Product Focus: Courtroom Automation

There are many, many courtroom automation tools on the market, but are there law offices and courtrooms

by / February 28, 1997
When speaking to lawyers about courtroom automation products, a common theme pops up in each conversation. According to these experts, it seems that today's law offices and courtrooms are lacking not only in state-of-the-art technology, but also in technological know-how. "Generally speaking, lawyers and courts are behind the curve and have to catch up," said Albert Barsocchini, owner of LawTek, a San Francisco, Calif.-based technology consulting firm.

The resistance to use technology in the legal profession is actually quite surprising, especially since many other professionals and government agencies have zealously embraced it. Richard Power, attorney for Shingle Springs, Calif.-based Appeals Unlimited, explained it. "There's an incredible resistance," he said. "Attorneys wish [technology] would go away. Most attorneys didn't like science, numbers and statistics in the first place -- that's why they went to law school. Now they're faced with learning to use these skills. But the attorneys who learn to take advantage of technology will bury the others who resist."

Those who may end up "burying" technophobic attorneys are students, a younger generation of lawyers trained in modern legal techniques at today's law schools. The mock courtroom put together at Sacramento, Calif.-based McGeorge School of Law is one example. According to Joe Taylor, director of the Center for Legal Advocacy at McGeorge, students are being taught how to use computer projection systems that allow computer images to be displayed on a big screen, realtime court reporting and a CD-ROM system that presents exhibits and demonstrative aids through the computer projection system.

While such programs are helping students transition into the Information Age, they still don't solve the ongoing problem students will face as freshman lawyers out in the real world, where their bosses most likely won't be as technologically literate. These young attorneys, who may know how to use advanced technology to present evidence, will find that their employers may not utilize this kind of hardware and software, and neither do the court systems in which they work.

Perhaps the first step in preparing for the inevitable arrival of computer technology, however, is a bit of research on what is currently available.

Here is a rundown of some of the latest legal services and programs that will automate legal offices and courtrooms in the 21st century.

Lawyers do a lot of research. Thus, a good search engine would cut down on the number of hours legal assistants have to spend looking up citations and related references. It would also be useful when attorneys are in court and have to look up information on the fly or pull up a quick reference. One of the best search engines on the market is ISYS 4.0 for Windows, by Odyssey Development Inc. "ISYS has a good search engine," said Barsocchini. "Type in a name of a case and it performs wild card searches instead of going into myriad directories. It has a front end similar to Yahoo or Lycos and acts similarly."

ISYS 4.0 is text-retrieval software that maximizes the benefits of a 32-bit environment. It supports Microsoft Word 7.0, Works 4.0, Microsoft Office Binders, Paradox 5.0, WordPerfect 7.0, PowerPoint 7.0 and Access 7.0. In a nutshell, ISYS scans documents and stores information about each and every word in a special file or database. The database contains a list of the words used in a document. ISYS essentially uses a query system to search the database to find which document(s) contained that word.

ISYS can perform a menu-assisted query, meaning the user types text into the "Find all documents that contain ..." box. Enter a single word or an entire phrase. Once the word or phrase is typed, the user hits the "enter" key and ISYS searches the database. Compound queries can be performed by typing the first word or phrase and clicking on the bar for the "conditional operator" (this would be a phrase such as "AND which ALSO contain"), and then typing in the second word or phrase. Up to 16 conditional operators can be used per query. In addition to the conditional operators, users can use wild cards, word tense conflation and synonym operators in the typed test. ISYS displays the query command it will execute at the bottom of the menu-assisted window.

ISYS also contains special query features utilized with simple and advanced query methods. For instance, there are many symbols which change the meaning of the commands. These symbols can be used in command-based and menu-assisted queries. For example, a * or ! are useful to search for any number of characters. Type in something like "manage*" or "manage!" and the query will find all words that start with manage, including management, manages, managed, etc. This kind of specialized feature is excellent to perform a broad rather than specific search.

For additional information contact Odyssey Development Inc., The Denver Technology Center, 8775 E. Orchard Rd., Suite 811, Englewood, CO 80111. 303/689-9998. E-mail: .

For attorneys who need to keep track of a case as it makes its way through the court system, there is World Software Corp.'s Worldox 96 for Windows. "Case management programs enable attorneys to conveniently keep entire case materials in one compact source and offer immediate retrieval through searches with commands," explained Taylor. "You can index and cross index everything, and it's a marvelously efficient way to organize and prepare your case. It also helps when you're in court and you want to quickly retrieve something for a visual presentation."

Worldox is a powerful 32-bit, fully integrated document manager that provides built-in full-file management and a universal filing system for unstructured files. It contains first-class functionality that allows users to create as many as 50 different profile groups per file server, each with up to seven user-definable profile fields. It can be installed on a network file server, but not on individual users' computers.

Worldox places program files in a single directory on the server and all authorized users have access through the server. It features administrative functions that allow users to determine file locations, use password protection to control access, make changes to profile groups with add/edit, import information on groups from a data file, file security options, rename options, log audit trails and more.

It allows users to create databases of files and locate them on the system for better management. Worldox creates default directories and labels them as either profiles or text. The advantage of using default directories is to simplify program installation and usage and keep all Worldox-related files in one organized location. Worldox works best for the management of legal briefs, correspondence, law office policy manuals and for organized data feeds from outside databases.

For additional details contact World Software, 124 Prospect St., Ridgewood, NJ 07450. 800/962-6360.

Another court case management system is the Uniform Court System from AMA Justech. It runs on every variant of UNIX, all proprietary computer operating systems and PC LAN operating systems. It's designed for general, limited and special jurisdiction courts and provides an organized method of collecting, tracking and reporting information for the court system. It generates automated abstracts of cases, indexes, calendaring functions, court documents -- such as notices, summons and more -- and statistical reporting for civil, small claims, criminal, traffic, minor offenses, domestic relations and juvenile cases.

Its case management features include motions documents to track records and case-relation motions, documents, notices, orders, etc.; exhibits to maintain a record on stores, transfers and others; warrants to produce audits, tracks and recalls; pending actions and case history that display information on open items and recorded activities; and multi-file updates for
each case management module. Other features include case disposition,
ed case management, accounting, jury management, hearings, indexing, security and table maintenance.

For additional information contact AMA Justech, Aquidneck Corp. Park, 28 Jacome Way, Newport, RI 02842. 401/849-8900.

For attorneys who want instant access to current and past testimony both in and out of court, Taylor recommended Stenograph's CaseView II for Windows. As a court reporter takes steno notes, they are translated into English on the computer-aided transcription system. Text is instantly transmitted to one or more CaseView system. This allows the involved parties to read, scroll back, search or mark passages for future reference.

CaseView features Mark Testimony for easy review during or after proceedings; search function for words or phrases; notes that can be written on screen and linked to testimony; issue codes to assign categories to testimony; quick issues which can be used with assigned keys to simplify usage; time stamping; and a split-screen feature to view or compare testimony. Other features include the ability to save realtime transcripts in CaseView format to avoid switching to another program, customization features to improve readability, adjustable screen colors and an online tutorial.

For additional information contact Stenograph Corp., 1500 Bishop Ct., Mt. Prospect, IL 60056. 800/228-2339.

Videoconferencing is certainly nothing new, but many courts still haven't adopted it. The problem is that many law offices and courts don't have ISDN lines -- this limits both parties' ability to videoconference, since both sides must have the technology. According to Barsocchini, videoconferencing is definitely advantageous. "Instead of jumping on a plane and flying to a conference or hearing, lawyers could do it via videoconferencing and transmit documents through e-mail. It just makes more sense." Taylor concurred and said, "Videoconferencing would allow counsel, parties and witnesses to appear from remote sites."

An excellent videoconferencing system called the TC2000 is offered by VTEL Corp. It comes standard with a graphical conference-control interface, point-and-click operability, high-speed Pentium processors to stand up to the demands of graphics applications, a 30-frames-per-second delivery of video, CD-ROM drive and modem with optional LAN connections, AppsShare software for workgroups that can simultaneously share applications and more.

For additional information contact VTEL Corp., 108 Wild Basin Rd., Austin, TX 78746. 512/314-2700.

There are dozens upon dozens of courtroom automation products and tools available on the market. The above mentioned applications are typically used in conjunction with popular mainstream products, such as Microsoft Office, Word, WordPerfect, Access, Paradox and many others. It's good to consider investing in the usual array of hardware and software applications before buying specific vertical-market applications such as these. Once familiar with mainstream applications, applications like Worldox or CaseView are much easier to use. Barsocchini recommended hiring a consultant who can help navigate in the right direction. Power, however, warned that many such consultants often don't necessarily know that much more than attorneys. He suggested lawyers carefully select a consultant who clearly knows how to find his or her way around in the Information Age.

Michelle Gamble-Risley is the publisher of Government Technology's sister publication California Computer News. E-mail her at .