An Online Comfort Zone for Firms

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01Nov2009

An Online Comfort Zone for Firms

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By Barbara Lynch, Staff Writer

businessman online“Are you Tweeting?”

That seems to be a popular question being asked in social circles. When I say “no” to that question and then top it off by saying that it’s still challenging for me to walk and “text” at the same time or that I don’t have a Facebook® page, people look at me like I’m from a different planet. And, in today’s quickly evolving technical world, I sometimes feel I am from a different planet.

When I look back twenty years to my first job after college in a very large San Francisco law firm, I remember spending a lot of time doing administrative tasks that now are either non-existent or that take no time at all, due to modern technology.

Because using email in the office was barely on the scene back then, I had to make many phone calls to the same people and leave voicemails when they weren’t there. Then, when I would step out of my office, I would come back to their returned messages only to have to call them back again because nine times out of ten they didn’t give me the information I needed in the first place.

When I look back to the early `90s, I remember having to literally sit in front of the fax machine watching my ten-page fax go through the feeder with my fingers crossed, hoping that the pages didn’t stick together while it was sending.

Improved technology has assisted most communication tasks over the past two decades.  Now our communication is more instantaneous and efficient, streamlining the law firm working environment tremendously, especially throughout the litigation process.

Electronic Litigation

In the legal community, technology has grown over the years and now is heavily relied upon to make the litigation process run smoothly.

Today communicating with clients, court filings, and research are mostly done electronically–even many trial presentations. The higher level of technology capabilities in firms today not only helps keep things organized but it helps move along the process more smoothly. The lag time of sending communication through “snail mail,” making and returning phone calls, and manually preparing documents for trial are no longer the norm.

Smoking Gun Memo Earlier this year, Maria Kantzabelos of the Chicago Lawyer Magazine wrote an article entitled, “Technology Evangelist Keeps Faith in Legal Aid.” It highlighted Ron Staudt, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, and his innovative involvement in the evolution of technology in the legal field over the last forty years.

This portion of her article describes what technology was like over twenty years ago:

“The idea that computers would be pervasive, intellectual helping aids in the legal profession was an insight of Staudt’s and a handful of others in the mid-1980s, when only 5 percent of the lawyers in the nation’s largest law firms had a computer on or near their desk.

“’We were saying, all of you are going to have this before long, and there was lots of resistance at that time,’ Staudt recalled.

“Then the founding director of the law school’s Center for Law and Computers, Staudt tracked the growing use of technology by practitioners in large firms starting in 1985, with the Center’s first annual survey. By 1995, Staudt said, around 93 percent of lawyers surveyed had a computer on their desk.

“’I was trying to make the case for using technology as part of the legal education process and to be able to say that between 1991 and 1992 we went from 57 to 73 percent of the lawyers in the largest law firms in the country having a computer on their desk — you better get there,’ Staudt said.

“As part of a study with IBM in the early 1980s, Staudt led the effort to build a microcomputer lab dedicated to the study of law and technology at the law school.

“’Stuff that we take for granted now wasn’t available then. And so people coming in to use technology were ignorant. They didn’t know what a keyboard was. They knew what a typewriter was, but they’d never seen a keyboard for a computer. They didn’t know how they worked,’ Staudt said. ‘We started teaching classes to students, and teaching classes to lawyers. We taught dozens of CLE classes on how to use computers for lawyers. We built these software tool kits, and we had projects with the ABA.’”

This really sheds light on just how far we’ve come in twenty years. The current rapid pace of advancing technology overall will kick the legal field into higher gear and, as a result, will enhance the litigation process even more.

Depositions: So Much More Than Scheduling

All aspects in every stage of deposition planning are key elements of the litigation process. Each step needs to be well coordinated, efficiently, so as to avoid any bumps in timelines.

Technology now allows firms the convenience of scheduling depositions online, but not every court reporting agency offers an interactive portal where firms can manage their own deposition calendar.

One portal, the Atkinson-Baker Client Center, gives firms access to their entire deposition calendar any time of the day or night.

The Client Center was the brainchild of Charles Savage, VP of Technology at Atkinson-Baker Court Reporters, back in 1999.

Charlie created the platform years before other court reporting agencies had anything like it. It was something that was borne out of looking into the future and anticipating the needs of law firms in the deposition planning arena.

“The Client Center started with the idea of assisting a law firm to see what jobs they had on calendar at any time and to contact us easily if changes were needed. This quickly expanded to the ability to list all past jobs, plus access to their deposition transcripts, including a transcript search engine tool,” Charlie said.

“As time went on, development was driven largely by user request, plus any opportunity we saw to make things faster and easier to access. Invoices, exhibits and, most recently, errata sheets, are now available online.”

This proactive approach to providing clients with online services has now spanned over a decade, and Atkinson-Baker has kept right in step, if not further ahead, with what firms need to be more organized and efficient online deposition planners.

Over the years, Atkinson-Baker has focused on providing online access that consistently caters to the different needs of the sole practitioner, the medium to large law firm, and large multi-national corporations.

The BlackBerry® of Deposition Planning

The Client Center has, for many legal professionals, become their “BlackBerry® of deposition planning.” Because it hosts online tools and gives complete access to deposition information that is very important to the litigation process, it has become a “life line” for many legal professionals nationwide.

Some of the tools that firms access using the Client Center include a list of all their jobs that are currently scheduled, the jobs which have already taken place, their entire past and future calendar, and all the canceled depositions, as well.

client center

Dorothea Evans, a legal secretary in the Office of the City Attorney in Torrance, California, uses the Client Center on a regular basis and finds it pretty incredible that she can do so much online so easily.

“I love the fact that I can go online anytime, that I can make changes, and that I get instant confirmation numbers,” she said. “Our prior service required calling them on the phone, and there were instances where they didn’t take down the correct info nor get it where it needed to be. As a result, I’d call the day before to verify and nothing was on calendar. This has never happened working with the Client Center.”

The user has the option of limiting the information to a particular case, to a key witness, or to an attorney and can get all the specifics on any particular deposition by clicking on their job number. They can review their calendar and view, download, and keyword search transcripts and exhibits – all from any location at any time.

The Center boasts a secure transcript archive bank which ensures that transcripts will never be altered or changed by the viewer, no matter how many times they are viewed.

The archive bank can give instant access to every transcript within a certain date range which contains specific words, phrases and sentences. This is another unique feature that users find very useful.

Dorothea, the legal secretary in Torrance who was previously mentioned as an avid Client Center user, finds it extremely user friendly and convenient.

“I appreciate being able to print transcripts at any time. I always get requests for them, and it’s wonderful to be able to print them out as my attorneys need them,” she said.

Carrie Hill, a legal assistant with Adamski & Conti in Chicago and another user of the Client Center, finds it extremely easy and convenient to change, cancel, or reschedule jobs any time. She takes advantage of it after hours, as well as during business, which gives her an edge on her next day’s productivity.

Carrie also believes that you don’t have to be a “techie” in order to do other things in the Client Center besides scheduling – like calendar managing or downloading transcripts.

“I think that you don’t have to have a lot of computer know-how in order to do things in the Client Center.  And, if you do have a question, they respond quickly with the answer, or they are available to walk you through it.”

She also appreciates the functionality of the Client Center tools when looking at the bigger picture of the litigation process.

“Having everything online makes my job so much easier. For example, I cut and paste the caption when I schedule the deposition or hearing, so I don’t have to prepare the caption when the court reporter shows up,” she points out.

“When we are getting ready for trial, I go into the Client Center to see how many transcripts are associated with the case and see if we ordered the quantity needed. All of my records are in there, so I don’t have to keep separate records of reporters’ names, etc.  These steps all save time which really adds up in the end.”

The Human Touch

Of course, technology is only as good as the people behind it who create, implement, maintain and improve it. It is the know-how and the commitment behind the mechanics that provide the benefits to the user.

The large amount of communication that flows in and out of the Client Center every day between firms and the Atkinson-Baker team is quite vast.  Despite the tremendous amount of information carried back and forth, seamlessness is prevalent throughout every stage of the deposition planning process.

The Client Center has become a comfort zone that firms are relying on as a dependable source with considerable merit.

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