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In recent years, the missions of a lot of technology vendors have been big, bold and ambitious: Change the ways lawyers practice, revolutionize how companies choose their lawyers, make legal research cheaper and better. But few of these missions have gotten far off the ground. Serengeti, made by ELF Technologies Inc., and West Group’s WestWorks are good examples. They’re huge, smart platforms that ask lawyers to bite off too much, too soon. But quietly, a group of companies has been doing well with products that aspire to less lofty heights. The companies — Workshare Technology, Expert Ease Software, Omtool and Ozmosys — all make legal utilities: niche programs that solve small problems. The utilities, also known as desktop enhancements, aren’t full-blown platforms like Microsoft Word or Lexis-Nexis. Instead, they work in conjunction with the larger programs lawyers use all the time, like e-mail programs and document management platforms. Utilities tackle issues that haven’t yet been addressed in larger programs like Word or Outlook. Take Workshare’s DeltaView. DeltaView performs one simple function. It compares an early draft of a document against a subsequent draft, and notes the changes. This process, called redlining, has forever been a critical one at law firms. After all, if your opponent makes an amendment to a clause in a proposed contract, you’re going to want to know about it. Now, instead of entrusting the job to a pimply paralegal, lawyers can turn to a speedy piece of software: DeltaView can compare two 300-page documents in less than a minute. DeltaView was launched in September 1999 to compete with Lexis-Nexis’ CompareWrite, which a lot of lawyers found buggy. By June of last year, more than a dozen big law firms were using DeltaView. And the list is growing. Last quarter, Washington, D.C.’s Covington & Burling, New York’s Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and Foley & Lardner all loaded up on DeltaView. Allison Walsh, Workshare’s vice president of business development, is unapologetic about DeltaView’s humble capabilities. “DeltaView isn’t trying to be all things to all people,” she says. “And we’re not trying to change the way lawyers work — only help them work a little bit better.” Expert Ease’s Ely Razin used to be an associate at New York’s Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. So it’s no surprise that his company has done well with two niche products designed to make associates’ lives a little easier. The company’s flagship product, Deal Proof, is a document proofreader. Deal Proof is designed to flag all of those little errors that are easy to miss, like case citation goofs, which make a brief look sloppy when they’re caught by a judge. The latest version of Deal Proof, 3.0, can read a document and spit back smart summaries of certain arguments. The summaries look a lot like Westlaw’s headnotes, and are designed to make it much easier to wrap your arms around long, complex documents, such as lease agreements and certificates of incorporation. So far, the market is growing. More than 125 medium-sized and large firms are running Deal Proof, according to the company. Expert Ease’s QuickSift is a powerful search engine that sits atop a specific universe of documents. It’s good for litigations that involve large electronic document productions. Users type in phrases they might hope to find (“We knew the cat food was flammable years ago, but didn’t fix the recipe”), and QuickSift goes to work — much like Google crawling through Webland. QuickSift is newer than Deal Proof. But if it catches on, the phrase “document review” might lose its nausea-inducing associations with young associates. Salem, N.H.-based Omtool has also done well with a niche product called LegalFax. The concept behind LegalFax is almost embarrassingly simple. When LegalFax is activated, documents sent as e-mail attachments are also automatically sent as faxes. The usefulness of fax machines is quickly wearing out. And LegalFax only eliminates one easy step — pressing a few buttons on a fax machine. But, according to Scott Dockendorff, Omtool’s vice president of marketing, the product is tailor-made for lawyers, most of whom don’t exactly approach their jobs with a risk-taking sense of adventure. “The fax is staid, and a little old-school,” concedes Dockendorff, “but for a lot of lawyers, it’s still a necessity.” And for lawyers who want to stay on top of client news and legal news in general, there’s Ozmosys, owned by a company of the same name. For $50 a month, Ozmosys will search all of the leading legal Web sites, including Yahoo, Greedy Associates and the universe of SEC filings, for information and law-related press releases. Once a day, Ozmosys e-mail subscribers can link to what it finds. It’s a simple program that connects lawyers to the ever-expanding world of the Web — a big helper wrapped up in a small, neat package.

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