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Irwin Mitchell has become the first leading UK law firm to successfully implement voice recognition technology, enabling fee earners to draft letters and documents without typing or secretarial support.The Sheffield-based firm has rolled out the system to about 100 fee earners – by far most significant use of speech recognition technology in the UK legal sector. It plans to extend the system, giving it to a further 150 solicitors before the end of the year.Voice recognition, which rep-laces keystrokes with speech and mouse clicks with ‘key word’ voice commands, has the potential to revolutionise the working culture of a law firm in a number of ways. A key benefit is that it enables senior partners and other lawyers, many of whom rely on dictation and secretarial support because of poor keyboard skills, to generate documents themselves. This gives them more control over the drafting process and enables them to produce documents instantly, regardless of office hours. The cost of buying and implementing the system – including staff training costs – is equivalent to the annual salaries of just a handful of secretaries. The firm will no longer provide each fee earner with a personal secretary.The decision by Irwin Mitchell to commit to such a large initial rollout of the product represents a substantial leap of faith on the part of the firm. Two years ago, most of the UK’s largest firms ran pilot schemes to test the benefits of speech recognition technology, but rejected its widespread use. This year, large regional firms such as Osborne Clarke dismissed speech recognition as unsuitable for their working environment, focusing instead on digital dictation and developing outsourced 24-hour typing pools.However, City giant Allen & Overy is now looking seriously at implementing the technology to free up some of its support staff so that they can focus on maintaining and administering the firm’s virtual dealrooms.

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