Features - The New Legal Technology Arena

(Archived January 3, 1997)




Sabrina I. Pacifici has been a legal newsletter editor and publisher for the past decade, as well as a law librarian in Washington, D.C. for 18 years.  She is the Editor of Law Library Resource Xchange (LLRX).

Even the casual reader of computer magazines cannot remain uninfluenced by the recent proliferation of cover articles on the hugely popular technology trio of the moment: the World Wide Web (the Web), the Intranet and Windows 95. Almost mantra-like, these subjects are also the topic of front page articles in major metropolitan newspapers. There has been a virtual explosion of software targeted at supporting the implementation of these three applications, and one feels compelled to dash out to the computer software store, credit card in hand, to remain on technology's fast track, both at work and at home. One tangible result of all this hype is that numerous law firms, which just last year professed a lack of interest in the phenomenon of the Web, have paid consultants to create Web Pages for them and are discussing when their firms will migrate to Windows 95. For many law firms, the catalyst to embrace these applications has been an increasingly competitive marketplace and client's demands for compatibility with their own systems.

In many law firm libraries, technological innovations were underway quietly and steadily prior to their implementation on a firm-wide basis. These libraries have developed customized services targeted to the increasingly specialized requirements of their users. The strategic implementation and management of new technologies is now acknowledged as an integral component of a productive library. The technical skills required of law librarians by new computer applications have increased exponentially the expertise, and illustrate the evolving role of the profession in the increasingly technological workplace.

During the last year, the Library of the Washington, D.C., office of Sidley & Austin expanded it's technology repertoire to incorporate a number of newly released software tools. The technology trio mentioned above has been a significant component of our technological development, along with other applications and services representative of the newest directions in the legal marketplace. As a result, the services of the Library have been enhanced, and the foundation has been successfully laid for the next level of technological changes which are just a new software release away.

The Web and the Intranet

The Web is only three years old and its impact as a medium for the exchange of information is widespread. Unlike proprietary legal research systems such as LEXIS and WESTLAW, the Web is not a product of any one commercial organization. It is an expansive connection of computers worldwide brimming with data maintained by a host of private, public, for-profit and non-profit institutions and individuals. The Web has garnered a great deal of attention from law firm libraries seeking to effectively manage and utilize the range of resources it offers, only some of which are of value to their practice. Mastering the operational structure of the Web provides libraries with the means to customize its worthwhile content consistent with their own specific research and information requirements. The newest way to accomplish this goal is through the use of an Intranet, the application which burst onto the scene last year and is now the focus of more corporate network development than the Internet.

By early 1996, the Intranet boom had officially arrived. This was in large measure the result of widespread adoption of Windows 95 which offers a more seamless interface with Internet tools and related products, most notably because it has better built-in support for Internet protocols, the underlying structure of an Intranet application. An Intranet uses TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol) and HTML (HyperText MarkUp Language), the language of the Web. HTML is used to write documents and create the links between resources throughout the Web. Unlike the Internet, an Intranet is an internal Web, created and maintained by corporations and their respective departments, restricted to company employees. Using TCP/IP and HTML, an Intranet facilitates the creation of an in-house Web page through which information can be distributed to a law firm within a closed network environment. With an Intranet, users can browse the content of the Web page using Netscape, along with hypertext links to documents, other Web pages and search engines. Intranet Web pages employ the same icons, graphics and applications tools of the Web. Some of the documents found on law firm Intranet Web pages include: Human Resources materials, in-house telephone directories, firm policy and procedure guides, biographical information on attorneys and staff, and departmental resource materials. The widespread familiarity with the Web's user-friendly browsing techniques carries over to the Intranet eliminating the need for additional specialized training.

At Sidley & Austin's Washington Library, an internal information and resource network was initially developed in the summer of 1995 using Netscape Bookmarks. The Bookmarks, a tabular arrangements of Web addresses by subject and topic, became the underlying content of our first Intranet Library Web page. They facilitated quick and easy access to Web sites that were of specific value from a research perspective, including federal and state government, university and corporate sites. We then learned how to write HTML code, and replaced the Bookmarks with icon driven groupings of legal and non-legal topical resources available on the Web. To these groups we added annotated information describing the sites and their content, and providing further links to other associated sites of interest. Materials previously available only in hard copy, such as library training, orientation and reference materials, guides and brochures, collection listings and other departmental literature were republished as hypertext linked documents and integrated in the Library Web page. This Library internal information retrieval system offers the user the capability of clicking the mouse and linking to materials of interest.

All these materials are searchable using links and icons, which further allow the user to move between our in-house Intranet Web site and outside Internet Web sites. The point and click mouse capabilities of Netscape, allowing the user to navigate from point to point and site to site, are fully integrated into our Web page. The content of our internal links, meaning the documents themselves, are updated regularly, as are the links to outside sites on the Web, to insure that they are always pointing our users to correctly identified locations containing useful information. The Library Intranet Web is also updated to run under each new version of the Netscape Browser as it becomes available. The use of colorful icons, graphics and text, along with a background which includes the site name, give our Library Web page additional interest as well as assisting the user to navigate easily through our Intranet. Links to ten major Web search engines, including the popular Yahoo and AltaVista, are also integrated into our Intranet to maximize the ease with which users can access Internet information. The response to our Web page has been excellent, and plans are underway to implement another significant enhancement, the addition of Java applets. Java is a new Web language from Sun Microsystems which offers exciting new capabilites for implementing multimedia programs on Internet and Intranet pages.

 

 

Mastering the operational structure of the Web provides libraries with the means to customize its worthwhile content consistent with their own specific research and information requirements.

 

 

In conjunction with the development of our Web page, our Library began to use Power Point as a tool to demonstrate our resources and services as well as to provide in-house training.

Microsoft Powerpoint and Lotus Screencam

Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows 95 is a powerful and versatile presentation software application that permits the user to create a visually interesting presentation of any length that incorporates different backgrounds, color text, charts, graphs, clip-art, audio and video into a seamless data show that can be viewed directly from the computer monitor or projected onto a screen for a larger audience.

In conjunction with the development of our Web page, our Library began to use PowerPoint as a tool to demonstrate our resources and services as well as to provide in-house training. Using PowerPoint 7.0 for Windows 95, we have created presentations on Library applications and systems, including our Web page. These presentations have been used for an in-house CLE course, orientation and training programs, as well as outside legal technology seminars. Futhermore, using Internet Assistant for PowerPoint for Windows 95, we have converted these presentations into HTML and made them available on our Library Web page.

Our Library has produced expanded presentations that include software screen captures as well as real time video, incorporated through the use of Lotus ScreenCam 2.1. ScreenCam allows the user to record an online, real-time session, from an in-house application or from an commercial online application. Along with recording what is seen on the PC screen, it also allows one to add descriptive captions and the sound of the user's voice to the presentation. Merging these two applications increases the impact and content of a presentation. Although our Library has produced excellent hard copy training and orientation materials, the response to the PowerPoint/Lotus ScreenCam presentations has led to their increased use to market Library services and technology.

Document Recognition Software

Adobe Acrobat Reader is a software application that we have been using for several years in conjunction with downloading documents from the Internet. For example, through GPO Access, the webpage of the Government Printing office, (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aaces002.html) our library locates and obtains government documents ranging from House and Senate bills to GAO reports and committee hearings. We then utilize the option of downloading these documents in PDF (Portable Document File) format, open them in Adobe Acrobat, and print exact duplicates of the paper copies produced by the GPO. Last year, Adobe introduced an enhancement to the PDF format with its ACD (Adobe Capture Document) software. Adobe Capture offers a new variation on OCR (optical character recognition) by creating a searchable file of any document, including hand printed text, that looks like the original page. This new document recognition software has been used extensively by the Navy and Air Force to capture millions of pages of defense documents into files readable on standard work stations.

Adobe Capture is at the heart of a newly initiated service our Library is using called DocExpress, from RIS (Research Information Services), of Washington, D.C. Previously, we relied on the use of fax or overnight delivery services to obtain federal and state court documents as well as federal agency documents not available through online systems. However, DocExpress provides an innovative delivery method and greater flexibility in the use of these materials once we receive them. Utilizing Adobe Capture software, RIS obtains, scans and reviews for accuracy the requested documents, and then transmits them to the Library via e-mail in a PDF file. We can then either print, or incorporate the documents in part or in total, into other work product documents. Digitizing the text of court documents is yet another step toward the process of electronic filing which will inevitably follow in the next few years.

 

 

Adobe Capture offers a new variation on OCR (optical character recognition) by creating a searchable file of any document, including hand printed text, that looks like the original page.

 

 

Courtlink 4.0, a product of the Data West Corp., is a Windows-based program that provides access to online, real-time state and federal court records.

Pacer and CourtLink

In 1996, CourtLink, a new service that augments the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system, became available. Pacers provides DOS-based modem dial-up access to computers located and maintained by individual U.S. district and bankruptcy courts.

Courtlink 4.0, a product of the Data West Corp., is a Windows-based program that provides access to online, real-time state and federal court records. It allows the user to perform global searches rather than dialing into the computer of each individual court.

The system includes access to about 82 district court databases (through the PACER system), 64 bankruptcy courts in 44 states (through the PACER system), and over 120 Washington state district and municipal courts in 36 counties (through the DISCIS system).

Conclusion

The tremendous acceleration in applications development for the Internet/Intranet platform and other software innovations is offering law libraries new and challenging opportunities in the areas of managing, disseminating and even publishing information to fulfill the firm's research and training objectives. The paradigm for law libraries is rapidly evolving to encompass the integration of technological advancements into services designed to maximize the value of in-house resources on balance with those from outside sources.


This article was originally published under the title "Librarians: The New Tech Cowboys." It was reprinted with permission of the Legal Times.