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Law firms slowly moving to computerization

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Technological advances have changed the legal profession in many ways, however, ethics codes have not kept pace, and this brings pressure not only to supervising attorneys, but presumably to the new paralegal as well, according to the American Bar Association's comments about ethics and family law.

Innovations in mobile technology, the Internet, social networking sites and an ever-growing selection of software and vendors are introduced on a daily basis. Lawyers and judges must stay current because lapses in physical security lead to data breaches. Smartphones, thumb drives, and other portable devices containing sensitive client data are easily lost or stolen. Computers that should be secure are accessed by unauthorized individuals.

There are many law practice management software applications that help attorneys efficiently manage information with regard to cases and clients. By using management software, various case information including contacts and calendaring may be shared between the attorneys and other law office staff. Some of the prominent features of law practice management software which can help a sole practitioner such as Attorney Ruth (as we will call this real attorney), include billing/tracking time, scheduling, contacts, invoicing, conflict checks and accounting. Any good salesperson can sell to Attorney Ruth but she should first understand the needs of the law firm before deciding what technologies are to be adopted.

Technology also has its own downside. Metadata, advertising, disposing of computers, website use, and email are certain areas that should be researched before buying software with which to protect oneself or one’s law firm. As we have discussed, metadata is the information hidden in the background of electronic documents. It includes the name of the author, the date created and last edited, as well as the undo/redo history. The disclosure of the metadata could even lead to a breach of confidentiality. (Uslegalinc.com, October 2010)

Litigation support software assists attorneys and legal assistants in organizing, storing, retrieving, and summarizing information that is gathered in the litigation of a lawsuit. During the course of a lawsuit, large quantities of information are acquired. New software helps manage and control the information. (Using Computers in the Law Office, Brent Roper)

Failures in “cloud” computing and increased hacking can scare lawyers. Now, I’m a little frightened by new technology and I can see a day when the entire internet goes down for a lengthy period of time, so I would caution Attorney Ruth to not get rid of her hard copy/paper versions, and definitely keep her paper desk calendar and index card tickling system.
Most of the law firm software companies claim they can help lawyers avoid the following problems:
1. Missed deadlines
2. Time wasted searching for information
3. Redundant data entry
4. Lost revenue
5. Time wasted generating documents & forms
6. Inadequate reporting
7. Slow response to client inquiries

There are only two downsides to litigation software: taking time to learn the programs, and paying for them. Let’s look at iBlaze and Abacus.

Lawyers can get a free trial use for Abacus, and afterwards obtain a cost estimate. Abacus claims it’s “an all-in-one, easy to use solution designed specifically for law firms.” If you spoke to their sales team, they would tell you, “With our fully integrated practice management software, you will be able to work more efficiently, lower risk and improve client service.”

Experience showed me AbacusLaw is an organized system for entering contacts, matters, assigning staff, entering recurring events, linking names to matters and events, linking documents and running event and matter reports. Although painful at times, I came away from the tutorial with a positive feeling about how well this software could help a law office.
The sales literature for Abacus says their legal software pulls together all the features an attorney needs — legal calendaring software, contact management, case management, document handling, document production, conflict checks, phone messaging, time capture, law office billing and accounting — so you can do anything and retrieve anything from one location.

They also call the programs an integrated solution — double entry of data is eliminated and manual errors are significantly reduced, dramatically lowering your malpractice risks and giving you more time to spend on billable tasks.
The literature on Abacus claims lawyers be able to eliminate paper files and consolidate all of your office software like calendaring, case management, document management, document and form production, billing and accounting. But many attorneys have consistently said that a paper file backup is strongly encouraged if for no other reasons than ethics and malpractice.

CT Summation and iBlaze will also offer free trial demos and cost quotes to attorneys. Again, this tutorail was painful at times but my takeaway from iBlaze was that you can easily (with practice) create databases that include people, events, pleadings, core databases, transcripts, e-documents as well as earmarking testimony, creating outlines of things to do in cases and other services.

The American Bar Association (at abanet.org) is actually touting iBlaze, posting an ad to its website and pontificating how great it is: “CT Summation iBlaze gives you complete control over litigation evidence by bringing all you need--transcripts, documents, issues, and events, to your fingertips in one easy-to-use software program. Working in close collaboration with CT Summation, author and noted technology speaker Tom O'Connor has developed this easy-to-understand guide designed to quickly get you up and running on CT Summation software. Organized from the perspective of working with evidentiary documents, The Lawyer's Guide to CT Summation iBlaze, Second Edition explains the program's system of storing and recalling disparate types of evidence, and walks you through CT Summation's entire integrated litigation-support product line.” Helpful screenshots throughout illustrate all the procedures being discussed, and "Practice Pointer" sidebars illustrate the processes where Summation can make the task of managing litigation more efficient for attorneys.

From On the Reliability of Cloud Computing, by John Bair, 4/27/2011. “Last week’s outage in AWS (Amazon Web Services) EC2 service continues to make headlines. The high visibility outage impacted many companies that depend on Amazon for either primary or overflow computing and storage services. Impacting a large number of databases, applications and sites across the web, the outage shows just how pervasive use of cloud computing has become.
“At Ajilitee, we have been using AWS and other cloud services for nearly three years. In fact, we run our business infrastructure entirely in the cloud and manage a hosted application for clients on a cloud-based platform. Notwithstanding the recent problem, availability and reliability of services have been very good. So good that I can understand how some may have been lulled into a false sense of security. After all, Amazon’s promise of 99.95% out-of-the-box uptime availability is indeed respectable.

So what went wrong and what are the implications of this failure? Will it create so much fear, uncertainty and doubt (the FUD factor) that it stalls the widespread adoption of cloud computing across industry, much the same way the Three Mile Island incident squelched the expansion of nuclear energy in the U.S.?” As for what went wrong, much has been written about the failure of Amazon’s multiple Availability Zones in its eastern region, so I won’t cover it again here.

For the details, I refer you to Lydia Leong, Gartner Research VP, and an early blogger on the outage.
“As for the impact of FUD on cloud adoption,” Bair wrote, “I think there will be a few more rounds of hand-wringing on the risks of cloud, but in the end, a pragmatic perspective will prevail. After all, whether your applications are hosted in the cloud, delivered through your own data center, or managed by an outsourcer in a remote location, outages and downtime will occur. Such failures happen in all environments. That’s why we have disaster recovery plans! For cloud-based applications, one must simply have a disaster plan that is architected for the cloud environment. Creating such a plan entails weighing the risks versus the rewards of various decisions.”

Bair’s analysis. Whitebox versus Blackbox. There are two approaches to exposing the implementation details of services. Blackbox services shield consumers from the implementation details; whitebox services provide transparency and visibility into one or more layers of implementation. Regardless of the approach, architects need to understand the potential points of failure and weigh the risks versus the costs of prevention.

For example, many data warehouse implementations are not architected and engineered for high availability because the businesses cannot justify the cost of maintaining full redundancy. The implication is that a major storage failure could impact data warehouse service levels for days or even weeks.

Will you apply different availability standards to a data warehouse hosted in the cloud as opposed to one run out of your data center? You may well, because your decision to use the cloud may include a goal of improved service levels to the business through better availability options. But do examine your thinking and what is really necessary for your recovery operations.

Two important aspects to consider in a data warehouse recovery scenario are:
1. How long can the sources or staging processes continue during a failure scenario without losing data?
2. Once operation is restored, how much spare capacity is required and how long will it take for the data warehouse systems to get caught up?
Interdependency. Service level and availability management are two key dimensions of data warehouse and business intelligence (BI) systems that often are not well understood or executed even in legacy data centers. One contributing factor is the often complex web of interdependencies between the data sources, BI systems, and data consumers.

The same principle holds for cloud services – the more abstracted or higher level a service, the more complex the implementation and the greater number of interdependencies that must be considered when engineering the implementation. Today’s sophisticated managed analytics environments combine multiple servers and services including ETL, data quality, database, analytics tools, applications, and portal-based web services, all of which must be coordinated in a consistent configuration, and any one of which, if misconfigured, can impact the quality of service.

Capacity Guarantees. When a single server fails and the cloud service has spare capacity, it is usually a simple process to instantiate a replacement server from backups. However, when many instances fail concurrently (or when the monitoring and control system thinks they have failed, even if they haven’t), simultaneous failover of hundreds or thousands of services can overload an infrastructure. As of the time of writing, Amazon has not yet identified a root cause for the outage, but from early reports, this is likely to be a key exacerbating factor. I should point out that this spare capacity problem exists in other virtualized environments, and even legacy server architectures.

In conclusion, computer programs are being used for everything from word processing, timekeeping and billing, to legal research and website management. According to experts, this applies to all types and sizes of law firms. I would recommend that firms take the leap and obtain litigation or case management software, now, in order to keep up with emerging trends that now include cloud computing which is an Internet-based computing system, where shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand. I mention cloud computing because this natural evolution of the adoption of virtualization in a law office may force solo practitioners such as Attorney Ruth to buy software just “to keep up with the Joneses.”

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