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On most days, the ghosts of legal technology past don’t cross my mind. Instead, they remain buried beneath the cheerful veneer of American life in the midst of a bull market. I scramble from one emergency to the next like many other paralegals in the trenches. I think about what I would do if I won the lottery. I check my TechnoLawyer Community e-mail. I pass judgment on the latest government scandal. I make weekend plans. I sneak in an extra billable hour while eating lunch at my desk. I do the laundry. I surf the Web. But on those days when thunder clouds roll into town and extinguish the sun as if it were connected to a light switch, the ghosts of legal technology past sometimes rise from the depths of my memory to haunt me once again. If I close my eyes, I can still see the terrified faces, the mad scrambles, the lessons learned. I pen this article with the hope that it will prevent such horrific events from taking place where you work. One can only hope. Before I recount my tales of terror, please note the following: � When the events discussed below transpired, I worked in a high-tech law firm that believed a little too earnestly in the paperless office. I have since departed. � Some material may not be suitable for people who believe that technology can always save the day. These people may experience cold sweats or hot flashes when I explain why such a notion is foolish at best and disastrous at worst. THE DAY OF THE DISMEMBERED DOCUMENTS The paperless law office may eventually take root in the legal profession, but not until imaging vendors perfect the underlying technology and legal professionals understand how to manage such a workflow. During my tenure at a law firm that believed wholeheartedly in the paperless office concept, I worked on a particularly grueling environmental litigation trial. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer terror that lay ahead of me. We hired an imaging vendor to place all of our trial exhibits on two CD-ROMs. I received one of the CD-ROMs several months before trial so that I could index it and review the documents therein for smoking guns. After performing this task, I asked about the other disk. I was told not to bother because a paralegal no longer with the firm had already indexed it and the lawyers working on the case had already reviewed the documents. As the trial drew near, we laughed at the reaction of our adversaries when we told them that we would give them two CD-ROMs in exchange for their fifty boxes of trial exhibits. Our adversaries attempted to prevent our use of the CD-ROMs, complaining that they could not access them. Our grins were wider than the Mississippi as we told the judge that we would happily convert the CD-ROMs to a format that our adversaries could use. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately as you will soon see), we had a federal judge who saw the wisdom in saving a few hundred trees (especially in an environmental case). In fact, the judge marveled aloud at the technological wizardry used in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. I guess television really does influence just about everyone! Two days before opening arguments, the imaging vendor delivered the newly converted CD-ROMs. Between my boss preening over his electronic victory in court and the vendor assuring me that the CD-ROMs were 110 percent fit for duty, I was caught up in their reality-distortion fields and didn’t feel a pressing need to take them for a spin. And besides, I had dozens of other projects on my plate, all with impossible deadlines. At 8 p.m. that night, I finally took a few minutes to review the converted CD-ROMs. I first looked at the CD-ROM on which I had worked. It passed my white glove test with flying colors — it contained all the documents and the imaging software made it easy to view them. The reality-distortion fields remained intact. I then looked at the CD-ROM on which I had not worked. The first document contained only one page, but I knew for a fact that the original had contained more than one page. Gulp! The second document also contained just one page despite its corresponding multipage original. Big Gulp! The same was true of the third document! Uh oh! The entire CD-ROM consisted of first pages only! Oh no! I called the vendor and we discovered that the original CD-ROM also contained dismembered documents. The paralegal who had indexed this CD-ROM must have only looked at the first page of each document, never realizing that the subsequent pages of these documents were not present. And then came the coup de grace. Given our unwavering confidence in the paperless office, we did not have these documents on paper. The reality-distortion fields exploded! For the next two days, this proud puppy put her tail between her legs and borrowed paper copies of the exhibits from our adversaries for photocopying. While we didn’t exactly make a splash with our technology, we did avert disaster — using old-fashioned paper. DEATH OF A CD-ROM I’m not quite sure how many shocks to the central nervous system it takes to give the typical paralegal a heart-attack, but it must take more than two, since I suffered through not one, but two, terrifying experiences at the paperless law office introduced above. In addition to the day of the dismembered documents, I also dealt with the death of a CD-ROM. It all began with the production of 160 boxes of documents by an insurance company in response to our client’s document request. The insurance company figured that it could bury our six-lawyer firm by sending us on a fishing expedition. Instead of succumbing to this popular hardball tactic, we sent one lawyer to conduct a cursory review of the documents and choose the most relevant boxes. After we received our first cut of documents (20,000 pages, give or take a few), we hired an imaging vendor to scan them. The imaging vendor built a so-called “bridge” that enabled our firm’s imaging software (PaperClip) to read the scanned documents. The vendor completed the task in just eight days. As with our other case, we returned the originals to the opposing party without making so much as one paper copy. (Yes, I know — George Santayana.) The imaging vendor made the unfortunate mistake of giving the CD-ROM to the senior partner on the case. I myself never even knew that this CD-ROM existed until a representative of the vendor called me one day to gauge my satisfaction. Does it work properly? Any glitches? How’s the speed? Gulp! I immediately went to see the senior partner, who could not recall what he did with the disk. However, after searching his office, home, and car, he actually found the CD-ROM. Yes! I popped it into a CD-ROM drive and found nothing. Nothing! The CD-ROM did not contain any images. Gulp again! I called the imaging vendor and requested that they burn a new CD-ROM from the backup. Unfortunately, the vendor had just deleted the images from its system. Uh Oh! In the end, we sent the seemingly blank CD-ROM to a data recovery outfit in California. The disk recovery elves worked their magic and restored all the original data for a cool $1,500. After a few angry exchanges, the paperless law firm and the vendor split the cost of the data recovery. Around the firm’s proverbial water cooler, theories began to develop about what exactly caused the CD-ROM to suffer the digital equivalent of amnesia. The theory that drew the most support went something like this: The partner tossed the CD-ROM into the back of his car and left it there for a few months. We all know what happens to dogs left in a car on a hot summer day. It would seem that CD-ROMs fare no better. As for the vendor, one of its representatives told me that it didn’t make a duplicate of the CD-ROM because it didn’t want to charge an extra $30 to a very cost-conscious client. That $30 seemed a small price to pay in light of what happened. LESSONS LEARNED Even the most terrifying of tragedies do some good through the lessons they teach. So it goes with my two tales of terror: � Always check the work of imaging vendors upon delivery — not two days before trial! � Even after the initial check, conduct subsequent checks. You can never be too careful. � Designate a paralegal to safeguard the CD-ROMs much as you would paper documents. � Never rely on just one CD-ROM. It’s dirt cheap to duplicate CD-ROMs. � Keep at least one of the backup copies off-site (though not in your car) — send it to your client. � When using imaged documents for trial exhibits, have at least one set of all documents on paper. � Don’t become so proud that you lose touch with reality. Technology can enhance productivity like nothing else, but it can also fail to live up to expectations. The smallest of trifles, such as a dead battery or an inoperable CD-ROM, can bring an entire workflow to a standstill. As imaging becomes less expensive and the cost of office and storage space increases, paperless law offices will become commonplace — even necessary. Despite my two terrifying experiences, I remain a technophile and a supporter of imaging technology. The key to its successful use lies in good old-fashioned management. Manage the technology well and it will repay you handsomely. Manage the technology haphazardly and you, too, will find yourself haunted by the ghosts of technology past. Peggie Brown is CEO of Brown Holdings Group which includes the Internet site development company KatsueyDesignWorks, the domain name purchasing and hosting company RGreatHosts, and the legal research site Katsuey’s Legal Gateway. Peggie also provides seminars and gives presentations to organizations such as such as Hallmark Cards and Rutgers University on Internet legal research, Web site design and marketing, and content development. You can contact Peggie via e-mail ( [email protected]). This article originated in The TechnoLawyer Community, a free online community in which legal professionals share information about business and technology issues, products, and services, often developing valuable business relationships in the process. To join The TechnoLawyer Community, visit www.technolawyer.com.

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