|Oregon State Bar Bulletin MAY 2010|
The annual LegalTech conference in New York has long been an event where legal-technology companies take the wraps off new products and services. This year’s conference in February was notable for the number of Web-based products launched and for their innovation.
My column last month reviewed one of these, the next-generation research service WestlawNext. Here are four others that stood out as unique.
Introduced as a beta at LegalTech, Onit, www.onit.com, is a Web-based project management tool described as being for “anyone and everyone who manage projects — big, small, business, legal.” It specifically includes a Legal Edition designed for legal matters and cases. During its beta period, the system is free for anyone to use. Even after its formal launch, slated for April, the basic legal edition will remain free.
Because Onit is Web-based, there is no software to download or install, and it can be deployed in just minutes. Sign up using an e-mail address and receive an activation code within seconds. Once you receive the code, it takes just a minute more to launch a project, requiring only that you give the project a name. From there, invite participants, create a project plan, establish a budget and add documents, notes and updates.
The beauty of Onit is its simplicity. Use it to manage multiple projects and coordinate multiple participants. Each project gets a home page where participants can plan, collaborate, budget and share. Participants can provide status updates in the same way they would using Twitter or Facebook, or by sending an e-mail to a special e-mail address that Onit creates for each project.
The project home page provides an overview of the project’s current status, upcoming tasks and events, and spending against budget. It also contains the project plan, all notes, all documents and financials and a list of all participants. If a participant is overdue for a status update, one click sends the person a “nudge.” The entire project is searchable.
Onit promises apps for iPhone and BlackBerry that will allow access to these same features. As of this writing, the apps had not been released.
Given that Onit is free and simple to use, requires no special software, and can be used for any number of projects and with any number of participants, why wouldn’t you get Onit?
Document Assembly for
Also unveiled at LegalTech, ContractExpress, www.contractexpress.com, is a cloud-based document assembly system that aims to offer solo and smaller-firm lawyers a tool on a par with the enterprise-level system the company markets to large firms and corporate legal departments. The software-as-a-service was introduced by the London-based company Business Integrity, which modeled it on its enterprise program, ContractExpress DealBuilder.
ContractExpress.com is notable for its ease of use. Templates for leases, contracts or any standardized legal document are stored in workspaces accessible through a browser. To create a document, simply choose a template. A series of questions prompt for the information needed to fill in each field. Workspaces and templates can be shared with other users.
Templates can be set up so that fields are filled in by specific answers to questions (such as a party’s name) or by alternative blocks of text depending on the answer given. Fields can be made compulsory or optional. Once you’ve completed the questions, the document is generated and appears in your workspace. Click its name to download and open it in Microsoft Word.
You create these document-assembly templates within Microsoft Word and then upload them to the site. When you first sign up, you are prompted to download a Word add-on called ContractExpress Author. This is the tool you use to create templates using a simple menu that lets you choose and insert fields. You can also insert fields manually simply by enclosing them in curly brackets.
One limitation of ContractExpress.com is that this authoring tool works only in Word 2007 and only on Windows computers. If you have an older version of Word or if you are a Mac user, you are out of luck.
The site offers a 60-day free trial, so you can try it and judge for yourself. Thereafter, the cost to use the service is $195 per user per month.
For smaller-firm lawyers, ContractExpress has two obvious advantages. One, it is easy to use and it makes it easy to create templates. Two, because it is based in the cloud, there is no software to install and maintain. For a lawyer who generates even a modest number of standardized documents, this system could easily pay for itself.
Ratings of Experts and Neutrals
Another site launched at LegalTech, Courtroom Insight, www.courtroomin sight.com, provides lawyer-written reviews of expert witnesses, mediators, arbitrators and litigation consultants. The site is a simple-to-search directory of experts, neutrals and consultants. For anyone listed in the directory, registered users can submit ratings and reviews of their services.
Few of the profiles have reviews so far, which is understandable given that the site just launched. Elements of a review differ based on the type of service provider. For an arbitrator, the review includes ratings of legal ability, integrity and objectivity, judicial management, degree of preparedness, communication skills and professionalism. For expert witnesses, ratings grade experience, value for fees, level of involvement, command of information, technical skills, analytical skills, timeliness, objectivity and communication skills.
To help ensure the reliability of reviews, the site manually validates membership requests by attorneys and judges. Non-lawyer reviewers are not validated, but they are asked to provide “honest feedback, including constructive criticism where warranted, written in professional style and demeanor.”
Any expert, neutral or consultant who is listed in the directory can claim his or her profile and verify the basic contact information. The site sells upgraded profiles for $349 a year, which allows listing of more detailed information about one’s professional background.
Access to the site is free, but allows viewing only of reviews posted within the most recent 30 days. Users can opt to purchase a $249 annual subscription, which gives them access to all reviews, whenever posted.
In a statement announcing the launch, Courtroom Insight CEO Mark Torchiana said it will help lawyers find experts with the right experience and abilities to match the needs of a particular case and allow lawyers to better assess how an expert will perform in a courtroom setting. The site can also be used to research opposing experts, he noted.
Legal Tech User Reviews
Shop for a consumer technology product online and you are likely to head straight for the user reviews to see what others thought of it. Why shouldn’t the same sort of reviews be available to consumers of legal technology? That is the thinking behind LegalRelay.com, www.legalrelay.com, which describes itself as “like Amazon reviews for legal technology.”
LegalRelay is a site where users of legal technology can anonymously post opinions and experiences about the products and services they buy and use. The site calls these posts “relays.” Lawyers, IT professionals and others can then read these reviews to help them evaluate and decide among potential purchases.
So far, the number of reviews is small. Most listed products have no reviews. The legal community would benefit if use of the site picks up. There is no other site such as this dedicated to the legal community and to collecting user reviews from members of that community.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Ambrogi, who practices law in Rockport, Mass., is the former editor of National Law Journal and Lawyers Weekly USA. He is internationally known for his writing about the Internet and technology. He is the author of three blogs, which can be read at www.legaline.com.
© 2010 Robert Ambrogi