The Dis-Associate

Darwin and the Dictaphone

By | Jul.12.12 | Communicating, Daily Dispatch, Legal Technology, The Dis-Associate

I felt like Indiana Jones. Instead of snakes, there were power cords slinking around my feet. Instead of a whip, I held a ballpoint pen. Instead of a hat, I wore, well, my hair was perfect. I was not looking for treasure. No, I was looking for a different relic. I was looking for the infamous dictaphone!

You heard right, a dictaphone, as requested by my boss. After about 25 minutes of hunting in the back room, I uncovered it, in all its glory: An unnecessarily heavy piece of 1980s gold.

An Anachronism, and Yet …

Apparently, the dictaphone device was widely used at a time when legal secretaries were the only people capable of typing at an acceptable speed. (Question: If the tapes are so small, why is the machine so large?) Things have changed. (I have clocked my personal typing speed at 88 wpm with 97 percent accuracy. Boom!) However, while it may be archaic, the dictaphone is still apparently incredibly useful to a certain generation of attorneys. So it begs the question: Is total adaptation to technology really necessary?

The general Darwinism rule is adapt or die. But, while things around us have changed, most lawyers have not. Let’s face it, lawyers work forever. I deal with opposing counsel who are 88-years-old and up and still sharp as a whip. (Is that the term? A whip? Why?) These fellows never did and never will type 88 wpm. Rather, they use dictaphones. And it works for them.

After much study, I believe the answer to the legal adaptation question is two-fold: You must adapt to both the new technology and the old-school methodologies to succeed.

  1. Do not try to teach an old lawyer new tricks. Just don’t. It’s pretty much futile to try teaching lawyers past 50 to use cloud-based file transferring, for example. Just scan the docs onto a disk and throw it in the mail. The fact is these lawyers have become successful professionals using established methodology over decades. Respect the methods they used to become successful.
  2. Merge the new and old. Merge your own technologically advanced techniques with the old-school techniques. There are some areas that just can’t be updated. Paper dominates, but DropBox is a faster way to share documents. Emails can get you in trouble, but mailing letters takes too long.
  3. If you come across an old dictaphone, do not panic. It will not hurt you. In fact, it may help you! I have, however, heard that “typewriters” can be very aggressive.

I may not know what I’m talking about, but I think you understand.

William Melater is a young associate attorney working at a firm focused on commercial litigation and transactional work. A self-described legal hunter and gatherer, Bill has accumulated a plethora of legal certificates and diplomas—all of which have been appropriately framed and hung behind his desk. Bill has a distaste for emails, suspenders, fake tans, paralegals who cry, sea urchins and attorneys who repeat the phrase “this is my bottom-line offer.” When irked, Bill blogs about his experiences at Attorney at Work.

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7 Responses to “Darwin and the Dictaphone”

  1. Jim grennan
    12 July 2012 at 11:01 am #

    I am 80 years young. I have not used a dictaphone for 25 years. I keyboard At 100 wpm. My desktop is in the cloud. I have used a computer since the Apple 2 in 1997. I can access the cloud on my I-pad and thereby see a data base of clients on my LexisNexis Front Office. However you are right. Most old timers have never used a typewriter. I learned to type 65 years ago.

  2. gina
    12 July 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Dear boy you miss the point about any successful professional who’s “past 50.” It’s not that they CAN’T learn. It’s that they DON’T HAVE TO learn. That’s what young associates are for. Remember that someday when you ask what happened to the cloud and someone points out the window.

  3. Jim Calloway
    12 July 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Dear Attorney at Work:

    I really enjoy your publication and, in the flood of e-mail I receive every day, it is one of the rare “optional” e-mails that I make a priority. I even blogged about one of your posts this week. But today’s offering Darwin and the Dictaphone by William Melater falls well below your usual standards in that it contains two unforgivable sins: it is insulting to a large number of your readers and, perhaps worse, it is a pointless waste of time. Your brand is “One Really Good Idea Every Day” and there is none here. I tried to think of one. Disrespect your elders? You cannot teach lawyers over 50 new tricks? Come on.

    “But, while things around us have changed, most lawyers have not.” Really? Not only is that condescending, but it is flat out wrong. Lawyers over 50 have seen electronic research replace books, along with the impact of e-mail, e-filing, e-discovery and more. They have coped with more changes in law and procedure than you learned in law school. There may a business case against some dictation, but the truth is that senior partner can dictate faster than the author can type and that “fellow’s” time may be the most valuable resource in the firm.

    The piece is even self contradictory. The author says lawyers will practice into the 80’s but if they are over 50, just give up on the old farts. Just let them spend 30 years doing things inefficiently and generally waiting to die. I personally know many lawyers who are technology experts. Many of them are over 50 or even over 00. Like so many attack pieces, your post may say more about the author than the target. But then maybe this response does, too.

  4. Amy
    12 July 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    The best part of this entire, ridiculous article is: I may not know what I’m talking about. . .”

    You certainly do not.

    Having worked for a number of attorneys (Baby Boomers, kids right out of law school, male, female, etc.) for 14 years, I can say this without hesitation: young attorneys are harder to teach new tricks. You know why? Because you think you know it all. Just look at your reference to your “plethora” of legal certificates and diplomas.

    As is evidenced from this article (and here I thought Attorney At Work wanted to give us one “good” tip a day), you clearly think you know it all. As we say in the South, bless your heart.

    P.S. I’m 38, and I was taught to respect others, especially my elders, just in case you are wondering.

  5. Jose (@JoseMariaDC)
    13 July 2012 at 5:34 am #

    I read your post with an appropriate dose of sense of humour to enjoy it. Bordering caricature is a legitimate rethoric tool to capture attention within and without our profession. Having said that, I was quite surprised that in writing about technological developments in the profession, you seem to be proud of being: a) a typist and b) a fast typist. Using first class legal speech recognition software (Nuance based “Dictalaw” by, I get something like 190 wpm with 98 percent accuracy. Moreover, I left behind the typist and dictaphone areas years ago. Best regards

  6. Otto Sorts
    13 July 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Whooee! That kid needs to learn that when you poke at old geezers, they can whack you with their canes. I fondly remember the days of secretaries that took dictation, but that was superceded by dictaphones, which have since been swallowed up by presumeably better and better technologies.

    But, in order to survive, we have to change. At issue in the Darwinian responses is how often we need to adapt. BITOD (back in the old days), change occurred over a longer span of time. My first mobile phone weighed more than my first son, and it sat in my car for years. Lately, if you don”t get a new device every few months you are approaching obsoletion, at least according to those tech-trendy people that seem to have more time to play around with new technologies than they do for work. In my opinion, one thing hasn’t changed, get your work done first, then you can go play.

  7. Tom
    19 July 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Amazing how you pick on senior attorneys who dictate because it’s faster and more efficient than typing. Young attorney’s who try it find out quickly it’s a better way to handle documentation. Did you skip math class in school. If an attorney could type as fast as a professional legal assistant (doubtful) is your time more valuable (100,000+ a yr) or your assistants (50,000+ a yr) Next I guess you can format, spell and everything else required in Word to create a document than doesn’t embarass your firm. Oops, you already embarassed you and your firm, you have no common business sense.