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Karen Unger is betting big on South Florida law firms. She moved her litigation support company to Fort Lauderdale from Newark, Del., last year with the hope of growing rapidly in an area where she saw little competition and plenty of opportunity. Before transplanting her document management company, American Document Management — AmDoc for short — to South Florida, she undertook nine months of market research. “We found there is a huge market here. There is a great amount of law that is practiced, and it is not just Florida law, but international and banking as well,” said Unger, AmDoc’s founder and president. AmDoc specializes in electronic management of business and legal documents. The 14-year-old company also has offices in Newark, Del., and Indianapolis, Ind. Unger’s company has since been joined by other litigation support firms, including LIT Group, which opened an office in Miami recently and Cunningham Services, which serves South Florida from a hub operation in Tampa. The companies have built a reputation among top law firms and Fortune 1000 companies, providing litigation management resources and legal support services. The companies say they have found a booming market in Florida. Cunningham Services, headquartered in New York, has been in business for more than 40 years. It operates in about 20 cities nationwide, including Miami. The company also provides electronic document management as well as other litigation support services such as court reporting, courtroom presentations and subpoena services. The company, which has been offering services in Florida for 10 years, opened its Tampa office about a year ago. “Florida is a booming market. It is very high-tech,” said Michael Harrison, president and CEO of Cunningham Services. These firms mostly market themselves to national, regional and multioffice law firms because they can afford the large up-front infrastructure investment needed to utilize high-tech litigation support services. Florida’s large number of big firms makes it ripe for litigation support companies, he said. And increasingly, Harrison said, large companies are pushing their law firms to use litigation support technology, because it saves clients money and lawyers time. Plus corporations perceive that these services also give them an advantage in the courtroom. Houston-based LIT Group, a litigation information management company, opened an office in Miami this month. It offers clients, such as 200-lawyer Steel Hector & Davis, services including copying, imaging, data collection, database construction and electronic data discovery. The company has four offices in the United States and one in the United Kingdom. While technology has made it easier to communicate, it has also made legal work more complex, requiring lawyers, for example, to scour through vast amounts of paperwork and documents such as e-mails, faxes, photos and video clips during discovery. TOOL OF TECHNOLOGY Electronic document management was born as a way to manage the sheer volume of documents — helping lawyers through their cases by making it much easier to organize and accumulate documents. Companies like Cunningham and AmDoc help law firms deploy technology to scan, index and store documents in databases. Attorneys can then see, search and retrieve the documents from their computers or laptops. This can be used in complex cases involving thousands of documents that need to be assembled, organized and reviewed or the technology can be used firmwide to organize pleadings and historical work for clients that will need to be retrieved in the future. The litigation support companies contend that their services pay for themselves by helping attorneys and their staffs work more efficiently. And some law firms have been quick to embrace the technology. According to a study presented at the 1996 TechShow by the law firm Popham Haik Schnobrich & Kaufman, the average cost per deposition using hard copy documents in conjunction with a litigation database was $493.45. This compared with $176.73 per deposition using imaged documents in conjunction with a litigation database. In addition to reducing the expense and time of depositions, electronic document management helps decrease the amount of attorney travel between offices, shipping of boxes and photocopies, Unger said. A wide range of document management software is available. But litigation support companies contend they provide the expertise that most firms lack when handling large document productions. “Information is not really important. What is important is the knowledge that you gain from putting it to work,” Unger said. “It all comes from figuring out how to look at the data, how to examine it, how to make it into something that is knowledge and not just information.” Neither AmDoc nor Cunningham Services would disclose the names of their current or past clients or discuss any examples in which their services were applied. But legal industry data suggests companies such as AmDoc are not easily convincing firms to embrace litigation support technology and services. Despite its purported benefits, electronic document management still is not very popular among mid-size firms as well as firms that are not technology-driven, Harrison said. According to a survey by the American Bar Association, availability of litigation support software escalated slightly to 25 percent in 2003 from 22 percent a year earlier. However, 18 percent of U.S. litigators reported not knowing whether or not their firm uses litigation support software, with that number rising to 34 percent in the case of large firms with 100 or more lawyers. One in five litigators who had access to the software, seldom use it and another 22 percent never use it, according to the survey. “Lawyers are, in particular, creatures of habit,” Harrison said. The litigation support companies are hoping for a cultural revolution of sorts, as younger attorneys come into their own. Harrison says that the younger generation of attorneys, who relied on technology during their law school years, are the ones bringing the high-tech wave to the litigation world. DISPARITY OF USE Document management software is mostly used by paralegals or support staff, not attorneys. “In our firm, we could say that 75 to 80 percent of the paralegals used it while 30 to 35 percent of the attorneys use it,” said Cristy Valdes-Beguiristain, the litigation support specialist at Steel Hector & Davis in Miami. She attributed the disparity to the fact that attorneys are busy practicing law and lack time to become involved with technology issues. But even if a law firm is technology-oriented, it still may not choose an outside company to do the job. Veteran litigator Ervin Gonzalez, a partner with Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, Fla., has handled a number of high profile national class action and personal injury cases, said he is familiar with some of the companies that provide litigation support services in the state. But he does not use their services because he said he prefers working in-house. “I feel more comfortable having my paralegals, associates and secretaries handling the documents,” he said. “I have more control.” He added that the firm also has the adequate resources — the staffing and the technology — to have its own litigation support department. Colson Hicks Eidson, whose areas of practice include product liability, aviation, commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defense, is an 18-lawyer firm. Even larger firms sometimes decide to keep the entire operation in-house. Carlton Fields, a Tampa-based firm with six offices and about 200 attorneys in Florida, also has an internal litigation support department. The firm’s department provides services to its attorneys as well as its clients. “We don’t use them [document management companies] too much because our litigation support department is a for profit center for us. We charge our clients for the service,” said Cathy Jones, Carlton Fields’ director of administration in Miami. In some circumstances, the firm would work with outside companies. “It depends on the case and on how the clients want their documents managed,” she said. Some clients, who already work with a document management company, would request the firm to use that particular firm. Steel Hector uses outside companies depending on the size and complexity of cases. For Valdes-Beguiristain, a voluminous case can be defined as 10 or more boxes of documents with a pressing deadline. The firm’s litigation support department usually handles the rest of the work. Unger said AmDoc’s clients are usually the general counsel at large companies and multioffice law firms that want to standardize their document management system. In 1994, AmDoc was chosen by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young to outsource its litigation support department. The legal department of Ernst & Young in New York declined to comment on its work with AmDoc. AmDoc’s Fort Lauderdale office currently has 12 employees. Unger hopes to expand the office to at least 20 employees by the end of the year and to double revenues by 2005. The company had revenue of $20 million last year, Unger said. Cunningham would not disclose any financial information. However, Harrison said that the company’s revenues are up 37 percent this year. The litigation support companies have big hopes for South Florida. And Valdes-Beguiristain said that local firms have made great strides in recent years. In the last three years many firms have adapted different types of litigation support technology to bring them in line with legal industry standards. Unger says Florida’s litigators are ready to go take the next step and go high-tech. “Here, most people know what it [electronic document management] is. Most people have seen it. A lot of people have not used it yet, but they need to and are ready.”

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