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Technology - Property
Technology Property Editor: Gerald J. Hoenig, 8495 Caney Creek Landing, Alpharetta, GA 30005, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology—Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.
Be Informed When Purchasing Legal Technology
When this editor started to practice law in 1969, technology purchasing decisions for law offices were generally limited to what types of typewriters, dictating machines, and copiers to purchase. With the plethora of hardware and software available now, equipping a law office to best promote efficiency, profitability, and work product quality can be a time-consuming task.
Take a look at the following incomplete list that illustrates the scope of the numerous purchase possibilities available.
Because no law office has an unlimited budget, priorities have to be set. In addition to judging an item’s usefulness and effectiveness in relation to its price, the time it takes to install the technology and train lawyers and staff in its use also should be considered.
A wealth of information is available to assist the purchaser. But sometimes the overabundance of information is more of a curse than a blessing. Sorting through all the informational material and determining what is actually reliable can be a full-time job.
Because it is often helpful to know what technology others in the same practice area are using, this editor will be conducting several online surveys of Section members during the remainder of the year and reporting on the results in future columns.
CLE Programs and Technology Shows
The American Bar Association provides a number of valuable services to assist in the purchasing process. During the past few years, the RPTE Section has presented a number of CLE programs dealing with technology use. For quite a number of years, the Law Practice Management Section has presented the ABA TechShow, advertised as “the world’s premier legal technology conference and expo,” during the spring in Chicago. Scheduled for late March, TechShow 2005 offered more than 60 CLE sessions and more than 100 legal technology vendors exhibiting their products and services.
Like the ABA, American Lawyer Media produces the LegalTech trade shows that provide CLE programs together with a large exhibition of legal technology vendors. This year a LegalTech show was held in New York from January 31 to February 2 and another is scheduled in Los Angeles from June 22 to June 23.
TechShow and LegalTech offer attendees many CLE programs at different levels of technology exper-tise. A majority of the products available in the legal technology marketplace are on display at these shows, and attendees have the opportunity to obtain insights into their utility and effectiveness. There is so much to see at these events that it is wise to plan in advance the items on which to focus. Attendees run the gamut from IT professionals at large firms and law departments to solo practitioners.
ABA Legal Technology Resource Center
The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center is a significant free resource available to ABA members. Its web site address is www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/home.html, or navigate there from the ABA home page by clicking on “Member Groups” in the left-hand column, then “Centers,” and then “Legal Technology Resource Center.”
To get an idea what is available at the Resource Center, its home page, at the time of this writing, featured the following new articles: “PDFing Your Practice,” “Practice Control: A Purchasing Guide for Practice Management Software,” and “The Hot List: Technology Trends That Are Here to Stay.” The site contains several “info centers.” The “Law Office Tech” info center contains many helpful articles in the quest to assess the value of legal technology products. Another info center is focused on the needs of solo practitioners and small firms. The really nice thing is that Resource Center users are not limited to what appears on its web site. The center has knowledgeable staff available by phone at (312) 988–5465.
As one might expect, the Resource Center is used mostly by small- to medium-sized firms. Large firms tend to have their own information technology staff. Nonetheless, the Resource Center is available to firms and law departments of all sizes, and the editor has been informed that the IT staff of large firms will sometimes contact the Resource Center for information. This is a valuable benefit of ABA membership, and it appears that few ABA members know that it is available to them free of charge. Resource Center staff will not recommend specific brands, but they will help members become informed on the important considerations regarding a specific product of a brand.
A number of state bar associations also provide legal technology assistance, and some provide services for a fee. Readers should check with their state bar association, if they are a member, on the availability of such assistance.
Another way to obtain free legal technology information is to subscribe to one of the many listservs that provide such information. A listserv maintains a list of people who have subscribed to the list because of interest in its subject matter. If anyone has a question relating to the list’s subject, they can send an e-mail to the list’s e-mail address. The list administrator will then (probably after a quick review for appropriateness), send that e-mail to all list subscribers. Often, other list subscribers will quickly respond. Some of those who respond may not be any more expert than the individual seeking advice, but they may have relevant experience.
Legal technology consultants also subscribe to listservs relating to their areas of expertise. These consultants readily respond to questions. One reason they do this is to make their names known to those who may need their services. Another reason the consultants subscribe to the listserv is to keep themselves in touch with lawyers who may be having problems with specific products and with the needs of lawyers who use those products.
For the same reason, software publishers monitor the listservs, which they may provide as a service to their customers to avoid maintaining as large a customer service department as would otherwise be required. Feedback to the listserv can help the software publisher determine new product features desired by its users.
Listservs for particular products are usually listed on the product provider’s web site. One can also subscribe for free to e-mail newsletters on a wide variety of legal technology subjects at www.technolawyer.com.
Upgrades for software already in use raise buying issues similar to those posed by the acquisition of new software or hardware. The frequency and cost of new versions sometimes concerns users. Just a few days ago, the director of planning and development for the HotDocs document assembly software (Marshall Morrise, who happens to be the original developer of HotDocs and its predecessor CAPS, one of the first document assembly packages) responded on a listserv to a user who questioned the rationale for a recently released new version. That response is reproduced here because it is an excellent statement of a good practice probably used by most leading software companies.
It is easy to understand [your] concern. I don’t have anything to say that will make things a lot better, but I hope I can help a little.
While HotDocs 2005 was not created so users have to spend more money getting fixes for HotDocs 6.2, it is fair to say that it was created—in part at least—so users will spend money getting new features. We rely on upgrade fees as a revenue source, but we don’t do it by intentionally creating something that fails to work or is inadequate.
I realize that what one calls a feature, another may see as a bug fix. In my mind, if the software crashes or fails to operate as documented, that’s a bug. In general, we issue service packs in order to fix bugs, and we don’t charge for them. For example, even though HotDocs 2005 has been released, we continue to issue service packs for HotDocs 6.2, the most recent being 6.2 Service Pack 2.
To my way of thinking, the addition of a new, separate title that is used only for the repeat icon in an interview is not a bug fix, but a nice improvement to the software. It is not essential to the operation of templates that include repeating dialogs, but it is better than what we had. That said, I can see how someone else might view this differently.
This might be a useful time to explain what we are doing with HotDocs regarding major releases and service packs. Our current approach is to release one new, major version of the software each year and then to release two service packs. The new version will be a pay-for upgrade, while the service packs will be no-charge upgrades for those who have the corresponding version. The service packs will include both bug fixes and improvements.
For example, in addition to correcting several problems that have been reported, the first service pack for HotDocs 2005 will include the ability for developers to provide titles for variables and database components, the ability for end-users to sort spreadsheet answer fields in a dialog or pick list, the ability for end-users to print templates right from the HotDocs library, the ability to include computation components in the Variables list at the dialog editor (to name a few). None of these are huge improvements, but they are useful.
If any of you have particular concerns about this bugs-versus-features issue, please feel free to email me directly at . . . .
That a software company is not making regular improvements to its software is probably a more troubling indication than how it charges for upgrades. With that said, upgrade and bug fix policies should be considered in any purchasing decision. As indicated above, a user should not expect to pay for fixes to problems. Examples of firms providing fixes for free include Microsoft for its Windows operating systems and Adobe for its Acrobat program. Newer versions of Windows give users the ability to regularly download fixes as well as minor feature enhancements for free. The software can be set to check automatically for upgrades at regular intervals. This is important for operating system software in particular, because the software developer frequently publishes security updates to protect against recently discovered viruses and other attempts by hackers to wreak havoc. It seems that almost every time it starts up, Adobe Acrobat checks to see if any updates are available for a free download.
A number of print publications cover legal technology. Many legal magazines, like this one, print articles on legal technology on a regular basis. One publication devoted to the subject matter is Law Technology News , and any lawyer may sign up for a free subscription at www.lawtechnews.com.
As mentioned above, keeping up-to-date on what is available and the merits of competing products can become a full-time job. To help firms, law departments, and solo practitioners and their products. Lists of certified consultants can often be found on the software publisher’s web site. Consultants can also be found by monitoring the listservs referred to above. Some consultants provide services for competing products and are in a good position to assess which product might best fit a particular need. In any event, the consultants’ experience often can help shorten the purchasing process significantly while enhancing the information available for making the purchase decision. Consultants are available for firms and law departments of all sizes. As a matter of disclosure, this editor works as a technology consultant and, therefore, admits to possible bias as to the value of using a consultant.
Personal digital assistants
Modems (dialup, DSL, and cable)
Wireless access points
Other network devices
Billing and accounting
Web site creation