Web-based Document Repositories
By Clifford F. Shnier
WHY WOULD you use an Extranet in litigation? And what is an online "document repository?" Welcome to the future of trial practice!
When I first practiced law -- before databases, imaging and networks -- I worked in a big city law firm, reporting to a senior partner. Our offices were down the hall from each other, yet neither of us had access to all the information we needed on a daily basis.
I had the boxes of discovery documents and a card catalog index; he had incoming pleadings and correspondence from opposing counsel sitting on his desk. Because paper couldn't be in two places at once, even two people working on the same floor could not keep current.
Fast forward to the early '90s. All of the discovery documents, transcripts, and daily case information now reside on the firm's network. That solved that problem, but just within one firm's premises.
Now, options exist that allow lawyers to collaborate not only on the same floor, but around the world, via Extranet Web sites. Lawyers in Phoenix and Philadelphia can see new database additions and each other's work instantly. A team member out of town for depositions can see the latest documents or comments by plugging into the hotel room dataport. It's ideal for telecommuting.
An Extranet litigation Web site is the better way when more than one person needs access to the data and team members need to collaborate.
Now you have a range of choices, many under the rubric of application service provider. You can create internal or external "repositories" for documents, exhibits, images or software.
Which model suits you? An outside ASP, or keep it under your own roof? If the latter, do you have the resources to become your own Web host?
Let's do a quick review to see how we got where we are today and understand the new technology.
In 1994, my company imaged and coded several million pages for a "Joint Defense Group" handling litigation arising out of the failure of Savings and Loan institutions. We provided the images on CDs to each JDG member, who kept the CDs at his or her firm, where images were accessed using jukeboxes or disk changers. The firms stored their document databases on their networks, but not the images -- because the systems were very slow when it came to viewing each image. So instead, the firms typically dedicated a stand-alone machine for image viewing.
In addition to slow network transmission, the jukeboxes or changers took forever to load the CDs, and then the drive still needed to locate the image once the correct CD was loaded. Remote access (via direct dial-in using PCAnywhere) was just for the data. If remote attorneys wanted the images, they needed a stack of CDs.
At that time we used the Internet for e-mail and not much else. The Web already was part of our daily lives, but because it took so long to load a single page, it wasn't a realistic transmission medium for litigation images.
Two choke points loosened up in the late '90s: Hard disks got bigger, transmission speeds got faster. By 1997 many firms had hard disks large enough to copy the all the images from the CDs. They now had acceptable response times viewing images on any workstation within their office networks.
The first Internet-based repositories sprang up around the same time. These "early" repositories solved slow transmission of images over ordinary telephone lines, by utilizing a Citrix server. The Citrix server sends the video data of images, but not the image files themselves. This takes less time for an image to show up on the user's screen. (Printing, however, will require a file transfer.) Aside from commercial repositories, some law firms host their databases and images for remote web access using Citrix.
Citrix is used to host databases and images, using popular software such as Summation, Concordance, DBTextworks or Access.
Faster Internet transmission lines, T-1, DSL, and cable became common by 1998. The first "browser-based" Applications Service Providers (ASPs) appeared the same year.
Fast connections to the Internet reduced the time receiving an image file from 15 seconds to nanoseconds. All PCs sold after 1995 came pre-loaded with a browser, usually Netscape Navigator/Communicator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
In 1999, the first legal Application Service Providers began making noise at trade shows, and quickly spread like wildfire.
The ASP Industry Consortium was founded in May, 1999, with 25 members. It now has more than 500. (See www.aspindustry.org).
ASP refers to an Internet-based, "hosted" Web site that offers software, repositories or other services, usually "rented" rather than purchased. Many operate on a subscription basis, some offer "pay per use" services. Most ASPs pitch that all that is needed to use their services is a decent browser and a solid Internet connection.
Now, at mid-2000, there are several Web-based litigation models:
* ASP: The most common model is the ASP. Call this the "We Host/Our Software" design. Most are browser-based. Examples include casecentral.com; CaseShare L.L.P.; CaseVault Inc.; 1stLegal.com; LextraNet; and Virtual File Room. Also in this category: Ringtail Solutions Inc. (which has partnered with ASPs); Internet Computing with Introspect, from Steelpoint Technologies Inc.; and Judicata.com, by Trion Technologies Inc. These last three are mentioned separately because they also offer a host-it-yourself version (see below).
* Repository: The next model is the "repository," which hosts your data in the software of your choice, using a Citrix server for Internet or direct dial-in access. For example, if you want to use Summation via the Web and don't want to host it yourself, this would be an example you might want to consider. In other words, a "We Host / Your Software" design.
One of these is The Repository Solution, Inc. of Los Angeles, which offers Web access to your data and familiar software to work with it.
Often, litigation support service bureaus provide repository hosting as an adjunct service. Examples are The Common Source, of Houston, and Prism Innovative Solutions, of Chicago.
* Browser-based Software: The third model is browser-based software (one or two are Citrix, too) licensed for installation on your own Web server. This model fills the demand of law firms that will not allow their data to be housed outside. Call this the "You Host / Our Software" paradigm. Examples include iConect, from iConect L.L.C. which works with Dataflight Software Inc.'s Concordance databases, and the self-hosting versions of Ringtail's Casebook, Steelpoint's Introspect, and Trion's Judicata.
The accompanying chart summarizes some key features of these players and products.
Questions to Ask
What system could work for you?
Are you open to using new software, with a different user interface and functionality than what you're using? If not, and you want to stick with what you've got, then you need the repositories that host your software, or products that enable you to use the software of your choice on your Web server.
If going with an ASP, or a new system where you are the Web host, then your choice is based on the software features that best suit you.
Of course, a threshold issue is security keeping everyone out except those with clearance. All of the ASPs gave answers indicating they're on top of this. Typical security tactics range from encryption and SSL (secure socket layer) technology; login passwords; "mapping" of IDs to security profiles; digital certificates; to IP address monitoring.
You'll also want to assure the physical safety of the site your data is stored at. All ASPs indicated redundant servers, redundant ISP connections, and offsite backups. Some also mentioned armed guards and surveillance monitoring.
Other issues to consider as you evaluate what type of system to use:
* Does it integrate database records, images, and full text the way you like?
* Does it matter when you search the full text if the hit shows up highlighted on the text but not the image?
* Who can make changes to the database structure you or the ASP technicians?
* How is data loaded onto the Web site can you do it or does it require the ASP technicians?
* How does the ASP charge? By page stored per month, by user per month? What services are extra and what are included?
* If you're considering Host-it-Yourself software, what is their pricing? How many seats does it get, how much customization, support, etc?
* How elaborate is the ability to annotate -- do annotations contain fields for issues, dates, names, and how does this integrate with the rest of the database, text, and images?
* How easy is it to convert any existing data from other formats?
* Is it important to have a 'thin client' browser application, meaning you can get into it with your user ID and password from an Internet café in Prague, as opposed to your own PC?
* With respect to full-text searching and speed of image display, are there any issues with Portable Document Format (PDF) files, which are image and text sandwiched together, and which are inherently multipage?
* How readily will it accept load files from standard image production systems such as Doculex, IPRO, etc?
* In addition to litigation support, does the product also offer Case Management for workgroup collaboration, with a calendar, announcements, e-mails, and to-do lists? Several vendors emphasize their capabilities here.
* Does it offer non-litigation support Document Management where incoming pleadings and correspondence are scanned, OCR'd and profiled, and alerts to team members when these arrive along with management of internal work product and outgoing documents?
* Is the vendor a bandwagon-jumper, or has it provided litigation technology services for a while?
Clifford Franklin Shnier is an attorney and litigation technology consultant based in Scottsdale, Az. E-mail: Web site: www.cliffordfranklin.com.