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.
IN SEARCH OF ...
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 "