Computer Counselor - July/August 1999
Litigation Support Software Comes of Age
Lawyers can make their courtroom presentation better with the right software choicesBy Daryl Teshima and Rebecca Thompson Nagel
Imagine your ultimate second chair at trial: an ally who instantly pinpoints a previous admission from a witness, always displays the right exhibit to a jury, finds the case law that torpedoes an opponent's argument, and takes word-for-word notes of all testimony given in the courtroom. Believe it or not, this ally is readily available. A notebook computer running the latest litigation support software meets these prerequisites, with recall and organizational ability that human counterparts cannot match. Best of all, an electronic second chair fits in your briefcase, does not demand a raise, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can run off batteries or wall current.
For these reasons, litigators armed with notebook computers have become a common sight in courtrooms. Powerful notebooks once were reserved for large firms with ample resources and full-time technical help, but falling notebook prices and improvements in software have helped to make the courtroom playing field much more level .
In the field of legal software, there is no area more misunderstood, and therefore more underutilized, than litigation support. Part of the reason is that litigation support programs were previously synonymous with full-text searchable databases. This software was traditionally difficult to learn and often required a technician to operate. Attorneys had little direct contact with these applications, and thus little regard for them. Today's generation of litigation support programs not only perform many more functions but also are much simpler to use. The new software helps litigators make the most of case information yet does not require a huge investment of time in the technology.
Unfortunately, no one can quite agree on an exact definition of litigation support software. Some users see it as encompassing only transcript, manuscript, or database functions. Others focus on organizing a warehouse of documents with some type of tab and sorting system. Still others consider the main task of litigation support software as the analysis of complex fact and evidence patterns.
Because of the diversity of the litigation support category, attorneys should focus first on whether litigation support programs are worth the time and effort for their firm. Often it requires firms to balance short-term objectives (the needs of a particular matter) with the long-term technological direction of the firm. To help solve this problem, a firm should take an honest look at itself. A firm should first look at the types of litigation matters it routinely handles. If the work is replicable, then an investment by the firm in a litigation support system will pay dividends for years to come. If the firm handles a variety of cases, however, such returns may prove to be more elusive. The firm's clients are also a significant factor, since many sophisticated clients now require access to information management systems. Finally, a firm should assess its level of technological ability. A firm that is still using DOS, for example, has more urgent priorities regarding technological improvement than litigation support. In addition, a litigation support system is only effective if it is regularly used and maintained. If the technology infrastructure is not there to support it, then the system is doomed to fail.
If a litigation support system looks like it will work for the firm, then the next step is finding the right program. There are as many types of litigation support programs as there are types of cases. Litigation support programs can perform one or more of the following functions.
- Full-Text Searching. For cases that hinge on depositions, full-text searching is the key to transcript management. By entering the right search terms, inconsistencies of testimony can be uncovered in seconds. Full-text searching also comes in handy when combined with an optical character recognition (OCR) program. By scanning documents, you can make them as searchable as deposition transcripts. For standard cases (up to 1,000 transcripts), Concordance and ISYS are popular choices. Concordance comes from Dataflight Software Inc., (310) 471-3414 ext. 12; ISYS is a product of ISYS/Odyssey Development Inc., (800) 992-4797. For complex cases that involve a significantly greater number of transcripts, consider Precise/Discovery and Precise/Review suite from Precise Systems Corporation, (800) 310-4364, and AspenView Database and Image Retrieval Systems, Uniscribe Professional Services, (800) 545-2327.
- Databases. Unlike full-text searching (which is limited to searching testimony or the words on the document), databases allow litigators to catalog and organize all crucial information for each piece of evidence. The information can range from description of accident scene photos to the source of the document, and is only limited by the litigator's imagination. If the litigation support database has a limited number of fields by which to categorize information, an off-the-shelf database such as Microsoft Access or Corel Paradox may suffice. For more complex and legal-specific databases, consider Summation Blaze from Summation Legal Technologies Inc., (800) 735-7866, Inmagic DB/Textworks from Inmagic Inc., (800) 229-8398 ext. 257, or TrialMaker from TrialMaker Software, (781) 334-3367. These products allow an almost unlimited number of fields plus the ability to include notes that summarize and analyze the documents. The creation of databases still requires an investment in time, but they now offer their handsome organizational rewards to people with average computer skills and training.
- Imaging. There are three levels of imaging usually available with litigation support packages. Most will come with a free version of an imaging software product that is good enough to get your documents into a database but little else. For Bates numbering, rearranging, and so on, a package with more advanced features is needed. Most popular programs-including Concordance, Summation, and Inmagic-offer separate imaging modules that perform many of these functions. Finally, many programs also include an OCR package that will turn your scanned documents into searchable text. For example, ZyImage of Zylab International Inc., (800) 544-6339, and both TotalVzn and Visionary of Digital Practice LLC, (602) 253-4828, offer OCR.
- Trial Presentations. These are features that help litigators present evidence during a trial or arbitration. Instead of fumbling with posters and charts, a lawyer can use a click of a mouse to project an image of the smoking gun for the jury to see. Trial presentation components also help turn complex data into persuasive charts.
- Issue Analysis. This new category of litigation support programs helps litigators uncover the fact and evidence patterns of a case. They work by having attorneys evaluate each piece of evidence and linking it to the elements that must be established at trial. For example, Casemap from CaseSoft, (904) 273-5000, acts as an outliner on steroids and can make complex case analysis seem simple. Another program in this category, LawPro from LawPro Inc., (800) 3-LAWPRO, integrates substantive law into its database, which helps ensure that no stone is left unturned prior to trial.
- Real-Time Transcript Management. For those "did I just hear that?" moments, there's nothing like real-time transcript access. This application instantly displays all recorded testimony by hooking up a computer to the court reporter transcription device. Critical testimony can be flagged by simply pressing a key. While there is an extra charge for the service, there is no substitute to such a feature when it comes to tripping up a witness during trial. Leaders in this category include LiveNote by LiveNote Inc., (800) LIVENOTE, and E-Transcript Binder by PubNETics, (303) 584-9988 ext. 115.
- Groupware. Another new litigation support category is groupware, which helps litigation teams in different physical locations work together. These applications centralize all the case information, whether through an extranet (a private Internet site that requires security clearances to gain access) or secure phone lines. A unique program in this category is Litigator's Notebook, Bowne JFS Software Solutions, (210) 525-9868, which is based on Lotus Notes. Litigator's Notebook replicates knowledge and work product related to a matter.
Selecting the right litigation support program depends on the particular needs of your case. This requires an in-depth examination of the type of information that a typical case needs to manage. For example, if a firm's typical case involves hundreds of depositions, then a full-text search engine may top your shopping list. If the firm relies upon the cooperation of several parties in separate offices, then a program with strong groupware functionality may be the right choice. In any case, technological advances have made litigation software worth another look.