As The Internet Matures, Litigation Support Options Become More Sophisticated
Web-based repositories offer a wide range of tools that can improve case management.
By Bill Cwiklo
REMOTE repository services have been available since the advent of automated litigation support services in the mid-'70s, but today, they are being reinvented based on Internet based tools and techniques. The core of these repository services includes document data and associated image storage, retrieval, printing and technical support.
The advantages of using these Internet-based services include:
- Lower client investment in hardware and software. When a database is run remotely from a third party server, firms need little more than a "dumb" terminal connected to a modem to access the system.
- Labor intensive support services such as custom report design and generation; document search and retrieval; and printing functions can be delegated to the repository staff.
- Information Technology functions such as database design, implementation and maintenance can also be delegated to repository staff and used on an as needed basis.
Two advantages of secure, Internet based repositories are significant reductions in telecommunications charges through use of the Internet; and lower end-user training costs because of broad professional familiarity with Web-based browsers. The Internet can serve as a platform for the delivery of a host of related services that can transform automated litigation support from simple document storage and retrieval systems to matter-based "Knowledge Management" systems.
High costs for data storage and telecommunications were a disincentive to long term use of traditional remote repository services. But advances in storage technology and telecommunications have significantly affected these costs -- even with the much higher density of data associated with digital images based collections.
Search and Retrieval
A full-featured Internet repository service will offer the user two modes of access: a Web interface and a "thin client interface" based on Microsoft Terminal Server and/or Cytrx.
This thin client mode of access allows the user to remotely control traditional litigation support applications, such as Concordance and Summation, running at the repository service.
The general familiarity of computer-literate professionals with Web-based search engines such as Yahoo! and Lycos also smooths the way for training.
If the search engine at a particular repository site allows cross-database searching, users can search their content areas simultaneously and consolidate the results into a single "results" page.
This allows users to search the document database, the transcript database, the case calendar, the witness tracking database, the deposition materials, and the attorney document library -- all at the same time.
Some Internet repository services offer the ability to use your search engine to search both your private file and have connections to free public services and subscription services via the Internet.
A full service repository service, whether Internet based or not, offers a series of related support services for automated litigation support and other legal information management applications.
Outsourcing IT Support: A major incentive to the growth of Internet based repository services will be the need to use highly qualified IT resources in support of litigation. Today, we create most documents and data in electronic systems. The result is a rapid growth in discovery of electronic evidence. The increased complexity involved creates a greater need for IT professional services while the shortage of professional with these skills is growing. A full-service repository offers these skills on an as needed basis.
Production and Exhibit History Tracking: Consistency is a virtue in responding to discovery requests and in the use of evidentiary documents as exhibits. An automated system can be designed to carry the key information that permits careful tracking of both production of documents and their use as exhibits.
It takes the staff time to see that the information is consistently and rigorously added to the system. Repository staff which support production functions are a logical candidate to perform this service.
Transcripts: Deposition and trial transcript were traditionally integrated into mainframe based automated litigation support systems before the PC revolution. Today, deposition, hearing, and trial transcripts can once again be added for full-text searching and reporting. Once added, users can review the entire transcript on-line, or go directly to the terms identified during the search process.
When organizational tools such as foldering and tagging are part of the application any transcript can be added into a "folder" to make organization of site data easy.
Deposition Reports: Creating an inventory of all deposition materials is an excellent way to insure that you have them all. A simple point-and-click access to deposition transcripts, exhibits, minu-scripts, and ASCII files make it easy to retrieve this critical data from the Web site.
The Internet provides a perfect network for distributing this information. With this inventory, users can quickly and easily find the materials they need, without having to search a database. Repository staff can coordinate the collection and processing of transcripts from court reporting services around the country.
Expert Witness Data: This information can be defined, gathered and stored in the repository. The use of relational tables in defining core data can facilitate maintenance and multiple use. The integration of full text capabilities, associated images and other data files allows for easy access to all relevant data.
Collaborative Tools: The Internet provides an excellent environment for collaboration. A case member can post a new calendar event on-line, and the new information is not only added to the shared calendar, but also e-mailed to the each member of the team. With a calendar attachment, the event information can automatically be added into PIM applications such as Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes or Merrill's Executech.
Attorney Work Product Library: This is an electronic library where users can post, store and retrieve their electronic documents including user created word processing files, spreadsheets, databases, PowerPoint presentations, Adobe PDF files, or any other electronic data. Once posted to this library, these work product documents can be made available to others who have appropriate access to the site. Once the document is posted, users can review it on-line, or download it to their local PC for editing or distribution. Users can create any number of folders within the library to help organize the library documents. To protect work product status encryption is used, so all documents posted and retrieved from the site are secure as they are transferred over the Internet.
Case Calendaring: A system can provide a single, central place to store, edit and modify case activities. Critical events like depositions, court hearings, and defense group meetings can be managed with this feature.
Cost Tracking Information: The Internet-based repository might provide the tools for creating case budgets and tracking costs against by matter and task.
Newsletter Reporting : The Internet repository can provide a bulletin board system where any case user can add a newsworthy item related to the case. This posting system provides a quick and easy way to disseminate critical information. Users can be sent directly to the news page upon login if a new item has been posted.
Bill Cwiklo is a principal consultant with Quorum-Lanier Legal Services, and is based in Los Angeles.