Small & Home Office
Internet-Based Litigation Support Is Not Just for Large Firms or Big Budgets
From expense software to document management, there are plenty of online tools for small shops.
By Tom O'Connor
WHAT Internet-based litigation support resources are available for small office and home office practitioners? Let's first define what exactly it is we mean by "litigation support."
The core of most litigation involves discovering and analyzing facts contained in documentary evidence and testimony. Automated litigation support (ALS) consists of screening, analyzing, indexing, and summarizing data, which are then entered into a computer program or programs to permit retrieval of meaningful information in preparation for discovery or trial.
In one sense, then, any highly automated function performed by a law firm in support of litigation fits the definition of ALS --writing a letter or assembling a document with a word processor, using calendaring or scheduling software, performing online research or even tracking time and sending bills.
In that larger sense, the Internet provides a host of resources, starting with the newly-emerging application service provider (ASP) services that provide Internet access to software on a per-use basis.
Examples abound, from the forthcoming, broad WestWorks; to Web-based calendaring (See www.yahoo.com or www. excite.com); faxing (www.efax.com); conferencing (www.egroups.com); to billing (www.timebill.com, Red Gorilla, etc.).
One of the biggest announcement of the year for Web-based services has to be the new lexisONE.com (www.lexisone.com), introduced at the American Bar Association annual meeting in New York last month.
For qualifying solo attorneys and small firms, it offers five years of free case law, access to more than 1,000 Matthew Bender forms at no cost and links to more than 16,000 law-related Web sites. Lexis also plans to expand the service to include client development, practice management tools, news, court calendars and other resources.
This focus on the needs of small firm attorneys is a tremendous use of the power of the Internet for the So/Ho practitioner. You can expect to see a similar service from West in the near future.
But what about the traditional concept of ALS? The main concern of litigation support often is controlling an enormous volume of substantive information; ALS often is more narrowly defined as computerized management of depositions, exhibits, and other documents produced pursuant to discovery requests.
The three most commonly accepted elements of an ALS system are: 1) databases, 2) full-text software retrieval programs, and 3) imaging technology. These may be used individually, used together in a customized combination or merged into one integrated package.
We already know that technology has had an enormous impact in this area. When I first started reviewing Windows litigation support packages in 1994, there were only two! Hardly surprising, because at that time less than 30 percent of law firms were using Windows. But now that more than 90 percent of firms use some version of Windows, those packages are commonplace.
And they are evolving as the explosion in Internet usage is providing a platform that allows attorneys using virtually any operating system -- including Windows, Macs, Unix, and Linux -- to use a common Web interface to obtain litigation support software.
Let's look at the specific ALS categories and see what the Web provides for them.
Centralized document depositories have long been used as a control device for large volumes of documents in complex matters. First, with the old paper repositories handled by court reporters; later with dial in BBS systems, courts have ordered that all discovery materials be produced to and stored at one or more central locations where they can be inspected and copied by all parties. This centralization reduces expenses for the parties and enhances court control over the documents.
The growth of Internet technology has made this option even more cost-effective and efficient. Original documents can be stored on one central Web server location and all parties can access the documents, regardless of their location and technical infrastructure, as long as they have access to a standard Internet browser.
This technology not only reduces paper costs and travel expenses, it speeds up search-and-retrieval times for all parties, and allows attorneys to view and print only those documents they really need instead of obtaining paper copies of all case materials.
In addition, use of the Web technology in the courtroom itself eliminates the need to produce massive amounts of paper documents at hearings or trials.
Large firms have used this technology for a number of years, utilizing either private consultants (see www.commonsource.com or www.automatedlegalsolution.com) or large vendors such as Quorum or IKON Office Solutions.
The latter has a solid history in this area, beginning with its purchase of IMAXS, a high-end, imaging-based document management system using LaserData Imaging software, Calera WordScan for OCR, and the Verity TOPIC search engine, all on an SQL database.
It has since been migrated into a Web-based ASP called IKON's Virtual File Room. Using Tivoli SecureWay and IBM's Firewall along with RSA Data Security Inc.'s SecureID authentication system, the Virtual File Room service makes legal files accessible via a Web browser for collaboration by multiple attorneys working on a case.
(For more information, email Tom Groom.)
More recently, other companies offering the same services have sprung up which are more affordable for the small practitioner. See casecentral (www.casecentral.com) or Judicata (www.judicata.com).
In addition, many courts are now providing Web based access to both dockets and documents in cases. In the past, this was the rule only in large multi-party, multi-district cases, but direct electronic access to the court is now becoming much more commonplace and So/Ho practitioners needing to access court records without taking a trip to the courthouse would do well to check their local court to determine its Web availability.
For good court portals see www.courts.net or www.federalcourts.com.
When it comes to full text searching, the most common material is, of course, a transcript. Properly used full text software can provide immediate access to transcripts of depositions and hearings for analysis of the factual and legal information, witnesses, and issues of a case, as well as direct links to images of documents.
Companies that have been doing this extremely well include Concordance and ZyIndex as well as real-time software companies for direct feeds of the transcript as the court reporter is transcribing.
Two of those have made the jump to the Web particularly well. Concordance, an industry leader in full text searching, now has a Web interface called iConect, which acts as an in-house repository connection for the Concordance program. The iConect Web server, running Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Services) security system, establishes a Web site address for the firm and enables secure Web based access via the Internet, Intranet or Extranet.
This connects to the firm's network, and establishes a link to the existing Concordance databases and images in their native location.
In addition, Folio, the software which was once the de facto search engine standard for most legal CD-ROM products, is now owned by a group of private investors, including the original founders of Folio. The new company, called NextPage, has focused on the development of Internet commerce and search capability while leaving VIEWS intact as a solid product.
Court Reporting: Meanwhile, the court reporting industry has been following the evolution of PubNETics, the Colorado company perhaps best known for delivering the Oklahoma bombing trial transcripts via the Internet. In January, it announced a name change to realLegal.com, and introduced a Web-based ASP for creating electronic transcripts. Later in the year, it announced e-signature capability and, this summer was acquired by law.com, (a sister company of American Lawyer Media Inc., publisher of LTN), becoming part of law.com's extensive online offerings.
Used by 65 percent of the court reporters in the country and endorsed by the National Court Reporters Association Service Corp., this is a strong tool for So/Ho attorneys wanting to utilize Web-based transcript management.
Equally well known to court reporters, and one of the leading technology companies in the realtime field, is LiveNote (www.livenote.com). Although LiveNote does not have as many court reporters using its system as PubNETics, its product is full-featured, easy-to-use, and well worth looking at.
Integrated programs: Finally, in integrated ALS programs, the king of the hill is Summation, long a favorite of So/Ho attorneys. Summation has launched a new subsidiary called CaseVault, designed to provide Internet-based litigation support hosting services. It will work with the latest enhancement to their Summation software, iBlaze. The company calls this the first online/offline, totally integrated litigation support system, which will perform remote searches over the Internet, provide access to multiple document collections per case and manage depositions (including Realtime) in combination with core documents and annotations on a laptop computer.
Once you have accessed your ALS documents on the Web, then what? Traditionally, attorneys use a trial notebook to organize materials according to his or her own organization of the facts and law of the case.
Many attorneys choose to use a Personal Information Manager (PIM), or an outliner program, to list separate points or issues and either link documents to them through the Windows clipboard, or list them in an index under each outlined point. The problem with this approach is that these programs are not word processors and cannot, therefore, handle large amounts of data.
Some programs, such as Summation, offer an outliner mode which provides full drag-and-drop capability for including items from anywhere in the program. But many consultants believe that the Internet will provide the basis for a well-integrated cross-platform trial notebook through the use of hypertext markup language (HTML).
Because HTML is used extensively on the World Wide Web pages of the Internet, and is an open language being embraced by most developers, Internet browsers, such as Netscape Communicator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, ultimately will be best suited to work as a front-end "outliner"' tools, with links to all the user's various sources of information.
Even More Tools
Web-based tools can help litigators in ways not imagined even a few years ago. Among recent entries to the legal tech world:
CyberSecretaries: Don't have time to pull all this material together yourself? Check the CyberSecretaries Web site to access 24/7 voice-to-document dictating services along with itemized billing and tracking services (www.youdictate.com).
Web sites: Need to pull everything together on your own Web site for clients to access? Then see www.ettorneys.com for low cost service or www.findlaw.com for a free Web site.
WebConnections: Don't have Internet access and need a way to get started with all this Web activity? Take a look at IBM's WebConnections for Lawyers. Designed for small firms, this service provides an all-in-one system for shared Internet access and business-class e-mail for up to 100 employees. For a small monthly fee, you get a local server (the Whistle InterJet Internet appliance), Internet connection via analog, ISDN or DSL, Web design and hosting, and 24/7 technical support.
FindLaw: For free access in exchange for a permanent sponsor-based navigation bar, check the FindLaw site.
Lest you think this is all speculation and prediction of what may happen six months or a year from now, take a look at the article by Sam Guiberson in May's LTN. Guiberson, a well known solo practitioner and technologist, talks about how he uses a Web-based litigation support system for everything from fact finding to trial presentations, and suggests you'll be most effective if you use the same technology to both prepare and present your case.
The Web offers the ability to do just that and it's not just for big firms any more.
Tom O'Connor is a Seattle-based legal technology consultant and a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board.