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It's not broken! So why fix it?

13 March 06

Digital dictation suppliers explain its advantages over traditional dictating methods

by Rob Lancashire


It’s a good wager that something like the title above will be heard during a partners’ meeting on digital dictation. It’s a good question. Why throw away perfectly good tape machines that have always done the job well? So let’s say you’ve had the demonstration, like the software, and the quote isn’t too scary, but there’s still that nagging doubt, why spend money when there isn’t a problem? It’s at this point that a firm should ask itself three basic questions: (1) Does the cost of business always seem to increase faster than what clients are prepared to pay? (2) Does office space, even with the self-generating piles of files, never seem to be enough? (3) Does it get more difficult each year to compete? If the answer is yes to any of these, it is possible we may have just answered the dilemma.

Let’s look at the first question. It is surely the nature of the modern legal business that the pressures on fees and costs will continually oppose each other. Whilst competition restricts fees, it becomes harder and more expensive to recruit and retain good quality staff. The only way to solve this is to do more for the same, or less, cost. Now let’s look at the second question. Piles of files aside, it is inevitable that office space will become a problem. In a market that is not static, a business that is not failing will inherently grow. This means more fee earners and potentially more support staff. If you have nowhere to put them, an expensive office move, or second office, may be on the cards. And finally the third question. When margins are already tight, is the practice down the road now offering to litigate for £25 per hour less? Has there been a corresponding decrease in new instructions? It’s a fact of life that the modern consumer will shop around to get the best deal. Much like the first question, the only answer is to do more for the same, or less, cost.

It is now widely accepted that digital dictation will help a firm address each of these problems. In fact, it could be argued that the decision not to implement digital dictation may be stopping a firm from effectively competing. But I hear you shout, “You would say that, wouldn’t you?” Of course, but it’s based on experiences with firms who have used digital dictation to deal with exactly these sort of problems. For example, one firm had a new fee earner join their litigation team. Rather than recruit a new secretary they implemented digital dictation. Over an initial 30 day period they actually increased their productivity! They put this squarely down to the much greater extent digital dictation allowed the existing secretarial team to share work. In another case a firm was short of office space. When a much valued secretary wanted to come back from maternity leave, on a part time basis, they set her up so she could work from home. The issue of office space was removed and the firm got a happy member of staff back, who was able to balance being a new mum with work. Other firms have said that the decrease in document turnaround time, the lack of need to use temporary staff, reduced reworking of documents, the spread of workload across offices, and better management reporting, have all made them more competitive. Just the simple fact of not buying tapes has made a tangible difference. One firm even reported that potential new recruits were using the availability of digital dictation as a differentiator when choosing which job to take.

In summary, firms that have implemented digital dictation will consistently say that they are now more competitive. They have seen their profits increase, utilise office space more effectively and have found it easier to recruit and retain talented staff. It is probably these firms that are charging £25 per hour less to litigate!

Rob Lancashire is a director of nFlow Scotland, one of Scotland’s leading suppliers of advanced digital dictation software. Used by many Scottish law firms as well as The Law Society of Scotland, it is developed by an innovative company with a pedigree of service excellence, all in a competitively priced package.