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No. 1, October 1997  

New York Legal Tech Seminar   

A good deal of useful information emerged from the Legal Tech Internet/Intranet Seminar held in New York September 25-26. Panelists did, however, tend to circle cautiously around some of the central tradeoffs posed by the exponential growth of the Internet. Many of these boil down to "ease of use" vs. "x".

Ease of Use vs. Security

The Internet is an open system. Unless messages are specifically encrypted, they pass through the Internet as ascii files, available to hackers and would-be thieves (corporate espionage is not to be taken lightly). At present, none of the installed base of the major e-mail systems, GroupWise, MS Exchange or cc:Mail, have built-in support for encryption. Support for encryption should become widely available in 2-4 years, but if you want to encrypt a mail message or attachment today, you must do it manually using programs such as "Pretty Good Privacy" or RSA encryption. While this can be practical for limited amounts of mail to a small number of clients, it is not practical on a large scale.

Charles R. Merrill, Esq., a partner at McCarter & English, and nationally known authority on legal aspects of electronic security, argued strongly for encryption. Some day, he said, a court will hold someone legally responsible for failure to adequately secure e-mail, possibly in a malpractice suit. Steven Fogarty, Chief Messaging Architect of Salt Lake City-based teltrust.com, noted that there are two other options for providing secure communication. Large companies have been building their own Intranets (closed and secure systems within a company that to the end user look, feel and act like the larger Internet) and Extranets (Internet-like systems available to a company's clients where security is provided by dedicated access, passwords, etc.). While secure, Extranets carry a high overhead cost for hardware, software and maintenance. Some messaging vendor are also beginning to offer Virtual Private Networks, in which a company and its clients all connect securely via dial-up, frame relay, etc., to a vendor, who maintains the network.

Ease of Use vs. Full Access

A number of firms reported that they are porting brief banks, boilerplate documents and other research applications to an Intranet, but are putting only a subset of documents available within their traditional document management system on the Intranet. So an attorney who relies on this "easy to use" subset could miss important data. In the name of "ease of use," a number of the companies exhibiting at the seminar were providing solutions to avoid accessing the Internet directly: Internet content is downloaded to the computer and all content is pre-packaged and accessed off-line by a proprietary "browser."

Internet access to traditional document management systems such as SoftSolutions or PC DOCS poses a problem, however. I asked the round-up panel how they predicted Internet applications would interact with and/or replace traditional document management. This was, they replied, the question "we are all struggling with." Many document management systems are building Internet front ends, but do not offer full functionality via the Internet. I-Manage, by NetRight Technologies, is one of the few companies to offer a fairly complete Internet front end today.

Freedom vs. the Bottom Line

Much has been made of the "democratization" and "freedom" afforded by the Internet. However, it also entails a number of costs. The first is financial: in addition to the not insignificant cost of providing reasonable infrastructure and bandwidth for Internet access, studies have shown that employees with full Internet access "surf away" over 9 hours a week. Many large corporations have policies that restrict Internet access to business use only, but such policies are difficult and burdensome to enforce.

Companies may also be held legally liable for material deemed offensive that was downloaded by employees. This issue is frequently dealt with by using blocking software to "block out" x-rated or otherwise offensive or even all "non-business-related" sites.

Historically, most employees have come to consider personal phone conversations and now personal e-mail a "right." The day is rapidly approaching when "surfing the net" gains similar status. There will be a constant and increasing tension between arguments concerning "democratization" provided by Internet access and a firm's overall profit. As one partner at a major law firm replied when asked about the "free coffee" available on various floors of the firm, "every cup of that 'free coffee' comes out of my pocket and don't you forget it!"
 

The Place and Future of the Internet
 

Most participants felt that the continued expansion of the Internet was ineluctable. Internet systems offer a number of major advantages in terms of communicating and transmitting information both within a company and to clients. As the Internet sites listed below bear witness, a lot can be done at the present time. In the future, firms that do not take advantage of functionality provided by the Internet will simply not be able to keep up with client requirements. Judicious use of the Internet, including a web site, can provide a technological "edge" that might constitute the difference between a client selecting your firm to represent it or not.

Useful or Interesting Internet Addresses
www.hg.org/hg.html Hieros Gamos. Maintained by a consortium of 135 law firms. Definitely the place to start for Web research.
www.reference.com Newsgroups, web forums, check domain name availability.
www.legalethics.com Lists Internet legal ethics requirements for all 50 states.
www.arentfox.com Arent Fox (Washington). Communications Law.
www.visalaw.com Siskind, Susser, Haas & Chang. Many immigration forms.
www.taxlawyers.com Bergman, Horowitz & Reynolds. Links to legal resources.
www.kelleydrye.com Kelley Drye & Warren. Nice clean site.
www.jacobslaw.com Lots of Graphics. Counter shows how many people visit it.

 

WordPerfect 7 Legal Suite
 

Since Corel bought WordPerfect just over a year and a half ago, it has made valiant efforts to stem the flow of the Microsoft marketing machine. Part of this effort has been to support and develop platforms Microsoft has abandoned. Thus Corel recently brought out WP 6.2 for DOS as part of a DOS-based office suite. More significantly, the Corel WordPerfect Legal Suite was released in August. This includes a version of WordPerfect 7.0 for Windows 3.1 which not only mimics the Windows 95 version, but includes additional functionality. In particular, the ability to do automatic paragraph numbering within a single paragraph, present in WP 5.1 but lacking in all versions since then, has been restored. A drop-down pick list allows users to choose their most commonly used graphic symbols (, , etc.). Integrated features from Nexal give the user a much improved address book as well as the ability to block and save up to 26 "instant macros."

Heckman Consulting is proud to have worked closely with Corel to assist in determining the suite's feature set, which includes products commonly used by law firms: CompareRite, Full Authority, HotDocs, Black's Law Dictionary and Amicus Attorney.

These products are generally fully integrated: the user launches CompareRite from the WordPerfect button bar, for example. The only exception is that Amicus Attorney maintains a separate address book, although additions to it can be automatically stored in the Corel Address Book when they are entered in Amicus. A Nexal addition allows users to save files in a client/matter directory structure, thus mimicking larger document management systems such as SoftSolutions.

The Corel WordPerfect Legal Suite provides almost all the functionality a small law office needs and can inexpensively be upgraded for network use. The product also ships with demo versions of popular time and billing programs such as Time Matters, TimeSlips, and PCLaw.

"Microsoft Annoyances"
 

A former colleague likes to say that Bill Gates is the primary purveyor of "software that almost works." But help is on the way in the form of a new series of books: "Windows Annoyances." "Word 97 Annoyances" has already been published and "Office 97 Annoyances," is due out next month. The books are written by Woody Leonhard, Lee Hudspeth and T.J. Lee, and offer specific tips on how to make Microsoft programs work the way you want them to and how to overcome some of the inconsistencies in the various programs within Office 97. Check your local bookstore or www.oreilly.com.

About the Heckman Consulting Newsletter

Heckman Consulting is a systems integration firm specializing in the legal market. John Heckman has over 15 years experience in the legal community. This newsletter is published periodically as a service to our clients and others in the legal community. It will contain items we have found to be of interest.
 

Contact Heckman Consulting at:
3 Fenwick Place, Norwalk, CT 06855 Tel: (203) 831-0442, Fax: (203) 227-4354
e-mail: jheckman@kalmon.com

 


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No.21 April 2002
Future of Case Management Programs
No.20 October 2001
Disaster Recovery Small and Medium Firms
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