All You Ever Needed To Know About Digital Dictation

PART I – Why Bother?

According to Dictaphone, in 1952 recorded dictation was firmly established as a time saver over handwriting and stenography among attorneys, physicians and other professionals. In 1957, the first “portable” dictation unit was created (which weighed in at a hefty 2 lbs!) and in 1973, the first mini-cassette recorder was marketed. What this means is that using analog (tape based) dictation is the technological equivalent of listening to music on an 8 track!

In today’s age, digital dictation technology affords attorneys, law firm administrators, companies which service the legal industry, law schools and other businesses and organizations a low cost means to incorporate the proven benefits of recorded dictation and compound those benefits by making the process digital.

In addition to the time saving features of dictation itself, upgrading to digital can significantly decrease the cost of producing documents by re-examining the entire business process. If your firm uses dictation, the process generally goes something like this:

Dictator – tape recorder – tape – secretary – transcription machine – word processing software – printer – Dictator (and back for revisions, either dictated or via hand).

By going digital, one significant change is that there are no more tapes. Instead, an electronic audio file is created which can be distributed just as any other type of electronic file – as an attachment to an e-mail, over your firm’s LAN to your secretary or through a VPN with an off site transcription service. Immediately gone are the days when you have to stay late to hand off a tape to your secretary or drive into the office on the weekend to leave a tape on her chair. As a bonus, by removing the tape’s physical presence, you also eliminate the need for YOUR presence! Once digital, you can dictate on the road, while waiting for a case to be called or even from the comfort of your favorite recliner! (OK, not likely, but still possible!) :)

Another bonus of no more tapes – you will never have to redo a dictation because the tape got lost, recorded over, or eaten by the transcription machine. Once your voice is captured, it can be stored indefinitely!

Hospitals, doctors and those within the medical industry have been using digital dictation as a standard business practice for over a decade. The medical industry has forged ahead of the legal industry and streamlined the digital document generation process. The legal industry benefits from following the medical field, in that compliance with patient confidentiality and HIPAA has made the technology itself inherently secure, practically eliminating client confidentiality concerns.

I hope you have enjoyed Part I of this three Part series – Upgrading to Digital – All You Ever Wanted To Know But Were Too Busy to Research. In Part II, I will explore the wide variety of methods available to capture your dictation – telephone, portable recorders, digital dictation software or a combination of all. In Part III, I will discuss rethinking another standard component of the document generation process by introducing you to virtual assistants and shedding some light on how to locate, assess and contract with off site cyber assistants.

Are You Too Connected?

For those of you who don’t know, I am a Virtual Assistant.

For the past seven years, I have grown a successful legal VA practice out of my Long Island based home office (or what I call my h-office). I partially attribute my success to the e-zine I self publish: The Legal Connection (you can sign up here).

Way back in 2003, I wrote the below article for my ezine – about how I turned off my computer one day per week – or what I termed a “power down”:

Did you know?

Doing a hard reboot sometimes does wonders for more than just your PC!

Those of us doing business on line stay connected with cable and DSL modems and often never shut down for days or even weeks at a time. Not only does this affect the temp files, cookies and other bits of data placed on our PC as various sites and software are accessed, but being “on” all the time can burn out cooling fans and other moving parts. A computer is a machine, after all.

Turning off the actual power is called a “hard” reboot. A “soft” reboot is when you restart your system pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del twice – which I only recommend if you have already waited at least five minutes after your screen/keyboard freeze and you can get no other keys to work (like Esc).

I like to give a little cleaning before powering down, just to get rid of all those bits and temp files. Before I hit the power button, I save all work and close all the active programs.

I then run a disk clean (double click My Computer, right click on C Drive (or the letter of your main drive), Properties, Disk Cleanup button). When you do so, your hard drive will assess which files should be deleted and will list them and ask you to confirm. When you do, it will take a few moments or several minutes depending on how much there is to delete! Once this process is complete, I turn off the PC by pressing the button hard enough to hear and feel a solid click. You have no idea how many people tell me they barely hit the button, providing an instant power down/up scenario hardly healthy for electronic equipment! Really, push the button with purpose and pay attention! 😉

I turn my computer off each Sunday afternoon after doing the above and running a virus scan and back up. I then do not power back up until 9 am Monday morning – refreshed and ready for business again.

By the way, I don’t just think it’s just my PC which benefits from this weekly “power down” ritual! 😉

Although I have tweaked the power down process a bit by using an application called CCleaner to do the clean up of my PC, the actual ritual is still in place five years later.

This is because I found that powering off my PC is the only way for me to keep my focus off my business. I am sure I am not the only e-preneur who has difficultly NOT thinking about the myriad of projects or open ended items they could be tending to at any given moment.

With the power off, there’s no excuse for me to even walk into my h-office to “check” anything. My family is thrilled, I’m more relaxed and my electronics and keyboard get a day off too!

Why I bring this all up is because recently I came across a New York Times’ article entitled: I Need A Virtual Break, No Really by Mark Bittman. A professed techno-addict, Mr. Bittman discusses his journey in finding balance in our highly connected world. He concludes:

I would no more make a new-agey call to find inner peace than I would encourage a return to the mimeograph. But I do believe that there has to be a way to regularly impose some thoughtfulness, or at least calm, into modern life — or at least my version. Once I moved beyond the fear of being unavailable and what it might cost me, I experienced what, if I wasn’t such a skeptic, I would call a lightness of being. I felt connected to myself rather than my computer. I had time to think, and distance from normal demands. I got to stop

So, if you find yourself reaching for your BlackBerry or e-mail enabled device more than once every 15 minutes or if you are constantly checking e-mail during times that no one would expect you to be at your desk, you could be opening yourself up to health and the other dangers of being over connected.

Read Mr. Bittman’s journey and use the power down ritual I outline above to help you gain some control and perspective!