Is Dictation a Lost Legal Skill?

20 10 2011

In the “olden days” of law, which don’t go back so far, lawyers used dictation to write briefs, correspondence, etc.  They would talk into a tape recorder and then their paralegal or secretary would listen to the tape and transcribe everything.  The lawyer would then go through a printout with a (usually red) pen and give it back to the typist who would make the revisions.  This would go on until the document was complete.

Recently, I spoke with an attorney, who is not that old, who still uses this method.  For a number of years, he has been using digital recorders instead of cassettes, and outsourcing the typing.  Instead of his paralegal/secretary doing the typing, he would email the sound recording to a service, which would transcribe it and then email it back as a Word document.  He could then make revisions himself (often on a printout with a pen which he would then give to his paralegal/secretary).

For many lawyers, this method makes sense since they do not type as fast as a trained typist, and they have practice “thinking through speaking.”

For those of us who grew up with computers, this is neither a natural method of thinking, nor efficient.  My smartphone has a voice recorder, so I recently experimented with writing a letter this way.  I found dictation extremely uncomfortable.  Without the ability to quickly glance at what I “wrote” previously, and quickly make edits, I was lost.  For me, doing my own typing and editing is invaluable.  For my clients, it is a huge money saver – my end work product is much faster than if I dictated and had somebody else type, and my hourly rate is lower because I don’t have to cover the costs of a typist.

But I can see how dictation could be a valuable legal skill.  For instance, every motion is spoken instead of written.  This gives the attorney practice making the arguments that he or she will make in court.  By revising the motion multiple times from start to finish, the attorney also gets very familiar with the brief.  I don’t know if this leads to more victories or just costs more, but it is certainly a skill which newer lawyers will not have.

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