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Dragon NaturallySpeaking Legal 9

By Kim Plonsky

July/August 2007 Table of Contents


Theoretically, if the average person types 40 words per minute and speaks 120 words per minute, then productivity can be tripled by implementing speech-recognition technology. With so many devices today requiring us to use keyboards, buttons, styli and mice, the concept of a software program that converts speech to text is appealing not only to busy legal professionals, but to the keyboard-challenged and those who suffer from repetitive stress injuries. My exposure to speech recognition technology has been limited to staying abreast of the latest news, discussions and trends. Over the years, I have noted a high rate of abandonment with speech recognition technology because of complaints that the software was difficult to use and took too long to configure. Still, I find it intriguing that those who have mastered this amazing technology and find it indispensable swear productivity has increased, recouping time lost manually entering text and commands.

Nuance Communi­cation’s Dragon Naturally Speaking Legal 9 and other speech recognition software programs serve three primary purposes: to convert dictation to text, to invoke voice-activated commands that control PC functions and to convert text to speech. I found Dragon excelled most at dictation and converting text to speech, but I was disappointed in my attempts to implement total hands-free computing. As suggested by Nuance and others, I found that Dragon works most efficiently when used in combination with the keyboard and mouse.

I was curious to discover for myself the practicality (as opposed to the novelty) and real value of using dictation software in my job as a paralegal. Would Dragon increase my productivity, slow me down or simply give my hands and my back a much-needed break? After using and studying Dragon for only six weeks, it’s premature for my final analysis and bottom-line determination, but most assuredly the potential is there. While learning and configuring Dragon is not difficult per se, it does require a time commitment and persistence, but the benefits are well worth the effort. Unlike other programs, however, the more you use Dragon, the more accurate it gets and the better you get at dictation.

The interactive on-screen tutorials, available from the Help menu, are essential to getting up and running quickly, and are well worth the short amount of time required to view them. Many forms of help are available in Dragon, in addition to the usual searchable glossary and index. Simply by saying, “What can I say,” or “Give me help,” a list of common choices for the current window appears.

One of the most touted new features of Dragon 9 is that no special user training is required, meaning that you can begin dictating once the program is installed, without having to train the software to your voice. For improved accuracy though, Dragon provides and recommends the general training, which takes only a few minutes. True to its word, Dragon has superb voice recognition accuracy, which improves with use.

Another cool tool is Dragon’s Accuracy Center, which provides an array of features designed to improve output. The ingenious vocabulary optimizer adapts the program to your writing style by building a language model from recent e-mails and documents. This is a fabulous feature for quickly building your Dragon vocabulary by including contact names from sent e-mails and specialty terms used in e-mails and documents.

Maturity shows, as well, in Dragon’s overall layout and interface. The always-available Dragon Bar provides handy access to common features and functions, with icons indicating microphone status and volume. Although I am not a big fan of adding yet another toolbar to my precious desktop real estate, the Dragon Bar is small, unobtrusive and used often enough to warrant having it.

While most programs work well with Dragon, others (referred to as “nonstandard windows”) will not recognize Dragon’s voice commands. Dragon solves this problem by providing a special window, called the Dictation Box, which can be opened to capture text that is automatically transferred into the application window upon closing. However, learning to use the Dictation Box is somewhat tricky and increases the learning curve.

Like most software products, Dragon Naturally Speaking comes in several versions: Standard, Preferred, Pro­fessional, Medical and Legal. The Legal version includes all of the features and capabilities of the Professional version, in addition to:

  • A complete legal dictionary of more than 25,000 legal terms. In practice, I found that while the legal words were part of the vocabulary, I still had to “train” Dragon to recognize them as spoken words.

  • The ability to format legal citations, based on formatting rules designed to follow common legal practice. This is an amazing feature that worked for me flawlessly.

  • RealSpeak Text-to-Speech, to have text on your screen read aloud in a computer voice. For example, you can have a document you dictated read back to you while you listen for mistakes or make revisions.

While the jury technically is still out on whether Dragon will increase my productivity as a paralegal or simply contribute to my ergonomic good health, the evidence is clear that it has the capa­bility to do so; the rest is up to me. This is true as well for anyone who has diffi­culty or dislikes typing or who already spends a great deal of time dictating into a standard recorder for transcription by others. Whether the time investment, commitment and cost are compatible with your needs, only you can decide. From my point of view, although I type more than 100 words a minute, I gladly would make the effort required to incorporate Dragon NaturallySpeaking Legal 9 into my legal software lineup.



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