PRODUCT REVIEW

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 (Legal Edition)

Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen

In the voice-recognition wars, Nuance has acquired all the major players on the Windows platform, and one of the acquisitions, Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS), has emerged as the bear in the woods. I have worked with and reviewed voice-recognition (VR) software for about the last ten years. I have watched it evolve from a fairly rudimentary level of performance to its present, fairly slick and highly sophisticated level. I have watched challengers come and go and seen DNS emerge as the uncontested champion of VR for the office and home.

The previous DNS release, Version 9, impressed me greatly when it came to general dictation but not so much when it came to the dictation of legal citations. Even with the elevation of features and increased cost of the legal version, it left me underwhelmed with respect to its ability to handle legal citations. Although Version 10 does not get to the top of the mountain when it comes to legal citations, it moves closer to that goal. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when my very first attempt at getting a legal citation into DNS 10 Legal resulted in a properly formatted and correct transcription of my citation. I will get back to that later. First let me give you some preliminary information.

The last several versions of DNS have had a multilevel release. You can get a Standard version, a Preferred version, a Professional version, or one of several profession-specific versions, such as Legal and Medical. The differences among the versions are a matter of features—and cost. DNS 10 Standard costs $99.99. DNS 10 Preferred costs $199.99 for the software or $299.99 with a Plantronics Bluetooth headset and USB adapter. The DNS 10 Professional version lists for $899.99 and comes with a headset. DNS 10 Legal lists for $1,199.99, including a headset. Upgrades to 10 Legal cost $449.99 from 8 Legal or 9 Legal; upgrades to 10 Professional cost $699.99 from 8 Professional or 9 Professional. (For full details on features and costs, see www.nuance.com.)

For this review, I used DNS 10 Legal, which I installed on two computers, one using Windows XP Professional (SP2) and the other using Vista Business. The installation went smoothly on both platforms, although it did take some time. I found no significant qualitative differences between the performance of the software on the Windows XP machine as compared to the Windows Vista computer. I tested the software after doing only the minimum required training to complete the installation process. I did that intentionally to provide a basis for comparison to my experiences with previous versions when first installed. If you are considering using VR software, know that, although the software trains faster and better with each new version, one thing that has not changed and will not likely change in the near future is that the more you use the VR software (assuming you follow some basic training rules), the better the results you will get from it. The enhanced results come from a combination of your training yourself to use the software and teaching the software how you pronounce certain words so that it does not type the wrong word.

Before Nuance released DNS 10 Legal, I had the opportunity to look at DNS 10 Professional. Not surprisingly, because the Professional version serves as the base for the Legal version, they performed fairly comparably with respect to general dictation (letters, memoranda, and the like that did not include legal citations or much in the way of legal jargon). The primary difference between the Professional version and the Legal version of DNS 10 is the inclusion in the Legal version of additional specialized vocabulary to enhance the software’s ability to recognize legal terms and better handle legal citations.

DNS 10 Legal supports portable dictation (dictation into a portable digital recording device and transferring the file to a computer for transcription at a later time), and I experimented with that as well. I tried it with the Olympus DS-5000 and got quite satisfactory results.

In terms of accuracy, I have not yet achieved the 99 percent rate claimed by Nuance on its website, but I came respectably close with minimal training of the software. The more I worked with it, the closer I came. I did discover, however, that the longer I dictated in any one session, the lower my accuracy stats got. At least for me, dictating to DNS 10 works better in shorter installments. Apparently, my dictation loses some of its crispness after a period of time and/or my voice changes slightly, confusing the VR engine. If you encounter that problem when using DNS, try taking a break and then returning to the dictation.

The Legal version showed some improvement in letters and documents by comparison to the Professional version when they included legalese. I saw no noticeable difference between the two when dictating simple text (text devoid of legal jargon). When it came to legal citations, the Legal version substantially outperformed the Professional version. Because the difference between the two versions relates to the vocabulary, working with and training the Professional version should enable you to get it to develop similar abilities to the Legal version.

When I first started using the Legal version, it had no problem with some citations, but it had problems with others. For example, US Reports worked well from the beginning. But the California Appellate Reports kept coming out “Cal. Capp” instead of “Cal.App.” If I had simply used the keyboard to change it to “Cal.App.”, it would have continued to type “Cal. Capp” forever. It would not have learned to do it right. Instead, I took the time to correct the program, and the program learned the correct way to do it.

In deciding which version to get, the question you have to ask yourself relates to the value of your time. The Legal version gives you a more advanced “student” that will adapt to legal dictation, inclusive of citations, faster than the Professional version because its legal vocabulary gives it a head start. The price differential of $300 is certainly not insignificant. If you have the patience and want to invest your own time to train the Professional version, you can save $300. On the other hand, the time you spend doing that extra training by comparison to what you would need to do for the Legal version may prove substantial. I have not gone that route, so I don’t want to estimate the duration of training time, but if you bill $250 or $350 an hour, it doesn’t take long to make up the cost differential. (If you want to save a few dollars, you may still be able to locate an upgradable copy of DNS 8 Professional or 9 Professional for a relatively low price and then pay the additional $699 to upgrade it to DNS 10 Legal. I found copies of DNS Professional 8 offered for sale online at between $81 and $139.)

Below are some tips and pointers for using VR software:

  • Use a USB microphone. Analog microphones will work, but I find there is less difference in performance from one computer to another if I use a USB microphone. Although I like the Bluetooth platform and use it regularly for a variety of things, the wireless Bluetooth connection did not work as well for me as a wired USB connection for VR purposes. Read that as I got more errors.

  • If you plan to go mobile, get a top-quality recorder. Although I did not try lesser-quality portable dictation devices, I have generally found that the top-of-the-line digital recording devices work well, reliably, and generally better than the lesser--quality devices, so that is all I use. Dragon does certify some devices for use with the DNS software. You can get a list of approved devices on the Nuance website (go to http://support.nuance.com/compatibility). Note, however, that often brand-new products are not included in the list. This does not mean that they will not work, only that they have not yet gone through the testing process. Some hardware that has not yet made it to the list will work just fine, but if it is not on the list, you pay your money and take your chances.

  • Learn the DNS command structure. You will avoid considerable frustration. The VR software recognizes certain specific commands. If you don’t know the precise command, it will ignore you or do something you did not intend because you used a different command. If you get into a trap of using the wrong command several times in a row, you may find yourself very frustrated by the experience as the software will prove quite unresponsive to your desires. Conversely, if you follow protocol and use the correct commands, you will probably get just what you expected.

  • Take the time to teach the program about you as well as learn about the program yourself. The more you train, the smarter and better the software will appear as its level of performance improves. Part of that will result from your own training and part from your training of the software. You train the software by using it and by correcting its mistakes.

  • Develop separate profiles for different setups. Use a profile for the USB microphone and a different profile for your handheld dictation equipment. You might try building a single profile and backing it up, then using it with a handheld device recording to see if the accuracy diminishes. Remember that each time you use the program, you train it a bit more, so if the sounds change, it may impact the quality of transcription.

The bottom line: I like DNS 10 Legal. I think it can be a useful tool in a law office. I think that the Legal version will save enough of your training time to justify the increased price, but if you intend to make it a useful tool, be prepared to invest your own effort as well as your dollars to get it up and running efficiently.

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. He may be reached at . You may also get updated technology information from his blog: jallenlawtekblog.com.

Copyright 2009

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