambiguous words as you may mean ‘Maine Street’ and the typist may type ‘Main Street’.
- Make sure you are in a quiet area so your dictation can be heard clearly by the typist, background noise can be distracting and can also distort words when recording, increasing the risk of errors. A quiet area will also help you maintain your concentration during dictation. Noises that cause particular problems are shuffling papers, rattling of coffee cups, tapping on the table where the recorder is mounted. If recording multiple speakers try to avoid speaking over one another.
- Speak with your mouth at the recommended distance from your particular brand of dictation equipment for optimum sound levels. (Refer to the user manual.) If you are too close, your dictation can seem muffled and if you are too far, the dictation is too quiet; if you vary between the two, this can deafen the typist and is very uncomfortable.
- Try to be aware of punctuation, say the words ‘comma’, ‘full stop’, ‘new paragraph’, ‘question mark’, etc. This will ensure that your document is easy to read and minimises editing.
- Try to breathe between sentences; you may pride yourself on being able to fit 10 minutes of dictation into two minutes of tape, but this will take much longer to type and the error rate is far higher.
- When you have completed the tape, please let us know. You could say ‘end of dictation’, this way we will know that the tape has finished and does not lead onto another tape.
For more information, please visit quikscribe.com and digidictate.com