Things seem to have come full circle in the legal profession. Beginning in ancient times and extending well into the 19th century, the practice of law centered on oration. Take Cicero, for example. He was not only a great orator and philosopher, but he was also a lawyer. Fast forward to the early 1800s, known as the Golden Age of the Bar, and there was an even greater focus on legal argument as civic theater. Crowds would gather in the galleries of the Supreme Court to hear famous attorneys like Daniel Webster spend hours presenting dramatic and impassioned legal arguments.
Over the course of the 19th century, focus within the legal profession shifted from oration to document production, storage, and retrieval. Lawyers spent most of their time meeting and advising clients, researching cases, and drafting original documents, which would be copied by a scrivener (remember Melville’s Bartelby?). The introduction of the typewriter in the late 1800s sped up document production, enabling firms to serve more clients. Sure, trial lawyers still needed to be able to present a persuasive argument in front of a judge and/or jury, but the typing up of documents reigned supreme. This trend continued through the 20th century as word processors and personal computers came on the scene and boosted productivity even more.
Well, the tide is turning and many lawyers are spending much of their time talking again. Only this time around it isn’t just for defending their clients and punishing lawbreakers, but for tackling the heavy writing and documentation requirements of today’s practices (the likes of which would have probably made Cicero’s head spin). Ever-increasing numbers of attorneys are using their voice to create and edit legal documents with the help of speech recognition software — a trend that is revolutionizing productivity within law offices in much the same way the typewriter did more than a century ago. By once again relying on speech, law firms and corporate legal departments streamline documentation efforts, freeing up more time to focus on clients, businesses, criminals, and any other important subjects that cross a lawyer’s desk.
The skeptics may be thinking, “Speech recognition software? I tried that when it first came on the market and I wasn’t all that impressed with the performance.” Well, speech recognition technology has come a long way over the past decade. Training is now optional and quite simple, enabling users to realize immediate productivity gains with high speed and accuracy rates right out of the gate. According to the International Legal Technology Association’s (ILTA) 2014 Technology Survey, the overall number of law firms using voice recognition tools is growing rapidly, climbing close to 20 percentage points over the past four years.
Of course, once a trend catches on, more vendors offer products to meet growing demand. The ILTA survey shows that Nuance Dragon Desktop products are the speech recognition solutions of choice for today’s law firms. Use of Dragon showed huge gains in the survey, jumping 12 points to 52% of respondents — over three times more than any other product mentioned.
Today’s lawyers have a few more things to consider than Cicero did during his time – take email and writing legal briefs as two examples. But in order to use their voices to excel in the courtroom as Cicero once did, today’s lawyers are first using them to handle everything before the courtroom – writing those briefs, documenting client information and notes, email communication with invested parties, and many other tasks that now make up the modern legal industry.