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State Bar of Texas members soon may have a new “junior partner” to assist them with everything from conducting case law searches to collecting fees — all for the cost of their Bar dues. The Texas State Bar is working to develop a Web portal that will provide its members access to a wide array of services via the Internet. Expected to be available by next year, the new program has been dubbed “Junior Partner.” “Our goal is to provide as many services as we can to Texas lawyers and, of course, the portal would be free,” says State Bar President Lynne Liberato, a partner in Houston’s Haynes and Boone. A Web portal is a screen that the user opens each day to connect with other sites on the Internet, Liberato explains. Houston lawyer Craig Ball, chairman of the Bar’s Technology Advisory Committee, says the idea is to “equip members with powerful tools that help them with their practices.” Ball says the centerpiece of the program would be the free, online legal research, which would give lawyers access to all relevant Texas case law and state statutes. “No one’s ever done this before,” he says. “It’s a fantastic idea,” says Charles Aycock, the Bar’s immediate past president and a lawyer in the small Panhandle community of Farwell. “It would be an unbelievably good service. It would be used daily, maybe hourly.” Aycock, a partner in Aldridge Aycock Actkinson & Rutter, says the Internet has equalized lawyers in rural practices with their counterparts in the metropolitan areas. But doing case law research online can be costly, he says. Providing a searchable case law service at no cost or for a low subscription cost would benefit not only his firm’s office in Farwell, but also its office in New Mexico, he says. Aycock says that during his term as president, he challenged the Bar to make better use of its Web site and the Internet. He applauds Liberato for her efforts to accomplish those goals. Liberato has been trying to reach an agreement with an online legal publisher –such as the West Group or Lexis Nexis — to provide Texas cases on the Bar’s Web site at no charge for the state’s estimated 67,000 lawyers and their staffs. A publisher who agrees to provide the service could advertise its products at no charge on the Web site. No publisher has struck a deal yet. “We’re in serious negotiations,” says Liberato, who declines to identify the publisher with whom she has been negotiating. Liberato says she’s committed to providing free, searchable case law because doing so would make the State Bar more relevant to lawyers, who pay up to $235 in dues annually. While the free case law searches would be the major draw to the Web portal, lawyers could gain access to a number of other services there as well, Ball says. A key function of Junior Partner, according to Ball, will be an online calendar that could be synchronized with the calendar that a lawyer uses. He says a lawyer will be able to access the calendar and make changes via computer while out in the field. With permission from the lawyer, a judge would be able to check the online calendar to determine if a planned hearing date conflicts with the lawyer’s schedule, Ball says. Once a hearing date is set, he says, the judge’s online calendar would automatically set it on all the lawyers’ calendars. But Ball says a lawyer will have control over who sees the calendar and what can be seen. “These calendars can talk to each other only with the privileges you give them,” he says. A reminder system also could be set up on the portal, Ball says, noting that a lawyer could be sent electronic reminders of meetings, filing deadlines for cases, statutes of limitations and even birthdays. In addition, the Bar could assign a permanent e-mail address to all Texas lawyers so there will be no changing of their electronic address when they change firms. Another feature is a vacation week designation system that would allow lawyers to specify weeks that would be protected from deposition notices and trial settings. Each county and court would decide whether to opt into that system, Ball says. The Texas Bar also hopes to offer credit card processing services to members to facilitate the collection of fees. Ball says setting up a credit card processing system isn’t practical for small firms but that the Bar could earn a little money by acting as the intermediary on such transactions. Another way the Bar could generate revenue is by creating an online marketplace for various providers, Ball says. Court reporters, private investigators and travel agents — to name a few– could pay to be listed on the site. But Ball says most lawyers will need training to learn how to use the services planned for the portal. The Bar is making a major commitment to help lawyers get online and integrate the services into their practices, he says. The Texas Bar’s continuing legal education programs are expected to play a big role in the training. Ball envisions having those training programs tailored to the practices of lawyers who attend a particular CLE activity. Texas Bar members may not have long to wait for the Web portal. “I’m confident of rollout by the spring of next year,” Ball says.

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