By Griffith, Cary
Information Today , Vol. 13, No. 6
Today, a new generation of software makes it almost unnecessary to hold conferences in person. These new application tools rely on Lotus Notes to make the sharing of a variety of case information relatively easy, efficient, and extremely powerful.
For years we have watched the slow growth of legal technology. In the beginning there were very crude (by today's standards) litigation support databases that indexed abstracts and digests of litigation documents. Technically-literate users could search these databases, find the documents referenced, pull them from archive boxes, and, in the best of circumstances, find the smoking gun on which their case could be won.
Similarly, WESTLAW and LEXIS have revolutionized the way the industry performs primary and secondary legal research. And more recently we have seen a new tier of Windows-based applications and PC networks that has given law offices with the vision to use them an increasing array of powerful technology tools.
But not until the last year or two have we seen a new level of legal technology--one that can begin to fulfill the prophecy of those early years of automation. These new applications are characterized by incredible flexibility, protability, integration, and decentralization--not to mention geographic and law-firm diversity. What are these applications? How do they work? And why will they be the discriminating tools of a whole new generation of technically-literate, leading-edge attorneys?
Over the last two decades we've seen a variety of software applications automating a variety of different activities. The most basic of these was word processing, which revolutionized the way documents were written and produced.
Litigation support databases have become increasingly complex and powerful. Now databases numbering in the thousands (and sometimes millions) of documents can be easily managed--in full text.
In practice this means that lawyers using these databases can search for any key word, phrase, or combination of words and phrases to retrieve whatever kinds of documents they desire--pulling the needle from the haystack of information surrounding a case.
Documents in these databases can also be imaged, retaining handwritten comments and/or diagrams that sometimes add significant and damaging evidence to arguments that attorneys are trying to make.
Other applications have been created that automate firm-wide conflict of interest information, case calendaring and docket control, and project management, to name only a few.
In large lawsuits these applications are essential. In today's market, law firms that do not employ them are at a definite disadvantage. In fact, an increasingly sophisticated client base demands that attorneys use the latest information technology to defend them. When employing outside attorneys, these clients make specific inquiries regarding the firm's use of legal technology.
In many instances, large lawsuits employ a team of attorneys--some of whom may be from different firms or from different offices within the same firm, but located in different cities. The requirements of large lawsuits usually dictate periodic conferences during which the attorneys involved with the case discuss it, sharing information and strategy, tracking down leads, making assignments, and performing whatever other tactics the case requires.
Implicit in these conferences are travel costs, lodging, meals, and so forth. Also implicit is time away from the office, and, potentially, other billable time the attorneys could be performing--not to mention time away from home and family.
Until now what has been lacking is a way to integrate these multiple applications and the information they manage in a meaningful way. Pleadings, correspondence, notes, legal briefs, calendars, case resources, litigation support databases, and virtually every other aspect of a case (and all the cases of a firm) are usually still managed using a variety of different technology tools. …