Features - KM and the Law: The Verdict Is In

Judith Lamont is a freelance journalist and writes frequently
on topics related to knowledge management and collaboration.

Few fields could benefit from knowledge management more than the legal profession. Fundamentally, it is a knowledge business, with information as input and decisions as output. Lawyers must contend with a vast repository of laws, collect and manage case-related information and convince a jury to act on that information. In the process, they must file court-related documents, track multiple cases and seek expertise within and outside of their firms. It seems that lawyers would enthusiastically embrace any tools that help them organize both the information and the processes that their profession entails.

In fact, attorneys have been cautious about using information technology to support their activities. Even with products such as case management software, which might seem to offer clear and immediate benefits, resistance has been surprisingly strong.

Dennis Kennedy, a technologically proficient lawyer at Thompson Coburn, concludes that the reasons for the slow adoption are broad-based, ranging from confusion about what case management products can do, to fears of becoming dependent on them. Systems designed to capture attorneys’ knowledge may also appear to pose a threat to their status as experts.

Yet law firms are increasingly recognizing that their primary product is intellectual capital, and that they can employ technology to use this capital effectively. Covington & Burling has taken steps to leverage a portion of its knowledgebase more effectively using a combination of software solutions. The law firm has a well established food and drug practice, and over the years has developed and maintained an extensive set of loose-leaf notebooks on a variety of topics related to that practice. Those notebooks include both work product and trade press from small specialty publishers that are not readily available anywhere else.

"The notebooks represent intellectual capital," says Lisa Polisar, director of Practice Information Services, "because a judgment has been made by an expert in the field that a particular item is important and should be included. The key is not just having information, but sifting through and selecting the right information." Valuable both in supporting the practice and getting new hires up to speed, the notebooks were limited in utility because they were not readily searchable, nor accessible to staff in other locations. Covington and Burling selected a subset of the notebooks, converted them to PDF, and then used the embedded OCR text capability within Adobe Acrobat 4.0 to make them searchable. Basic bibliographic information was entered into a records management package, TRIM from Tower Software. Because TRIM can be deployed with a Web interface, the information will be available to Covington and Burling's offices throughout the world, including London and the fast-growing San Francisco office. TRIM was chosen in part for its proficiency in managing electronic documents as well as paper documents.

Covington and Burling is also implementing iManage as a document management system. It will handle ongoing work that is still subject to revision. When a document is final and considered important for future use, it will migrate to the records management system. Because the practice encompasses a wide range of legal specialties from litigation and corporate to intellectual property and regulatory, it has many other specialized collections of information. The firm will be working to provide more effective access to all of this unique intelligence.

Some firms are focusing on maximizing the benefits they can derive from their own previous work. Faegre & Benson established Faegre Interactive Documents Online (FIDO) as a work product retrieval system. Organized by practice area such as appellate and real estate, it contains briefs, research memos, contracts, agreements, seminars and other resources. FIDO allows attorneys to share their best work, reducing the time spent in research and document drafting. It uses a combination of DOCS Open, now owned by Hummingbird, and an in-house application for document management, and ISYS from ISYS/Odyssey Development for retrieval. ISYS indexes documents and provides capability for Boolean searches through a simple interface. The goal of FIDO is to improve service and reduce costs to clients by making use of the collective knowledge of the firm.

Because the most difficult part of implementing this type of system is getting attorneys to contribute documents, Faegre plans to automate the document collection process. When this portion of the system is launched, it will check new documents on a regular basis, and if no activity has occurred for a specified amount of time, the author will be asked to confirm that it should be saved to FIDO. Nina Platt, the firm’s director of library services, says that another goal for the future is to investigate the feasibility of indexing documents automatically using an established taxonomy. FIDO was developed by a team of librarians, attorneys and technical staff.

Another law firm using ISYS is Rosenman & Colin. “The firm always wanted and needed a precedent document library,” says Dirk Schwarzhoff, who is implementing the system. Word processing documents were converted to HTML in order to keep the appearance of the document similar to the original (which is also available through the system in its native format. The ISYS feature most attractive to users was the “hit-to-hit” capability, which shows all the hits within a document rather than just identifying the document in which the hit occurred. Rosenman & Colin plans to deploy its corporate weekly digest on the system next. That publication is presently in PDF format, and will remain in that format in the ISYS system.

In addition to using software tools to support internal knowledgebases, law firms are beginning to use a large (and growing) number of tools to help with electronic discovery, filing, court presentation and analysis. During discovery, lawyers evaluate information to separate the relevant information from the “noise.” Fios provides a hosted environment and support services that help companies obtain and use discovery information from computer systems.

“As a former litigator, I understand what lawyers face in terms of trying to turn information into knowledge,” says Richard Lazar, CEO of Fios. Lazar points to the overwhelming impact of e-mail, with 2.2 billion messages sent each day in the United States alone. E-mail has been central in several high-profile cases, and can be a critical element in supporting or disproving a claim.

Fios handles both the content and the metadata of computer files, indexing the words and storing the metadata in a database along with the documents. By examining the relationships between the content and metadata, lawyers can draw conclusions about activities that took place. Such research often results in the actionable information that distinguishes data from knowledge. In one case, several senior employees had sued a company for wrongful termination. A search of the employees’ computers found information that helped the company defend itself against the charge. In another case, a manufacturer believed that former employees had stolen information from the firm. After a process of electronic discovery, the company found evidence that supported its suspicion. Although the patterns must now be inferred by humans, planned capabilities include both an automated pattern-matching capability and real-time collaboration with instant messaging.

Large cases have the potential to create paper gridlock in the courtroom. As a result, judges have begun to mandate the use of electronic filing. For example, Judge Stuart R. Pollak ordered the electronic filing of all documents in the Microsoft antitrust case, using Courtlink’s e-filing system, JusticeLink. Early this year, Colorado launched the first statewide e-filing system, also using JusticeLink. The 58th District Court in Jefferson County was the first in Texas to use electronic filing, beginning with asbestos-related cases about four years ago and quickly expanding from four to 200 cases. Court coordinator Martha Newsome says, “We were drowning in paper and running out of space.” Although she reports some initial resistance, more attorneys are starting to see the value and use e-filing effectively. In the 9th District Court, Jefferson County, TX, staff attorney Carolyn Atkinson points out that electronic filing dramatically speeds up court processes. As soon as an order is signed, it can be electronically distributed.

Another CourtLink product, CaseStream, provides electronic access to court records. About 800 courts are now online throughout the country. “We work with each court and develop a consistent interface for the data,” says Craig Husa, senior VP of CourtLink’s Court Services division. “This bridges the gap among the various case management systems used by different courts.” Usually, even courts in adjacent counties cannot share data, so infractions by an individual in one jurisdiction can easily remain unknown in another. Now, anyone using the subscription service can access over 200 million cases throughout the United States by using the CaseStream system. Technology has achieved a level of integration that might have been difficult to achieve through bureaucracy.

Presentation Software

When a case is headed for trial, depositions from witnesses are videotaped, evidence is collected, and documents are identified that are relevant to the case. Keeping that material organized and presenting it to a jury poses significant challenges, particularly for large cases. Even for smaller cases, testimony can be very technical and hard for lay audiences to understand. Presentation can make a significant difference in how evidence is understood and retained.

InData:  InData has a suite of products that assists in deposition, document management and presentation. DepositionDirector uses digitized video deposition and a rolling transcript to prepare video deposition for trial. The transcript is prepared by the court reporter and then synchronized with the video. DocumentDirector organizes any kind of electronic case exhibits, including scanned images and testimony clips. TrialDirector is presentation software that allows comparison of multiple exhibits on one screen, annotation capabilities and zooming. Any material in DepositionDirector or DocumentDirector can be presented in TrialDirector. Screens can be generated on the fly as the situation requires. Some judges are now beginning to require electronic presentations, and new courtrooms are being built with wiring that accommodates the new technology.

CaseMap from CaseSoft, a division of DecisionQuest, is a software tool for organizing and exploring case information. By entering facts, witnesses, issues, allegations, documents and other critical data, attorneys can discover patterns in the information that would otherwise be difficult to detect. Users have reported remarkable results in their ability to analyze case information. One attorney reported that when CaseMap was used to put a series of apparently unrelated and unimportant facts in chronological order, inconsistencies in an individual’s statements became evident. Undisputed facts can be distinguished from disputed facts by using the filter feature. Witnesses and documents can be readily linked to the facts they support. The value of CaseMap is particularly great when a case is complex.

Lawrence Berger, CEO of Excentia, (formerly Pinpoint Training), believes that the move toward knowledge management is strong. “The dam is about to burst,” says Berger. “A few law firms are leading the way in implementing information technology, and others will be forced to follow.” He believes, however, that knowledge management will not be fully accepted by law firms until it is part of a comprehensive solution that integrates it with training and other resources to address such critical issues as employee retention and client relations.

Getting up to speed on IT

One reason that lawyers are not up to speed on information technology is that many law schools have not integrated it into their curricula. “There is a pressing need for more exposure to technology in law school,” contends Christine Gilsinan, an attorney who guest lectures at law school seminars. Gilsinan also has started Knowledge Management Seminars, which offers basic and advanced training to lawyers in retrieving and organizing Internet information.

Law schools have begun to acknowledge this need, and now are bringing in experts as instructors and guest speakers. A number of schools now have set up mock courtrooms, wired with all the latest infrastructure, so law students can experiment with cutting-edge tools. In addition, the new generation of lawyers, familiar with the Internet and comfortable with computers, will bring their skills into the profession. Law firms may also get educated by their own client base. Many corporations use information technology and knowledge management to improve their efficiency. Paying by the hour, such clients do not want to see their lawyers performing tasks manually that could be automated. They also may pass on to law firms their own experiences with various forms of e-learning that would offer new options for lawyers to enhance their knowledge of information technology.

Finally, a number of Web sites, online communities and publications stand ready to share their knowledge. For example, Technolawyer.com offers a variety of articles and other resources, as well as the ability to post questions. Answers are prompt and prolific. Other sites that provide information on technologies in law firms are Law.com and LLRX.com. Lawyerware.com has a directory of Web sites of legal software companies, and Law Office Computing Magazine has a database of software products for the legal market as well as articles on law office technology.


This article originally appeared in KM World, v. 10, issue 3, March 2001, a publication of Information Today, Inc., 143 Old Marlton Pike, Medford, NJ 08055 U.S.A. Phone 1 (609) 654-6266. http://www.infotoday.com. Reprinted with permission.