It’s nice — especially for the lawyer — when the client has a six-figure litigation budget for a case. But not every client can afford that, and even if you can, not every dispute is worth it. Fortunately, advances in technology have leveled the playing field so that small firms with low overhead can provide many of the same services that were once the exclusive domain of the large law firms.
Newdorf Legal uses the latest legal software and technology to provide cutting-edge service together with excellent value for the client. Here’s an example of what’s available to our clients.
Document Databases. When I started as a lawyer at a large national law firm in 1994, I was led to a document room (bigger than my current office) with file boxes full of hundreds of thousands of documents for an environmental insurance coverage case. I spent months trying to master the contents of those boxes, but couldn’t make a dent. Today, document storage and review has been simplified by electronic imaging and Optical Character Recognition (OCR). In a case with 1,000 documents or 100,000 documents, you can sort and review e-mails or memos by date, author, subject or keyword. The cost of scanning large numbers of documents with OCR included can be as low as 15 cents a page, depending on the complexity of the database required. The documents can be accessible anywhere via the internet. Though some cases still require a platoon of young associates and paralegals to comb through documents in a warehouse, there are economic alternatives that allow small firms to compete in document-intensive business litigation.
Trial Presentation. For large trials, big law firms these days always use trial presentation software that allows documents and videos to be displayed on TV monitors or projected on large screens in the courtroom. The software allows the user to highlight and enlarge portions of documents on the fly. More and more courtrooms are being rewired and remodeled to accommodate electronic display of evidence. The software also saves the time and expense of poster-sized blow-ups. In the internet age, jurors are pre-conditioned to learn from screens. And judges appreciate it, too. The cost of the software and LCD projectors is falling. In my opinion, even a small trial these days requires at least a PowerPoint presentation for closing argument.
Mediation Presentation. As fewer and fewer cases go to trial, the emphasis is increasingly on mediation and arbitration. The same graphic display techniques used at trial should be used at mediation. A persuasive PowerPoint that incorporates blow-ups of key documents almost always benefits the client.
Deposition Software. Most court reporters can provide “real time” transcription, so the lawyer’s notebook computer is hooked up to the court reporter’s computer. With “real time,” you see the rough draft transcript of the testimony almost simultaneous with the witness’s words. No more waiting for rough drafts. Back at the office, the electronic transcripts can be loaded into a database that permits easy word searches.
E-filing. Federal trial and appellate courts and a growing number of state courts use e-filing for court documents. No more sending a messenger to the courthouse with stacks of paper documents. E-filing has numerous benefits, including saving on the cost of photocopying, delivery and postage. With a push of the button, the lawyer can submit documents to the court and all other parties in a case via the internet. Elecontric document assembly is efficient and eliminates hours of work formerly done by paralegals and secretaries.
On-line legal research. In a junior high school science class, I learned how to use a slide rule. It was my father’s vintage 1940s slipstick. Within a few years, slide rules went the way of the abacus and rotary dial phone. Much later, in law school, I learned how to “Shepardize” a case — the process of using hardcover books and softcover update pamphlets to determine whether a case had been overruled. By the time I graduated, that skill was as useful as the ability to calculate with a slide rule. On-line legal research — Westlaw and LexisNexis are the main services — is the standard today.
Specialized legal technology, together with ubiquitous applications such as Mircosoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, has narrowed the achievement gap between large and small firms.
But I do confess to sneaking down to the law library about once a week. I enjoy the peace and solitude (no one goes there anymore) as I flip yellowed pages amid the rows of dusty tomes. You just might catch me, Dad’s slide rule in hand, as I double-check the bookkeeper’s ledgers.