Take Your Dictation Digital

By at 17 August, 2005, 8:29 pm

For many attorneys, dictating into a tape recorder is a fact of life. For many, myself included, who are keyboard challenged, dictation is usually much faster for document production then trying to type it myself. Like the gunslingers of the Old West who kept their trusty Colt Peacemaker by their side, no attorney is without his or her handy recorder. It might be a Dictaphone, maybe an Olympus or another brand. Some attorneys still used desktop dictation units. However, like an endangered species, tape based dictation units and handheld units that have a 4 in 1 slide switch (no push buttons allowed) are getting harder to find. I had a terrific Olympus unit that I used for many years: it was small, had terrific battery life and was probably the best handheld unit that I had owned in 14 years. Alas, it finally died one day and it turned out that Olympus had stopped making this model. Other units were available but were larger, not as user friendly, and lacked quality in their construction.

I also have to admit that replacing tapes, dealing with jams and my secretary not understanding what I said because a section of tape was bad could get frustrating. Finding a transcription unit for her also became an issue. When my Olympus died, I decided to switch to digital dictation based on demonstrations I saw of products at an annual ABA TechShow. One product was free, but you had to buy the foot pedal unit from them. There were some bugs, but the company was very good at working with me to get everything functioning. The drawback of this system, was that for dictation, it relied on a headset to your computer with on-screen controls for recording, rewind, fast forward, etc. This proved to be very cumbersome. I had also seen at TechShow handheld microphones from Phillips that seemed to make more sense.

In addition to my legal practice, I have a technology consulting company. Before I’ll recommend a product I have to try it and be satisfied that it’s a reliable, trouble free item that will work for my clients. In searching for another digital transcription system, I came across a product called QuikScribe , which was an Australian product marketed in the US. Unlike some solutions, QuikScribe uses a proprietary file format called IAF (Intelligent Audio Format). One thing I found to be a very nice feature of the IAF file format was the ability to embed text and images inside the dictation. Now, when I was dictating a brief I could copy portions of the cases I downloaded from Westlaw right into the dictation. When my secretary reaches this point in the file, she can past this text directly into the document she is typing. I no longer have to dictate each quote. Likewise, if I want to reuse a contract or other provision, I can copy it and place it directly in the dictation file – no more marking up a photocopy or trying to tell her in the dictation what I wanted copied. You can also embed graphics into the dictation and create training session that include the images and the audio. Unlike tape, each dictation is its own file and we can I can modify them by insertion or overwriting in the file. If I need one file finished before another, she can go directly to the file without having to hunt through a tape to try and find it. Coupled with a Phillips SpeechMike , I could dictate at my desk and send them to the dictation server software and place different priorities and requested completion times on each file. Additionally, I can have a notification when the file is completed. I no longer have to worry about worn out tapes, problems with the recorder or transcription unit since everything is computer based. My secretary has a foot pedal just like here old transcription unit. This product passed the actual use test in my own office and I now recommend it. But something was still missing, still keeping me from being 100% happy with the change:: I had no way of dictating when I was away from my office unless I used my notebook computer and wired hand dictation unit.

QuikScribe will import the industry standard DSS file format as well as others. Olympus, Panasonic and Sony all make digital handheld recorders which use the DSS file format. I first bought an Olympus unit, but it didn’t have 4 in 1 slide switch and it soon found it’s way to my discarded gadget drawer. Some time went by and I saw a digital recorder with a 4 in 1 slide switch at another TechShow. The downside was that it was over $300.00; surely there was a less expensive alternative. I then bought a Sony unit that was around $100.00. Same problems as the Olympus: although the button placement was better, it just wasn’t as convenient for dictation and inserting a change or overwriting only a portion of a dictation segment was laborious. I recently bought a Phillips 9350 hand recorder that has a 4 in 1 slide switch, and dictation satisfaction rating is now 100%.

About the size of my old Olympus tape unit, the Phillips works in very much the same way. Moving from a tape based unit to the Phillips takes very little effort and it’s difference rapidly become second nature. Since there is no tape, to separate each dictation segment, you simply push an EOL (End of Letter) button. With replaceable memory cards, you can vary the amount of recording time the unit holds which is helpful if you’re going to be out of the office for some time. The dictation files can be emailed to your office or downloaded to your desktop system. When I download files, my QuikScribe program is configured to automatically import any files that are added to a specific folder and I can then use QuikScribe to make changes or to send them to my secretary. I can also email them to her and she can bring them into her QuikScribe player program. The unit also comes with a basic program for playback and Phillips also makes a foot pedal and transcription software package which is adequate for many offices if the office doesn’t believe that they need the IAF format (although I think the benefits of IAF make it worth the slightly greater cost). Olympus also makes a very popular unit the DS4000 which is similar to the Phillips unit.

Both the Phillips and Olympus units connect to a computer via USB. The docking station is optional with the Phillips 9350 and the 9350 is less expensive than the DS4000. The cradles of both units act as docking stations to download files and to charge the rechargeable batteries (the batteries come with the Phillips docking unit). You will also not find these units at your local Office Depot or Staples stores. Generally, you are going to have to find an authorized local dealer or on-line reseller. Another local attorney has a DS4000 and has nothing but praise for it and how its made his life so much better. I have no problem recommending either of these units.

So, if you’re tired of fighting old tapes, listening to your staff complain about not understanding what you said, make the move – go digital.

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