Ten Easy Ways to Get into Lots of Trouble with Your Litigation Support Software
It doesn't take much effort to botch your cases and create quite a bit of havoc.
By Catherine Pennington Paunov
SO YOUR law office has purchased litigation support software. Good for you. It's become an essential tool to track and manage work product, documents, interrogatories, depositions, images and other items associated with a case. Doubtless, your software was not inexpensive. Unfortunately, many firms fail to use the software effectively -- wasting money as well as valuable attorney and support staff time. More importantly, those firms also may shortchange clients.
So where do these firms go wrong? It's quite easy. Just follow these ten steps to assure litigation disaster.
1. Buy the wrong product in the first place.
Not all litigation support products are the same and, frankly, they shouldn't be. Different firms have different needs. Even different cases may have different needs. Some litigation support software handles documents very well, but not images. Others provide the ability to create and use a fixed index, while others allow very extensive annotations. Some provide both
Test any litigation support software you are considering against the types of cases your firm typically handles. Firms that choose software simply because the demo looked good or because a similar firm purchased it will likely waste their money.
In fact, you may need more than one brand of litigation support software if you have a case come in that requires different features than the one you already own.
While you are reviewing and testing various litigation support packages, include support staff, as well as attorneys who will actually be using the software.
2. Be sure it is so complex that your staff can't use it.
Some litigation support packages were originally written to be used by companies in the litigation support business running on large mainframe computers -- and are now being sold directly to law firms. Those companies had professional staff who had spent years learning how to use the software. Unless the software has been rewritten for general law office users, or you are planning to hire professional indexers experienced with the system, rethink your purchase decision.
3. Forget about training.
Even if your firm did buy software for general law office users, that doesn't mean you should skimp on training. Training is the most effective tool for insuring an effective and efficient implementation of litigation support software -- in fact for any type of software used in your office.
Whenever possible, get the training and accompanying manuals customized for your firm's needs. For example, if you handle mostly mass tort defense work, make sure the training materials are geared to your type of practice and any processes you have instituted. Although such custom training costs more to begin with, it can pay big dividends because your staff will be able to use the programs effectively.
4. Don't re-engineer your work processes.
Although you should get software that works with your typical cases, that doesn't mean you shouldn't rethink some of your processes. One firm began imaging incoming documents after installing litigation support softwar. It not only preserved documents, it saved countless hours in the long run.
This new process required the purchase of several scanners and retraining mailroom and reception staff. But it works for them
Their message: Use the software to rethink the way you work. Some litigation support packages even include a workflow component that may assist you in this re-engineering process.
5. Don't insist that everyone use the software.
In almost every firm, there are a few Luddites who simply refuse to use new software. What to do? If you really cannot insist they use the litigation support software, provide them and their immediate support staff with the tools needed to retrieve documents from the system. But it can be a dangerous precedent to exclude some cases from the system. In the long run, this precludes the kind of cross-checking that a good litigation support system offers after a few years of use and a number of cases.
6. Don't upgrade your hardware.
This is a common mistake, but it can lead to frustration and, eventually, failure of the system. Review your existing hardware before you begin looking at litigation support software.
Does your network have sufficient bandwidth to carry images and large documents? Do the workstations have enough RAM to load the software as well as the documents, images, etc.? Do they have fast enough processors to allow for quick access to documents, even if the user is performing a full text search? Are there enough scanners with optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities so that users know that new documents can be quickly loaded onto the litigation support system after arrival?
7. Don't link the software to other applications.
These links are essential to the efficient operation of your litigation support software, and more importantly, to your case.
Quickly retrieving the original word processing file from any location in your network or materials from another source in your file room is one of the key elements to case management.
For most attorneys, the need for these links is self-evident, even when there was an additional cost, but it is still surprising the number of firms that did not insist on or install them when they implemented their litigationsupport software.
8. Be sure the software cannot be installed on a standalone PC.
The inability to take the litigation support case file or at least the indexes to a deposition or trial is an almost fatal limitation.
Sure, you can take boxes of files, but simply retrieving the information quickly and efficiently will require the use of your litigation support system. By the same token, make sure all your litigation laptops are capable of handling the software, the files and the operating system necessary to run them.
9. Don't bother with upgrades and maintenance releases.
Most firms don't actually make a decision to not upgrade or install maintenance releases, they simply fail to plan for this eventuality. So release disks arrive and no one bothers to install them or check vendor Web site for updates. The secret to staying on top of these changes is to assign someone in the firm's technology department to be the contact.This person receives disks or email from the developer and is charged with testing them before installation on the production equipment.
He or she, too, is charged with periodically checking the vendor's Web site regarding changes, upgrades and maintenance issues, attending and participating in any users' group activities, and generally acting as liaison between the firm and the vendor.
10. Last, but not least; don't change anything.
Too many firms and corporate law departments get complacent. The software and hardware works just fine, so why should we make changes, especially if those changes are going to cost us?
The fact is that each year, developers are making significant improvements to litigation support software, adding features, creating links to other software, and enhancing indexing and abstracting features.
Many of these features will actually save you money in the long run, by reducing the need for professional indexers. Budget for innovation. It pays big dividends.
Attorney Catherine Pennington Paunov is the owner of Pennington Consulting, a computer and technology consulting firm specializing in law offices. The firm has offices in Staten Island, N.Y. and St. Petersburg, Fla.