Volume 18, Number 4
June 2001

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

By Alan Pearlman and Stephen J. Lief

Approximately 20 years ago, our world began a significant change that would affect most if not all of our lives forever. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the personal computer—and, again, note this is "approximately!" Using an approximation is the only way to phrase it, because it is actually very difficult to determine the moment of creation of the first truly personal computer. Some might say that Tandy-Radio Shack’s TRS-80 counts in the mix. Likewise, others argue that the Heathkit hobby computers belong in the forefront. And, of course, many would muse that the Altair, NorthStar, Zilog, and others belong on the list. At this rate, the list would be far too long to print, and still some would be missing.

The development of the PC for the legal professional can be compared in importance only to the development of the ballpoint pen, the successor to the quill pen that was the successor to the feather pen. Yet, some among us have yet to fully embrace computers! Certainly, the advent of the PC has dramatically changed the practice of law—many lawyers now type their own documents, eliminating or reducing the necessity of secretarial help for rote transcription services.

Remember the Manual Typewriter?

 

The debate began with the introduction of the PC into law practice. Could the expensive PC really replace the less expensive typewriter? We can remember the days of blackouts, floods, and other disasters, natural and otherwise, when law firms simply turned off their newfound friend, the IBM Selectric, and dragged out the old manual version from the storehouse. Today, a firm would need a very large alternative power supply to run the system, or they may as well go home for the day!

Let’s take our time machine back a few short years. Do you remember when your first PC had 512K of RAM? That was a lot; 64K was standard, and committees decided on upgrades to 128K. The maximum supported standard was 640K. All your friends would ask "What in the world do you need so much power for? You can never fill that thing up!" We fondly recall my TRS-80 ("trash 80" as we all referred to it), with 25-minute waits to load my word-processing program, ScriptSit! What fun that was! You had to load the program into the PC via a Radio Shack tape recorder. After the load, you had a computer word processor. We laugh at this now, but remember carbon paper and onion-skin paper? That was how some of us produced and processed our divorce matters and copies, so this system was a real boost to productivity when it came to saving work product, although you had to backward load it to a blank cassette tape. What fun it was to go back and find that copy of the petition by following the numbers on the tape counter. It was long, tedious, and cumbersome, but it was computing.

We now have CD-ROMs, but before that there were 31/2-inch floppy disks; before that, 51/2-inch and 8 1/8-inch floppies, and before those, cassette tapes that served as a storage medium, blithering with every bit read, copied, or loaded. West gave the biggest boost to the CD-ROM era when it came out with law on CDs; but, boy, how we panicked: Do we really have to change CDs? Many speaking engagements centered around such challenging questions as, "How many CDs will West put the law on?" and "How hard is it to change from disk 1 to disk 2?" One stock answer: "Well, let’s see, you go through three years of college, then three years of law school, then pass the mother lode of all exams with the bar—and you’re still having trouble taking out CD 1 and inserting CD 2?"

Next was the advent of CD towers and jukeboxes to house the vast collection of discs. Some firms had one of every case ever designed in the United States, preferring licensing LoisLaw’s oh-so-many gigabytes of data on their CDs to searching Lexis or West online.

Software Madness

 

Don’t get us started thinking about word processing systems, oh, too late. Who remembers WordStar? Or, better yet, my first purchase of WordStar 2000 plus Legal Edition. (It’s in a nice box taking up space next to a TRS-80 in the basement.) Do you know that there is still a version of WordStar for Windows 2000? You needed to combine certain keyboard strokes to perform a task—i.e., Control S to save—and a secretary or temporary assistant who mastered the system became worth his or her weight in gold. Support staff who mastered the system in the early years could write their own tickets, for if they left you, they left you hangin’! There was almost nothing along the lines of help using WordStar. Back then, the competition was MultiMate and IBM’s DisplayWrite, the first dedicated desktop computer system (which could have been a PC), and their subsequent versions. Who could stand "paginating" their documents, or spare the time to do it—but paginate we did, at least if we wanted to print out the documents we had created.

There was Samna (later AmiPro and after acquisition by Lotus, WordPro). By far the most advanced system was Xywrite, a memory-dependent and -intensive program way ahead of its time, supporting features such as allowing the user to open and work on as many as nine documents simultaneously. Try that trick now! (Incidentally, we have an unopened Xywrite, found in the bowels of the basement, and first person to contact us gets it.)

To jog your memory a bit more—can you recall Satellite Systems, Inc.? Okay, but what program did they develop? Yep, they called it WordPerfect, generally accepted as the most common denominator of word processors: pre-Microsoft Word, the classic WP5.1.

Let’s also reminisce about document assembly programs. In terms of indescribable systems development, there was HotDocs for document assembly, and before that, WorkForm and WorkTool. From the Blumberg Company we had Excelsior Legal’s Document Libraries. Today, lawyers wonder what they would do without their document assembly program to punch out quick and efficient documents.

As for contact management, remember those past greats, the pop-up programs such as SideKick, Lotus Metro, PackRat, Ecco and EccoPro, and, of course, Act from Symantec? PackRat was infamous for one of its upgrades that deleted previous entries instead of converting them to the new version’s format. Today, most if not all of us use Microsoft Outlook (referred to fondly by the pros, due to its extreme security failings, as Microsoft LookOut). Still, some use Goldmine and/or Act, both great contact management tools. Also available to the highest bidder: sealed basement copies of PackRat, Ecco, and EccoPro. (Somebody, please help clean up some basement space!)

Then, there were highly valuable program tools: Arborist’s decision tree analytic system, Lotus Agenda (a database program that escapes categorization and description), developed such a loyal user base, the developers couldn’t pull the plug on the product, even after the company clearly had bet its future on Notes. By the way, anyone remember cc:Mail? Anyone still using cc:Mail? It is amazing that Lotus created the first truly commercially successful spreadsheet, a very credible contact manager in Metro, Agenda, cc:Mail, and then Notes. Talk about a software company repeating its formula for success—that’s so very hard to do!

Further jogging of our memories recalls relics of the past (and some very good case management programs that developed the adage "here today—gone tomorrow") such as Power Law and Gravity’s Verdict. Now, we seem to have a choice among Amicus Attorney, TimeMatters, or ProLaw. We also still have a few Microsoft goodies in our stash—the most favorite was Microsoft’s Bob, the guy who was suppose to teach you how to become more computer literate and the forerunner to the pesky Clippy, the damned paper clip that never goes away in Microsoft Word.

Fun Toys

 

Again, the basement storehouse has plenty of good and not-so-good packages. Recall the neat handheld scanner WordWand, a small pencil-like device that skimmed over text in books and transformed it to Word or WordPerfect within your word processor? Look at new trade paper ads today—it was the forerunner to the C-Pen, from C-Technologies, being marketed now. Remember the video collections of how-tos that preceded help files? It was always fun to watch a videotape while sitting at the computer desk; it walked you through things, but you had to run back and forth between the computer room and the room with the TV and VCR!

No article of this nature would be complete without a reference to the Internet. Who would have thought that this medium would have taken off in light speed! Although, if you are truly a computer aficionado, you know that the Internet was developed in 1945-1946 and was used by a group of scientists to discuss Cold War and global issues via a green screen terminal. Anyone who envisioned the takeoff of the Internet could have been rich today! It goes without saying that in about 75 years, someone will be writing about the old technologies of the past and the by-then obsolete Internet, and dot-com winners and losers will be among their noteworthy praise.

All in all, when you take a look back at whence we came, we can truly say, "We’ve come a long way, baby." And we finish that sentence with the rest of the verse: "But we’ve still got a long way to go!"

Alan Pearlman is a practicing attorney in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. In addition to his 28 years of active trial practice, he is the author of the nationally syndicated column, "The Electronic Lawyer" and a frequent speaker at national legal technology seminars. Stephen J. Lief advises his fellow attorneys on the latest in practical and profitable technology applications, including automated litigation support, document imaging, and voice recognition systems.

 

I’m Still Waiting

Even though we have come a long way, we really do have a long way to go. In that regard some of our friends and colleagues have given us some food for thought about what they’re still waiting for:

• [I’m waiting for] truly effective voice dictation that can also run the various software I use (Amicus, PCLaw, WP8.0), a PDA that incorporates a phone with an earpiece, and an earpiece for my cell phone that has an "answer/hang up" button on the cord near the mike.—David Zachary Kaufman

• [I’m waiting for] a scanner that will scan a form to your screen and allow both direct fill in from the word processor and printing. And I’m still waiting for Scripsit for Windows.—Art Mouton

• You’ve really opened up a sluice for my wishes/unfulfilled expectations. Tired of being treated like a red-headed stepchild, I demand more consideration and greater availability for applications for Macintosh users! For example: Telephony for the Mac, á la PalTalk, etc.; desktop ASPs—c’mon now, it can’t be all that hard! And cross-platform applications.—Judith Jones

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