Notes from the Technology Trenches - February, 1998

Elizabeth H. Klampert is the Director of Library Services for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Ms. Klampert was formerly a litigator for five years, specializing in professional liability litigation. Before attending law school, she was a corporate librarian for twelve years, holding management positions in libraries in a number of large organizations, including Rainier National Bank in Seattle, Deloitte & Touche, and Merrill Lynch, both in New York. She received both her BA in English and MLS from the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her JD at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

(Archived March 16, 1998)


LegalTech New York took place this week at the New York Hilton (January 26-28), so I thought I should give an overview for those who weren't able to attend. As a preliminary note, some of the attendees I spoke with expressed the view that they were overstimulated but underwhelmed, an assessment I share. Perhaps I'm just getting jaded?

This year, the case management software was more visible than ever, along with the growing number of Web applications directed to the practice of law. One of the most interesting exhibits was the "21st Century Courtroom" set up on the first exhibit floor. Evidently, this same courtroom is set up at the College of William and Mary Law School to introduce law students to the brave new world of e-law.

As part of this exhibit, Smart Technologies Inc. had on display its SMARTBoard(tm), an interactive bulletin board that can be used for group meetings or presentations at trial. The large projection screen ties in to a PC and any changes made to a document projected onto this board will be captured on the PC. The board is not inexpensive, but a really great tool!

WESTLAW and LEXIS-NEXIS were there, of course, as were Matthew Bender, BNA, and the other major vendors (fewer now, of course, with all those mergers taking place!). LEXIS-NEXIS, along with the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, co-sponsored the "Small Firm Day" on Wednesday and the turnout for the events was gratifying. However, as probably the only law librarian participating in LegalTech, next year I'd like to see more of us on the panels and doing presentations.

I moderated a panel on the "virtual law firm," with Parry Aftab of Aftab & Savitt, David Vandagriff, Director of Technology Alliances at LEXIS-NEXIS, and Allison Manning of Wright & Manning and Intercounsel. The panel discussed a number of issues, including the latest innovation, extranets. Extranets are not just the portion of the intranet that we allow clients to access, but are also being used for attorneys to collaborate on cases. For any of you who are familiar with what Counsel Connect was doing with its private forums, it is quite similar but now Web-based. I predict that we will see more and more about extranets this year.

The other offerings at LegalTech ran the gamut with sessions on electronic billing, private libraries on the Internet (no librarians on that panel, folks), voice recognition advances, the millennium bug (or Y2K) problem, security issues involving the Internet, intranets and extranets, and promoting the law firm's Web site using Web resources. There were also sessions focusing on the small law firm, as noted above, and a separate track on outsourcing.

FYI, there will be another LegalTech in New York in September that will, I believe, be known as "LegalTech 2000." It will focus on some specific hot issues in the area of technology and the law, so stay tuned. I understand Glasser Legal Works will also be having some kind of legal technology event in New York that month as well. Lots of interest in this area!

I mentioned Web-based e-mail in my last column. About a year ago, finding that I had far more e-mail addresses than I could handle, I started looking for a Web-based e-mail service that would allow me both to consolidate my various addresses and allow me to access my e-mail from someone's PC if I didn't have a laptop available. Many technology fairs and conferences set up "e-mail centers" with a number of PCS setup with Internet access so that those who still want access to their e-mail don't always need to carry a laptop with them (AALL and SLA had one of these centers as did Internet World).

I looked at several, saw an ad for Valise.com in an issue of Internet World and decided to try it. This is not a free site -- the minimum charge is $20.00 a year. One of the reasons I chose it was its ability to allow me access to at least one of my other very active e-mail accounts (easy to set up). When I first started using the Valise account, the lag time between putting in my login and password seemed excruciatingly slow and its storage capacity was pretty minimal (the more you pay, the more storage capability). However, the powers that be at Valise have listened to their subscribers and the speed with which I can access my account has improved greatly as has the storage capacity.

In a recent foray onto the Web, I noticed an ad on AltaVista for a "free" e-mail account. I clicked it on and found myself at NET@DDRESS. This site, like other "free" e-mail accounts is available at no cost (other than what you are currently paying your ISP to access your e-mail) because of the advertising these sites accept. Depending on how you feel about this, you will either find the ads annoying or you won't even notice them.

Although I'm not currently looking for another Web-based e-mail account, I thought I'd take a look at what is available these days, specifically in the "free" account category. Most of these sites require registration and their sign-up forms can be quite nosy. They all have certain basic features, such as folders, filters, address books and file attachments. Some have some nice extras such as the ability to send automatic responses ("I'm out of the office until next week").

In addition to NET@DDRESS, there's Hotmail that Microsoft is acquiring. Excite has started an e-mail service, found at http://mail.excite.com. Not to outdone, Yahoo! also has a Web-based e-mail service, Yahoo! Mail. Another entry is MailCity.

If you want to find out more about these "free" accounts, the Wall Street Journal reviewed several in its January 22, 1998 edition. If you've got a WSJ Web account, you can find the article on the Web site at http://interactive.wsj.com/. Also, ZD's Internet Magazine reviewed a number of these e-mail services in their November 1997 issue in the article, "E-mail for the Masses." You can find the review at http://www.zdnet.com/products/content/zdim/0211/zdim0009.html.

If any of you have one of these Web-based accounts, I'd be interested to hear what you're using it for and how you would rate it overall. If I get enough responses, I'll summarize them in the next column.

Last and on a really low-tech level: Since we're going into February, let's hope the groundhog doesn't see its shadow on the 2nd. Although some of us have experienced a relatively mild winter so far, in the East at any rate, February can often be the snowiest!