A high-tech honeymoon

Like other law firms, Clifford Chance routinely uses technology in the conduct of its litigation case work. As partners equip staff with high-tech tools and back up, the use of IT has now become more normal than novel.

The advantages are clear and are client-driven. For example, one client in the Maxwell civil actions wanted to see the legal team's comments on computer document. We arranged a link from his PC to the firm's database and now he can see the same documents and comments as the lawyers, as well as the images used, while discussing them on the telephone. The lawyers also said the technology was a huge advantage in conducting the litigation.

The purpose of the database system was to allow documentation to be considered without repeated recourse to hard copy. As the proceedings progressed, the system was used for other purposes. In particular, lawyers were able to look at isolated issues in the proceedings and could search and examine documentation with particular reference to one or more people or a specified time period. In addition they used the system to prepare for meetings with potential witnesses using documentation for each person.

As well as discovery documentation, the lawyers also have the pleadings on the database to match documents to relevant paragraphs in the pleadings nearer to trial.

The system has lived up to expectations and the time saved has meant the litigation can be considered in more detail and at an earlier stage than would have otherwise been possible. It was not long before counsel sought access to the same database of information. Now client, counsel and the firm's legal team share the same information.

The same lawyers took some of the documentation to Paris for witness interviews. All they took was a laptop, a CD reader and a CD holding over 10,000 pages of information.

The use of technology in this case in just one of many and we have received much positive feedback from lawyers.

In February 1993, for example, a lawyer advocated the use of full text searching as quick, useful and easy to learn. He said that many of the references in the closing submissions could not have been identified in the available time if he had not used the system.

Around that time, lawyers began to recognise the benefits of technology and demand for it has continued to grow. Once lawyers are equipped with cost-effective, time-saving tools within the office, they regularly need the same capability outside it. We recently sent a team to the Hague with over £40,000 worth of laptops and equipment for the completion of a two-week hearing. Similarly, we helped set up a CyberTrial courtroom, with laptops to run real-time court transcripts program LiveNote, 21 monitors for ShowCase, a documents and graphics presentation package and PCs for database and email access to the firm. In addition, we regularly equip lawyers going abroad with laptops to allow CD-ROM access to case document images and modem access to the firm's email system.

The use of technology is presented to the client on a basis of cost-effectiveness.

But there are also more intangible benefits to be gained:

time saving – IT significantly reduces time spent looking for documents, information in documents and information about documents.

money saving – technology allows cheaper retrieval of documents than photocopying.

space saving – all relevant documents can be stored on a disk, not in office space.

better information – IT allows full results, cross referencing and searches to be produced accurately whenever needed, and in new ways.

More clients are moving towards technology and once lawyers have used IT, they want it again for the next case.