The main objective for investing in computer systems, whether for office or home use, is that they are meant to carry out a task more quickly, more easily and more accurately. This means that they leave more time for doing the things you want or need to do either at home or in the office.
However, use of computers must be appropriate – there is no point typing out a note for the milkman, printing it and then leaving it on the doorstep when "two pints please" on the back of an envelope will do the job more effectively. So, when you are looking at the myriad of systems on display at the Barbican, you need to be focused on those which will fit the needs of a solicitor in freeing up expensive time.
An area which takes an enormous amount of time is document creation, either typing or writing. Systems with voice activation software have been demonstrated at computer conferences in the last year or so as the products have become more reliable, accurate and cheaper. It is worth looking at the demonstrations which will be at the exhibition. Berrys is showing its voice software which covers system navigation, form filling and dictation. Solicitec will demonstrate its system navigation and dictation features using Dragon Dictate with the new Windows case management system. And Technology for Business has united with electronics giant Philips to unveil the prototype Voice Partner, expected to convert continuous speech directly to text.
Another area which is becoming popular is document management. There are two main packages on the market – SoftSolutions and PCDOCS Open. Both can help in the tracking, archiving and deletion of documents, but particularly version control. Pilgrim is demonstrating its in-house
developed document management software, which includes workstation management to enable access to certain files even if the file server is non-operational.
Workflow management covers a multitude of activities,but the main aim should be to make the fee earner's life easier. Systems are available to monitor progress on particular matters, from key activity dates to the speedy creation of standard documents. Avenue is showing its document assembly software – templates to provide a standardised document with the minimum amount of training – as well as FREDA, its new desktop offering. Linetime is demonstrating its Dataflow product which allows the user to define their own workflow for activities.
Lotus Development Corporation will be demonstrating its Lotus Notes integration software that uses the Lotus group of products. It shows how a computer on a network can be user-customised to suit a system of work, link to other applications and users and the ease of use of email. Legal Expert Systems is showing its software integration using Lotus Notes so practical applications in the legal world can also be demonstrated.
Many of the exhibiting suppliers have converted software to a Windows environment, such as Resolution for accounts and Solicitec for case management. Solicitors Own Software has integrated its new Windows accounts and time recording package with Solicitec's case management software on show for the first time.
Support packages for specific areas of practice abound, primarily focusing on case management, such as the software from the Beaver Corporation, Eleetix and F&F Systems.
Admiral is showing how its products will operate under Windows NT and the new Windows '95. DPS will be demonstrating a new Windows version of its support software, both on the stand and as part of a theatre-style presentation.
The fact that these applications look familiar to anyone who has bought a computer in the last few years should make approaching the software less of a trauma. For the personal injury solicitor, Eclipse will demonstrate the Windows version of its case control software, which also includes document imaging and management for this area of practice.
A late entrant, HG Usher, will be demonstrating its 'litigate' software under a new banner following its management buy-out, and will be showing its Fee Earner Desktop with case management and marketing modules using the Windows environment.
Other items to look at include the video conferencing facilities at Berrys and Axxia.
Finally, as usual, there will be many suppliers showing their accounts and time recording products. Some of these will be fairly new, and have a Windows front end for ease of use, continuing the trend towards graphical user interface (GUI) products.
So, if you are interested in computers and the advances
being made, this may provide you with a thread to find your way through the maze of products available.
Anne-Marie Ness is a consultant at The David Andrews Partnership.