Law Office Computing
One of the enduring images from the Sept. 11 collapse of the World Trade Center is the virtual snowstorm of paper that descended on the streets of New York as the towers collapsed. The destruction of vast amounts of information was obvious and very frightening. The World Trade Center had housed many information-based businesses such a stock brokerages, banks, financial services companies and, of course, law firms. Within days most of the companies had restored at least partial service but the law firms were forced to go to Governor Pataki and exact an executive order suspending the statute of limitations and deadlines for appeal due to the loss of information. That extension existed until January of 2002. No such order was needed in regard to the restoration of financial services because most of those companies had in place a disaster recovery plan with their information stored electronically off-site. For them it was a difficult but not impossible task to reconstruct their information set from their “redundant” backup systems. For many law firms, however, that was not possible. Many of the documents, particularly documents involved in litigation, did not exist in electronic form and therefore were not backed up. While it was possible to reconstruct many of those documents from other sources, there were many millions of pages of paper that simply could not be replaced. Nobody knows what the outcome of that lost information is or will be. There will certainly be lawsuits for professional malpractice against the law firms that did not have disaster recovery plans established or sufficient redundant copies of information stored offsite. On the client side, there may be lawsuits of merit that are effectively lost because of destroyed critical information. There may be substantial defenses based upon documents that no longer exist. In short, for those businesses and law firms who stored most of their information on paper there may be no recovery.
There will undoubtedly be massive efforts in the legal industry to invoke the now mature and workable tools of information technology to avoid such disasters in the future. Many documents in law firms are created originally in electronic form and the process of backing up those documents and storing redundant copies of them off-site is well understood. Indeed, the duty to provide such adequate backup of electronic documents is a matter that is of increasing concern to professional malpractice carriers. Those electronic documents are at risk from mechanical failure, computer viruses, hackers or natural disaster and it is easy to understand the potential for professional liability that arises from the failure to anticipate those common occurrences and to protect against them. Here redundant storage is critical and commonplace.
Until the World Trade Center disaster, however, not many lawyers applied the same liability analysis to paper documents. I think that is about to change. Indeed, the process of converting paper documents to electronic images is now a standard process in much of the litigation world. It is now commonplace to take tens or hundreds of thousands of pages of discovery documents and scan them into electronic images that are stored on CD-ROM or hard-drives. Usually that is done not for the specific purpose of protecting the information but for allowing for efficient document management tools to be used. But, the same process can be used to provide the kind of redundant backup that we now use for day-to-day electronic documents. I think we are now not far from the time when paper documents are viewed as an anachronism by the legal industry just as paper checks are viewed by the banking industry as an impediment to the efficient management of their business. Paper will not cease to exist, but if it is important it will be imaged and stored just as paper checks now are. It is neither hard nor expensive to construct such a system because there is a well-conceived and easily implemented model in the litigation world. And, the Internet provides us with the tools we need to make that process safe and efficient.
There are now many "big" cases around the country that involve lawyers from the far corners of the civilized world and perhaps beyond. Those cases have changed the face of litigation in many ways because they have by necessity developed techniques for the handling millions of pages of documents in a single case. But the techniques in place for the million-page case can easily be adopted in the thousand-page case. Trial presentation tools such as Sanction, Visionary and Trial Director allow for the seamless integration of those documents into the trial courtroom. In the Clerk's office the digitalization of information is continuing apace in all cases. But the biggest innovation of all is the establishment of database tools for the management of those documents. Tools such DataFlight Concordance and CaseSoft's CaseMap have simplified the organization of digitized documents and empowered lawyers to use massive amounts of information effectively. Recently, the implementation of web based centralized management has allowed lawyers in ordinary cases to access a central repository of documents from anywhere in the world. The best of these is, in my estimation, the system established by iCONECT (www.iconect.net). iCONECT is an easy-to-use in-house information repository, providing attorneys, co-counsel, clients and researchers with web-based access to their important case recourses and information. Lawyers and staff can be given exclusive access to calendar events, case contacts, attorney notes, depositions, litigation documents, TIFF images, PDF files, and e-mails with attachments from any place in the world where they can access the Internet. The iCONECT system uses a standard web browser so there is no need for specialized software on the users computer. At the same time, however, the adoption and integration of the popular Concordance database software allows for the development of a common interface with other firms and organizations. The iCONECT server can be located in a central physical location away from the law firm or firms providing a high degree of protection of the information and an assurance of objective control. Documents can searched with a variety of tools and the original document image can be invoked with a mouse click. Remote users can use almost any operating system (Windows, Macintosh, Linux), and access iCONECT through the Internet using Internet Explorer or Netscape with simple and inexpensive plugins. Documents of interest to the lawyer can easily be printed on a local printer in the lawyer’s office.
All on-line access to case materials and firm information needs to be made as secure as possible. iCONECT provides seven optional levels of security to maximize the integrity and safety of data and transactions. Moreover, different firms can adopt different security levels in tandem with their existing security infrastructure. No security arrangement is flawless, however, and you should secure the services of a qualified security consultant to make sure your security level is appropriate to your needs. There may be some information and documents that you want to keep in maximum security, understanding that in the WTC disaster even safety deposit boxes were destroyed. But those choices are ones that you have to make on a daily basis anyway. Finally, iCONECT will function efficiently with all file formats that may be involved in your case. Since the Adobe Acrobat PDF format appears to be the dominant format for electronically filed documents that non-proprietary approach is very important.
iCONECT is a powerful tool for document management in all but the smallest of cases. You can contact them through their website at www.iconect.net and they can get you started on the road to modern case and document management. iCONECT will interface with most of the popular document management programs as well as several of the most commonly used trial presentation programs. You don’t need a million pages of documents to benefit from this powerful tool. If you work with other firms on a case of even modest proportion you should investigate the benefits that online document access provides. There are other companies that are competing in this field. Because we have used iCONECT with such great success I am partial to it but you might want to go to other providers such as www.casecentral.com, which provide a similar service. Whichever method you choose, document management on the Internet is here to stay! If you want to try out the program and see the iCONECT server in action you can go over to Lex Solutio’s offices at 1102 West Adams in Phoenix or try out the online software at www.iconect.net.
See you on the Net!!!