Technology Tools for Litigation and the Law Office: Why Use Them and What Are They?

Let's face it! It is very time-consuming and expensive to manually prepare and control a case for litigation or for other legal purposes. Traditionally we have used tools such as pens, legal pads, paper, file cabinets, file folders, expandos and notebooks to manage case materials. For example, with depositions we color code issues with colored paperclips or with stickums for particular issues. If one drops out we are faced with going through the whole deposition to locate the spot where it came from. Manually controlling paper is drudgery and is not what the practice of law is about. It does not measure the "worth" of a lawyer but oftentimes measures how much paper he or she has shuffled. The goal should be to spend more time analyzing information and less time looking for it .

However, analyzing information is getting more difficult as business, government agencies and law offices continue to generate 900 million pages of information each day, including 76,000,000 letters and 21,000,000 other documents. The amount of digital information in offices is doubling every three years. From simple to large complex cases attorneys are struggling to handle paper and electronic information associated with e-mails, databases, interrogatories, depositions, request for production of documents, issue coding, etc. The only viable solution to this problem is to control your case information using a combination of paper and paperless (digital) information management technology.

Digitally controlling case information means converting paper and other analog information into a digital format and then using computers to store, access, retrieve, organize, print and send this information easily and instantaneously - in effect creating a digital electronic trial notebook. Digital information can be in a text, sound, graphics, or video format.

Reasons to Convert and Control Information Digitally

There are several reasons to control information digitally:

  • Search and retrieve - E-mail, documents, depositions, trial transcripts, case law and other case materials can be searched and information retrieved in seconds;
  • Organize - Legal and factual information can be coded and organized for witness, chronological, and legal issue reports;
  • Analyze - Factual and legal information can be grouped for case analysis;
  • Generate reports - A variety of reports can be instantly generated such as witness, chronological, legal or factual proposition summaries. Witness kits can be prepared easily;
  • Store information - Computers can store a voluminous amount of facts and law. One CD-ROM disk or Flash drive can store many gigabytes of information;
  • Collaborate - Digital information can be easily shared in a group-computing environment where participants are located anywhere in the world;
  • Portable - Document images, depositions, and all case materials can be easily taken with you or provided to co-counsel or opposing counsel quickly and at a low cost; and
  • Presentation - Exhibits involving graphs or documents can be effectively presented to jurors and changed on the fly as your case progresses. Significant time can be saved presenting your case in a digital format.

Handling Paper and Paperless Information on a Daily Basis

The reality of case management is that generally you will be using both paper and digital information in your case. Much has been written of moving from a "paper" to a "paperless" office and litigation system and in spite of slow progress many firms hold to the goal. Part of the reason for the slow growth is that most software packages focus on control of the digital electronic format of the information but pay no attention to controlling and indexing the paper in your cases that is not converted to a digital format. The documents in the law office of today as well as the office of the future are on a mix of media such as paper, images, microfiche, etc. To solve this problem integrated document management systems that control the paper and paperless information in your case are available.

For example, Smeadlink software (www.smead.com) is a modular product focusing on controlling and organizing the paper and electronic documents from one central hub or command post named the Librarian. It is built around Microsoft Access and the software is customizable for the end user. Its tabset and tabs visual metaphor is appealing and intuitive for the end user. The information is provided in a cascading presentation to assist the user in not getting lost in the program. Besides electronic control of information it creates electronic indexed on-demand and bar code tracking labels for paper materials. It also and manages faxes and has other control features for paper and electronic data in your cases.

Integrated document record systems should include:

  • Central interface - The search and retrieval of digital information and images should proceed from a central command post;
  • Customized on-demand indexed labels - Most if not all-legal professionals are immediately sold on the need for the creation and indexing of file folders or document labels;
  • Fax management - Law firms can index, print or distribute digitally faxed documents;
  • Bar code tracking - Provides the location, date taken, etc. of documents, files or boxes of documents;
  • Customizable databases and images - Law firms have for years used imaging in paper intensive litigation cases for documents such as contracts, leases, etc. They can be attached to a database record and become part of the client's electronic file;
  • Computer file management - The indexing and retrieving of electronic documents on networked PC's is one of the most wanted applications in the legal industry;
  • Archive management- Allows you to archive documents for storage purposes; and
  • Customizable workflow module - As firms increasingly automate using both paper and paperless technique workflow will become of increasing importance.

Applying the Computer Concepts to the Legal Applications

Listed below are explanations of the primary computer concepts as they are applied to different litigation and other office applications and some commercial products. For example, once you understand the concept of "full text" then by using "full text" software you will discover that one can locate information in a deposition or trial transcript within seconds. Unfortunately there is not a "killer" software program that incorporates all of these concepts. For example, Summation Blaze 5.0 has an integrated database, full text, outliner and imaging module while LiveNote has integrated full text and real-time modules.

Outliners

Outliners, usually found in word processors, can be used to create a blueprint for how you intend to handle the preparation and presentation of your case for trial. Outliners enable you to put together a "computerized" trial notebook. It can be your "command post" for trial preparation, management, and presentation. Products: Microsoft Word, Summation Blaze, and WordPerfect.

Full Text

Full text search and retrieval systems enable one to search for any word in a "full text" format stored on a computer disk and then go to that exact location. For example, if a lawyer were searching for the term "fired" in a deposition the software would immediately find the term every time it was used in the document. Full text documents include trial transcripts, witness interviews, expert reports, e-mail and interrogatories. Essentially any document produced in a word processor format is a "full text" document. The cost for converting paper into a full text format by a litigation service bureau can range from $1 to $5 a page depending on the condition and format of information on the paper. Products: LiveNote, Summation Blaze, and Zyindex.

The video of a witness can be digitally synchronized with the full text so that the text and video are always in alignment. After the deposition, an attorney can simply search for a relevant name, date, or phrase in a video via a computer, and the computer will automatically advance to the section of the video where the words were spoken. Products: DepositionDirector and VideoNote.

Scanning and Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

The process of scanning documents can save time and money and allow for later retrival. Scanning is the process of putting a document or picture through a scanner that converts the paper into a digital bitmap image. The document can remain as a non-readable image and linked to a database for retrieval or it can be converted into ASCII readable text. To convert it to ASCII readable text optical character recognition (OCR) software is used that converts the imaged text such as letters or numbers that appear on a page into a digital readable format. OCR Products - Omnipage and TrueType.

Databases

Databases are used to capture discrete specific information from documents and other legal materials for witness, chronological or other reports. Databases can be used for case document information, witness lists, exhibit lists, employee lists, marketing information, brief banks, exhibit lists, work product information, conflict checking, etc. Images of documents are oftentimes linked to databases for viewing purposes. Products: Concordance, Microsoft Access, Paradox, Smeadlink, Summation

Imaging

Images are an "electronic snapshot" of a paper document. It is important to note that images CANNOT be searched using full text software. The words on an imaged document are not in a "full text" or ASCII format and thus not searchable. To locate a document image the image must be linked with an index or database. The cost of creating an image is around 10 cents a page. However, there is an additional cost of creating a database record to link the image. Imaging Products: ScanRevolution, Smeadlink, and Watermark.

Litigation Service Bureaus

Many firms are outsourcing their litigation support needs such as database creation, scanning and trial presentation to professional service bureaus. Self-converting paper to controllable digital information has many pitfalls for the unwary. Examples of Service Bureaus include CD-Lit and inData.

Digital Broadcasting Legal Proceedings

Now using the Internet the video, audio and text of any deposition, trial proceeding, mediation, hearing or any legal proceeding can be "broadcast" real-time or archived over a regular phone line to the viewer's desktop using a software only solution. It provides parties, experts, corporate counsel and others the opportunity to view the video, audio and text of a deposition "live" from anywhere in the world over the Internet using a regular phone line. Products: DepoCast.

Real-time Transcription

Real-time is the capability of the court reporter to use a computer-assisted stenograph machine to have the testimony of a witness appear on a computer monitor in plain English within seconds from the time the words are spoken. It is effectively used in depositions and trial. LiveNote is one example of such products.

Electronic Trial Presentation

There are three primary components to presenting your case in an electronic format. You need graphics and imaging software, presentation software, and presentation viewing equipment. Graphics software enables the user to create bar graphs, pie charts, timelines, organization charts and a host of other graphical depictions that provides the viewer with a visual impression by use of pictures and data. Examples of these products include Microsoft PowerPoint and Visio. Imaging software allows you to scan important documents into a digital format. Opticon, ScanRevolution, and Smeadlink are examples of imaging products.

After you have created graphics for a case or imaged in documents, then presentation software is needed to present graphs, charts, images, video or sound to the trier of fact through display equipment. Presentation software should enable you to easily retrieve the digitized evidence and then use specialized tools to enhance and draw attention to specific portions of the exhibit for the legal audience's benefit. Noted trial presentation consultant Gary Hilton who has participated in the Exxon Valdez case and O.J. Simpson case says "using digital electronic presentation greatly enhances the juror's understanding of your case". General graphics or image software packages have some limited built in presentation features that may fulfill your presentation needs. Examples of these productsinclude Microsoft PowerPoint, TrialDirector, and Trialpro.

The two primary types of presentation equipment are monitors and LCD panels or projectors. Presentation monitors provide a direct view and good image quality depending on its resolution. Monitors are different than televisions in that they have higher resolution capabilities and are able to handle a variety of digital formats such as video, graphics, images, sound, etc. LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) Projectors and Panels are the most popular display technology for computers. The latest models can handle full motion video, can display millions of color and project at a 1024 X 768 resolution or greater. Examples of such products include inFocus and Proxima.

One can practice law instead of shuffling paper but it requires a commitment to learn about technology and then properly apply it to your cases. Properly applied, it will enable you to digitally organize and control your office and case materials - whether legal or factual. This will enable you to focus on the analysis and presentation of your cases instead of on the location and retrieval of information.

Copied to clipboard