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December 1999
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Law Tech News

Seize the Future: It's ASPs, Bio-Mice and Penguins

by Monica Bay

THERE'S no looking back for the legal profession. The future is now, and it's the Internet. That was the message, loud and clear, at two key events last month.

The American Bar Association's Law Practice Management section and Lotus Development Corp. held the second "Seize the Future" conference, Nov. 4-6, at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

I confess, I was more than a little skeptical about the selection of the keynote speaker: management guru Tom Peters. But Peters was phenomenal, and set the tone for the conference sessions, which were a roller coaster ride of challenges to some of the most basic assumptions we all make about the legal profession.

In his self-deprecating and irreverent presentation, Peters slammed ideas at the group (of about 175 attorneys) faster than a pitching machine on overdrive.

Following Peters were equally powerful presentations from a diverse group of speakers, most notably, John Landry, strategic technology consultant for IBM Corp.; Gary Hamel, co-author of Competing for the Future; and former Netscape general counsel Roberta Katz (who is campaigning for the creation of "core courts" where decision-makers "possess at least some familiarity with the relevant subject matter" of the litigation).

The theme through-out: There's no such thing as "business as usual;" lawyers who want to prosper in (or even survive) the next decade must radically rethink how to do business.

The Internet, they said, is changing expectations of clients, who, armed with Web-provided information, are adopting a "Do It Yourself" attitude. Clients expect attorneys to be facilitators and/or partners; not aloof priests or "Wizards of Oz" (i.e., the only ones who can understand/control the law). "Value-added" is the name of the new law game, the speakers warned.

It wasn't all theory. Seth Early, Michael Harnis and Carl Liggio Sr., showed how Detroit-based Dickinson Wright has incorporated Internet technologies and new client service models into its work with major automobile manufacturing clients.

Congrats to William Cobb, Phil Shuey, and other organizers. We've sprinkled this issue of LTN with some quotes from the sessions. The ABA plans to reprise the meeting in another two years. Don't miss it.

'dot'.Comdex

Comdex, now in its 20th year as the world's biggest technology show, may have its roots in personal computers, but there is no doubt that its future is online. The annual Las Vegas show, produced by ZD Events, is shifting its orientation from hardware to the Web, presumably to protect its turf and to stay relevant and on top of the technology revolution. (Attendance this year was down, slightly, to about 202,000, which the New York Times attributes to the growing proliferation of "niche" trade shows.)

Nonetheless, some of the most crowded booths were those demo'ing hardware items: Most notably, digital cameras and biometric security devices. The most sizzling: The new U Match BioLink Mouse, from CompuLink Research Inc., of Miramar, Fla. It's a standard mouse that incorporates a thumbprint scanner to limit access to a computer. (For more info circle no. 397.)

The displays at Canon, Kodak, Olympus, Fuji, Hewlett-Packard et. al, also seemed to affect adults in the same way that Ricky Martin attracts 14-year-old girls. You could barely squeeze your way to the display counters during peak hours.

But the biggest buzz on the floor was about Penguins. As in the mascot for Linux, the free, open source code operating system created by Linus Torvald, who was the darling of Comdex '99. (And one of the keynote speakers).

Once thought to be just the province of true techno-geeks, Linux has suddenly gone mainstream. So mainstream that it had its own Business Expo at the Las Vegas Hilton, in tandem with Comdex.

Linux has won some big-time admirers, including Corel Corp., which debuted its new Corel Linux OS software at the show. Ainley Marcinyk, who heads up Corel's legal marketing team, was bubbling with enthusiasm about her company's relationship with the former underdog. Last December, Corel released a Linux-based edition of its WordPerfect 8 software on its Website. By May, more than 1 million users had attempted downloads, Corel says.

Linux's sudden acceptance probably has more to do with the Internet than Microsoft Corp.'s recent troubles in its antitrust case (or even anti-Microsoft backlash). Ultimately, with the Internet, it really doesn't matter if you are using Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. In essense, the Internet is platform-independent. What really matters is that you have a state-of-the-art browser and a fast connection.

This may also be a small factor in why that outfit in Cupertino is on such a roll with its iMacs and iBooks. (Speaking of Apple Computer Corp., keep your eye out for a new focus on legal. We should have more news after the January MacWorld show in San Francisco.)

The Internet also helps explain the sudden explosion of ASPs, (application service providers). They are populating the 'Net faster than crabgrass in July. ASPs allow you to use software programs online rather than having to install them (and maintain them) on hard drives or networks. (I.e, you "rent" them rather than buy them.)

Everybody is jumping on the ASP bandwagon, including Microsoft, Oracle, Corel, and in the legal arena, ELF.

Meanwhile, Microsoft certainly wasn't invisible at Comdex: Bill Gates retained his traditional top speaker spot, kicking off the six-day event with a talk that focused on "Personal Webs" and previewed Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 2000, which is due out within weeks.

Not everything at Comdex was high-tech. I pulled out my debit card for the Back-Up from Nada-Chair, a goofy looking but wonderful device (it wraps around your back and knees) that helps relieve low back stress. It folds into a compact packet that can be stuffed into a carry-on. After walking across acres of concrete exhibit floors, it felt great on the plane home!

(For more information circle no. 396.)

Nolo Victory

An end has come to one of the most ridiculous battles in recent memory, where Texas bar leaders tried to ban the sale of Quicken Family Lawyer '99 software, and were investigating Berkeley-based Nolo Press.

Last February, federal judge Barefoot Sanders forbid sale of the Quicken software, on the grounds that it "ventured into the unauthorized practice of law." But after a lot of publicity, the state's Legislature trumped the judge in June, passing a bill that redefined the practice of law and allows books, software, Internet sites, etc., if they include a disclaimer that they are not a substitute for attorney advice, reports The New York Times, in a story reprinted in the latest edition of the California Bar Journal.

The investigation by the Dallas-based Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, an arm of the state's Supreme Court, prompted feisty Nolo to reciprocate with a suit to force the committee's activities to be made public, and to declare Nolo's products legal. On Sept. 13, the committee officially notified Nolo that the investigation was terminated, due to "recent legislative changes."

Nolo was represented by George & Donaldson, LLP, of Austin. Details: Calbar

LEXIS, West Settle

LEXIS-NEXIS and West Group have settle their dispute about the use of Shepard's trademarks on Westlaw.

"LEXIS-NEXIS has been assured that the Shepard's trademarks will be used only to inform customers that the citator service is no longer available on Westlaw," says Nick Emrick, chief operating officer of LEXIS Publishing.Specific terms of the settlement were not released, they note.

Lights, Cameras, Verdict!

DOAR Communications says its video technology helped New York's Kreindler & Kreindler land a $2.2 million verdict award for Nancy Spielberg (sister of Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg) and 12 other plaintiffs who sued American Airlines for emotional distress after their N.Y.C.-bound jet encountered rough turbulence. They alleged that the pilots failed to avoid a thunderstorm and did not illuminate seat belt signs. American assumed liability, but challenged the amount of damage.

DOAR's team helped create mixed media exhibits, including a two-dimensional digital animation video that depicted the flight pattern during the 30-second turbulent episode, using the Statue of Liberty as a reference for the jury to understand the varying altitudes the plane experienced.

Downhill from Here?

Seattle Judge Pro Tem Marcine Anderson, (whose day job is a King County deputy prosecutor in the civil division) has banned ski enthusiast Scott Abraham from posting to the Internet newsgroup Rec.Skiing.Alpine for one year, to end a six-month "flame war" that involved threatening and defamatory messages, according to several news reports. Ruling on King County Dist. Ct. case 99-7536, Anderson told Abraham that if he violates the order, he'll be charged with a felony, the report says.

Paul Merrell, a regular denizen of "The TechnoLawyer Community," (www. technolawyer.com) first spotted the reports.

Lemme see, now. I'm no longer in Vegas, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that this ruling will be appealed.

Images courtesy of Comdex, Reuters, Nolo.com, Corel Corp. and Tom Peters.

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November 1999 Issue
© 1999 Law Technology News