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Copyright 1997 Robert J. Ambrogi
New Tools For Legal Research On The Net
By Robert J. Ambrogi
"The future is at the intersection of content and technology."
With these words, Michael E. Wilens, the West Groups new chief technology officer, began to lay out Wests plan for reaching that intersection, beginning with browser access to the Westlaw database within six months and full Internet access sometime in 1998.
West was one of only a handful of companies announcing new Internet-related products at the Jan. 27-29 Legal Tech New York, probably the largest legal technology trade show. Compared to last year, when a host of Internet products were introduced, this years show focused more on bread-and-butter technology tools for keeping time and managing cases.
Other Internet-related products announced at Legal Tech were:
Within six months, Westlaw subscribers will be able to research its database using the same type of browser software used to explore the World Wide Web, Wilens revealed in an interview.
The browser, which West calls SuperDoc, is a customized version of Netscape. It uses frames to divide the on-screen view into a large document viewing area and smaller areas that at various times may contain search tools, headnotes, and citation or other document information.
Wilens, who was named to the newly created CTO position Oct. 24, said that Wests primary impetus for designing the new interface was its larger-firm customers, who wanted seamless compatibility between Westlaw and their own intranets. To demonstrate just how seamless it can be, he showed a legal brief drafted using the latest version of Microsoft Word, which can automatically format case citations in hypertext. Click on a cite within Word, and up pops the browser, retrieving the case from Westlaw.
Westlaw documents will likewise be fully formatted in hypertext. Click on a headnote to jump to its reference point in the case. Click on a cite within a case to jump to the cited case.
This browser-based access to Westlaw will not be through the Internet at least not for a year or so. Although it will be based on same TCP/IP protocols that allow for open communications over the Internet among a variety of computer languages, customers will use private telecommunications networks to access the service.
Wilens hoped to provide full, browser-based access over the Internet sometime in 1998. (Customers have for some time been able to access Westlaw via the Internet using Telnet, but this does not allow for hypertext and graphics such as are found on the Web.)
At that point, Westlaw users will see what Wilens called a new "fidelity" in the information, meaning West will make greater use of graphics, fonts, and other such elements to give the service a look and feel more akin to the Web or America Online.
Wilens acknowledged that issues of price and bandwidth make these changes more palatable for large firms than for small. Large firms usually have flat-rate access to Westlaw as well as high bandwidth telecommunications lines. In terms of both data bits and dollars, they can afford this kind of seamless integration between desktop and Westlaw.
But what about small firms, which have usage-based Westlaw accounts and 28.8 modems?
West will almost certainly offer new "pricing bundles" as part of its move to more open, Internet-like standards, Wilens said, but it has not decided what prices will be. He agreed that the Internet has contributed to creating a demand for lower-priced online research, but at the same time, he noted, there is little comparison between Wests database and anything available on the Net.
As for the problem of slower modems, West is still working on it, Wilens said. A major concern is avoiding what he called "AOL syndrome," an allusion to the online services recent congestion woes. To this end, West has a project called "10X," whose purpose is to ensure that it will be able to handle 10 times its current usage capacity.
Wilens, who was formerly chief executive officer of Legion U.K. Ltd., an international provider of interactive telephone services, and before that senior vice president of technology at Thomson Legal Publishing, admitted to some fear over the transition to open standards. His chief concern is over the need to adapt Westlaws databases and search tools from a system based on a single, mainframe computer to one using thousands of smaller, server computers. Although the move is already well on its way, Wilens said, he does not relish the prospect of managing "10,000 PCs with 10,000 databases."
Easing IP Research
While Wilens looked to the intersection of technology and content, the folks at Thomson & Thomson spoke of the merger of technology and tradition in introducing their new, Web-based intellectual property research service.
T&T no relation to Wests owner, the Thomson Corporation is the company that in 1983 introduced Trademarkscan, the first online service for researching trademarks. Now it has unveiled a suite of services available on the Web to make trademark and domain name searching even easier.
At the core of the suite remains Trademarkscan, T&Ts database of trademark information, which has been enhanced with a new search engine that T&T calls "a quantum leap in IP research." The search engine does not require the user to know anything about formulating queries or search-engine syntax just type in a name and hit "search." The search engine will automatically search for all variety of variants, including phonetic equivalents and names with special punctuation.
Once it has returned a list of hits, it lets you select the ones you want to include in a report and then provides various options for creating reports or simply cutting and pasting into a word processing document.
The enhanced Trademarkscan also now includes a feature called "Autoquery," an expert system designed to help searchers ask the right questions when searching a trade name.
T&T has also simplified Trademarkscans pricing, so that now users pay only by the record retrieved. Once you buy a record, you own that data, and pay no further fees no matter how you use it.
A second feature of the suite is the T&T Domain Name Database, a free domain-name search service. The database contains all 900,000-plus names registered with Network Solutions Inc. and is updated daily.
Comparisons by legal.online of T&Ts domain searcher with the "whois" search tool available at the NSI site (http://rs.internic.net/rs-internic.html) found the T&T search tool to be superior in ease of use, thoroughness and speed.
The final element in the suite is Inbox, a service for both delivering and managing trademark search reports. T&T promises that Inbox can deliver reports faster than any other method, including overnight mail. Reports are delivered in Adobe Acrobat format, enhanced with hypertext links.
Once delivered, reports are managed in an electronic inbox, meaning that you can access them no matter where you are, whether in the office or on the road, and that you allow others also to access the reports, whether they be law partners or clients.
For a limited time, T&T is offering free guest access to the entire suite of services. To register, visit the T&T Web site, http://www.thomson-thomson.com.
Organizing Internet Research
MeltingPoint is software that works with your Netscape or Internet Explorer Web browser with the aim of putting "feedback and knowledge into Web research by attorneys."
In essence, it is a glorified bookmark file that sits on your computer screen beside your browser. But it promises to do more than any bookmark file, letting you organize and annotate Web pages as you explore and then later informing you whether you have seen a page before and the issues, clients or documents to which it is relevant.
MeltingPoints main window is a Windows 95-style directory of file folders, organized into categories such as clients, issues, key words and documents. As you browse the Web, if a page is relevant to a particular client or issue, you drag and drop it into the folder and add comments of any length. If you see a link within a page that you think may be relevant, you can add it to a folder without even following it.
The result is to organize your research within multiple folders, so that later you can look at a particular client or issue and find all the Web pages, Microsoft Office documents and even other image and video files that are relevant.
"MeltingPoint automatically turns Web or intranet browsing into reusable knowledge," explained its developer, Vijay Mital, a former patent lawyer. "It then feeds this knowledge back to users as they continue browsing, revealing whether theyve seen Web pages or documents before, how they linked topics to it and whether they should look at additional information discovered during earlier research."
MeltingPoint requires Windows 95 or Windows NT version 4.0 or higher. It sells for $69 per user, or $499 for 10 users, from DocuWork, 350 Townsend Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94107. The phone is (800) 944-5585. DocuWork has a Web site under construction at: http://www.docuwork.com.
Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of legal.online, a monthly newsletter about the Internet (http://www.legalonline.com). He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (978) 546-7898.