Why you Need to Stop Typing and Start Dictating

See how happy they are?

If you were born from about 1980 onwards, chances are high that you’re a pretty good typist.

There’s also a good chance that you are handy with computers generally – you know how to use the software, you know how to produce documents and letters.

And so part of you resists dictation.

Today I’m going to tell you why that’s foolhardy.

I Don’t Care how Fast you Are – Dictating is Faster

Guess what?  I type pretty fast.

In fact I reckon I can match it with some pretty speedy secretaries around the place, although I admit some would put me to shame.

Yet, in all but the shortest pieces of email correspondence, dictating is by far the better way to do it.

You see, it’s not just the letter.

It’s finding the address.

It’s checking the style guide to make sure you’ve used numbers, headings and the like correctly.

It’s putting the right signing block on the letter with the correct partner.

It’s saving the letter to the correct file, in the right place, using the right format and description.

It’s printing the letter, going to the printer, waiting, clearing the jam, refilling the paper, and eventually (if you’re lucky) coming out with the product to sign.

So while you might be able to produce the contents of a short letter or a tiny document, those tasks make it much longer than you thought it was going to take.

In longer documents, I’ll bet that over time your otherwise fast typing slows right down and your word for word match with a typist becomes lackluster at best.

The short version: when it comes to the amount of your time required to produce the product, dictation is always faster.

If this article convinces you that dictation is a must, then don’t forget to check out my Complete Guide to Dictation.

Dictation Brings Clarity

I’ll be the first to admit that, at first, dictating longer and more complex documents can be challenging.  This is a frequent objection I hear from young lawyers – they forget where they were up to, what they just said, they keep having to rewind and redo.

Sure that happens.

I’ll bet you couldn’t ride a bike that well when you first tried, right?  How did your first Court document look?  What about your first kiss?

As with most things, we get better with practice.

Because to be effective at dictation you must develop clarity of thought before producing any complex document. This means that you begin to structure your thinking so that your document can be done in a cohesive way.  Each part flows from the previous and is linked to the next.  That way you don’t miss things, you don’t get lost, and you can dictate without needless interruption.

This process comes with experience and practice, but it is one that allows a senior lawyer to dictate a complex document where a junior lawyer would struggle.  But if you don’t start practising your thinking in that way, then you’ll never be able to nail that part of things.

Dictation Makes More Money

If there was only one reason that you need to learn to dictate properly, it’s this.

Dictation is a form of leverage, and leverage is a critical part of how law firms make money.

I’ve already mentioned that it takes less of your time to dictate.  That means that you have more time.  Your time (assuming your value your own time) should be spent doing valuable things.  Typing is not as valuable a task as the many other options you have.  Perhaps you should be networking?  Calling clients?  Developing relationships?  Doing research? The higher value options are abundant.

Almost certainly your secretary (if you have one) costs the firm less than you do.  That is not intended to be insulting, but it is a fact: you cost more.  That means you have an obligation to be adding as much value as possible.  Stuffing around with numbering, headings, signatures and formatting, checking addresses and the like – these things are not as valuable as the other options.

So Start Dictating Already

So if you at all have the option (I appreciate that some don’t), I strongly suggest you start dictating.  Yes it will feel awkward at first – but you’ll get better.  You’ll get faster.  You’ll get more clarity.

And ultimately if you do it well, you will get more done and make more money for your firm.

Happy Lawyering!

  • I agree that dictation is much faster than typing however sometimes the total time it takes from start to finish by typing is quicker than the turnaround time by a secretary who often has other things on their to do list. I have struggled with this and continue to do so even though I have a personal secretary who only works for me. If I get an urgent matter after 3pm I will always type it myself in order to ensure it gets out the door by COB. It would be great if you could write a post on how to effectively work with support staff and manage them well without having to resort to micromanagement (which is what I’ve been forced to do in order to get the productivity I need) … Especially those who do not seem to work, or have any desire to work, very quickly!!

  • Chris, I found your site because I was looking for other models of coaching services for new attorneys and those making a transition into solo or small practice from either big firm, or government work. I am a very experienced attorney, practicing now 34 years, and I am coaching new attorneys. While I see your valid point in learning how to dictate vs typing, I would offer a compromise position. I type the content of my letter, and email it to my assistant to complete the other tasks associated with getting a letter out. When writing a brief, both my colleague and I prefer to type our own motions and responses, because in our specialized practice, we can cut and paste the routine stuff (such as legal standard for granting summary judgment… standard in all our responses), and roll with the particular facts of our case. I can type as fast as I think, so it is no impediment, and in fact, my creative juices flow when I’m typing.

    And Chris, I see a potential collaboration here with our coaching businesses. You have excellent content, and I think you are helping a big group! Keep up the good work. Contact me if you want to explore some collaborative ideas. garnerlaw@yahoo.com
    Ana Garner

    • Hey there Ana,

      You’re right, of course – it’s not a “one size fits all” situation. I will sometimes do what you have described – ie, type the content and have it formatted elsewhere. There are also some times where typing is going to be more efficient. So as with most things, it’s not a “rule” that everything should be dictated. That said, I think that many young lawyers can’t see the benefits of giving it a go, mostly because it’s outside their comfort zone rather than any tangible objection.

      Thanks for weighing in with your experience here Ana!

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