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Thanks in part to the recent creepy Steven Spielberg movie, the phrase “artificial intelligence” conjures images of a cold, futuristic world populated by emotionless automatons. But the legal technology world is getting a taste of what “A.I.” can do here and now. A company called Document Strategies Inc. is applying a form of the technology — called “pattern recognition” — to the process of categorizing big troves of electronic documents. The process, known at law firms as “coding,” is used primarily in big litigations, where it usually makes sense to move the reams of paper discovery onto a single server or a handful of CD-ROMs. But coding, say, 200,000 documents is a tough task, and firms often will turn the job over to outside vendors like Quorum and IKON Office Solutions Inc. But for the past year, the Rochester, N.Y.-based Document Strategies has been quietly selling a nifty little combo pack of hardware and software — called Document Station — that may let firms bring such work back inside. Document Station essentially is a souped-up scanner. But it does more than just transform paper documents into electronic files. Document Station runs software that can create metadata on a document. That is, it can “read” a document and create a snapshot of the document’s critical information. For example, the machine can tell if a document is a business letter, spreadsheet or memo. And within, say, a letter, it can identify the recipient, sender, topic and date of creation. To search the database, users can load the metadata (along with the documents) into a larger litigation support application such as Summation or Concordance. Or they can use the search engine provided within Document Station. “Coding is typically a very expensive and labor-intensive task,” says Michael Mills, director of professional services and systems at New York’s Davis, Polk & Wardwell. “But Document Strategies’ coding function is very clever. They’ve done a nice job with the pattern recognition.” Mills was just introduced to Document Station. So he hasn’t had a chance to give it a full test run. But he says he can see how “it would make coding much faster and much cheaper.” The company is selling the software as a cost-savings vehicle, according to James Bowen, its president. “This will save law firms money,” he says. A fully loaded Document Station can run as high as $100,000, a sum that will easily be recouped if it cuts down on coding. “An outsourced project can take up to six weeks,” adds Christopher Ryan, a litigation support database specialist at Chicago’s Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione. “But with the Document Station, we can get some of them done in a few days.” Document Station is still a work in progress. Even Bowen admits that the pattern recognition software misidentifies documents “more than I’d like it to.” And certain types of documents, such as handwritten memos, completely trip up the system. “It certainly doesn’t do the job as well as you or I would,” says Mills. Maybe not. Then again, it doesn’t gripe about pay or minimum billable hours, either.

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