Amazing dictation tools for mobile lawyers

By August 16, 2014 February 2nd, 2020 law, mobile lawyering

When I started practicing law it was common for lawyers to use dictation to create documents. One attorney I know could dictate an entire brief in pretty much one shot; obviously he had honed the art of dictation to a supreme level.

Learning to dictate was hard for me, but eventually I learned how to do it. And I quickly learned to appreciate how much more efficient I could be.These days, it’s not as common for lawyers to dictate. But that doesn’t mean the efficiencies aren’t still there.

I haven’t used dictation at all in the past decade, mostly because I can type pretty well and it’s more comfortable for me to create documents using a word processor.

I have tried some dictation apps from time to time, but in the end it’s always more of a hassle to set up the software and get my microphone positioned properly and then spend the time dictating. Dictation worked best for me when I could grab a portable recorder and just verbalize my thoughts in a stream of consciousness, and then send that recording off to have someone else transcribe for me.

Recently I discovered two tools that have re-opened the dictation path for me. But before I tell you about those tools, let me tell you what I wanted in a dictation set up.

  • The ability to use a portable recorder that didn’t require any special calibration
  • he ability to dictate, back up and record over parts that were mistake
  • The ability to save (or upload) the resulting file to my DropBox account
  • The ability to quickly transcribe the recording without much fuss

I didn’t really want to buy a special recorder, but I was willing to if everything else worked smoothly.  Of course, what special recorder would allow me to save my files up to the cloud? Answer: my iPhone.

I found an application called Dictamus (free version with 30 sec limit so you can test it, or $9.99 version with complete features).  This is an awesome application!  You can back up over parts that you want to record over, and it senses silence and doesn’t record those parts.

In short, it’s the kind of serious recording application that any professional would want to have.  But it’s in your iPhone, which you have with you at all times (you do have an iPhone, right?!), so you don’t have to carry another device.

But it gets even better: Dictamus has DropBox functionality built in. That means that when you finish your recording you just save to DropBox and it uploads it immediately to your DropBox folder. You can even direct the file into a sub-folder within your DropBox account.

Why is this amazing?

Well, it means you can get the file into your computer without having to connect the iPhone to it. And you can get it into your computer even if you’re on the road. That is, you save to DropBox and the file will be in place when you get back to your computer, which is when you’ll transcribe the file.

So how do you transcribe the file?

Easy. If you have a Mac (as I do) then you use a program called MacSpeech Scribe, which costs $149. You can download it immediately, but there is no trial version. I wouldn’t have tried it out, but Dave Sparks (a lawyer in California that has a great podcast) recommended it so I gave it a shot. This is an amazing tool. All it takes is a 2 minute recording to train the transcription software and you can start using it right away.

Is it perfect?

No, far from it. But it works really well as a way of blasting out text, which is all I want to do if I’m dictating. In other words, it’s easy for me to edit a block of text once I’ve cranked it out. But cranking out long passages of text is easier if I can do it without worrying about spelling, or trying to create perfect phrases. MacSpeech Scribe lets me do this, and it works with my iPhone because it will accept .Wav files, which is what the Dictamus program creates.

If you don’t want to use Dictamus you can use the Voice Recorder application that comes free with the iPhone. But, that application doesn’t let you record over parts, nor does it let you upload to DropBox. You have to email the file to yourself and then save it to the computer from your email, which isn’t a big hassle if you only dictate once in a blue moon.

If you plan to do a lot of dictating, or if you have a workflow that involves sending your recording to an assistant for her to transcribe, then the Dictamus application is invaluable.

So what if you don’t have a Mac computer? Well, I can’t say for sure because I don’t offer advice on things I haven’t actually done myself. But I would imagine you can do the same thing using some version of Dragon Naturally Speaking.

I say this because MacSpeech Scribe was built on the software engine that Dragon Naturally Speaking uses (they licensed it from DNS). And recently DNS bought MacSpeech outright. The DNS software has always been more full featured than the Mac version, so I can’t imagine that the ability to do transcription from a mobile recorder wouldn’t work. More specifically, I have to believe that you could do it with an iPhone.

But I know that you have an iPhone and use a Mac computer, and have a DropBox account (free for 2 GBs of storage), then you can do the dictation process I have described. You don’t need any new fancy equipment; just the stuff you already have laying around.

And that, my friends, is truly amazing!

9 Comments

  • Alex Koder says:

    If you haven’t got an IPhone but an Android device, you may want to have a look at Diqtado (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.like.apps.diqtado). This dictation app has been developed by a lawyer and offers the exact same features as described above : dictate, backup, record over (even insert) and send via DropBox when ready for transcribing.

  • Ed Siebel says:

    Andy – try checking the archives on the MacLaw list/website. Then, post your question about Dragon legal to the list. Among the 1400+ members, you'll find several who've had the same question.

  • Andy says:

    Ernie, I am an attorney in a big law office and have been using Dictamus on both my iPhone and iPad 2 to send dictations to my assistant. I’m now opening my own firm and I’m trying to figure out a way to maintain a dictation system without paying for an employee (hey, I’m just a few years out of law school!).

    My question is this: does the vanilla version of MacSpeech Scribe handle legal terms? Or can it at least be trained to do so? I’m trying to figure out if MacSpeech Dictate Legal is worth the extra $500…

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

  • Joa says:

    check out “express scribe” for transcription: http://www.nch.com.au/scribe/index.htmlit is free and works well with dictamus.

  • Verdatum says:

    Try Dictamus for the iPad. It’s a full-fledged iPad app which is integrated into Verdatum, the leading law firm dictation workflow system used by firms across the US and Canada. One touch sends dictation, recorded client/witness interviews, etc. right into the firm’s workflow! (It also works as set forth in Ernie’s post for non-Verdatum users.) Great app for lawyers looking for a practical reason to carry an iPad!

  • Ernie says:

    Yes, Mike. It doesn’t upload to DropBox until you choose “Share” and then “DropBox”.

  • Bingo! This sounds perfect for me, and I’m not even a lawyer! (consultant/author)

    Question: sounds like this holds your recording on the iPhone until you choose to upload it to Dropbox, so when I dictate while walking up in the hills away from both wifi and ATT, I’m not worrying about losing connection, right?

  • Margaret says:

    I’ve got Dragon on my PC. I’ll try it out. I’ve done it with recordings I’ve emailed from my phone , but the Dropbox function is a big improvement I will love to use.

  • CJ McKinney says:

    Have you tried Dragon Dictation for iPhone? Does the same thing but in one step. Works well.