Google Scholar – Finding the Laws That Govern Us – A Challenge for Lexis and Westlaw

After several years in Beta, Google Scholar has been launched.  For years, “web-based” services have been nipping at the heels of Lexis Legal Research and Westlaw Legal Research.  Several states have put their case law and statutes on line; so have the federal government.  Some ventures have tried to harness the “free databases” and build usable front end search module.  The result has been a patchwork of “data”, sufficient for the “common man” but lacking in depth, scope and comprehensiveness to be used by attorneys.  There was always the risk of missing the latest slip opinion, amendment, or missing the back information about the statutory and regulatory enactments.

With the release of Google Scholar, a new and very well funded player has entered the arena:  Google.  Armed with billions of dollars and a mission to “do good” while also making money, Google has brought its vaunted search engine to the area of law and statutes.  Read the quoted release below and check it out. The search engine options are still fairly limited, but the scope of the database is enormous.

As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country. That means when judges issue opinions in legal cases, they often establish precedents that will guide the rulings of other judges in similar cases and jurisdictions. Over time, these legal opinions build, refine and clarify the laws that govern our land. For average citizens, however, it can be difficult to find or even read these landmark opinions. We think that’s a problem: Laws that you don’t know about, you can’t follow — or make effective arguments to change.

Starting today, we’re enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. For example, go to Google Scholar, click on the “Legal opinions and journals” radio button, and try the query separate but equal. Your search results will include links to cases familiar to many of us in the U.S. such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, which explore the acceptablity of “separate but equal” facilities for citizens at two different points in the history of the U.S. But your results will also include opinions from cases that you might be less familiar with, but which have played an important role.

We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. To understand how an opinion has influenced other decisions, you can explore citing and related cases using the Cited by and Related articles links on search result pages. As you read an opinion, you can follow citations to the opinions to which it refers. You can also see how individual cases have been quoted or discussed in other opinions and in articles from law journals. Browse these by clicking on the “How Cited” link next to the case title. See, for example, the frequent citations for Roe v. Wade, for Miranda v. Arizona (the source of the famous Miranda warning) or for Terry v. Ohio (a case which helped to establish acceptable grounds for an investigative stop by a police officer).

As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. Court opinions don’t just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations. And they often do it in language that is surprisingly straightforward, even for those of us outside the legal profession. In many cases, judges have gone quite a bit out of their way to make complex legal issues easy to follow. For example, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court justices present a fascinating and easy-to-follow debate on the legality of internment of natural born citizens based on their ancestry. And in United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, Judge Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates the key issue of the case using an imagined good-news/bad-news dialogue between the defendant and his attorney.

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of several pioneers, who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land: Tom Bruce (Cornell LII), Jerry Dupont (LLMC), Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray (AustLII), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Daniel Poulin (LexUM), Tim Stanley (Justia), Joe Ury (BAILII), Tim Wu (AltLaw) and many others. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps. We would also like to acknowledge the judges who have built this cathedral of justice brick by brick and have tried to make it accessible to the rest of us. We hope Google Scholar will help all of us stand on the shoulders of these giants.

Join me on LINKEDin.com and add your comments to the Virtual Lawyer Group.  BTW:  The URL is Scholar.google.com

Documents in the Clouds

I spend a large amount of time and money each year worrying about “backing up” my data files.  Years ago, I decided to centralize all my files on a File Server.  A peer-to-peer network was good for distributing processing, but a disaster when you are like me, working on multiple PC’s. I do that so that I can test software on different environments.  Once I decided on a central file server (realize the decision was not rocket science), the issue came on appropriate backup routines.  I tried tape cartridges, but most were too slow and too small.  I currently am working with a RAID-V server array, removable hard-drive backup, combined with MozyPro.  The system works, but is not ideal. The hard-drive backups are not swapped often enough; MozyPro took forever to get all my data, and afterwords, is quite slow on the restores.  And so, I am now looking into a “cloud” solution, in particular NetDocuments.

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Toss Out Your Server – No Really!!!

The computer-industrial complex has been on a mad race of hardware, software and services to shape us “users” in their own image.  With the drop in prices for hardware, it seems that a “network” is in everone’s reach.  Microsoft is even shipping a “home server” – instant network in a box.  What is missing in this hardware and software gold rush is that few of us, myself included, are capable of properly managing a network and hardening that network against attack.  And there are a lot of malevolent forces out there ready to attack.  As a result, we find ourselves relying increasingly on the gray wizards of networking, often calling them in when it is too late.

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Salesforce.com Apps for Lawyers

What if you could access your network from ANYWHERE and at ANYTIME?  What if you could check your calendar, check your task list, do your billing and access all your documents? What if you could do this WITHOUT A NETWORK?  What if you could do it WITHOUT a Server, without a terminal server, and without any network infrastructure at all?  What if the entire network was IN THE CLOUDS.  Wouldn’t that be great (for you that is)?  What if this cloud-based system was infinitely customizable, and infinitely expandable?  What if you could purchase “plugins” and other packages to extend the functionality of the database? What if there was a network of consultants who could assist you?  What if there were hooks into Web-based document assembly applications like EXARI? What if I told you this system was already built and opened for business last month.  Take a look at AdvologixPM.

AdvogixPM is a Force.com Application.  It is built on Salesforce.com.  This platform is used by almost every Fortune500 corporation.  It is a cloud-based application that was designed, originally, to make a “mobile salesforce” truly mobile. Rather than replicating databases (which could be stolen or lost), it was designed as a complete and secure CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system that allowed salesmen and women to track leads, manage accounts, post documents,track calls and emails in a centralized hosted environment on the Web.  What turned this from a hosted CRM into a world-shaking application was the open API that Salesforce.com built.  To make the system acceptable to large sales organizations, Salesforce.com enabled users (with privileges) and developers to add new fields, add new reports, record types, dashboards, analyses, and ANYTHING they wanted.  They then let developers “package” the customizations and created a marketplace where those packages could be “given away” or “licensed”.

So where does this affect lawyers who, by their own classification, are not in the sales business?  The answer is AdvologixPM.  The infrastructure of Salesforce already meets many of the needs of lawyers.  What is missing are MATTERS, and support for practice-specific details that lawyers want to know about their clients.  Further, the system does not natively support client billing.  What Advologix has done is stand on the shoulders of giants and build a Legal Practice Management system on top of Salesforce.  It is, indeed a complete and comprehensive system.  It does what a practice management system should do, and does it quite well.  And you don’t have to worry about backups, network services, remote access or anything.  All you have to worry about is paying your Monthly user fee. The fee will be more than you pay annually for your current practice management solution software.  The difference, arises, however, if you look at TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).  No server; no need to apply software updates, no installation costs, and worldwide access.

Now where the application gets interesting for me and my clients is in two areas.  First,it is infinitely customizable.  If a client comes to me with a bankruptcy practice and wants to track special creditor details in a table, I can modfy the application to add the necessary table and fields.  And, if I do a good enough job, I can package up those modifications and “license” them to another client.  They could make the changes themselves, or they could leverage my expertise in data gathering, workflow and document assembly in that field. The second place where it gets interesting.  Exari has released a Force.com application NDA Generator on Exari.  Here we are leveraging a world-class web-based document assembly engine with a world-class CRM system, none of which needs to be installed on a server that we manage.

There are some TRADEOFFS when you program a Force.com application.  There are somethings about the way the application works, what some tables are called that you cannot change.  Since the core application was designed by someone else, you are limited to working with what that company has built.  As a result, you will not have the spartan and intuitive design appeal of a RocketMatter or a Clio practice management system that was designed from the ground up as a practice management system.  You will need to look closely at what Advologix has done to Salesforce, and weigh what additional modifications you can make and compare them to both Client/Server applications (like Time Matters, Amicus Attorney and PracticeMaster) and to RocketMatter and Clio offerings.  The good news is there are a lot of innovative solutions out there for to choose from.  And now there is one more.

Cloud Based Practice Management

In the next few weeks, my reviews of CLIO and RocketMatter will appear in Technolawyer, with copies on this site.  I don’t want to give away the results, but I want to comment more generally on the development goals of cloud-based offerings versus client-server offerings.  To some degree, I have dealt with that tension in my development and advisory role in the creation of Wealth Transfer Planning and its unique front-end for HotDocs.  It is this balancing act between simplicity and sophistication, between stability and customizability, that marks really good software. CLIO and RocketMatter are following in the footsteps of the two giants of software development.

CLIO and RocketMatter are following the outsized success of SalesForce.com and that of Bob Butler’s efforts in building Time Matters. SalesForce.com is a ubiquitous platform that promises data anywhere, on any platform, from any location. Resources are “rented” at a hefty monthly fee.  The user has no upfront costs, no hardware costs, and pays only based on usage. The user gets service guarantees. But what has made SalesForce.com so successful is the API (application programming interface) which lets it read data from and write data to just about any resource, its customizable front-end, and the ability to create and purchase add-ons that interact with the data. All this together is responsible for SalesForce.com’s outsized lead in the Cloud market.  It can be whatever you need it to be; and it is likely, if you want it, that someone else has already customized SaleForce to meet the needs of their industry, and can give or license you that customization module.

Time Matters, in the Client-Server environment is much like Salesforce.com.  It is a powerful, structured database that allows near infinite customization.  Out-of-the-box Time Matters works as a full-blown practice management system.  It can be easily customized.  There is a network of consultants and third party vendors who have harnessed the power of the data in Time Matter’s SQL databases, and those who, like yours truly, have built and marketed add-ons for Time Matters.

So how can CLIO and RocketMatter follow in the footsteps of the two giants?  At the moment, they are ensuring the stability of their core offering.  Both have delivered solid, functional practice management systems.  Both have unique visions on what usability is, and how it should work.  Their interfaces are innovative; client/server vendors should take notice of what they have done in terms of usability.  And yet, both CLIO and RocketMatter have a singular vision; a single view of what the interface should be, what features should be available.  They try to fit all lawyers and all law practices into one mode of operation, one mode of billing, one mode of practice.

In their efforts to get out a 1.0 release, the software at present does not represent the full diversity of practices of lawyers in the market place.  This is not to say that these programs will not or cannot represent that diversity.  Unless your core product works, is stable and supportable and dependable, it doesn’t matter how customizable and flexible the product will be.  The learning curve on both products is measured in hours, and not days or weeks, like it is for other practice management solutions.  CLIO’s tagline is “Practice Management Simplified”. RocketMatter, in some ways, seems to think for you, seamlessly building interrelations between contacts and matters. Both make it easy for lawyers to bill and capture their time.

And yet, in this drive to simplify, make practice management easier, more available, these vendors have missed the richness and diversity of the practice of law; they have missed the benefits of interconnectedness between data and documents, between applications.  Much of what I am asking for in these offerings can be added on and built into these offerings, and most likely will.  And since the cost of distributing updates of Web 2.0 technology are zero, may come to pass.  We need more recognition of that diversity, the ability to customize by practice area, to recognize user-specific preferences in the interface, to recognize new and unique record types, and the ability to package and deliver such features.

I will save for another time why The Cloud is so important, particularly for lawyers.

New Players in the World of Document Assembly and Case Management

For the past few years, the world of document assembly and practice management as be S.O. (or same old …).  There have been a number of interesting upgrades to existing products.  There have been some exits (notably GhostFill).  There have been a few acquisitions (Lexis’s purchase of PCLaw and Juris, to name a few).  Into this “void” there are 3 new players who I will be examiniing: Zunesoft (maker of WordFusion, a document assembly platform), RocketMatter (www.rocketmatter.com) – a cloud-based legal practice management system- and Clio (www.goclio.com) – another cloud-based practice management system.

The CLOUD, for those who don’t know, is a word for software services that are made available through the internet where the data is stored, not on your server, but the server of the software service provider.  It is called the internet CLOUD because in the cloud you cannot see where the data is actually stored.  And, in practice, the data may be stored on dozens of different machines in multiple locations, and can be accessed from anywhere.  More on these systems later.

Future of Document Assembly

For better or worse, the future of document assembly is on the Web. The web offers cheaper maintenance, quicker updates, and a more consistent look and feel. The web is also the most cost-effective on total cost of ownership (“TCO”).  The catch is that startup costs are much greater for web deployment of automated templates.  Particularly since most law firms wish to “dip before they dunk”, the presence of desktop or networked document assembly solutions is critical to the development of automated content.  In the past five years, millions of dollars have been invested in innovative web-delivery of automated document creation systems.  By contrast, the investment in client/server based document assembly software has been minimal.

The sole exception has been LexisNexis’s continuing development of the HotDocs platform.  Korbitec, once the leading rival to LexisNexis, has ceased further development of its powerful GhostFill document assembly engine.  No other viable vendor has stepped up to fill the gap and compete head-on with LexisNexis.  LexisNexis deserves real credit for investing resources in building an ever-more powerful version of HotDocs.  They should be encouraged to keep up the good work and rewarded with license sales.  As I have written in my review of HotDocs 2006 posted in Technolawyer, the HotDocs platform has been transformed into a toolkit that can do some amazing things to manipulate data and forms.  However, in the absence of a viable direct competitor on the client/server space, there needs to be a clear reason for LexisNexis to continue to innovate.

Before I talk about the future, let me talk about the present. Let’s look at the pricing of document assembly software.  HotDocs Standard desktop costs $300 and HotDocs Professional costs $850 per license.  What that means is that for a small user base (1-10 users) your software investment is very small. As the user base increases beyond 50 users, the cost of software starts to become a factor. The reality is that most document assembly installations start out as departmental efforts (under 20 users) or occur where the firm purchases a form set (in which case the “player software” is free). By contrast, online software starts at $12,500 and goes up to $100,000 for the server software.  These fees do not include the server hardware, the consulting services configuring (and securing) the webserver, or the usage fees charged by a number of vendors.

It is this GAP which forces many users to look at the “cheap” software and get locked in.  This benefits LexisNexis which offers both cheap HotDocs desktop software and a much more expensive HotDocs Server product.  The cost, however, is that the web-based developers (Business Integrity, iXio, Exari, Perfectus and others), have template development environments that offer alternative design philosophies some of which may be better suited to your firm or company.  But because the startup (or prototype) costs are so high, such software is only available to the AmLaw 100 law firms and large corporations.

The FUTURE of document assembly.

Microsoft, with the release of Vista and Office2007 has closely aligned its software with the web through Sharepoint webservices, integrated throughout.  The 2-ton gorilla in the room is Microsoft which is starting to move into the “vertical” space and recognize the needs of legal.  Microsoft Legal is currently using Business Integrity’s DealBuilder product, which means that they have had an opportunity to evaluate closely a very power and flexible automation system.  It is only a matter of time before some of the features of DealBuilder show up in future versions of Office and Sharepoint.

Exari has announced the conquest of the “holy grail” in document assembly—The ability to assemble a document, send the result out for comments and editing, and then to bring the document back into the automation environment so that the variables and business logic continue to function on what is now the “customized template”.  They offer a feature which previously was only available in Smartwords (now defunct) and Rapidocs via a proprietary word-processor.  With the advent of WordML (a new open file format of XML files packaged together) it is possible to “safely store metadata” about the rules and structures of a word document, separating content, structure and format.  All of the web based developers are looking at what can be done with WordML to allow the “round tripping” of templates and documents.

Word currently allows you through macros and forms (including InfoPath and Taskbar data entry) to do much of what document assembly software does.  The catch, is that building such system requires specialized expertise in programming.  That means, to do court forms, form agreements and other automated documents requires hiring an experienced programmer.  The strength of the document assembly software is the “easy markup” which can be understood by the lawyers and managers who work with these forms, and the ease of deploying updates. Also with the separation of “business logic” from the word document, such document assembly systems allow the templates to run on multiple versions of Word (and WordPerfect) without recompiling macros.

LexisNexis is continuing to explore new options for its HotDocs platform.  A while back, it built into HotDocs Professional the ability to “Publish Templates” for HotDocs Server.  This means that for a very low investment, you can develop templates for internal use, and when the templates (and users) hit a critical mass, then invest in HotDocs Server.  We at Basha Systems, now work with Accudraft and offer HotDocs Online hosting services for our clients.  We offer our clients NO STARTUP COSTS and NO HARDWARE COST hosting.  For a nominal monthly fee, plus ongoing document automation consulting, we can put a law firm or company online.

So the future is ONLINE … it is just a matter of time.

What’s The Big Deal with GoToMeeting, GoToAssist, GoToWebinar andGoToMyPC

The Following Article was Originally published in Technolawyer. You may have heard the radio ads for “GoTo…”. A businessman forgets a key file at the office and saves a long trip back to the office (and a lost sale) thanks to this miraculous service called “GoToMyPC”.  However, there is much more to “GoTo” than remote file access. “GoTo…” is a suite of online products and services from Citrix Online that is built around a core “secure desktop sharing” technology.  This review will look at the core technology and then evaluate each of the products, looking specifically at where they would fit into the practice of a busy lawyer.

THE “CONNECTED” LAWYER

The “connected” lawyer of today is wired with technology.  Whether armed with a Blackberry, Palm Treo or Motorola-Q, the modern lawyer is in constant communication with his/her clients, colleagues, and the court.  Text messages, e-mails, and documents fly across the airwaves and wires 24-hours a day.  With the expectation of “24×7” service comes the need for access to information “24×7” – far more information than can be stored on the hard-drive of a PDA-Phone (or even a laptop).

The “connected” lawyer of today works on multiple computers.  There is usually a desktop in the office, maintained by the Information Technology (“IT”) Manager.  There is the attorney’s laptop which is used “at home” and “on the road”. There are the family computers networked together in a “home” wireless network.  In addition, there may be computers at a client site or an airport.  When a lawyer complains that his computer doesn’t work, he could be referring to any one of these computers, all of which are critical to the conduct of his/her business.

The “connected” lawyer of today must collaborate.  Collaboration requires meetings with colleagues; meetings with clients; meetings with experts; meetings with co-counsel; and negotiation meetings with opponents.  The teams need to be brought together to make a decision.  The teams need to “see” and “review the evidence” before they can make a decision. However, there is not time enough in the day to travel to “all” these meetings; nor can many of these meetings be “scheduled” for a future date.  These meetings need to happen now!!!  Emails and text messages can facilitate scheduling the meeting; but they cannot replace the actual meeting.

The “connected” lawyer today must teach.  Unless you are the only lawyer in town, clients don’t just walk in the door.  They are “invited”.  A client gets a referral from a friend, reads an article, finds a website, or attends a seminar.  The prospective client gets to “know” the lawyer.  There is more to marketing than building a website (everyone does that); writing a blog (that’s a lot of work); or sending out a newsletter (how boring).  There needs to be a personal touch – a connection with the client.  What better way to get connected than in a seminar?  Why not teach that seminar over the web, and call it a Webinar?

GOING VIRTUAL

The “connected” lawyer must “go virtual”. The full information resources that a lawyer uses at his/her desktop must be available 24×7 from anywhere and accessible from any device.  The IT Director of the firm must be able to provide instant support to “all” the lawyer’s computers (not just the ones that are tethered by Ethernet to the office network). And the lawyer must be able to setup ad hoc online meetings, as well as scheduled meetings.

Virtual Office: Fifteen years ago, I mobilized an army of paralegals to haul 50 banker’s boxes of exhibits to the federal courthouse on the eve of a trial.  A few years later, we replaced the boxes with a File-Server in the Courtroom, which we brought back each night to upload the daily court transcripts.

Today, you can bring in a laptop with a wireless broadband connection – any laptop, and have access to the same information. Using “remote access” software, the attorney can have access to this information, not only in the courtroom, but also at a conference table in settlement negotiations, at meetings with an expert witness or during depositions of key opposition witnesses.

Virtual Support: Once computers were a luxury, affordable only by the rich.  The computer supplied by the office was the only computer used by the attorney.  Today, computers are “appliances” that are in every room of the typical house.  The expectation (and a reasonable one) is that the IT Manager must provide support for all of these computers.  Run the ROI.  If a high-priced attorney has to spend 4 hours fiddling with his connections to do “office work” from home, whose money is lost?

Today, you can have instant support, on your desktop, on your laptop, on your MediaCenter PC.  In one-click of the mouse, you can have your office IT Manager connect to your computer (any of your computers) and fix it.  The typical “support call” used to take 30 minutes with a 50% success rate.  With remote desktop support, the IT Manager can “see” the problem, and often solve it in under five minutes.  A happy attorney is a productive and profitable attorney.  And for you IT Managers, think of all the grateful attorneys you helped and how they will vote at the partner’s meeting when it comes to budget approval (and compensation!)

Virtual Meetings: The virtual or online meeting used to be the province of high-powered corporations and law firms.  Only they could “afford” to set up a special audiovisual conference center with a dedicated T-1 line. Today, with “secure online meeting” software, you can schedule a meeting; send out invitations that include registration, time and conference call information; and then conduct the meeting from your “virtual office”.  The virtual office can be anywhere that has an internet connection.  It may be your office; a conference room; or a table at Starbuck’s.

Virtual Seminars:  Setting up a seminar used to be a big production involving publicists, mailings, space rental and special preparation.  Even virtual seminars involved costs: securing a phone connection, setting up the conference call, and charges per attendee that cost upwards of thousands of dollars.  Today, secure online meeting products have “all you can meet” and “all you can reach” plans for a fixed monthly subscription. The whole process from promotion, to conducting the meeting, to post-meeting follow-up can be handled from a single web-console; and is easy enough for an attorney to handle without assistance.

CITRIX ONLINE OFFERINGS

Citrix Online has built a suite of services:
– GoToMyPC for Virtual Office (www.gotomypc.com)
– GoToAssist for Virtual Support (www.gotoassist.com)
– GoToMeeting for Virtual Meetings (www.gotomeeting.com)
– GoToWebinar for Virtual Seminars (www.gotowebinar.com)

Each of these services has an “all you can use” plan, charging only per “organizer” or “host”. According to Citrix Online, each of these services offers: standards-based cryptography with true end-to-end encryption, a high-availability hosted service infrastructure, and an intuitive user interface combined to maximize confidentiality, integrity and availability.  In other words, your information is secure, available upon request and easy to access.

The core of the system is a “desktop screen sharing” client combined with a hosted distribution service that is easy to setup and maintain.  What sets Citrix Online offering apart is the combination of (1) security, (2) ease of use and (3) price.  The comments below are based on extensive use of this suite of products over the past five years. At Basha Systems LLC, we use all of these products to communicate with and support our clients numerous times every single day.

Each of these services is offered on a subscription basis (monthly or annual). Monthly prices per user start at $19.95 for GoToMyPC; $49.95 for GoToMeeting; $99.95 for GoToWebinar, and $300 for GoToAssist.  These numbers can quickly add up, unless the right business-case is made for their use of these services.  There are, of course, discounts for annual plans and multiple users, and special promotions.  The pricing is competitive compared to comparable offerings from other vendors. And as the expectation of clients and colleagues for instant collaboration and the need for law firm marketing increases, these fees will soon become just part of the cost of doing business.

GoToMyPC. This is the program to get your feet “wet” in virtual computing.  Get GoToMyPC Pro or GoToMyPC Corporate and install it on your office computer and on your home PC.  Be sure to assign a high quality password (text and numbers).  With a Pro or Corporate account, the IT Manager can manage the installation and the access rights from a central webpanel.

Once installed, GoToMyPC allows the attorney to login-in to their PC from anywhere, and work on their desktop, the same way as if they were right in the office.  There is no need to install special office files on each PC and configure them for access to the network.  By controlling your desktop PC, you can see everything you see at the office, without being there.

If you want to impress your colleagues about how late you were at the office, you can remote in from a late night Internet Café and send an email from your office computer.  If your child’s schools declares a last-minute snow day, you can continue your work from home.

Most often, this means grabbing a file or two from your office to work on your home PC.  There is an excellent File Transfer Utility built into the product.  In addition, there is also a remote printer setup that lets you open up a file on your office desktop, but then send it to print on the printer in your Hotel’s business office. The benefits of “remote desktop access” include added security since the file need not be transferred to the hotel computer. GoToMyPC can also be used for invitations for one-on-one collaboration. However, you are better served by the GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar product if you need to connect with more than one person.

GoToMyPC has had security issues in the past.  The security of a PC with an active GoToMyPC client on it is only as good as your passwords.  While there are 3 levels of passwords:  GoToMyPC login, Remote Access login, and Network login (if you lock your desktop), any failure to rotate your passwords or the use of obvious passwords will put your computer at risk.  In addition, accessing GoToMyPC accounts from untrusted computers (i.e. airport, internet cafes, Kinkos etc.) can subject you to risk of keystroke logging programs recording your login information.  This happened at one Kinkos in New York.  However, there was a happy ending.  Because Citrix Online records connection information (time, location, IP address), their fast response team was actually able to identify the offending PC and aided the police in arresting the culprit.

Another drawback of GoToMyPC occurs when you go on vacation.  When your client calls asking you to review a document or check on the status of his case, you no longer have excuses.  He knows you have GoToMyPC, and expects you to find a HotSpot and login into your desktop.

GoToAssist. This program is a must for any IT Manager.  You can set up an RDC (Remote Desktop Connection) in Windows to allow you to support computers inside the office (tethered to the Ethernet).  However, setting up an RDC for a home PC or laptop is something you should avoid.  It takes too much time, and is often done wrong.  Moreover, at the time of the support call (when the crisis is brewing) is not the time to take a highly anxious senior partner through the steps of properly setting up the RDC.

This is where GoToAssist shines.  Set up a link on the law firm’s website.  The lawyer clicks on the link, accepts a download, and you now have complete remote access to their PC.  The GoToAssist service is on a monthly or annual subscription with a charge per concurrent support technician. The support call comes in over GoToAssist as a request for connection.  The technician sees the desktop and places a call to the user.  Assistance is immediate.

GoToAssist is expensive; the monthly charge adds up. Realize however, since the license is concurrent, you will likely need only a single license for the firm. The program sometimes has problems with firewalls.  If the attorneys you are supporting have Zone Alarm or Norton Internet Security on their home PCs, they will have to affirmatively allow access before the session can begin.  Once the connection is made, of course, you have full remote desktop control during the length of the session.

Finally, a high-speed internet connection is essential.  While it functions over dial-up, the delays in screen-updating make the provision of remote support tortuous.  We once had a client in a remote part of Nebraska who had a satellite connection that made dial-up look fast.  Transferring a 15 megabyte file took over an hour and the screen refresh delays were 10-15 seconds.  These are the exception, rather than rule.  Most connections are instantaneous.

GoToMeeting. Collaboration on documents is what lawyers do.  And since most documents are digitized, collaboration involves hovering around a computer screen (or projector) and discussing the document.  GoToMeeting makes meetings easy, with an “all you can meet” product.  You pay a monthly or annual subscription for each authorized organizer; there is no fee for attendees or per meeting.

You can start a meeting by simply clicking on GoToMeeting icon in your system tray, a toolbar icon in Word, or using Instant Chat.  Simply choose (or list the attendees) and send off your invitation.  GoToMeeting include a free conference number that attendees can dial into and enter the meeting ID.  Collaboration could not be easier.

Once the participants are in attendance, GoToMeeting allows you to “chat” with attendees, use markers and highlights to illustrate points, even lets you pass the mouse to other attendees, and even lets you pass the baton to another presenter.  It gives you all the tools found in other online meeting programs.

While most GoToMeeting connections are quick and easy, there are some minor annoyances.  When the meeting starts, there is a control panel on the upper right hand of the screen which blocks a view of the desktop.  The attendees need to be instructed how to collapse the panel and then maximize the desktop viewer.  It would be far better to have the default be a collapsed panel and a maximized viewer.  Also, from the perspective of the organizer, the settings for allowing drawing and keyboard control could be more intuitive.  When you switch presenters, the new presenter has to manually give keyboard and drawing privileges to the original presenter.  It would be far better to get those issues resolved when the presenter is passed, allowing the presenter to show his screen, allow drawing and give mouse control in one click.

GoToWebinar. The online seminar product is only a few months old.  Citrix Online is currently bundling it free with a 10-user GoToMeeting account.  GoToWebinar is an “all you can reach” product.  It enables lawyers to reach their clients and prospective clients with maximum ease and minimum cost.  Like GoToMeeting, you pay a monthly or annual subscription for each authorized organizer; there is no fee for attendees or per meeting.

GoToWebinar works just like GoToMeeting.  In fact, it comes bundled with GoToMeeting.  The distinction is that GoToWebinar is designed as a marketing and educational tool.  It includes special tools for sending out slick customized meeting invitations.  A webpanel allows you to describe the meeting, add graphics and information, and conduct a pre-attendance pool of the attendees.  You have reports of how success the mailing was, how many have registered, and what their answers were to the poll.

During the meeting, you can have multiple organizers.  While one attorney is making a web presentation, another attorney can be fielding written questions from the users or preparing quick-poll questions to get feedback from the attendees.  The meeting control panel even lets you gauge the interest of the attendees in real-time so you can liven up the presentation.

After the meeting, you can automatically send out surveys of the users to either test their “recall” when the webinar is for instruction or to gather useful feedback for future presentations.  There is even an option for attendees to record the webinar for future playback.  In addition, for invitees who could not attend the meeting, such users can be automatically sent a link to a recording of the meeting on the hosted webinar site.

GoToWebinar is a new product, with some issues still being worked out.  There can be issues with firewalls that block certain attendees from viewing the meeting.  The innovative poll is a great feature; however, on my last session, GoToWebinar failed to properly record the answers to the instant polls.  Further, GoToWebinar presumes that attendees do not intend to speak during the session, assigning a conference number that is “listen only”.  You can manually override that number and supply one that can have up to 100 speakers (sufficient for most webinars).

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Getting the GoTo line of products may well be your best technology investment ever.  The service will make you as a lawyer more productive and more responsive.  It will help you secure new clients and new business.  With the new business you will be able to afford (and in fact be delighted to invest in) all the other technological productivity investments, whether they be case management, document assembly, or digital voice transcription software.

Disclosure: As a consultant I have used a courtesy copy of GoToMyPC, GoToAssist and GoToMeeting for several years.  I have been an unpaid advisor first to ExpertCity and then Citrix Online to give advice on which features would make the service attractive to lawyers. And I was a beta-tester for GoToMeeting prior to its launch. This has given me a unique insider’s perspective on the technology.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Recovered attorney Seth Rowland was named TechnoLawyer Consultant of the Year in 2002 for his contributions to TechnoLawyer on the subject of document assembly and law practice automation. He is a nationally known technologist whose company has helped many law firms and content providers build document assembly applications for both internal use and for resale. Please feel free to visit his blog (www.bashasys.info) for the latest on document assembly or the video tours page (http://www.bashasys.com/documentassemblyvideos) to see what such a system can look like. Basha Systems currently offers document assembly consulting services in DealBuilder, Perfectus, GhostFill and HotDocs. You can contact Seth via e-mail (sgr@bashasys.com) or telephone at (914-827-9173).

Online Commercial Lending Systems

In the past week I have been approach twice by people seeking to buy or build on online commercial lending document assembly system and asked for the appropriate platform.  As a consultant, I patiently explained the options and why merely purchasing a system would expose the company to unacceptable risks; that while I was a lawyer turned programmer, this went beyond the risks I was willing to assume as an automator. In so doing, the issue arose, what warranty does an automator make as to the legal viability of the forms produced.

The Inquiry

I want to start a lending business producing loan documentation for all 50 states.  Can you direct me to some forms I can use.  I want to automate them, let people enter information over the internet.  And of course, they need to be legally viable and enforceable in all 50 states.  Can you help me.

The Reply

Sure.  Do you have the forms.  I can build you a system and get you online for a reasonable fee in a reasonable amount of time.  You have a choice of platforms, each with their benefits and their limitations. The choice between HotDocs, GhostFill and DealBuilder depends on where you want to put your money, how you want to deploy the system, and who will be using the system.

Why there can be no warranty

Most if not all software agreements disclaim “consequential damages” or limit liability to the cost of the license.  Any other approach and the development of software is not cost effective. We can warrant that the software will present and interview, and that based on the selected items certain text will be included or excluded.  We cannot warrant that the selection of particular text is legally valid. For that you need a lawyer.

Why You Need a Lawyer

Where I part ways is over the content.  I can build the business logic, the rules, the work flow and collect a nice sum in exchange for my valuable efforts.  But I will not be the lawyer.  When a million dollar loan defaults and the language of the default clause gets exercised, I don’t want my words on the hook that a judge will say, “this clause is not enforceable; perhaps in New York that’s the way they do things, but here in Oklahoma, we require __________ and you failed to include that in your loan agreement.

Moreover, even if I had an “enforceable” set of multistate forms for today, tomorrow, a new court decision in Oklahoma, could change the standard and require modification of my forms.  Sure, we can get a piece of paper that has the business terms, but it is the nuances that make the paper have its value as commercial paper.  If I were lending tens of millions of dollars, I would want to make sure such paperwork was effective.

Value of Document Assembly

In writing this, I am not knocking the use of document assembly for online commercial lending.  It is actually a fabulous idea, incredibly cost effective and profitable.  The typical bank lending process is slow and fraught with “inefficiencies” that can be eliminated.  A company like ING Bank can have an entirely online system, automating many of the banking processes and eliminating the opportunity for human error.  When applied to lending, document assembly allows you to support real business logic and conditional language, mapped against a legally valid form and allows you to offer a range of flexible financing options.  I am all for it.  My only concern is that you retain legal counsel in building the business logic and in maintaining that business logic.

Pitfalls of Online Document Assembly

How does one explain to a web developer that document assembly is more than just throwing up some web-forms with fields tied an SQL database?  Sometimes, the hard way, by letting them try it themselves …

Related Link: For more information

Document Assembly is more than “merge templates”.  A merge templates takes “defined fields” and replaceS the field codes with data from a data source.  Anyone who has worked with a document assembly program, like HotDocs, GhostFill or DealBuilder, knows that “field codes” are just the beginning.

And yet, on countless occasions when talking to prospective clients (particularly large corporate IT or big firm legal, and even smaller law firms) they view document assembly as just a bunch of fields that can be filled in by any Tom, Dick or Harriet paralegal off the street, with little or no training.  They view the “coding” of such systems as beneath them in its simplicity.

To corporate IT, it is a matter of laying out the fields in a database, tying that database to a series of web forms, and then pushing that data through a Word/RTF engine to produce the final output.  To them, there is no problem that a few days of coding can’t solve; a smart team of web/database specialists can build this stuff in under six months, piece of cake.

Now if my clients gave me funding for a team of programmers to work full time for six months, I would be laughing … No I wouldn’t say no, but with the current state of the art in document assembly tools, what my team could accomplish with that funding vs. what the IT group would build, would be quite different.  Don’t get me wrong, the IT group would produce a system that would be polished, beautiful objects and data flow, sculpted buttons, drop-dead graphics, the works.

However, the laugh would occur when the “content managers” half-way through the project changed their mind.  Everyone knows that law is as much an art as a science.  It is a series of balanced judgments and competing interests, and how the balance comes out on any given issue will change over time.  Where document assembly tools shine (apart from rapid development tools) is when the “author” changes his/her mind; wants to change phrases in the template, add a new rule in a dialog, remove irrelevant questions (or hide them under new rules); or simply wholesale change the help text because the users keep asking dumb questions that can be best explained in the system.

When I have talked to the web developer about my “requirements” … they say piece of cake.  They see fields, dialogs, databases… Basic stuff.  Then I tell them, that I want the data structure to expand and contract (at whim).  That I want to add conditions and rules to the content of help text on particular variables.  That of course, there should be a seemless navigation system that lets me answers questions in a non-linear fashion (but still only show me relevant questions based on the answers I have given to the interview).

Only after have they have invested substantial days in the project will they come sheepishly to admit, this stuff is REAL HARD to do … you are going to have to settle for less.  To which I laugh: Why should I settle for less?  I can do all of this, without your fancy programming with DealBuilder Server; GhostFill Server or HotDocs Online Server.  These systems take the desktop template systems that many of you use, and let you “publish to the web server”.  The publication process automatically converts the pages in the case of GhostFill to DHTML, in the case of HotDocs, to Javascript; and in the case of DealBuilder to ASP pages.

So … if you still think programming document assembly forms on the web is easy.  Go ahead.  For the rest of you, go take a look at these products, see if they work for you.  It could save you a lot of money in the long run.