Last week the Society for Computers & Law presented its seventh annual awards, which recognise outstanding technological innovation for the legal profession.

Laserform Law topped the bill last week at the Society for Computers & Law (SCL) awards ceremony, taking first prize for its CaseControl forms system.

In presenting the award, Lord Saville of Newdigate, chairman of Information Technology in the Courts, said that IT was fundamental to providing a justice system which was 'available to all without unnecessary delay or expense'.

Three other firms made it to the SCL shortlist: NKT Computer Systems, for its Internet-based NKT Interactive Scheme; Wordwright Associates, for its Costs Plus billing system; and DPA-Egami, for its Egami-Legal document control system.

John Irving, chair of the judging panel and a director of BDO Stoy Hayward, said that he was 'particularly pleased' that 13 of the 39 entries came via the Internet.

Society for Computers & Law award winners for 1998

The award winners

WINNER: CaseControl

This is the second time Laserform Law has won this award. In 1996, the company's electronic forms system was voted best IT product. This year's winning system is a comprehensive, user-friendly case management system, already in use with a number of firms. It is has been used by Eversheds the first law firm to introduce case management software onto every PC. The product is made up of four main parts: SystemBuild, which allows for the creation of both Access and SQL databases along with the screens/forms necessary for the inputting of data into the databases; DocCreate, which allows the user to create their own standard documents using their existing word processor; WFlowBuild, which allows the end user to create documents in chronological order; and DocAssembly HotDocs, which assembles and tailors documents. Managing director, Barry Hawley-Green, said: 'There are 3,100 PCs across 150 firms licensed to use the service, including Eversheds which has signed a practice-wide licence for 2,000 PCs.'

runner-up: NKT Interactive Scheme

The interactive Internet system devised by NKT Computer Consultants allows firms to provide legal advice over the Internet on a variety of uncomplicated transactions, particularly probate and conveyancing. The system was devised by Michael Kaye, a partner at London firm Kaye Tesler & Co, which set up an interactive Internet legal service last March. Kaye said he set up the site after noticing how retailers used the Internet. He designed a Web site offering three separate levels of service a brochure site, an 'over the counter' site where questions could be answered and a service which would take instructions from potential clients. According to Michael Kaye: 'It is possible to draft a will across the Internet and to perform the initial stages of conveyancing and grants of probate.' Although the provision of interactive law throws up various questions such as at what stage the person actually becomes a client the judges were impressed by the potential which such a system offered the profession.

runner-up: Egami-Legal

The Egami-Legal document management system from DPA-Egami has been specifically designed to cater for the needs of litigation departments in law firms and corporations. The application offers scanning, indexing, OCR, bundling and communication facilities. It allows documents to be scanned in and indexed according to key words so they are electronically 'bundled'. Firms can present case evidence on floppy disk instead of piles of photocopied documents. The system is used by a number of UK firms including Lovell White Durrant, Eversheds and Beachcroft Stanleys. Its user-friendliness impressed the judges.

runner-up: Costs Plus

Costs Plus is a billing system from Wordwright Associates. The system extremely simple-to-use system produces a bill of costs in the format required by the courts. The system was devised, says the company, to revolutionise the process of legal costing and taxation bill production. The software automates a complex procedure which is beyond the scope of a layman. However, the system is built to be maintained by accounting staff, reducing practice overheads. Further, Wordright points out that the automation dramatically increased turnaround time.