Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Keyboarding Versus Dictating

As a younger, more computer-literate generation infiltrates the cubicles of law firms, many are rejecting the decades-old practice of dictating their work and instead typing their own correspondence. Why pay to have someone else type when one can do it themselves?

Why indeed.

In the sixth grade, my Mother rented an electric IBM typewriter to help my father prepare and mail out resumes. I was bored, so I found Mother's typing textbook she kept from High School and taught myself how to type. By the time I reached High School, I was tested at 75 words per minute, with fewer than 4 mistakes. With conventional typewriters, you had to be better.

Now that I have been using a computer to type for the past 25 years, I realize that I type almost as fast, but I make considerably more mistakes. Without the need for WhiteOut and erasers, I can correct any mistake without bother or fuss. However, that simple drop in precision has slowed my typing output by leaps and bounds.

Watching my sons "keyboard" today, and knowing that they had little proper typing instruction in school - I don't think our local schools even offer typing classes anymore - their typing speeds can't be much over 45 words per minute (with dozens of mistakes). Their hand posture is very poor, which will eventually lead to workplace-related injuries, and they sit slouched in their chairs. They never have had the most proper and disciplinary teacher enforcing good habits with the snap of a wooden ruler or the stern glare over silver-rimmed eyeglasses.

Considering that a person can dictate around 100 to 120 words per minute, a highly paid junior associate could put out as much as 3 to 4 times as much work product by dictating as they could if they typed. This is not even counting the wasted efforts of document formatting, saving, printing, archiving, etc., that associates are now responsible for, nor does it give the law firm the extra quality assurance expert legal secretaries have been providing for their bosses for centuries. It's the intangible called "saving your ass." Do senior partners really want to trust the reputation of their firm to the output of a junior associate who is doing their own document preparation?

While some firms say that allowing their attorneys to do their own typing saves the firm by reducing support staff, if they really put pencil to paper - or spreadsheet - they will find they are losing far more in billable work product by not using dictation, than they are by keeping secretaries. Far more.

Of course, one alternative which is catching on is the use of Speech Recognition software, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking. It takes a while to gain full proficiency using this kind of tool, but if a firm is hell-bent on not utilizing support staff, they should at least help their associate be more productive and prevent future workplace-related injuries by considering voice recognition software.

Just my two cents.

Okay, that's it. Type that up and post it to our blog, please. Can you get me a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch? Hold the mayo? Thanks. Oh, and I need a new battery for this recorder.

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