Niche Programs Solve Small Problems
WORKSHARE Technology, Expert Ease Software Inc., Levit & James Inc., Omtool Ltd. and Ozmosys Inc. all make legal utilities niche programs that solve small problems. These utilities work in conjunction with the larger programs lawyers use all the time, like e-mail programs and document management platforms. Utilities tackle issues that haven't yet been addressed in larger programs like Microsoft Corp.'s Word or Outlook.
Take Workshare's DeltaView. It performs one simple function: It compares an early draft of a document against a subsequent draft, and notes the changes. This process, called red-lining, has forever been critical at law firms. Instead of entrusting the job to a paralegal, lawyers can turn to a speedy piece of software: DeltaView can compare two 300-page documents in less than a minute.
DeltaView was launched in 1999 to compete with Lexis-Nexis' CompareWrite, which a lot of lawyers found buggy. Last quarter, Covington & Burling; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; and Foley & Lardner were among the latest firms to buy DeltaView.
Allison Walsh, Workshare's vice president of business development, is unapologetic about DeltaView's humble capabilities. "DeltaView isn't trying to be all things to all people," she says. "And we're not trying to change the way lawyers work -- only help them work a little bit better."
Expert Ease's Ely Razin used to be an associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. So it's no surprise that his company has done well with two niche products designed to make associates' lives a little easier.
The company's flagship product, Deal Proof, is a document proofreader. Deal Proof is designed to flag all of those little errors that are easy to miss, like case citation goofs, which make a brief look sloppy when caught by a judge.
The latest version of Deal Proof, 3.0, can read a document and spit back smart summaries of certain arguments. The summaries look a lot like Westlaw's headnotes, and are designed to make it much easier to wrap your arms around long, complex documents, such as lease agreements and certificates of incorporation. So far, the market is catching on.
More than 125 medium-sized and large firms are running Deal Proof, according to the company.
Expert Ease's QuickSift is a powerful search engine that sits atop a specific universe of documents. It's good for litigation that involves large electronic document productions. Users type in phrases they might hope to find ("We knew the cat food was flammable years ago, but didn't fix the recipe"), and QuickSift goes to work --much like Google crawling through Web-land.
QuickSift is newer than Deal Proof. But if it catches on, the phrase "document review" might lose its nausea-inducing associations with young associates. (American Lawyer Media Inc. has a small equity interest in Expert Ease.)
Levit & James
Levit & James has several utilities designed to help firms that are migrating from Corel Corp.'s WordPerfect to Microsoft's Word. Among them is Stylizer 1.2, which reformats documents (from clients, or others) into documents that are based on a firm's internal standards, styles and templates. It can also be used to process documents created in early version of Word, into more current editions (97/2000/XP.)
L&J also offers CrossEyes, which reveals the document formatting codes in Microsoft Word, resolving a pet peeve of many users who loved that feature in WordPerfect.
It opens a window at the bottom of a Word document, that shows each formatting element used, in-line with the text. Character formatting, paragraph formatting, section properties and field codes are displayed each in a separate color.
Salem, N.H.-based Omtool Ltd. has also done well with a niche product called LegalFax. The concept behind LegalFax is almost embarrassingly simple. When LegalFax is activated, documents sent as e-mail attachments are also automatically sent as faxes.
The usefulness of fax machines is quickly wearing out. And LegalFax only eliminates one easy step --pressing a few buttons on a fax machine. But, according to Scott Dockendorff, Omtool's vice president of marketing, the product is tailor-made for lawyers, who don't always approach their jobs with a risk-taking sense of adventure. "The fax is staid, and a little old-school, but for a lot of lawyers, it's still a necessity."
For lawyers who want to stay on top of client news and legal news in general, there's Ozmosys. For $50 a month, Ozmosys will search all of the leading legal Web sites, including Yahoo!, Greedy Associates and S.E.C. filings, for information and law-related press releases. Once a day, Ozmosys e-mail subscribers can link to what it finds. It's a simple program that connects lawyers to the ever-expanding world of the Web -- a big helper wrapped up in a small, neat package.