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Liz Davidson reports
A RICH selection of technology companies from the UK and overseas used this year's Solicitors and Legal Office Exhibition (Solex) as a launch-pad for products.
Geoffrey Howe, managing partner of Clifford Chance, opened the three-day show at London's Barbican centre, with the statement that information technology was now a necessity rather than a luxury.
More than 120 companies showed off to the 6,000 visitors a range of products, from case management systems to litigation support services.
Visitor Christopher Cross, IT manager of Rhyll solicitors, Gamlins Storrar Cowdray, said: "The problem with IT is that lawyers often don't get the chance to see it. This gives them the chance to see what's going to happen."
One of a variety of products launched at the show was the Speech Processing module by Philips. It is claimed it works in a similar way to a word processor and can recognise a user's voice so he or she does not need to speak like a robot.
Invented in 1993 for radiologists, the product has now been tailored for property lawyers and has a built-in vocabulary that makes it more likely to choose the most appropriate of two similarly sounding words or phrases - such as "estate" and "I state". The product is currently being test-driven by two of the top 10 firms, and separate products for commercial law and litigation are due to be launched this year.
Also launched at the exhibition was Russell Consulting's SecureFax, a computer system that handles faxes. It allows operators to flash any fax being sent up on screen, and prevents any fax being sent without prior authorisation.
The system, which includes an encrypting module so faxes can be sent in code, was bought by Kennedys last month, and was due to be inspected at Solex by several other City firms. SecureMail, a similar product for email, is due out in October and SecureAccess, which is designed for Intranets, is already available.
Another company to announce an initiative at Solex was on-line legal information service Lawtel, which has extended its service to include all reports of oral or extempore judgments in the Court of Appeal and many from the High Court as well.
What is believed by its developers to be the first case management system to use the Internet to liaise with clients was also previewed at Solex. Solicitec demonstrated the product, Solcase On-Line, at seminars throughout the three days and intends to have it completed by August.
Sales director Mark Woodward said: "Banks and building societies are now using this method, which saves time otherwise spent waiting for letters to arrive. There is no reason why solicitors should not also be using it."
Other seminars included Microsoft in the UK Legal Market and Making the Internet Secure for Business.
Texas companies Corprasoft and Prosoft had both made the trip across the Atlantic. Prosoft already supplies Carpe Diem time-tracking software to all top 10 English firms, except Clifford Chance and Link laters, and two of the top 10 Scottish firms, Dundas & Wilson and McGrigor Donald. Company president David Goldstein claimed the use of a remote control makes Carpe Diem's time-management service user-friendly.
Corprasoft's Chief Legal Officer case management package is aimed at in-house legal departments of multinational companies. Company president Carl Sutherland claimed it could save companies up to 20 per cent on legal bills.