I recently saw this meme on a lawyer friend’s Facebook page:
It reads: “Being a lawyer is easy. It’s like riding a bike… except the bike is on fire, you’re on fire, everything is on fire, and you’re in hell.”
My friend is a litigator. I can’t imagine a transactional attorney finding that meme amusing or even relatable. While perhaps not literally hell, litigation is a state of war. As another litigator friend once told me: “I love everything about the law, except judges, clients, and opposing counsel.” That sums it up pretty well. I feel you, brother.
But what does this have to do with software? Well, legal software can make it easier to be a litigator. It can save time, give order to the chaos, and provide added confidence over your caseload.
According to Jeff Bennion, San Diego attorney and writer for Above the Law, “Having a tech-savvy office has been the greatest benefit to me to keep pace with larger, more well-gunned offices. I believe attorneys should have an ethical duty to their clients to pursue and learn how to use the tools available to them to better and more efficiently represent their clients.”
The problems that software solves relate to tracking complex litigation deadlines, dealing with electronic evidence, and organizing one’s knowledge of a case’s factual history and claims. (Sadly, there’s no software yet for dealing with opposing counsel.)
The essential software categories are a calendar app; Microsoft Excel (or Google Sheets); Adobe Acrobat; eDiscovery review software; and software for linking witnesses, facts, evidence, and legal issues. I’ll explain how each of these tools provides massive value to litigators.
Litigation is all about deadlines. Sometimes you’ll have to track a half-dozen deadlines ticking away simultaneously for a single case. When you have multiple litigation cases, the difficulty of keeping track increases exponentially. Having a trusty calendar app is essential for both the big-picture overviews, as well as the day-to-day management of meetings and depositions.
In my litigation practice, we used Google Calendar primarily because my firm was using Google Apps for Business. Google Calendar is great for checking your schedule on the go, inviting others to meetings, reviewing your team’s schedules, and easily scheduling events involving different time zones. Google Calendar does not help you calculate deadlines, though; and it won’t display any more than one month’s worth of events at a time. (If you’re interested in an alternative, check out CaseFleet’s legal calendaring feature, which is designed to overcome these limitations.)
From computing dates to calculating damages, Excel is an essential tool for litigators. Many lawyers are very smart people who don’t like math. But in law, math comes up—a lot. Most litigation is about money damages, and these need to be calculated. In more complex cases, damages truly need to be modelled. It’s hard to imagine a better tool for calculating and modelling damages than Excel. For more information on harnessing the power of Excel in litigation, here are two useful blog posts:
- Why Excel Is The Most Underappreciated Program In Your Law Office
- From Legal Calendaring to Case Valuation, How Excel Excels
eDiscovery is becoming more prevalent each year, as lawyers recognize that the majority of useful evidence consists of electronic records such a emails, text messages, social media posts, databases, and productivity documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.). Indeed, 62% of attorneys who responded to a 2015 ABA survey reported receiving requests for electronic discovery – an increase of 6% over the previous year.
In my practice, I learned to grow wary of two things that have been the essence of discovery in recent years: PDF files and depositions. I learned to seek native files in response to my discovery requests, and an amazing thing happened: I was able to figure out what actually happened, and had the material to prove it. But I couldn’t have done this work without specialized electronic discovery software. In one case, I received over 300,000 emails in a PST container file. It would have been impossible to review them in a reasonable time manually.
Most eDiscovery software is expensive (even the monthly subscription‑based platforms), but there’s a major exception. Nuix Proof Finder costs only $100—all of which goes to charity. For small cases, Proof Finder does everything you need. Don’t try reviewing native files without it.
Adobe Acrobat Pro
Even though natives files are preferred for producing and reviewing evidence, Portable Document Format (PDF) files are still extremely important in litigation. Most e‑filing is done with PDF files, and many parties insist on producing discovery documents in PDF format. There will even be occasions when an opposing party will request PDF format for discovery documents. In all of these instances, it’s essential to have software for processing text through Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR helps with manipulating the order and contents of pages, extracting pages or inserting page numbers and labels, and for redacting confidential text.
Keep in mind that many ediscovery software packages include OCR. But if yours doesn’t, these tasks come up so often for most litigators that it would be very difficult to perform them without having Adobe Acrobat Pro. Pricing for Acrobat used to be difficult for smaller firms, but Adobe recently moved to a monthly subscription model so that you can add and remove seats, reassign licenses easily, and scale up or down as needed.
Acrobat is also the best way to redact, but there are a few alternatives.
Fact Outline / Timeline Software
The best litigators are thorough fact investigators. They know how to find key witnesses, locate evidence on the internet, request and review electronic evidence, and elicit surprising admissions in depositions. But this attention to detail and aggressive questing after facts leads to an organizational conundrum: where and how will all of these facts be organized? For many, the answer is “in my head,” “in my handwritten notes,” or “in a Word document somewhere,” but each of these solutions is very problematic.
Keeping vital information in disparate places makes it difficult to collaborate and communicate with the other members of a litigation team about fact narratives, and it’s impossible to represent relationships properly in Word documents or handwritten notes. These relationships require a tool connecting facts with related proof evidence, connecting evidence to the witnesses who will authenticate it, and confirming the relationship between the elements of a claim or defense and the facts on which they depend.
Many litigators are turning to legal case management software to improve their process for managing case facts. Example programs include CaseMap (LexisNexis), Case Notebook (Thomson Reuters), FactBox (Lynx Workflow), and the Timelines feature in CaseFleet (my own company).
Since I’m most familiar with CaseFleet Timelines, I’ll briefly explain what it does and how it works. Litigators start by listing the witnesses and legal issues that appear in a case. Then, they create facts that are linked to the witnesses and issues. Lawyers and staff can simultaneously upload evidence, such as depositions transcripts, PDFs, and native files and link evidence items to different facts. The goal is to give a litigator a meticulously-organized trial notebook that will grow organically throughout the life of the case,rather than in the frantic days or weeks before trials, hearings, motion deadlines, or depositions).
In litigation, good software multiplies our efforts and helps us do better work in less time, with less effort. Applying technology to litigation bears witness to the truth of Steve Jobs’ notion that computers are “a bicycle for our minds,” enabling us to reach new heights. What technology do you rely on in your litigation practice? Let us know in the comments!