Web Technology and Today's Law Offices

Article excerpt

To be effective, become familiar with Web terminology and applications

Not since word processing has a technology come along that will have more impact on the practice of law than the Web. The Internet, intranets, and extranets are going to revolutionize the way law offices practice law and communicate.

In this beginning-of-the-year column, I'd like to spend some time explaining why. In the process, I'll also offer a sort of primer-for readers who are new to this digital world-on Internet and other networking technologies and associated hardware.

In the interests of creating a common nomenclature, I refer to the myriad activities that law offices can perform using Internet-like applications as Web technologies. In law office settings these technologies are commonly manifested in the Int net, intranets, or extranets.

Everyone is familiar with the Internet. And by now the vast majority of law offices in the nation are-to differing degrees-connected to it and using it.

Intranets use Internet-based technologies (or Web technologies) to create enterprise-wide networks, or private networks used solely for the conveyance of information within an organization. Good examples of intranet uses include the conveyance of office-wide policies and procedures, standard forms, biographical and organizational information, work product databases, collaborative project management, and so forth.

Extranets use Web technology and the Internet's infrastructure to link remote offices and/or businesses in a passwordprotected, secure, private-project-driven Web site. Good examples of extranet uses include litigation support between remote offices and parties and other project-specific kinds of applications.

The five key elements making Web technology applications both possible and increasingly cost-effective include:

The standard communications protocol of the Internet (HTTP-HyperText Transport Protocol), and a sophisticated, low-cost information infrastructure

Industry-standard browsers (e.g., Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer)

The huge variety of powerful (and cheap) Web technology tools already available and being developed and produced at a furious rate

The fact that Web technologies take advantage of existing computing infrastructure

The platform-independent nature of the technologies

Law Office Applications

Where do Web technologies fit in today's spectrum of law office computer use? Today most legal professionals use a variety of information management tools. A typical list of tools includes generic office applications, in-house customized applications, specialized law office applications, proprietary online services, CDROMs, and Web technologies. All of the preceding, except Web technologies, are "fat-client" applications (see sidebar: Thin Client vs. Fat Client).

Everyone using computers today uses generic office applications. The Microsoft Office Suite falls into this category, which includes Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheet), Access (relational database manager), and PowerPoint (presentation manager).

Often, in-house customized applications include those created using an application like Access. These applications do everything from manage time and billing, to litigation support, to whatever else law offices don't feel they can acquire in an off-the-shelf application.

Specialized law office applications are the turnkey products increasingly becoming available for the legal market. For example, Elite is a timekeeping and billing application specifically designed for the law office. Summation is an application specifically designed for litigation support.

Proprietary online systems and CDROM products are typically used for legal research. The largest proprietary online systems, of course, are LEXIS and WESTLAW. Accessing their proprietary systems requires the use of fat-client communications applications (Westmate for WESTLAW, and LEXIS Communications Software for LEXIS). …