By: Courtney David Mills
IPA Technology Director and Litigation Paralegal at Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, P.C.
As I write this article, I am on the train heading back from Chicago after four (4) days of legal tech submersion at the annual The America Bar Association Legal Techshow. The ABA Techshow is an annual gathering of the most prominent legal techies from across the country and some say in the entire world. It includes; lawyers, paralegals, IT professionals, litigation support specialists, law librarians, office managers, etc . I was very impressed with the turn-out of Indiana Paralegals during the convention, but somewhat surprised at the lack of CLE courses directed towards paralegals. However; overall, I believe the conference was a success, and I am already looking forward to next year’s conference. Below are some of the highlights of the conference.
Collaboration Tools in the Legal Field:
The first CLE track that I attended was directed towards Google Docs, Wikis and other web tools used to collaborate with clients and co-counsel on documents and projects. For those that are not familiar with the above applications, Google Docs is essentially a free web-based program (you access it using a web browser and do not download any software) that is designed to allow people to create, edit, and collaborate on word processing documents and spreadsheets in real time. Wikis are essentially editable web pages that use the same general principles as mention above. The most famous Wiki is probably Wikipedia which is an online encyclopedia written, updated, and edited by users. This track also discussed some features of Adobe Professional 8.0 that you allow you send PDF documents to clients and colleagues for review and comment. The exciting part of the new line of Adobe Acrobat products is that as long as the originator of the document has Adobe Standard or Professional 8, the end-users who are actually reviewing the document only need Adobe Reader 8 (free product available for download) in order to make comments on the document. This track also discussed a newer Microsoft product, MS Office Groove, which allows users to set-up teams for working on projects. It allows users to collaborate, review and edit MS Office documents, including power point projects, spreadsheets, presentation documents, etc., in real time, while working with one set of documents (instead of floating version around by email). I believe that many people see this kind of collaborative engagement as the future of the legal profession and the business world in general. These collaborative products give a team the ability to have a centralized copy of a project or single document that is stored on a secure server. The authorized users can review, edit and collaborate on the document. This replaces the old fashion methods of emailing different versions to colleagues, etc. It also makes the location and work schedules of the participants largely irrelevant. You could have a physician expert in New York, an attorney at a deposition in Houston, and a paralegal in Indiana all working on cross examination questions / outline for an opposing expert who is being deposed in Houston.
There were several CLE sessions discussing judges' opinions on courtroom technology and Electronic Evidence Presentation (“EEP”). A lot of these discussions centered around the under utilization of EEP in real world litigation. Several of the judges admitted that when they speak to jurors following some form of EEP (even something as simple as a power point presentation played during closing statements), they discovered that overwhelmingly, jurors appreciated the use of technology and were surprised that it was not being used more often. There were also some exciting products on display that give an idea about the immediate future of courtroom technology. There were computers with 55 inch plasma screens that enabled users to show evidence as 3-D objects that could be manipulated and controlled from the computer. There were large white boards that used projection technology and touch screen technology to essentially allow users to work interactively with documents or other forms of evidence, i.e. presenting documents on large screens, circling key words or using your hand as a highlighter to highlight key evidence on the screen.
When I saw the track title about document automation, I was thinking about mail merge features in Word and Word Perfect that allow users to create a template letter, and merge the template with a list of addresses that will create a stack of letters for you in seconds. This form of document automation is simply a very sophisticated version of copying and pasting. The newer programs available are the next generation of document automation. There are new software programs that are designed for document intensive areas of the law, i.e. probate law, contract work, etc. These programs essentially automate many of the functions that an attorney/paralegal will do when opening the case. If you paste the caption, and answer some quick "interview questions", i.e. who is the injured party or decedent, are the parties male or female, what type of case is it (you select from a set of pre-programmed templates)? The program will create all documents that you have set it to create, i.e., your initial letter to your client acknowledging representation, letters to insurance carrier regarding same, initial discovery requests to Plaintiff and co-counsel, an appearance, and initial motion for enlargement of time, etc. The program fills in the correct names, dates, pronouns, singular/plural references, and other details using a form of artificial intelligence. It automates the entire process, and can essentially complete the work that usually takes an attorney, paralegal, and secretary several hours, in several minutes. However, there are several downsides to this technology. For instance, a system as described above takes time and money to set-up on the front-end (and will save time in the long run). Also, these systems are really designed towards project based billing practices or flat-fee billing systems.
As I discussed above, the ABA Techshow is a chance for legal techies to get together and talk about current issues, i.e. the best practices for production of ESI, new legal tech software, websites, etc. Another new feature at this year’s techshow is the ability to sign-up for dinners with the speakers. You sign-up for whatever topic/speaker you would like and the Techshow staff makes the arrangements and reservations, etc. You get to enjoy a nice meal and really get to talk to the presenters. The ABA Techshow has been welcoming to paralegals from across the country and since the conference is held in Chicago, it has been especially convenient for Indiana Paralegals. I keep telling my colleagues that the attorneys are going to be increasingly looking to paralegals and litigation support specialists for answers to legal technology questions. I hope to see even more Indiana Paralegals at next year’s tech show.
Blog of the Month:
ABA Techshow Blog: The ABA Techshow Blog is regularly updated by the Techshow presenters and staff. You will catch the latest and greatest from the Techshow faculty.
Website of the Month:
You Send It: If you have ever been frustrated while trying to send a large document or PDF to someone and getting a bounce-back message due to size limitations for the recipients email system, this website is for your. This is a free service that allows you send large files to someone. You essentially upload the file, enter the receipiant's email address and your email address the systems send the other person and email (it looks like it is from your email address) with a link to the file. The person clicks on the link, and down loads the file. Best of all, its free.