Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Lawyers now expect to connect to the Internet at any time and from any place. But the complexities and gadgets involved in providing Internet access, e-mail, appointments, and contacts can actually make life more difficult for both the traveling lawyer and IT department. Just try instructing a lawyer, who has never dialed-in before, how to connect to the office from London. Palm organizers, laptops, and two-way pagers can be helpful, but each device has its limitations and learning curves. Laptops need phone lines. Palms lack wireless mail coverage in all cities. Two-way pagers are really only good for short e-mail messages. It generally requires a combination of these devices to conduct business away from the office. The firm I work for, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, is based in Atlanta. Like a lot of firms, we now have well over 200 attorneys practicing in seven offices scattered all over the world. We represent clients all over the country. Like many firms, we’ve been searching for a better, easier, and more lightweight way for our lawyers to stay wired. Some of our lawyers knew people at a local startup company that had some really interesting software. The company promised the new application could streamline firm communications, including Internet access, using speech recognition and Microsoft Exchange 5.5. From the general description it seemed like something we should take a minute to preview. We scheduled a meeting and began the demonstration of the Personal Virtual Assistant by Conita Technologies. The heart of this software is a telephony-based system, which uses speech recognition to interact with your Microsoft Exchange server for e-mail, contacts, appointments and conference calling. Seven people showed up for the demo. Within five minutes, three of our lawyers were enraptured. The enthusiasm was palpable. The software struck a major nerve with our lawyers. Questions abounded, discussions began, and the possibilities poured out. I have to admit, I was equally impressed, and began to think of how immediate an impact this would have on the firm. Our technology chair, Kevin Hall, was impressed enough to ask if we could have a pilot installed at our firm. At our next full technology committee meeting, we agreed to try out the software as a pilot project. We knew other products existed on the market but having a vendor a block away from you that was willing to make enhancements was hard to beat. We had nothing to lose if it didn’t work. PILOT PROJECT So four months ago, we installed the software for 15 test users. The system requires a separate server running Microsoft SQL and proprietary Conita telephony software to handle the communication between our Exchange server and theirs. The test has gone well so far. Users continue to find new ways to use the system. For example, some lawyers call in and dictate messages to their secretaries for transcription. In fact, many lawyers insist this software has revolutionized their practices. Why is this so revolutionary? First, no laptop, Palm organizer or two-way pager is required to check your e-mail, appointments or contacts when away from the office. All you need is a phone — regular or cell. And what makes this system so effective is: 1) the speech recognition is very good; and 2) the voice commands are intuitive enough to learn in approximately five minutes. If you can dial a phone number, you can use this technology. No speech training is required. The PVA allows you to interact with the most common functions used every day via voice commands. Examples of voice commands include “read messages,” “call contact,” and “read my appointments.” It also acts as a receptionist. It answers calls and allows people to record messages and forward calls. The forwarding feature provides call screening, where a user may choose to accept the call or send the caller to voice mail. Here’s a brief example how one of our attorneys might use the PVA: PVA: “What can I do for you?” Lawyer: “Send a message.” PVA: “To whom would you like to send a message?” Lawyer: “John Smith.” PVA: “John Smith — is this correct?” Lawyer: “Yes.” PVA: “Would you like to name another contact?” Lawyer: “No.” PVA: “Would you like to include a subject?” Lawyer: “Yes.” PVA: “Please record the subject after the tone.” Lawyer: “Change in Plans” PVA: “Now please record the body of your message after the tone.” Lawyer: “John, there has been a change in plans, I need to meet with Susan at 2:00. I’ll meet with you at 3:00.” PVA: “Would you like to send the message, review the message, continue recording or hear all choices?” Lawyer: “Send the message.” PVA: “Message sent.” Once we saw this software, we knew it would be a big hit with our staff. Just accessing the mail component alone is helpful. There’s no PC to boot up, just use your mobile phone (great when you are on the golf course or in the car) and keep up with your business. Another very popular feature is the conference calling. Traditionally, most lawyers have kept a paper list, stored clients’ numbers on their cell phone or Palm, or called their assistant for a number. This is no longer needed. Simply call the PVA, and it performs the calling for you. What makes this even better is that all calls are routed out of your own phone system, which means you don’t need a calling card to talk to clients or anyone else in your contact list. This is probably one of the most powerful benefits to most of our users. You can call clients anytime and not have to keep up with reimbursements from your cell phone bills or long-distance calls from your house. It simplifies the process for everyone. GLITCHES After using this software for four months we are still very enthusiastic. However, like any software, we have discovered limitations. Sometimes the voice recognition does get tripped up, especially on less than perfect mobile connections. The conference calling feature has one limitation: It relies on your Microsoft Outlook contact list. If the user is not in your personal contact list, the software cannot make the call. In addition, it does not interface with any of the public folders, which is where we keep most of our client information for general sharing purposes. You have to copy the contact list from the public folder into your contact list. Obviously, this isn’t ideal. Also, when reading an e-mail message, the PVA uses an awkward, computerized voice which can be hard at times to interpret. It takes a few times to adjust your ears to this voice. But despite these minor irritants, the PVA has been a great help to our lawyers, and has certainly reduced the back strain on our traveling attorneys. (‘Bye to the 15-pound laptop!) We expect to roll this software out to 100 users this year. If all goes well, we will give access to all lawyers and paralegals throughout the firm. David Worth ([email protected]) is the information systems director at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Atlanta.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.