Simple Technology in Litigation

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01Apr2009

Simple Technology in Litigation

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By Barbara Lynch, Staff Writer

electronic transcriptsRecently I came across a short piece spotlighting Chicago’s Bartlit, Beck, Herman, Palenchar & Scott (The American Lawyer’s 2008 Litigation Boutique of the Year) whose high-tech backbone drives their trial preparation and gives them the edge in their trial presentations.

Philip Beck, one of the firm’s top litigators, gave his view on why his firm is different than others when working with technology:

“We are all hands-on users of technology, both for trial preparation and trial presentation. In the office (including remote trial offices) we have immediate access to whatever information has been stored on the computers, and we can sort it and analyze it instantaneously, without waiting for help from support personnel.

Most senior litigators are still pretty computer illiterate, at least when it comes to anything beyond e-mail. A lot of younger litigators are adept at back-office technology, but few of them can do anything more than run through a PowerPoint show in the courtroom. This may be because they don’t try that many cases and therefore don’t get much chance to practice, or because the people running the litigation departments at their firms don’t appreciate the importance of having lawyers be in command of the technology in the courtroom.”

Beck’s insight is reminiscent of how many firms are stepping up their technology game not only in the courtroom, but during the entire litigation process as well.

Keeping Up with Technology = A Leg Up

At what level attorneys stay on top of technological advancements in the litigation process can very well determine if they stay ahead of the opponent or not, and, as a result, it possibly lends itself to bringing more suits to resolutions in their favor.

In a recent article, Brian Fries, of Lathrop & Gage in Kansas City, shares how he’s seen things progress quickly in litigation technology over the last ten years:

“During the last decade, we have seen exponential growth in information management and data presentation technology in the litigation arena. What once occupied a “war room” with boxes of documents, deposition transcripts, summaries, and foam board enlargements, now fits on a small laptop computer, making it mobile and easily modified.

In several recent Lathrop & Gage cases, the trials were completely “electronic.” All exhibits were imaged, and all deposition transcripts and videos were on a laptop. This allowed for flexible presentation of the evidence, all by clicking a mouse. Combined with the declining costs of imaging documents and the easy integration of electronic data, we can now present a case for less cost and more effectively, saving our clients both time and money, all while enhancing the result.”

Legal Technology is a subject that’s increasingly flooding the Internet via websites and “blawgs” (lawyer blogs). It continues to invade legal print media and it’s a large part of training programs for legal professionals and nationwide conferences (Legal Tech is growing every year).

Paperless FutureWith new technology, the seemingly endless amounts of paper are now stored electronically and can be reviewed and shared from anywhere.

Mainstream technology advances continue to meet the legal world in places that are helping litigators be better at what they do.  It’s up to the legal professionals to either jump or stay on board and maximize it the best way they can.

Recent Focus: Technology and E-Discovery

Since comprehensive amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure concerning

e-discovery took effect on Dec. 1, 2006, lawyers and firms on the whole have been educating themselves on the most efficient and cost effective ways to handle their e-discovery loads.

And it hasn’t been easy.

Firms have grappled with how technology can help them comply with the e-discovery rules and all that entails without coming up short or being blind-sided. Trying to maintain this fairly new balancing act can waste a lot of time, money, and resources if not managed properly.

Because the e-discovery frontier is still young, and, for the most part, is a large body of uncharted water for many firms, the technology-related focus on e-discovery has been needed.

However, firms also should be looking at and keeping up with how technology is growing in other parts of the discovery process as well. With becoming “litigation techies” as their goal, attorneys can rely on technology every step of the way to provide many otherwise missed advantages with regard to organization, cost and, time savings and, quite possibly, clearer thinking.

Transcript Search Engines: Simple Deposition Technology

Video conferencing. Realtime reporting. Electronic transcripts and exhibits. Web-based depositions.

Attorneys have come to appreciate many of these technologies, which they recognize can reduce cost, save time and improve productivity, and can help streamline the cog-like discovery process.

Mark Ferguson, another top litigator with Bartlit Beck in Chicago, has been a longtime advocate of using the latest technology in his practice and has made it a priority to not only include it but to treat it as his best ally.

One piece of technology that Mark hails as being totally necessary is a transcript search program.

To illustrate just how up to speed with technology Mark has been over the years, check out what he said about transcript search engines way back in 1993 when it was hardly mainstream:

“No litigator should be without a transcript search program. These programs that computerize deposition and trial transcripts combine them with search and retrieval engines (which facilitate Boolean word searches, annotation, excerpting, and compilation of summaries). Work that can take literally days if done manually can be done in minutes with a computer.

When all the transcripts in a case are computerized, there is no use for deposition abstracts and summaries (which are generally completed at great expense by hourly-billing paralegals and junior associates who likely don’t know what will be important at trial). There is also no need to pay for manual searches of paper transcripts. Used most effectively, the lawyer who takes the deposition annotates it immediately and those notes become part of the file used by the entire team. Important testimony can be categorized by subject heading and later retrieved in the same categories. Others can add their own comments and cross references to other important testimony and documents. Key passages are easily identified, and everyone has the benefit of that lawyer’s thinking when the depositions are used in subsequent preparation.

These programs interface with real-time transcript systems that allow lawyers to see transcribed testimony on-screen as it is being given, to excerpt and print portions for immediate use in examinations, and to create annotations as the witness speaks. The advantage that can be gained in depositions and at trial from effective use of these systems cannot be overstated.”

Fast forward to today. With sixteen years since Mark opined and the same number of years of growth in technology behind us, we can see how search engines have evolved.  Now we are in the age of Google™, which shows us how easy searching for and accessing data can be. We can find out just about anything on everything at any time.

Technological advances over the years have also been made in the world of transcript search engines. Its capabilities have become advanced to the point that attorneys consider it one of their most valuable tools and they aren’t settling for anything less.

Searching Multiple Transcripts at Once

Quickly searching through any amount of transcripts pertaining to one case all at once used to be just a litigator’s dream but now it serves as a key ingredient to their trial preparation process in many instances.

Today, with everything being Internet-based, and at high-speed, accessing, viewing, downloading and searching through a large volume of documents simultaneously from anywhere is not a luxury; it’s becoming the norm. For this reason, many attorneys have found that if they aren’t taking advantage of transcript search engines as part of their trial prep, they and their support staff could easily be swimming in a pool of disorganization which can become chaotic and counter-productive.

Getting instant access to every transcript within a certain date range that contains specific words, phrases and sentences is just one type of search that can be done with an advance search engine.

Jean Ackema, a corporate sales rep for Atkinson-Baker, sees just how simple this tool is and the large positive impact it has on her clients’ case building:

“I was amazed when I saw the search engine locate over 4,100 search-relevant pages out of about 40,000 transcripts in less than 5 seconds. My clients love this!”

Archived Transcripts Search Engine Features

Here at Atkinson-Baker, we’ve developed our own Archived Transcripts Search Engine (ATSE) that our clients take advantage of as part of our standard service. They have access to every transcript for every case of theirs going back ten years and they can utilize the search engine online from anywhere 24/7.

The advanced transcript search criteria options provide the user with many variables to use when finding what they need.

The program, which is part of a secure database that houses clients’ transcripts going back ten years, offers detailed search options that make finding what’s needed so easy – for both attorneys and their support staff.

With the ATSE, gathering information for a case not only is made simpler but the search options often prompt litigators to acquire data to help their case even more – data that could have been too time consuming to pull together otherwise.

Some functions of our ATSE include:

  1. Highlights search results for easy viewing
  2. The user has the option of identifying which search words in a phrase are priority
  3. Searches for two expressions that are linked together
  4. Finds words even if they are misspelled
  5. Covers grammatical variations, through “stemming,” which is extremely helpful
  6. Searches phonetically
  7. Finds any combination of words, phrases or sentences
  8. Locates synonyms of words in every search request
  9. Finds numeric ranges easily

With all of these features available at any time, it’s no wonder our clients are depending on the search engine to help build better cases.

Litigation Technology can be Simple and Straightforward

The simplicity and value of utilizing an advanced search engine becomes instantaneously obvious to the first time user once they have conducted some searches.

Our biggest challenge at Atkinson-Baker, however, isn’t convincing our clients of how much it can help them. The biggest challenge is to shine the light on litigation technology as the extraordinary tool it is and encourage all legal professionals, “old school” and those “tech savvy” as well, to set aside the small investment in time to learn what will benefit their work.

The first step was to give our search engine a name that speaks to what it is.

The name Archived Transcript Search Engine is straightforward and not ambiguous, which is what legal professionals could find refreshing in our complex and sometimes confusing high-tech world.

And, once they use it, we do see them reap the benefits.

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