Notes from the Technology Trenches - Finding Legal Software Online; Recent Technology Related Special Reports; Legal Content for Your PDA

Roger Skalbeck is the Electronic Initiatives Librarian at Howrey & Simon in Washington, D.C., and is the Web Master of the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C. Current work activities cover myriad aspects of electronic research resource evaluation, intranet content development, as well as research and technology training, all from a librarian's point of view. This column reflects the personal views of the author, which are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organization. This column, of course, is 100% free of any legal advice.

Finding Legal-Related Software on the Web

This month I start with a look around the Web to see where you can find information about legal-related software. For large and small firms, universities, courts and other legal organizations, software of all kinds can play a key role in assisting with the management and production of materials to support the practice and study of law. There are a number of sites out there that index and organize information about legal software, and I have chosen a handful of the more useful ones for consideration.

Based on research done for this article, one of the best sources for locating products and reviews is the Product LOCator provided as a part of the Law Office Computing site. This site claims to be "the world’s largest online database of legal technology product reviews."  The database appears to include over 300 reviews, which are updated monthly with content incorporated from their print publication.

Products can be viewed by category or searched by individual title or keyword. There are just over two dozen distinct categories, ranging from areas such as document management or litigation support, on through more general topics such as word processing suites and graphics and presentations. If you have read Law Office Computing before, their product coverage will be familiar to you. It is interesting that more content from the actual Law Office Computing magazine is not included at this site, but it is very helpful to have the product reviews available in a searchable fashion. Also, their concise Reviewing Standards help to outline the editorial policies and practices that underlie their reviews.

Another good resource for locating legal software applications is the attractive and informative Lawyerware site, subtitled "tech tools for legal professionals." This includes information on software in a broad range of legal areas, as well as general productivity and scheduling applications. Products are organized into groupings such as case management, estate planning and intellectual property.

Each category presents simple overview information about associated products, including a one-line description, available operating system versions as well as an indication as to whether a demonstration or evaluation version is available. The detailed view for each product includes a more complete product narrative as well as an area to find user reviews. These online user reviews are not well developed yet, but they are supplemented with automated links into other review and news sites to check for relevant coverage. These search links cover Usenet (through Deja.com), eGroups lists, epinions, as well as a link to the Product LOCator from Law Office Computing.

Of course, for general news on new software products, you can also turn to the LawTechnologyNews site published by American Lawyer Media. They have the online version of the semi-annual buyer’s guide, which includes advertiser-funded listings for software in about two dozen categories. Similar to the other sites online, there are no product reviews or other analytical elements to the listings, but it is another useful source for finding some possible solutions for your law practice software needs. As of early February 2000, the product search function had not yet been implemented. Much of the content in this publication reads as if it is reprinted press releases and vendor-supplied information, but it is a great place to find out about new products, new content licensing developments and general legal technology developments.

The remaining legal software indexes covered here have similar traits and arrangement so they are presented below in a quick summary fashion. Each of the following comprise one or more lists of links to software vendors with brief descriptions of related products and services that each provide. All are fairly comparable in terms of coverage and scope.

As a helpful place to start for finding free, low-cost and demonstration versions of software applications, the Digital Lawyer site supplements their buyer's guide with a reprint of Robert J. Ambrogi's article entitled "Finding Free Software on the Interne."

Recent Technology Related Special Reports

Back in about October of 1999, the Legal Times came out with the Internet version of their publication that is now updated on an almost daily basis. This site serves as the regional site for the Washington, D.C. area as a part of Law.com, which is owned and operated by American Lawyer Media. Coverage usually mirrors much of what can be found in the print version of the Legal Times, and so far all of the content is free. Within the last month, Legal Times has issued two Special Reports on technology-related issues which are sure to be of interest to readers of this column. These pull-out sections from the print publication are reproduced on the Web site in their entirety, and appear in the site's section on Technology Reports.

The earlier of the two reports is Seeking Wisdom: A Special Report on Technology. Stories in this report cover law firm recruiting issues with regards to technology talent, a group of interviews with law firm CIOs, as well as a discussion of firm mergers and related web site consolidation issues. Other coverage is on software to scan for email viruses, workplace ergonomics issues and online document repositories.

In the February 7, 2000 issue of the Legal Times, there are a half dozen articles on General Counsel in high technology environments, entitled Flexing Their Muscles: A Special Report on High-Tech General Counsel. The articles weigh in on issues with stock options, intellectual property concerns, lobbying issues for dot-com startups in addition to the lead article that christens a "new crop of corporate influence brokers: in-house general counsel."

Legal Titles for Your PDA

For those who utilize the PalmPilot or similar Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) models for managing contacts, scheduling and a host of other applications, you might want to check to see what kind of titles are available in the area of legal materials. In this area, there are a handful (or is that a "palmful"?) of places on the Internet where you can obtain legal materials such as copies of the U.S. Constitutions, selected statutes and rules of court as well as significant court decisions. Available titles are not comprehensive, but the collections are growing.

For documents to purchase or download, you can check out the Web site called MemoWare, which has a collection of over 100 documents in the category of Law & Government. The collection ranges from the Massachusetts State Constitution to Roberts Rules of Order Revised, to a directory for the 106th Congress. The electronic book publisher PeanutPress also has a handful of legal books available for purchase, including the Texas Rules of Evidence in Civil Cases and the California Evidence Code 1999.

For a site that covers a wide range of law topics for PDA users, check out PalmLaw. They also have a few legal texts to download, as well as product and book reviews in addition to other information related to PDA devices. This site isn't excessively advanced or content-rich, but the format and intent bode well for developments to come.

I would love to hear from people who have tried these or similar products, as I don't have a clear picture as to how useful they are in real-life situations. My guess is that the small screen size will inhibit extended reading, so documents such as the US v. Microsoft findings of fact (which is indeed available) might be limited in their value. Nonetheless, the model for having key legal references in a pocket-sized, searchable, browseable format is an attractive one, especially when combined with a multi-purpose device such as a PDA.

As always, if you have comments or suggestions for future columns, please contact me.

Copyright © 2000 Roger V. Skalbeck. All Rights Reserved.