Law firms already know that the generation, handling and storage of legal product and associated information takes time and costs money. What they’re maybe less clear on is that legal transcription software solutions can shave those costs and increase productivity. This article explains the legal transcription landscape and identifies the questions to ask when reviewing a potential legal transcription solution.
What is legal transcription?
Simply put, legal transcription is the conversion of any legal content that’s not already written down into a text format. The legal content that a firm might want to transcribe comes in a multitude of forms – but from two sources. It can either involve the transcription of existing video or audio recordings, including telephone calls, conference calls, speeches, interviews, lectures, legal wiretaps, seminar proceedings, court tapes, hearings, interrogations, taped depositions etc. Or it can be material dictated by a lawyer. This can include correspondence, notes, memorandums, legal briefs, pleadings, minutes of meetings, contracts etc.
Why use legal transcriptions?
Firms know that the value of legal transcriptions is that they convert unwieldy material into information that is searchable, annotatable and easily archivable. Information can be scanned, copied, pasted, and analysed using word searches. It’s much quicker than watching a video or trying to listen all the way through a potentially lengthy testimony, perhaps repeatedly, to track down some key pieces of information.
So, legal transcriptions save a lot of time, enhancing efficiency and productivity: factors that are critical to today’s law firms, which need to sustain the throughput of work, often with fewer administrative resources than before, and without having an adverse impact on the output of fee-earners.
What is the difference between legal transcription and dictation?
To be clear, transcription is converting information in a non-written form into a text format. Dictation, meanwhile, is speaking out loud and having what you say recorded for transcription.
In legal offices, EAs and secretaries used to record dictation using shorthand and then type it up. It’s now more common for lawyers to dictate into some kind of recording device or app and pass that on to be transcribed, often by a legal transcriptionist. To this day, court stenographers record court proceedings using shorthand machines and then type the shorthand into a verbatim transcription.
What is a legal transcriptionist?
Legal transcriptionists are individuals who receive audio recordings and type them up. In some setups, legal transcriptionists can get an alert to download a recording from the cloud. They can work for themselves, for an agency that the firm uses, or for the law firm itself.
The advantage of using legal transcriptionists is that they are highly accurate and their use reduces pressure on in-house assistants and paralegals and releases them to get on with higher value tasks and those that can’t be outsourced.
So finally, what does legal transcription software do?
Legal transcription software assists with the conversion of audio into text – in one of two ways. It can be software that’s used by transcriptionists or typists to help speed them up. Typically, this is software that will let the user play the audio faster or slower, or automatically repeat the last few seconds, or insert timestamps or the speaker’s name. This software assists, but manual typing is still involved.
The other type of modern legal transcription software uses speech recognition technology (sometimes called voice recognition software or automatic transcription software). In this model, users can benefit from the assistance detailed above, plus human speech/dictation is automatically converted into text by the software. This can happen either in real-time – as the dictation is dictated; or using a “deferred” approach: digital voice recordings are uploaded into a cloud-based speech recognition engine that turns speech into text. Using automatic transcription software, users can dictate into any template on any platform. It enables lawyers to produce documents at the speed of speech – which is three times faster than typing.
The advantages of legal transcription software and what to ask
The advantages of legal transcription software are that it achieves faster turnaround times than using internal or external transcriptionists alone. Aside from a productivity bonus, it raises client service levels.
If speech recognition technology is used it also delivers greater privacy/confidentiality. And if real-time voice recognition is deployed, it gives immediate reassurance of accuracy to the person dictating.
All that said, the big win is that there is a very significant cost saving in comparison with using legal transcriptionists or typists. So, if your firm is thinking about introducing modern legal transcription software in some form, these are features you need to ask about.
Key features of modern legal transcription software
Speed – Law firms need to work out how quickly they need transcriptions and then check the turnaround times offered by legal transcription software suppliers. Instantaneous speech recognition technology is obviously quickest but bear in mind that some “deferred” speech recognition software solutions are also pretty quick. Advanced, for example, will return documents within an hour.
Accuracy – Accuracy is critical. Legal transcriptions need to be verbatim and need to capture nuances – including the ‘errs’ and ‘ums’ in speech that can convey more meaning. It’s also necessary to use dedicated legal transcription software programs that recognise legal terminology, jargon and context. Because it’s paramount, the best modern legal transcription software programs have been developed to achieve extremely high accuracy. Before choosing a supplier, firms need to check the accuracy figures the supplier commits to for their software.
Cost – Cost is the main driver of the adoption of legal transcription solutions, so firms need to ensure the sums add up and that the fee structure is clear and straightforward with no hidden extras. For example, having additional fees if the quantity of transcriptions in any given period exceeds a certain limit
Accessibility – Firms should make sure that the legal transcription software they opt for is cloud-based and therefore offers authorised users 24/7 access from any web-enabled device. This is critical to future-proofing solutions in a world where remote and hybrid working is already the norm.
Visibility – In this new, more flexible work environment, firms need a software solution that offers the means to oversee and track workloads, allocate tasks and measure productivity to ensure optimum efficiency.
Support – It’s also critical that firms opt for a reliable transcription solution. They must check out a prospective supplier’s service level agreements, utilisation stats and the support that often-remote users can call on if they run into issues or have questions.
- Updates and maintenance – A great strength of cloud-based systems is that they can provide seamless updates and maintenance is included in the licence fee. The firm should check that they will get automatic updates that keep the product current, without disruption, noting that the best speech recognition software necessary is continually updated with new vocabulary.
- Reporting – There’s value for firms in adopting transcription software that easily generates reports that are simple to access and understand on key metrics such as turnaround time, accuracy and usage.
- Compliance – This will always be a key consideration for law firms so they must check that transcription software is legally compliant and will meet the Ministry of Justice’s upcoming requirements for how legal firms compile, transfer and retrieve case information. In addition, the transcription solution must, as necessary, meet GDPR and other data protection requirements.
- Security – As with compliance, before engaging with a legal transcription software solution supplier, the firm must check the supplier’s policies around data security, ensuring that confidential client information can’t be accessed. Suppliers should also have protocols in place (e.g. on deletion of files and secure back-ups) and certifications (e.g. to ISO/IEC 27001 for information security management) that reassure the firm their data and that of their clients won’t be compromised, lost or mishandled.
- Scalability – A final consideration for the firm is that the transcription package should be scalable to the firm’s needs so you’re never paying for unused capacity, but likewise the firm isn’t limited as to the volume of transcription work you can put through the system.
Today’s law firms operate in a fiercely competitive environment. Legal transcription software can give them an important competitive advantage in terms of cost and enhanced client service if they choose wisely. For more details on the potential ROI of investing and for a demonstration of how top modern legal transcription software performs, get in touch.