Legal.online, November 1999Copyright 1999 Robert J. Ambrogi
Managing Litigation Via The Web
By Robert J. Ambrogi
What trial lawyer would not benefit from tapping in to a fount of other lawyers' work and wisdom -- briefs they have written, depositions they have taken, strategies they have used?
The Internet provides litigators with precisely this power, to connect and share information with each other without regard to location or type of computer.
Not surprisingly, it was trial lawyers, themselves, who first saw the Web's potential for transforming litigation management and who began to make it happen.
Take, for example, Michael P. Curreri, founder of the Internet trial defense network TrialNet, http://www.trialnet.com. A long-time litigator, Curreri was a partner in the Richmond, Va., defense firm Wright, Robinson, Osthimer & Tatum, a firm that specializes in litigation management for all nature of large-scale litigations and mass torts.
Four years ago, a client -- the largest nursing home chain in the world -- asked Curreri to develop a litigation management network. "As I began to put together a plan, it became obvious that the power of the Internet to permit collaboration of ideas and effort and disseminate information that was a product of that collaboration in an organized way was incredible. It became clear to me that whatever system we had should use this technology."
The result was TrialNet, a litigation management tool that uses the technology of the Internet to create a secure, international network of defense attorneys and their clients. Its purpose is to organize and share resources and information in order to both improve the quality of legal services and reduce defense costs.
And then there is Lee H. Glickenhaus, a litigator with more than 13 years experience managing complex commercial and environmental cases and a former partner with Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, one of Boston's largest firms.
Glickenhaus saw lawyers constantly reinventing the wheel -- researching issues or writing on topics that had almost certainly been done before within the same firm or on behalf of a common client.
"One of the great challenges of managing litigation and other legal work is making sure that information and resources are available to the people who need them when they need them," Glickenhaus says. "Major cases have huge amounts of information that need to be managed. Recurring smaller cases need to be managed efficiently without waste or unnecessary duplication of effort. Law departments often must coordinate and manage multiple firms."
Glickenhaus left Mintz, Levin to found T Lex, http://www.tlex.com, a company that, as he puts it, "allows companies and law firms to get the maximum value from their legal efforts by permitting the sharing of legal work-product and other resources."
T Lex creates and maintains "extranets" -- private, highly secure Web sites for each client. Access to each extranet site is restricted to the client and the law firms it designates. Each site is customized to meet the particular needs of each client.
"We allow a greater level of coordination, collaboration and communication among clients and firms than would otherwise be possible," Glickenhaus believes.
Litigation extranets are simple in concept -- essentially just password-protected Web sites devoted to a particular client or litigation topic. An insurer, for example, may set up an extranet to coordinate information among all its outside counsel. Or different firms may join together in an extranet to share information about a matter in which they are engaged in a common defense.
The Web has many qualities that make it particularly well suited to the task of managing cases, distributing documents and connecting people from multiple organizations, Glickenhaus notes. "The most basic of these qualities are: itís easy, itís cheap, itís platform-independent and itís ubiquitous. Itís also extremely secure."
TrialNet, T Lex and other developers offer various enhancements and customization, but what makes all these extranets so appealing is their accessibility and ease of use. All one needs to tap into such a system is a simple Internet connection and common Web browser.
Within these systems, lawyers will find many standard features. They will include searchable libraries of briefs and memoranda, full-text storehouses of depositions, and copies of pleadings and motions.
There is also likely to be some form of threaded discussion area, where lawyers can exchange tips and post questions, as well as a directory of e-mail addresses of network members. Many extranets include calendars of litigation events related to the client or the topic.
TrialNet, for example, is organized along tracks -- each track is for a particular corporation, product or subject matter. Members of TrialNet, including inside and outside counsel, are given passwords that allow them access only to the information stored on the appropriate track. However, a track may be designed to incorporate not just documents from a particular litigation, but also resources from other tracks of common interest, such as information about expert witnesses.
For Curreri, one of the most exciting features of TrialNet is its dynamic nature. Unlike off-the-shelf litigation management software, he explains, "where the salesman tries to fit the client into the box," TrialNet can be customized to the needs of the particular client or litigation. "We say, `What are your goals, and what are the functions that are important to reach those goals?' Then we build an intranet that uses all the strengths of hypertext and scripting to make something customized to the unique legal need."
This system, Curreri believes, is a benefit to consumers and lawyers alike. For consumers, it reduces waste and redundancy among numerous outside counsel, thereby reducing cost and enhancing efficiency. For lawyers, it cuts the learning curve and reduces frustration and delay.
"If you look at all the lawyers you have [involved in a matter], and you could put them all in the same magical building, where they share files and briefs and pleadings, with a claims manager monitoring all this electronically, and your answer is yes, then you should use this system."
Glickenhaus sounds a similar note. "T Lex eliminates the problem of needless duplication of effort. With T Lex, all of the legal work product a client has paid for is easily and immediately available to its in-house staff and its outside counsel. The T Lex database becomes the first step in a new legal project. The wheel does not need to be invented over and over."
Copyright 1999 Robert J. Ambrogi