Tech Trends for 2002
6 key areas influencing the way your job funtions
By Dwayne E. Krager and Rick R. Thompson
May/June ’02 Issue
Technology continues to influence how paralegals perform their work. No
matter what area of law a paralegal might work in, technology will affect how his or her
job is done. Because technology has a major impact on law firm practice, it’s
imperative you keep up-to-date on technology trends. This article identifies six key areas
that influence how the legal process is handled. By having knowledge of these key areas,
your ability to help blend the practice of law with these evolving technological advances
will be greatly enhanced.
1. Electronic Discovery
Electronic data is playing a larger role in the legal discovery process. Traditionally,
the primary discovery method was for lawyers to request paper documents. Now, discovery
requests ask for the actual electronic data that initially created the printed version of
Because e-mail has become the primary communication tool
in business, electronic discovery over the past few years has become more prevalent.
According to a University of California, Berkeley study from October 2000, 93 percent of
all information created was in a digital format. Digitally formatted information
incorporates e-mail, including attachments, word processing files, spreadsheets and
Requests for electronic data have increased because there
is more information available from electronic files versus printed documents. For example,
e-mails can contain links to other e-mails, e-mail attachments, calendar entries, erased
files and metadata. Metadata is information about the e-mail that is compiled and stored
by the computer. Metadata for an e-mail can include proof that the e-mail was opened,
identification of the original author or recipient, if it was printed, and if there was a
Retrieval and production of electronic information can be
a difficult process for the average legal team to handle. With such complexities, there
are many companies that will retrieve electronic information and then either print out the
information or provide a database with attached images of the data. A database with images
allows for a paperless review of the information. This paperless review eliminates the
need for printing and copying the electronic discovery. If the electronic information
needs to be produced, most database programs will electronically bates label the images
and allow for it to be copied.
Currently, companies are developing software to assist
the legal team in analyzing electronic information in-house. One company, nMatrix (www.nMatrix.com) recently released a
product called eDataMatrix for law firm use. eDataMatrix allows a legal team member to
directly install the software on a personal computer and then process electronic data in
his or her own office. There is no charge to license the software. Payment occurs only as
electronic documents are processed. To help reduce costs, eDataMatrix charges for the
extraction of metadata and full text on a per document basis, rather than per page. The
program processes more than 300 different electronic files.
Discovery requests for electronic information are
expanding beyond the hard drive of computers. Many discovery requests include cell phones,
personal digital assistants (PDAs), CD-ROMS, zip drives, external hard drives and system
Companies are also increasingly being asked to provide
copies of litigation databases that have been used in prior cases. Prior litigation
databases might be considered discoverable if the past litigation involves the same topic
as the current dispute.
With the increased use of devices that create electronic
data, the future of electronic discovery is certain to see great increases. With increased
requests for electronic data, paralegals, especially those that practice in the litigation
area, need to understand the best methodologies to obtain, review and produce electronic
2. Traveless Meetings
What used to be a luxury item used primarily by Fortune 100 companies, has
now hit the legal industry in a major way. Concerned about secure travel and tight
budgets, law firms are turning to video conferencing as a way to handle their
Since February 1998, a company called Polycom (www.polycom.com) has made a significant
impact on the availability of high-quality video and audio video conferencing units.
Polycom was the first to make video conferencing something any size company could afford.
In conjunction with the newly created video conferencing market by Polycom, the legal
industry has adopted this tool as a better methodology to communicate with locations
outside of their offices.
Law firms have increased the use of video conferencing to
save time and money. Video conferencing provides law firms with the ability to have
face-to-face communications, improved productivity and access to the whole world from one
location. Most large law firms have added the ability to communicate by video conferencing
as part of their standard internal client services. The legal community is using video
conferencing for depositions, meeting with expert witnesses, law firm meetings and live
testimony at trial.
The future promises an increased use of video
conferencing in the court system. Currently, video conferencing is being used in the
courtroom to save attorneys, parties and judges the time and expense of travel to attend
criminal arraignment hearing, oral arguments, settlement conferences, and in a few courts,
the actual trial.
- What is video conferencing? Quite simply, video
conferencing is communication. The use of video conferencing hardware and software offers
tools to enhance communications between two or more people. Similar to using a telephone,
video conferencing adds video and data, and thus enhances communications for the person
who uses this application. Video conferencing enables you to see, hear and speak, as well
as share documents and other information without the necessary cost of added time and
- Transmission of computer information: Most recently, the
ability to transmit computer information while conducting a video conference has enhanced
the ability to share data. Polycom’s Visual Concert PC (starting at $799) enables
parties to connect a laptop computer directly to the video conferencing unit, and then
transmit high-resolution live PC graphics. Legal uses include transmitting imaged
deposition exhibits, collaborating on written documents between attorneys in different
locations and making presentations to prospective clients.
- The future might be on the Internet: With the introduction
of Microsoft Window’s NetMeeting Web site and now Web sites such as WebEx (www.webex.com), face-to-face
communications from your computer desktop will become as natural as using video
conferencing. WebEx provides law firms with the ability to conduct meetings over the
Internet. Unlike video conferencing, WebEx allows for the transmission of audio, video and
Also unlike video conferencing, the use
of WebEx doesn’t require the connecting party to have any special equipment. All that
is required is a computer with Internet access. When a meeting is set up, participant
access is accomplished by simply typing in an Internet address into a browser program. The
program allows two or more users to conduct an audio only or video conference, share
computer programs, exchange photographs, review and revise documents, and draw diagrams on
an electronic whiteboard.
Currently, the most common use of WebEx by law
firms is for training and internal or external meetings with clients. The cost for using
WebEx tends to be less expensive than video conferencing, however, the quality of sound
and video isn’t the same.
Video conferencing remains the best choice for
high-quality meetings with limited interruptions. When the Internet sees increased
regulatory control and a wider bandwith for the transmission of information, programs such
as WebEx will likely become the best option for attending business meetings without
3. Imaging Emergence
While the wireless office concept has not revolutionized the legal industry, the notion of
turning paper documents into images has seen a significant increase in use for litigation
case management and corporate transaction work. The future use of imaging promises to
become more prevalent in storing law firm billing records and client files. Current large
law firm billing systems, such as Elite, include a scanning module for the storage and
retrieval of information.
The law firm’s first introduction to creating images
of documents began with the use of single page scanners and bundled software to turn paper
into word processing documents. Scanners now offer the ability to feed multiple pages of
documents with improved software programs like OmniPage Pro 11 (www.scansoft.com), which starts at
OmniPage Pro 11 is an efficient software program
primarily used to turn paper documents into digital files that can be edited. Conversion
of paper documents to digital is done through a process called optical character
The OCR process involves the computer software program
reading the letters of words of an imaged document and converting those letters into an
electronic format. OmniPage Pro 11 also can be used to turn paper documents into an image
format called TIFF. The TIFF format is simply an electronic picture of the document.
With the emergence of imaging in litigation and corporate
legal work, a common misconception by law firms is that the use of a scanner that inputs
12 pages per minute and software like OmniPage is the right solution for handling a large
numbers of documents. While the documents can be put into a TIFF format and converted to
editable text using OCR, this process doesn’t provide the proper load files needed to
work with the most current litigation support programs.
Firms that desire to scan a large number of documents
in-house are taking advantage of lower costs for high-speed scanners that input paper at
50 pages or higher per minute. The answer to the software question lies in products such
as Image Capture Engineering’s Legal Access Ware (LAW).
is a single, front-end scanning application that provides virtually seamless import of
images, coded data and OCR to popular litigation document management packages and database
products. The LAW program also can be used to scan a large number of corporate transaction
documents. These scanned corporate transaction documents are then exported into a PDF
format used in Adobe Acrobat to create and view digital books of information, including a
Image Capture Engineering also has created an industry
revolutionizing product for converting popular litigation support and trial application
imaged files into proper file formats. The software program, LoadFile Pro, is one of the
first products available to the legal marketplace that uses a wizard style interface that
will take one popular load file and allow it to be converted into many other formats. The
most common use of the program is when a CD-ROM of images in a TIFF format are produced in
discovery without a utility to load the images into a litigation support program.
Imaging of documents will continue to see significant
growth in the legal industry because it reduces costs, saves time and gives legal
professionals immediate access to valuable information. While the majority of legal
documents scanning is done by outside vendors, many firm’s are starting to realize
the importance of implementing in-house scanning systems, as high-speed scanners and
legal-specific software are now available in the marketplace.
4. Productivity Devices
Most of us wish we had more time. Increasing demands from our personal and
professional lives drive us to find ways to squeeze more into the 24 hours we are given.
People who make their living selling new technologies offer gadgets that promise to make
us more productive. A lot of the items they want us to buy will only leave us with a fat
to-do list and a thin wallet. Occasionally, however, products come along that are truly
innovative and deserve at least a cursory glance. The items listed in this section are
among the few that offer the best opportunity to increase productivity.
C-Pen is a PDA and text scanner that is about the size of a highlighter. CTechnologies
offers two models, the C-Pen 600 and C-Pen 800. The C-Pen 600 includes text scanning,
address book, notes, dictionary and beaming for transferring information between the C-Pen
and another PDA using an infrared port. The C-Pen 800 adds a calendar and messaging for
sending faxes and e-mails if you also have a mobile phone with an infrared port.
Most of the functions of the C-Pen are what you would
expect from a PDA, but the text scanner makes it unique. Hold the C-Pen on a line of text
and swipe across it like you would with a highlighter. C-Pen reads the line and converts
it to text using optical character recognition. It’s an easy way to capture something
from a document or book you want to review and use later. The pen also enables the user to
look up the meaning of words with a built-in dictionary.
Palm Handheld Computer
Palm Inc. (www.palm.com)
continues to enhance its product line. A couple of models worth mentioning include the
m505 (offered at $399) and the i705 (at approximately $449). The m505 offers the standard
Palm functions (i.e., address book, calendar, notes, to-do list), but it includes a
front-lit color display that is easy to read in all light conditions. The i705 offers
wireless access to e-mail and Web access via the Palm.Net wireless service. Because there
are many applications available for Palm devices, many people are using them for work and
personal use. An example of a personal use of the device is reading electronic books. A
growing professional use is sending and receiving e-mail, and working with document
Danger Inc. (www.danger.com) combines
the functions of a PDA and a mobile phone into one $200 device called the Hiptop. It
allows you to browse any site on the Internet rather than just sites formatted for
handheld devices. It also includes built-in instant messaging with the ability to send and
receive e-mail with attachments without directly connecting to a computer.
This product will greatly impact the legal industry by
allowing the transmittal of documents no matter where a meeting is taking place.
For example, if a real estate closing was in progress and
an important document is missing, a call to your office will allow for the document to be
e-mailed to the Hiptop directly without connecting any wires. The integration of PDAs and
mobile phones will begin to emerge in the marketplace later this year. By the year 2004,
these types of devices will take the place of mobile phones.
Kyocera Wireless Corp. (www.kyocera-wireless.com)
also combines a Palm Handheld Computer running the Palm Operating System with a mobile
phone. Web surfing, wireless e-mail, Palm applications and a full-feature phone enable you
to keep yourself organized and in touch all at the same time. A struggle people are having
with the SmartPhone is using the mobile phone to wirelessly synchronize the Palm with data
stored on their PC. However, a local synchronization can be accomplished through the use
of a Palm cradle.
Despite the technological advances of these products,
just owning them will not make you more productive. The advantages occur when the device
is incorporated into your method of organizing both work and personal schedules.
5. Data Protection
With a busy schedule, you usually don’t have time to think about
protecting the data used within your firm.
Let’s face it, client work comes first. If a task
doesn’t produce revenue, it should not be done — at least that is the belief of
management in most firms. Despite this belief, those firms that are not protecting their
data are running the risk of malpractice through the loss of client information and work
product. Many ways to protect data don’t require paralegals to be technical computer
experts. Below are the current trends for protecting data.
- Virus protection: Virus attacks are becoming more
prevalent every day. The most current antivirus software programs are Norton AntiVirus
offered by Symantec (www.symantec.com),
PC-cillin offered by TrendMicro (www.antivirus.com)
and VirusScan offered by McAfee (www.mcafee.com).
Because new viruses are introduced every day, it’s important to keep the antivirus
software up-to-date. Updates are usually available on the vendors’ Web sites.
- Data storage: Computer disk drives can be divided into two
categories: drives that have failed and drives that will fail. Many firms use a document
management system that saves their work on network file servers. The data on the file
servers is backed up to a tape drive. Data stored on your PC’s hard drive isn’t
generally backed up by your network, so it’s up to you to protect it. Over the past
10 years, methods for backing up computer data has evolved. Listed below are the current
- Floppy diskettes offer an inexpensive way to save your
data. Keeping one copy of your document on your hard drive and a second copy on a 3.5-inch
diskette reduces the risk of losing your work. The probability of both copies being lost
is significantly lower than just one being lost. Diskettes have a few drawbacks, however.
A single diskette can hold only 1.44MB of information. Some files, especially those with
images, can be larger than that. Diskettes can be destroyed, misplaced or mislabeled.
Also, diskettes can’t store data indefinitely. The information magnetically stored on
diskettes will begin to degrade after only a couple of years.
- Zip drives, offered by Iomega Corp. (www.iomega.com) allow you to save your
documents to disks (Zip Disks), which are only slightly larger than a 3.5-inch diskette
but have a greater storage capacity. Zip Drives are available in 100MB and 250MB versions.
- PlexWriter CD-RW drives, offered by Plextor Corp. (www.plextor.com), enable you to backup
your hard drive to a CD. It can store 650MB in just more than 3 minutes. The PlexWriter
CD-RW drives can connect to a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on the back of your PC or
- External hard drives, such as the FireWire drives offered
by Western Digital Corp. (www.wdc.com),
provide a fast means to save large amounts of data (currently up to 120GB) for only about
$349. Initially, these devices had a small storage capacity and a large price tag. Like
most technologies, the trend is for these devices to offer larger storage capacity and a
lower cost. Because these drives are now small and portable, they can be easily carried in
a laptop bag. Backing up computer data is only one reason to use an external hard drive.
Other uses include copying large databases, documents and images so they can be used at
locations outside of your home or office.
Whether it’s the result of a computer hardware
failure, a software error, virus attack or mistake of your own, data loss is inevitable.
As illustrated by the products listed above, one of the best ways to protect your data is
through daily backups. Currently, the best device for this function is the external hard
drive. The future promises even smaller devices with even larger storage capacity. No
matter what device you choose, ultimately, the responsibility of protecting your data
rests with the individual user.
6. Continuing Education
Investing the time and money for training isn’t an option —
it’s a necessity. Many states have organizations that require paralegals to obtain
continuing legal education (CLE) credits.
Despite the need for continuing education, most
paralegals find it difficult to take time away from client work for educational endeavors.
Firm management isn’t typically thrilled with seminar fees, travel expenses and lost
revenue from having staff out of the office for extended periods.
Recently, a cost-effective way to allow for training
became available on the Web.
Online (Web-based) training is fast becoming a popular
means to acquire education. Online training uses your PC connected to the Internet. Some
seminars are live, scheduled events that can allow nearly an unlimited number of
participants. Each attendee is given a Web address to log on and dial in at the specified
time. The Web site typically provides a space for participants to type questions for the
instructor. The length of the class is usually one to three hours.
Other seminars are offered “on demand.” On
demand means a given program can be viewed at any time. Unlike a normal seminar, online
training offers the ability to obtain information three separate ways. The most common
method is the viewing of only text on the computer screen. The second method is viewing
text that is combined with audio. The final method is the ability to see a video
presentation through Web streaming. When viewing video and audio programs, it’s
important to have a computer with a fast Internet connection and enough power to display
CLE Online.com (www.cleonline.com) and the National Business Institute (NBI) Inc. (www.nbi-sems.com) are leading providers
of online education for paralegals.
NBI sees the use of online training as a method to
provide paralegals with education that will fulfill the CLE requirements and provide
knowledge that will enable them to be more productive in the workplace.
Online training information for paralegals on sites like
NBI is designed to increase professional legal knowledge, provide current information on
technology, build management and leadership skills, and offer information on current
Paralegals are finding it easier to get approval from
management to participate in online seminars because they require less of a time
commitment and reduced costs to attend.
Despite this advantage, a risk associated with attending
an online seminar is the potential for interruptions. Paralegals who participate in
training without leaving the office are accessible and “available” to handle
problems in the office as they arise, thus sometimes distracting from the task at hand.
It’s best to block out the time and ask people to
assume you are unavailable unless it’s an actual emergency.
Because not all educational programs are available to
every law firm, online seminars will continue to offer a great benefit to the education of
legal assistants and other legal professionals.
Within the next couple of years, with the increased
amount of information that can be sent over the Internet, watching live seminars will
become the preferred way to obtain CLE credit for both those attending the seminars and
those who pay for them.
With many companies promoting their products as the best technological solutions for law
firms, it’s important for paralegals to determine which products will truly benefit
their practice. Paralegals with the knowledge of current technology trends will continue
to be a valuable resource to each member of the law firm team.
While all of the products listed in this article might
not specifically benefit your firm today, the knowledge obtained might enable you and your
employer to make wiser choices when the need does arise.