New scheme aims for Europe-wide legal computer standard

A fully integrated computer and telecommunications system for lawyers has been promised at the launch of the Pan European Legal Telematics Programme.

The programme, which aims to build common standards for integrating computer and telecommunications services in the legal profession, will focus on the development of a Legal Telematics workstation to meet the growing demand for an integrated approach to back and front office services.

Gavin Maxwell, the project co-ordinator at Coolfin International Technology Management Consultants, which is overseeing the programme, said: "Our research programme has shown that the majority of firms are still trapped in traditional work practices with poorly integrated back and front office systems. The maj-ority of law firms have been unprepared for the pace of change and, as a result, historic work practices and old technologies are still very much in evidence."

The company's plan, after three years of research with law firms and agencies, is to set up a workstation which will bring together approved systems and software from Admiral Legal Systems, Microsoft, Coolfin Group Consultants, Mitsubishi, Gateway 2000, Creative Labs, Picturetel UK, Kolotov and Microtouch.

It is hoped the criteria will establish a benchmark or standard for products which can be integrated into the modern legal environment and the Telematics workstation will allow for different modes of user interaction.

It will feature components for recognising spoken language input.

Law firms throughout Europe will be invited to participate as pilot sites for the Telematics legal workstation. Selected firms will be able to use integrated facilities including on-screen telephony, video conferencing, speech dictation and integrated administration tools. The pilot programme will be suited to firms which are currently reviewing management and technology services and recognise the need for an integrated approach to expert and paralegal services.

During the research for the programme, Coolfin liaised extensively with the Law Society, which recognises the demand for more cohesive technology standards.

Maxwell said that previous attempts by law societies, both nationally and locally, to educate or encourage practitioners to invest has been patchy and has lacked the support of policy or standards.

Christina Archbold, the Law Society's IT adviser to the profession, said: "The idea is interesting but I haven't seen the prototype yet. If the system is available at a reasonable price it would be ideal for use in high street firms who have little technology."

Guy Liddell, head of IT at Dibb Lupton Broomhead, said: "I am not convinced that this system is different from what IT departments in the top firms are doing already."