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I remember a time, not so long ago, when research projects were much more difficult and time-consuming. Obtaining an annual report on a company, for example, was often a complicated ordeal. I would either have to resort to using a document retrieval service, at great expense, or call the company itself and request one to be mailed. Many times, the requesting attorney didn’t want the annual report sent to the firm, for confidentiality reasons, so I had to have them sent to my home address. I don’t know how many annual reports I used to lug to the office. But in today’s high-tech world, all I need to do is sign on to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Internet site, and with a few keystrokes I can pull up annual reports and other securities filings. With a click of the mouse they are printed out and ready to go. Many companies also have a home page where you can access their company information and print their hard-copy annual reports in PDF format. This is just a small example of how technology has changed the practice of law. Just as typewriters and carbon paper, telephones, dictaphones, photocopiers, and fax machines transformed the practice of law years ago, so have computers, e-mail, the Internet, voice-recognition systems, case-management software, scanners, and other audio/video advances. Law librarians have traditionally embraced the leading-bleeding edge of technology, and in the 21st century we should not only embrace it, but also strive to be one step ahead of the pack. Law practice technology, a term law librarians have become very familiar with, includes the advances in personal computers; changing workplace communication methods such as faxing, e-mail, electronic file transfer, and video conferencing; imaging of documents; legal and business research methods; telecommuting; and more. Some advances that we have been using for the past few years now seem commonplace to many of us: computer-assisted legal research, CD-ROM technology, Internet searching, and electronic delivery of information. But, as you are well aware, we need to be vigilant and stay on top of technology so we are ready for the next wave of products. Here are a few of the advances on the horizon that are supposed to make our lives easier. SEE AND BE SEEN Video conferencing is quickly becoming commonplace, not the space-age idea it was even a few years ago. Legal professionals already use video conferencing for depositions, attorney-client meetings, settlement conferences, witness consultation and preparation, and in-house meetings and training. The next generation is video conferencing at the desktop. At the moment, the quality is not quite there, but as with any new technology, it won’t be long before the quality will improve and the price will go down. Won’t it be great to meet “face to face” with some of our peers as we discuss issues that are pertinent to our profession? A listserve is great, but imagine how much more interesting discussions will be if you can actually see the person with whom you are conversing! SPEAK UP If, like me, you never took a typing course, voice-recognition software is another technological advance we can look forward to. Voice-recognition software basically converts natural speech to text. The software learns to recognize users’ voices and provides the capability to allow users to navigate the Internet by voice. This “training” period used to take hours. However, if your system has a processor speed of 300MHz or higher and at least 128 MB of system memory (RAM), with the newer versions of software you can train the computer to understand your voice in about three to five minutes! Some companies are providing legal-based products, allowing you to use custom macro commands to insert boilerplate text, launch applications, fill out forms, and perform other complex tasks with a spoken word or phrase. The delays and costs of transcription services are eliminated. The legal versions contain a back-up dictionary and include court names, case history and weight of authority, Latin and French phrases, litigation documents, reporters, hyphenations, and abbreviations. FAX IT TO ME Faxing has become so commonplace that many people have fax machines at home — like telephones, sometimes more than one. If you have a computer, though, you can get rid of that extra piece of equipment. Desktop faxing allows you to send and receive faxes directly from your desktop. Paper is no longer necessary for faxing. With the appropriate software, any desktop computer can function as a fax machine, allowing users to send and receive faxes as easily as they send e-mail. Once received, the documents can be printed out if a hard copy is required. This capability not only cuts down on paperwork, but also reduces work time, especially when one document has to be faxed to multiple locations. I recently was involved in planning a legal research seminar for summer associates and had to get copies of the agenda to the planning committee members. It was great to be able to fax the document directly from Word on my computer to all of the members at the same time. TAKE IT WITH YOU One of the latest tech crazes is the personal digital assistant, a palm-size device that keeps track of addresses, expenses, and schedules, and allows you to access your e-mail. Many firms are now providing them to attorneys and requiring that they use them regularly. In May, the 3Com Corp. introduced its latest hand-held computer. The Palm VII allows users to go onto the Internet without being plugged into a wall. Hand-held computers initially allowed users just to keep schedules and take notes. They could be plugged into desktop computers to synchronize information. Now you will be able to send and receive e-mails, look up stock prices, get news or driving directions, and even do legal research, without lugging around a laptop! The Palm VII reformats Web pages to fit the smaller screen, using a technology known as Web clipping that limits the content somewhat. Initially, the cost of this new hand-held device will be quite high, but as with all tech gadgets, the price will soon be affordable. According to Dataquest, a research firm, worldwide sales of hand-held computers exceeded 5.7 million units in 1999, a 47 percent increase over 1998. The market is projected to grow more than 30 percent through 2003, when sales are expected to reach 21 million. Before long, paper calendars and laptops may be a thing of the past! GET A HANDLE In the past few years, litigation support software has multiplied. These software programs allow you to track all the case information of your clients from intake to settlement. These applications provide a means for searching and digesting deposition transcripts, and for storing and searching summaries of evidentiary documents. With the right management tools and Web modules, attorneys can take depositions off-site and transfer the information directly into their firms’ computer systems. What this does is level the playing field: A small firm can manage cases on the same level as the major firms’ cases, without the huge expense. Depending on the size of your firm and whether paralegals are on staff, the library may participate in case management. Finding out what’s available is a relatively easy task. By going into any search engine and typing in “litigation support software,” you will find a multitude of companies and software programs to suit your needs. WHO NEEDS AN OFFICE? All of this technology has spawned another phenomenon: telecommuting. With the advent of improved remote access software, telecommuting has seen tremendous growth among attorneys. If your firm or organization is so equipped, you can dial into your system, access and manipulate documents, do research, and get your e-mail and voice-mail messages. You can do this from home, on the road, or while on vacation. Cellular phones can keep you constantly in touch with your colleagues, clients, or opposing counsel. And imagine: With desktop video applications, you can teleconference right from your home office or hotel room. The downside is that you are now almost too accessible, and the temptation to work when you should be relaxing can turn you into a workaholic in no time! I have had to curb the impulse to “check in” when I take a day off. But for a service-oriented librarian, it is nice to have the means to assist any of the attorneys, should the need arise while you are away from the office. I can pick up a research request via e-mail or voice-mail, perform the research on the Internet or other online services, and then e-mail the results directly to the requesting attorney. PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY Of course, with all of these technological advances, client confidentiality and privileged information are even more of an issue than before. Current ethics decisions advise that because of the nature of electronic transmissions — by cellular phone, e-mail, fax, and computers — there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore, lawyers either should refrain entirely from using these technologies or have a duty to warn clients before using them. At the very least, law firms should set up firewalls, password protection, and other safeguards to avoid compromising their clients’ confidentiality. Courts and bar associations across the country are continually monitoring these issues and providing e-guidelines as necessary. Despite all these concerns, maybe someday — sooner than we think — we won’t need law offices or courtrooms anymore. Lawyers will prepare their cases at home and may even argue them before an online court and jury. Documents will be filed electronically, and court sessions held via video-conferencing. Jurors might sign in from remote locations and see and be seen on camera. As librarians, we are accustomed to change and have learned how to use technology to do our jobs. Our challenge now is to continue to monitor, review, and embrace technology, and help bring our organizations into the 21st century! Sandra A. Hyclak is research librarian at Columbus, Ohio’s Bricker & Eckler.

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