Protecting Your Firm's Litigation Documents
How to keep your trial paperwork under firm control, yet allow remote access by authorized users.
By Ian Campbell
YOUR FIRM is facing a large litigation matter, and you're debating whether to put all the documents and exhibits in some type of repository that can be accessed from outside your office.
As you consider all your options for remote access (Internet-based repositories; outsourcing to off-site agencies; etc.), you must ask a threshold question: "Do I want to maintain firm control of my documents in-house?"
If the answer is yes, you have some key issues to decide.
Document storage on your own network requires hard drive storage space, tape back-up, a reliable phone connection, database software, and a talented staff. If you've already got the required set-up in place, and you want to keep your data in-house, the next challenge is determining how to do it.
Over the past few years, products have emerged that offer the power to share documents with co-counsel, clients, experts and other offices across the street and around the world.
As exciting as this new technology is, several questions remain:
- Can I simply remote access my existing software?
- How much access do I want to give to people who need to see my documents?
- How will they use these documents?
- Is my information secure?
- What is my exposure?
In today's market, there are several choices for firms that want to access in-house documents remotely.
You can choose from remote control software,thin-clients or Web-based access.
Several products (such as PC Anywhere, Net Meeting, Timbuktu, VNC and Reach Out) allow "remote control" access --allowing users to remotely connect to a computer on your firm's network.
Once the connection is established, the user (basically) "remote controls" the programs (and data residing on the host computer) from anywhere in the world.
While the setup and configuration on the firm end is quite simple, the client end can be quirky and unreliable.
Performance is relatively slow when each command generated at the user end needs to be sent through to the workstation, be performed, and a new screen shot sent back to the remote user.
Additionally, the host workstation must be dedicated computer running "host software." There are some security concerns where casual users (even those who are not employees of your firm) could have access to other systems this workstation has the rights to see on the firm's network.
All of these issues are major concerns for some firms.
Citrix and the Microsoft Terminal Server represent another method to access your firm's databases and images.
The "thin client" process is relatively simple, after the purchase of a heavy-duty server loaded with a program like Citrix or Terminal Server.
Both applications are installed and updated on servers, instead of on each client workstation. Information is transferred by sending video data and screen refresh data only.
Be prepared to spend some money here as Citrix requires a heavy-duty dedicated server to run properly. For 50 users, plan on dual Zeon processors with 1 to 2 GB of RAM just for one application.
If the application is Summation or Concordance, you load the appropriate number of licenses for that application onto the Server.
Each person who wants to connect to that server must have a Citrix or Terminal Server client license loaded onto their workstation or laptop in order to receive the simple screen shots generated by the Server.
For Citrix, the end user can communicate with the server using either Citrix client software or through a standard Internet connection with a Web browser using an interface called NFuse.
The user's browser requires Citrix ActiveX Control for Microsoft Internet Explorer, a plug-in for Netscape Navigator or a Java Applet for any Java-enabled device, all set up on the user's workstation.
The upside with this process is that the user is accessing the application in its native format and performance is comparable to actually sitting at a workstation in the office.
The downsides are many. Citrix may be a dramatic shift from your firm's current technology direction and the price of purchasing a new server, ongoing maintenance and staffing requirements may sink many project proposals.
If your plan is to share information with non-employees, clients, experts or co-counsel, be advised that using a thin client setup allows these individuals complete access to the application.
More importantly, you'll need to evaluate the benefits of training any users of your thin client application, especially when some may only be casual users.
Lastly, is it worthwhile to purchase expensive full software licenses for each and every casual users?
The third option is to work with software that allows you to access the data via the Web, while internal users access the same data through their regular interface.
Most litigation software companies are currently working on a Web-based interface. The thought behind that being, someday, we'll all sit in on the Internet and access our favorite software program via a simple Web interface along with our word processor, calendaring, case management and accounting information.
As the words "portal" and "ASP" (application service provider) enter our vocabulary, you start to see how all these pieces coming together in a central easy- to-use interface (portal).
No doubt this will be a great benefit to a law firm.
Introspect, Summation and LiveNote have announced plans for full Web interfaces during 2001.
Two companies -- iCONECT and Ringtail Solutions -- have released Web-based connections to database information.
Both products allow a firm to set up password protected restricted access to database information and security can be enhanced with the use of key-encryption, nominated IP addresses, and nominated phone number direct dial access.
The Ringtail Suite is an Intranet knowledge management environment for litigation support. Ringtail allows collaborative and distributed access to structured and full text search and analysis, using a Web browser. Case information is stored in a MS SQL, Oracle, or Access databases.
Another option, iCONECT, works with an existing litigation specific database program (It provides an in-house repository interface to the Concordance Litigation Management Database System (Dataflight Software, Inc.)
It is a Web browser application for Intranet/Extranet/Internet needs, and offers security levels, searching, annotations, tagging, report printing, case management and image viewing of your Concordance databases as they sit on your network in their native format and location.
The cons of Web-based access?
Keep in mind that you must have an Internet connection, and your databases must be maintained by your internal administrative staff.
If your data is not already sitting in Concordance, Access or SQL, you must import it into one of these formats.
As the global economy continues to impact the way that firms practice law, the options open to most firms will continue to grow.
Gone are the days of making six copies of 100,000 documents for co-counsel. Instead, lawyers now can create online repositories, or outsource to agencies, or burn CD-ROMs to distribute documents.
This technology is available now to help your firm better manage any litigation that requires multi-party access.
And we can only guess what exciting innovations the future will bring!
Ian Campbell is president of iCONECT, L.L.C. E-mail:. Web: www.iconect.net.