High-Tech Legal Aid Helps Attorneys

Article excerpt

The practice of law has progressed from the search for the smoking gun and the soaring courtroom oration. Nowadays, it's just as likely about the search for an incriminating e-mail and a video presentation in court.

To bone up on such skills, more than 300 local attorneys and other legal professionals attended a conference Monday and Tuesday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. The Best of Legal Technology, or T-Bolt, seminar and exhibit was sponsored by the Allegheny County Bar Association, as it has been since 2005.

"The technology we use every day to practice law -- portable devices or software to manage legal data -- keeps the costs down for the client and delivers a better work product from the attorneys," said conference co-chairman David Ries, who is an environmental and technology litigator at Thorp Reed & Armstrong, Downtown.

The really hot topic is electronic- or e-discovery, said Ries. Discovery is the process of gathering information -- in this case, by electronic means -- concerning a legal situation, either to prove a case or defend a client.

"Attorneys now have the added burden of finding out what's on computers," said Scott Ardisson, president of bit-x-bit, a Downtown company that was one of more than 25 exhibitors at T-Bolt. Bit-x- bit is a consultant on e-discovery and forensic investigations.

E-discovery began in the 1980s, said Ries, but really "started to mushroom" in the 1990s, when laptop computers started becoming commonplace.

"Since as much as 90 percent of business records are generated electronically, electronic evidence is where it is, especially e- mails," said Ries.

One T-Bolt session on e-discovery drew more than 80 lawyers who heard about the importance of accessing data that describe a document's source, history and characteristics.

"If it's an important communication, who sent or opened it and when can be important to the litigation. …