I was really glad to see this article in the New York Times yesterday.
It is a common (and, to me, galling) assumption that beans need to be soaked before cooking. I have seen this myth repeated many, many places, including cookbooks where the authors should have known better (Mark Bittman is a notable exception). As beans make up a very large portion of my diet, and I am always proselytizing on their behalf, I'm glad to see the truth spoken in a major media outlet.
Yes, it is true: beans do not need to be soaked before cooking. As in the recipe provided in the NYT article, dried beans can used directly in a long simmered stew, with no ill effect. Quite the contrary, in fact: this technique does a great job at melding flavors together.
But also, it is possible to cook dry beans on their own without soaking. The difference? It will take a little longer, though not nearly as much most cookbooks say.
So why soak at all? Well it will cut down on cutting time somewhat. The other potential reason is texture. This is somewhat anecdotal, but it does seem that sometimes, when using dry beans directly, the beans don't cook quite as evenly. This only seems to happen with older beans, though, which you should try to avoid anyways. And it can also be remedied by cooking the beans slowly and gently. My opinion is that, for texture, the best thing you can do is cook your dry beans in a crockpot for a few hours. It won't save you any time, but it requires practically no labor, and it really produces great results.
But the important thing to remember here: beans do not need to be pre-soaked, so don't let a lack of soaking stop you.