Practice Tips, by Dave Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor
The art of document management
Part Two of "Building an automated practice"
The first part of this article appeared in the November-December, 2001 Benchers' Bulletin and featured the core automated systems for a law office. This second part explains how to go beyond the basics. The full paper, first presented by Dave Bilinsky at LegalTech Toronto in November, is available in the Practice & Ethics page of the Law Society website under "Services for Lawyers" at www.lawsociety.bc.ca.
Once you have the core automated systems operating in your firm (financial management, case management, word processing, research software and communications software), you are ready to take it to the next level. Where you go from here depends on the type of practice that you have, the strategic direction you wish to take (which of "Better, Faster, Cheaper" do you wish to pursue?), the time and resources that you have available and the climate in which you operate. This last factor is ultimately the most important.
Many lawyers have called me to say, "I would like to introduce some new technology around here, but I don't know about so-and-so - they just won't change their ways." It is a sad fact that lawyers are like mules - there ain't no way you are going to get them to move unless and until they are darn well ready and willing to move. Building a system that won't be used by everyone is simply not an efficient use of time and resources since you will then be maintaining dual systems - unless you foresee that the holdout(s) will be pressured into changing if the entire office around them changes.
Assuming that you have all the personal factors, office politics and the stars in alignment to take the next step, what would that be?
Whether yours is a litigation practice or a solicitor's practice, in all likelihood there are at least a handful of documents that you must create time and again (mortgages, statements of claim, affidavits, reporting letters and so on). There are a number of ways to automate this process - from using the merge facility in Word or WordPerfect to sophisticated document assembly programs such as HotDocs (www.capsoft.com) or Ghostfill (www.ghostfill.com) or a database program such as Microsoft Access with MS Word - all of these programs can create documents from a standard word processing precedent library.
Case Management software (such as Amicus Attorney, Time Matters and ProLaw) can generate documents such as standard retainer letters, pleadings, fax cover sheets and the like using the information stored in their contact databases. Amicus Attorney can also generate documents using HotDocs and Word or WordPerfect's merge facility.
A somewhat less sophisticated approach is to use a program such as ActiveWords (www.activewords. com) that is akin to autocorrect in Word, but on steroids. ActiveWords allows you to create keyboard shortcuts for the insertion of standard wording, such as contact information, into a letter form.
To see how HotDocs works, go to www.lexisone.com/store and try any one of the free forms that are in HotDocs format (such as the California will under the estate planning area).
To see Ghostfill in action, go to their website (www.ghostfill.com) and take the 15-minute tour.
To try ActiveWords, go to their website and download the full version - you receive a 30-day free trial (www.activewords.com).
Document assembly falls along the "Better" and "Faster" axes, in my opinion, since you are building a standard set of precedents and no longer relying on the "search and replace" method of document creation.
Finding the proverbial needle in a haystack is the purpose of document management software. The leading products here are Worldox (www.worldox.com), DocsOpen (www.hummingbird.com) and iManage (www.imanage.com). It is true that they do things such as archiving, document version control, full-text searching and indexing, but the heart of these programs is their ability to find a document that exists somewhere on the LAN, deep in the heart of someone's hard drive, that you recall having seen at some indeterminate time in the past.
Document management has in a sense spawned, or at least been a forerunner for, a new area of study entitled "Knowledge Management." What is KM? Good question. Dr. Yogesh Malhotra defines KM as follows:
Knowledge Management caters to the critical issues of organizational adaptation, survival, and competence in face of increasingly discontinuous environmental change. Essentially, it embodies organizational processes that seek synergistic combination of data and information-processing capacity of information technologies, and the creative and innovative capacity of human beings.
In a nutshell, Knowledge Management means being able to find the person in your organization who knows about an issue - quickly - and being able to tap into that wisdom.
The International Standards Organization is developing ISO 9000 standards for KM.
Knowledge Management tools range far and wide - from expert systems (that assist someone to "think" using the judgement of others that has been captured in a sophisticated decision tree-like analysis) to email "filter" systems that discern who in an organization knows about certain things based on their email history. These tools are changing as we speak.
I would place Document Management along the "Faster" and "Cheaper" axes, if it results in your finding documents in less time as compared to your paper-based system (which it should). Knowledge Management is one that I would place along the "Better" and "Faster" axes.
There are software packages that are continually being developed to support lawyers in specific practice areas. These range from:
Corporate records management, real estate, estates, family law and other software:
Litigation software is an especially important and comprehensive tool - probably since litigators are willing to go to almost any length if it assists them in winning their case.
Accordingly, litigation software can start at the case management stage, to organize the file, the parties, the witnesses, the BF and limitation dates and all the disparate bits of information, including documents, telephone calls, emails and notes.
From here, a litigator can image all hard copy evidence (documents, photographs, hand-written notes etc), OCR them (optical character recognition) and store both the graphic images and the OCR files in a database. Then the litigator can use an evidence analysis package such as: Searchlight (www.searchlight.ca), Summation (www.summation.com), Almost Paper (www.almostpaper.com) or Concordance (www.dataflight.com) to either search by keyword or to build a database of issues, facts, people and the like and associate the evidence with the issues.
From here a litigator can use litigation strategy products, such as CaseMap, TimeMap and NoteMap (www.casesoft.com) to strategize, build timelines and outline and brainstorm their case as well as trial preparation software (www.redianalysis.com).
In discoveries and in trial, the lawyer need not take notes while a witness is giving evidence if the lawyer has acquired LiveNote (www.livenote.com), which is real-time transcription software delivering a full transcription of all evidence as it is given.
There are other products, such as JFS Litigator's Notebook, which is an electronic version of the traditional litigator's three-ring, tabbed and indexed trial notebook (www.bowne.com). Version 7 of this product now extends its capabilities to workgroup settings.
Last, you will be required to take the case to trial. There are several products that can assist you in conducting your trial, from a jury summation using a PowerPoint presentation all the way to a full digital trial using such products as the Director's Suite Trial Presentation Software (www.trialdirector.com), Sanction (www.verdictsystems.com) TrialPro II (www.trialpro.com) and Visionary (www.visionarylegaltechnologies.com), which allow you to easily organize, display and control your demonstrative exhibit presentations for trial. You can display two exhibits side-by-side, order your exhibits for quick presentation and display a document, photograph or other image immediately in front of the jury, the judge and counsel. The time saved using this method can be substantial as compared to referencing multiple document books and placing an exhibit before the judge, the witness, the jury and counsel.
This is just a small selection of the vast array of legal and general software that can be used by lawyers to automate their practices. But, as noted in the first part of this article, the secret to piecing together the picture is to start with a vision of what you are building.