Not Your Mother’s Dictation: Siri and Speech to Text

OK, so I doubt my mother used dictation back in the day, but my father certainly did.  Regardless, I couldn’t resist an attempt to defy traditional gender stereotypes with my title.  When my father first began practicing law, he used (and, maybe still does) a handheld recorder containing a mini cassette tape to dictate documents in his law practice. He’d pace around his office (or, our living room) pushing buttons to start and stop the recording, and ever so often include a note to his assistant. Of course, when he concluded, he would give the cassette to his assistant who would then transcribe the document by listening and typing, having to. Before computing, this workflow was both commonplace in the legal industry. 

Fortunately, we have moved far, far away from my father’s model with the advent of digital dictation. With advances in technology, dictation has become much more than simply a way to draft documents and for drafting documents it has become a much more efficient process. In fact, dictation can be an effective time-saving technique once you get the hang of it. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “dictation” is not only “the act or manner of uttering words to be transcribed,” but also a “prescription” (“something that is suggested as a way to do something or to make something happen”). It is this latter definition that excites us technophiles. Indeed, I have adapted a form of my father’s dictation process by using Apple’s Siri to “prescribe” actions for my iPhone and iPad to take, as well as to speak words to be transcribed digitally to text.

Dictation software, as well as native Apple OS X and iOS tools, transforms your computer or mobile device into a virtual assistant. Not only can these programs perform tasks such as calendaring, emailing, drafting, texting, but they can also open applications, make telephone calls, answer questions, search the Web, post to social media, get directions, and more. With these commands, you can use your phone in a hands free environment (something to consider the next time you try to use your phone while driving).

Here are few commands that I often use with Apple’s integrated iOS software Siri:

  • “Tell [contact + message]” = Siri drafts a text message to one of your contacts;
  • “Read my new messages” = Siri reads any new text messages;
  • “Email [contact + message]”;
  • “Any new mail from/about [contact or keyword] today?”;
  • “Schedule a meeting with [contact] about [subject] on [date + time]” (bonus: Siri will tell you whether this meeting overlaps with other meetings);
  • “What’s on my calendar on [date]”;
  • “Remind me on [date + time] to [reminder text]” = creates a reminder for a certain date and time;
  • “Tweet at sign LTRC I love your blog hashtag best law blog ever” = sends the following Tweet from your Twitter account “@LTRC I love your blog #bestlawblogever”;
  • And, finally, courtesy of ABA TECHSHOW speakers Jim Calloway and Tim Mighell, Siri can also weigh in on “Who let the dogs out?” and “What does the fox say?”

To get started with Siri, take a look at Apple’s own speech to text basics article here and additional Siri tips from the Siri User Guide.

While Mac OS X has a native dictation tool, there are other transcription and virtual assistant programs available (for PC users too), including the popular software Dragon Dictate.  Some attorneys may find use for Mac’s native tool as well as other transcription tools, as David Sparks of MacPowerUsers describes in this article.  For additional transcription service options and resources, take a look at this primer by Josh Poje, Director of LTRC. And, of course, I used Siri with a third-party app to dictate my notes for this post.

Featured image: “Man reading into Dictaphone” from Shutterstock.

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