CBA TECHNOLOGY ROUNDTABLE
What Legal Tech Experts Are Saying
Law Practice Management listens in as experts from both sides of the meridian discuss the burning technology issues in law firms today . . . and what’s next.
Simon Chester is Partner in the KNOWlaw Group of McMillan Binch in Toronto (www.mcbinch.com).
"I have a long-standing interest in technology. Way back in the days when the Web was a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, I chaired the annual ABA TECHSHOW® and came into contact with a posse of experts—now friends—who lured me to the challenge of legal technology."
Dave Bilinsky is Practice Management Advisor of the Law Society of British Columbia (www.lawsociety.bc.ca).
"I focus my current work on practice management issues, emphasizing strategic planning and career satisfaction issues through the application of technology. Like Jeff Flax and Simon Chester, I’m a past co-chair of ABA TECHSHOW."
Keely Dunn is President and CEO of dunn legaltech ltd. in Calgary (www.legaltech.ca).
"I practiced law for about three years with the firm of MacDonald, McMahon, Kingstone & Hanley, before the slippery slope toward full-time geekdom was hard to resist."
Jeff Flax is National Technology and Litigation Support Administrator for the Federal Defender Program, Denver, CO (www.jflax.com).
"I manage technology and litigation support nationally for the federal public defender. We represent people in the federal courts who are charged with crimes in which defendants have been determined to be indigent. I’ve been doing this for 14 years. I also am a past co-chair of ABA TECHSHOW.Ó"
Dan Pinnington is Director, practicePRO, Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Com-pany, in Toronto (www.practicepro.ca).
"I work to encourage lawyers to adopt risk management strategies and assist them in adapting to the changing practice climate, in particular incorporating technology into their practices. Before joining LPIC, I practiced as a litigator."
In January 2002, Jordan Furlong, the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Bar Association’s magazine National, organized a teleconferenced roundtable on the current state of technology and the practice of law. Pulling together legal technology experts from both sides of the meridian, the group included David Bilinsky, Keely Dunn, Jeff Flax and Daniel Pinnington. Simon Chester served as moderator.
A detailed version of the roundtable appears in the March/April 2002 issue of National. But we had the good fortune to eavesdrop in advance, skimming some provocative thoughts on important topics, which we share here.
Where Is the Legal Market Heading?
BILINSKY: The mood today is one of entrenchment. People are very hesitant to invest in new technology. Lawyers are trying to do things faster, better, cheaper with what they have—to wring the towel a bit tighter and not look to any new software product or initiatives such as Microsoft Windows XP.
DUNN: With the global-wide "recession," if I can use that term, people are a little more worried. But you would like to think that some practitioners and firms will take a more proactive stance and say, this is the time when I should make an investment if I’m really going to leap and bound over my competition. Larger businesses understand that in times of downturn you should invest in people and technology.
PINNINGTON: Looking at statistics from the practicePRO Web site in terms of operating systems last year, slightly more than 20 percent of people are still on Windows 95, about 45 percent are on Windows 98, only 8 percent are on Windows 2000 and 12 percent are on Windows NT. Clearly people aren’t rushing out to get the latest and greatest.
FLAX: It’s difficult to justify upgrades in capital purchases at this time, given the economy and given that firms seem to be concentrating on their core business and adjusting their costs accordingly. So, it’s hard to make the business case for upgrading to Windows 2K and XP, especially when the previous operating system seems to be working fine.
So What Is the Priority?
PINNINGTON: Security has to be a big priority, although it is fair to say there are many managing partners who don’t appreciate the significance of the issue. In addition, one of the principal problems is that solos and smaller firms don’t have the staff or external resources that can help them properly deal with this issue.
BILINSKY: Network Computing reported on an FBI study that found, while 70 percent of all computer attacks may come via the Internet, 75 percent of all dollar losses come from internal intrusions. So the focus has to be on improving internal security, from passwords that are stuck to monitors up to policies on acceptable use of network and e-mail resources, what is and isn’t appropriate to have on your computer, and what kind of dial-in and remote-access procedures you have established.
Are You Really Using What You Have?
DUNN: My clients are realizing that the investment has to be in the training. They want to learn how to use what they’ve got more effectively. Increasingly, the questions are not about what they should buy, but how they can learn more, whether I can teach them to automate certain tasks, what privacy and security issues they should be aware of, and what steps they can take to actually lock down the office to address those issues.
BILINSKY: Maybe the problem is that the products just don’t work the way we need, or want, or understand them to work. One thing that I’m curious about is the growth of Apple and the Mac environment versus the Microsoft environment. Microsoft has been occupied by the Justice Department lawsuits, and we just heard that AOL has launched a lawsuit against Microsoft. Redmond is also under attack for the security problems in its software. Owing to these pressures, it seems, Microsoft rather took its eye off the ball in terms of how to make its products new and exciting, creative and intuitive.
FLAX: There are arguments for Macs—they are probably more user-friendly and don’t have the stability issues. But we are pretty well entrenched in the Windows environment.
DUNN: I’m hearing a bit of interest in Linux. And I’m starting to tell practitioners—even in very small operations—that they could have the benefits of a server-based system, with a convenient way to share files across their network, using a Linux operating system. Interest really picks up when you say, "There are ways to do this that aren’t so complicated. It just seems scary and intimidating." And interest particularly rises once you use the word "free" in response to the question of licensing expense.
How Do You Get a Return on Your Investment?
BILINSKY: You have to align your technology acquisitions and implementation with the objectives in your business plan. Many lawyers don’t have a business plan or a strategic direction—they just take what comes in the door. It’s no surprise that they don’t achieve a significant cost saving or advantage from their technology investment decisions. Those decisions will flounder in the same way that their practices will flounder if there’s no hand on the tiller. When you have a strategic direction, you can maximize your implementation of technology so it takes you toward your direction, your goal.
DUNN: The more that lawyers learn about what they can do with their technology, the more I can convince them of a critical point—that to see a real return on this investment, they need to change their billing practices and, in essence, change the way in which they practice law.
FLAX: We must demonstrate that implementing new and upgraded technologies is cost-effective. In government—and it is equally necessary in law firms—we approach the challenge from a requirements analysis standpoint and define what problem we’re really trying to solve, rather than bringing in the solution and then finding a problem for it. So the strategy is requirements-based, and it involves alternative analysis to determine what is the best and most cost-effective solution for the problem.
How about Innovation within Firms?
BILINSKY: The best example of innovation that I know, in the Canadian context, is Gowling Lafleur Henderson. The firm has built a database that receives information from its banking clients on new foreclosures. This database then drives an automated document generation, document management and case management system. The banking clients can access the status of their files by signing onto a secure Web site and viewing select information that is pulled from the database on demand. This leverages the lawyer’s oversight ability and greatly increases the productivity of the entire system. It allows clients to see the complete, up-to-date status of their files. It is a terrific way to bind a client to a law firm technologically.
PINNINGTON: At LPIC, we work to defend lawyers against malpractice claims. For a number of years, we have had a decisions database that we share via the Web with outside defense counsel. We are in the process of converting that database to an extranet. The extranet will continue to allow access to the decisions database, but it will also allow access to other information and include both electronic discussion list and newsgroup functionality. This will allow our defense counsel to collectively share ideas and thoughts on professional liability issues.
DivorceMate created a Word add-on that inserts a table into an MS Word document. That table contains a two-column his and hers NFP calculation. The table cells are formatted to automatically calculate net family property from the figures entered into the table. Now, with the click of a toolbar button, judges can insert this table into their judgments. It has proven very popular, to the point that DivorceMate posted it for download on its Web site.
FLAX: Within the next few years I expect that electronic filing of pleadings, motions, notices and other applications will be a requirement imposed on all parties. This will challenge the way we catalog and index case information internally, as well as how we deal with electronic discovery.
BILINSKY: Government mandating of electronic filings will probably be the next driving focus in terms of adoption and utilization of software by lawyers. Lawyers will scramble to implement and become proficient in these different technologies, whether they’re PDF based, XML based or a combination of the two, or something totally different.
Who Wants to Use a PDA?
DUNN: The productivity gains that a PDA allows are tremendous. PDAs are very cost-effective and incredibly easy to use. Even the most technophobic lawyer can pick one up and learn how to use it with minimal or no outside help.
PINNINGTON: For many lawyers, a basic PDA should pay for itself in an hour and a half.
BILINSKY: And the possibilities are many. WestLaw is on a wireless service called Palm.net that is accessible through the Palm VII, a wireless PDA. A lawyer equipped with one of these walked into court on an application. The lawyer on the other side, in his argument, decided to cite the case Smith v. Jones. Our trusty lawyer signed onto WestLaw, ran a citation history on Smith v. Jones and found the case was no longer good law. So when it was his turn to speak to the judge, our trusty lawyer simply handed his PDA up to the bench and said, "My learned friend cited the case of Smith v. Jones. The decision is no longer good law." The judge looked at the citation history on the Palm and—after saying, "Cool"—said, "Print that up, and you’ve just won your argument."
That may be the killer application for lawyers, when they can access QuickLaw or other research services on a wireless basis in court.
Are There Special Tips for System Security?
FLAX: Firms should educate all staff members about Internet technology and, specifically, the tracks that are left across the Internet during its use. They should address how to gauge the level of confidentiality and sensitivity of messages and other content that’s sent over the Web.
Hire a computer security consultant who will look for the weaknesses in your firm’s systems and advise you on, along with costs, what should be done in a prioritized manner.
PINNINGTON: If you have a cable or DSL connection on your computer or network, a firewall is an absolute must to protect yourself from outside intruders.
Some firms implement a policy that users must change their passwords frequently, typically every 60 to 90 days. This is considered best practice for maintaining security, although a minority of firms actually do this.
Putting a password on your screensaver is also a great way to protect information on your machine. If you walk away after logging in to everything, anyone who sits down at your desk has full access to everything that you do. A screensaver with a password can prevent this from happening.
Can a Web Site Grow a Law Firm Startup?
BILINSKY: Small firms can have an effective Web site. How they use it for business recruiting purposes will depend on the area of practice and what they are seeking to gauge. A good example is Greg Siskind’s www.visalaw.com. Siskind started off as a small immigration lawyer, and through his site has blossomed and become a large presence across the United States and Canada in the area of immigration law. He was able to do this because immigration is particularly suited to reaching out to clients in diverse geographic locations and time zones via the Web.
PINNINGTON: A Web site is a fantastic way to market a firm. I know of one firm that religiously surveys new clients on a number of issues. It learned that more than 95 percent of its new clients came to the firm’s site to review information about the firm and, in particular, information about the specific lawyer they were going to see.
Blue-skying the Next Technologies
FLAX: Litigation support and courtroom presentation software are the next big thing. The two market leaders are TrialDirector and Sanction.
BILINSKY: The neatest product I’m interested in at the moment is CaseMap, part of the DecisionQuest suite of products. CaseMap helps you distill the strategy underlying your case by looking at the associations between key facts, documents, people and issues in the case. It is more of a thinking-process software rather than a crunch-and-grind product.
SearchLight is a product equivalent to Summation. It is being used in very big, very document-intensive cases. It allows the user to search through multiple documents and transcripts and find the needed bit of evidence. It also is used for the presentation of digital or paperless trials.
DUNN: Large firms have been using virtual private networks, or VPNs, and other technologies to allow firm members to access data remotely. What is really exciting now is that we see the cost of this technology dropping so that it’s attainable for small firms.
Want to read more of what the experts had to say? For a copy of the full roundtable transcript, visit www.cba.org/national. To obtain copies of National, contact Jordan Furlong at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• CaseMap: www.casemap.com
• DecisionQuest: www.decisionquest.com
• DivorceMate: www.divorcemate.com
• Sanction: www.verdictsystems.com
• SearchLight: www.searchlight.ca
• TrialDirector: www.indatacorp.com/software/trialdirector.html