IT’S ALWAYS NICE when you can make someone smile. This can be especially difficult in the intense, deadline-driven, perfectionistic law firm environment. But while testing the subject of this issue’s column, I had the pleasure of doing just that. I suppose I just facilitated the smiles while the Professional edition of BigHand’s productivity software was the true source of joy.
When was the last time you listened to your favorite Beatles tune on your reel to reel? How about the last time you slipped a James Taylor cassette into your car’s player? Before you laugh at my questions, answer this one: Does your dictation device use microcassettes? If your answer to the first two questions was “2001” or earlier, there’s a chance you are hip. Regardless, if you answered “yes” to the last question, you may well be a bit behind the times. As iPods and smartphones have replaced reel to reel and cassette players, digital recorders and (again) smartphones have replaced dictation devices. If you still depend on tape dictation workflow, it’s time to take a leap forward.
GO TAKE A LEAP
We’ll probably all agree that change is hard. I’m sure using the word “leap” caused some readers to start sweating. True, change is tough, especially when it comes to upgrades in technology. However, some developers have gotten it right and have made leaps feel more like hops. With the Professional version of its voice productivity software, BigHand got it right.
My firm is likely similar to many others: Most of our technologies have been upgraded to the cutting edge while dictation has been allowed to languish. We now find ourselves with a hodgepodge of equipment that puts our workflow at risk and frustrates attorneys and staff with incompatibilities and inconsistent performance. Even though a fair number of our attorneys don’t use dictation, many rely heavily on the process—and have no interest in changing. Nor should they; dictation can be highly productive and an efficient use of time, especially for attorneys on the go. Unfortunately, several of these users recently demonstrated their resistance to change by asking for new tape recorders when their units gave up the ghost.
Given advancements in the realm of smartphones and voice technology, it seems a waste to spend hard-earned dollars on antiquated technology when most of our attorneys are already carrying around sophisticated digital recorders in the form of iPhones and Droids. What we need is a platform on which we can leverage these mobile devices. We’ve tried apps from the Apple and Google stores, but all came with limitations. With my firm’s need in mind, I engaged my IT department, an attorney and two legal assistants in my testing of the BigHand software.
BigHand offers two solutions, its Professional and Enterprise editions. The Enterprise edition delivers a broad set of features, including server-side speech recognition and automatic transcription, customizable workflows, integration with third-party systems and centralized administration. The Professional edition is a hosted service designed more for smaller firms. I opted to test the Professional edition given the relatively small number of users within my firm and the purported ease of implementation.
After providing BigHand with a list of our trial users, each user quickly received an email containing his or her individual activation links. By clicking on the links, the users were taken to the BigHand website, where they created their passwords and downloaded the desktop software. The software was extremely easy to install and took only a matter of minutes. My volunteer attorney and I also downloaded and installed the apps on our mobile devices. I carry an iPhone 5 and the attorney, as he described it, “a worn-out, needing-to-be-replaced” Droid. This combination was perfect as it allowed me to test the apps on both old and new devices. Overall, both performed well. The volume on the well-used Droid was a bit weak, but this was a limitation of the device, not the app.
After installation, we spent a minute or two at workstations and with mobile devices completing configurations. These included host server address and credentials on the phones and foot pedal preferences at the PCs. Once everything was configured, we started having fun watching how easily and efficiently the solution worked, especially compared with our outdated systems. Our test dictations were easy to produce using the intuitive controls provided in the iPhone and Droid apps. They include buttons for Record/Pause, Stop, Skip to Beginning, Rewind, Fast Forward and Skip to End. Also included are buttons to insert new dictation, attach a photo from the phone’s gallery or attach a new photo.
Once a dictation is completed, a Send/Details button allows the user to edit or add a title, select the workflow and set the priority of the voice file. At this point all you have to do is click Send. The apps feature a Work List showing the user’s voice files and their status. We were impressed at how fast the status was updated on the mobile devices when the files were received and processed at the legal secretaries’ PCs. After files are sent, the apps even allowed us to return to the file list to update a file’s details, an important feature should a file’s priority change during the course of a day.
SMILE, YOU’RE MORE PRODUCTIVE
My firm’s IT staffer and I smiled during the installation phase, and the attorney smiled while dictating, but the big smiles appeared when we tested the solution at the transcription end. The desktop application is the same for all users and can be used for both dictation and transcription. Its design is simple and intuitive and features a fairly robust set of user-specific features and options, including recording, playback and device selection, freewheel and auto backspace time settings, file retention settings and notification configuration.
With no tweaks or adjustments, my volunteer legal secretaries began transcribing with existing hardware. The first comment made to me was that the program was more responsive and accurate than the stand-alone software we currently use. They also liked the notification they received when a new file hit their Work In Progress folders and how files were presented along with their respective authors, levels of priority, status, etc. These comments were delivered with bright smiles. The message behind the smiles was that they foresaw themselves being more productive and efficient, and having fewer headaches, using the BigHand platform.
From a dictation side, the desktop application is as easy and intuitive to use as the mobile apps. The product features on-screen controls but is also compatible with a wide variety of desktop microphones and controllers, including popular models made by Philips and Olympus. The software supports an equally wide variety of portable devices using docks. I noticed the Import function on the application’s toolbar and used it to import a .wav file from my voicemail system. This might come in handy for mobile attorneys and their support staff, giving them even another option of staying connected.
The Professional edition delivers fewer workflow options than does the Enterprise edition. However, Professional supports the creation of multiple administrative support pools. This is a key feature when trying to ensure coverage for multiple offices and planned or unplanned staff absences. When finalizing a voice file, the attorney is provided the option of sending the file to his or her legal assistant or to a pool based on area of practice, team, office, etc. Also, from a security standpoint, the Professional edition offers peace of mind given that the files are transmitted and stored with 256-bit AES encryption.
WORTH A LOOK
A few last questions for you. Do you want to be more efficient personally or collectively as a firm? Do you want to better leverage the investments you’ve already made in technologies and in staff? Do the microcassettes on your desk make you feel a bit like a dinosaur? A “yes” answer to any of these questions warrants a look at BigHand’s voice productivity software. If you rely on dictation in your day-to-day document production but are tied to antiquated technologies, you are sure to see an immediate return on investment. You might even find new and creative ways to use the platform, like sending a smile to your legal assistant while you are running to the next client appointment.