Solex showcases latest in legal IT

Elizabeth Davidson takes a look at some of the highlights of this year's Solicitors and Legal Office Exhibition at the Barbican

Companies launched a bumper number of products at this year's Solicitors' and legal office Exhibition (Solex) at London's Barbican Exhibition Centre last week.

For legal professionals the show, which was sponsored by The Lawyer, offered an opportunity to buy, view or simply play with the latest technology available. For IT professionals, Solex was a chance to share gossip and find out what the competition was up to – and this year there was no shortage of news.

Litigation support companies such as Elliott Slone, DPA-Egami and Westkey, which scan and index documents, demonstrated a raft of products in what is a rapidly changing area of IT.

These products allow lawyers to avoid the back-breaking and cumbersome chore of handling screeds of documents by instead transferring them to a CD-Rom or a computer file.

Newcomer to the legal scene, Integritas, which has previously provided document management systems for the financial sector and the Ministry of Defence, is understood to have sold its system to two law firms and to the Legal Aid Board.

Integritas' Scanpack system allows users a certain margin of error, such as spelling a word wrong when searching for information. The information obtained can then be copied onto CD-Rom or e-mailed.

A further boost for Integritas was winning first prize at Solex for the design of its stand in the small stand category.

London and Manchester photocopying, design and document management company Legal Document Management (LDM) claimed its 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service was a major reason for its success.

Director Chris O'Reilly said that if a firm phoned the company at 2am and asked it to prepare documents for a case in the morning, it would be able to do so. He added that LDM received this type of request about twice a month.

O'Reilly revealed that his company was "in negotiation" with an Australian court reporting software firm which hopes to set up as a competitor to Smith Bernal's LiveNote service in the UK.

He said the pending agreement would allow lawyers to compare what is said in court with the information that had previously been fed into LTM's files. For example, an advocate could swiftly demonstrate in court that a witness had contradicted something he had said in a statement six months before.

Practice management system developer Peapod Solutions, which was runner-up in the large stand design competition is involved in a drive to get small firms onto the Internet.

The company chose Solex as the launch pad for its latest, as yet unnamed product, which is tailored for use by firms with 10 or more fee earners.

Peapod managing director Ian Wimbush said that over the next few months he planned a series of launches of secure products to establish lawyers on the Net.

Another practice management supplier at the show, Pilgrim Systems, has been targeting the overseas legal market, exhibiting its LawSoft system in the US at the American Legal Association, and at the Comdex computing fair held in Singapore.

According to Schroder Finance, which offers unsecured loans to firms installing IT systems, the millennium is still bugging many practices.

Schroder Finance's national development manager David Roberts said he thought that although small- and medium-sized firms are aware of the problem, they are leaving it too late to confront the cost of year 2000 compliance.

The company launched the Legal System Upgrade Programme at the show. This is a loan service aimed at firms which need to carry out computer upgrades before 2000.

Practice management supplier Axxia Systems did a double at the show – winning first prize for the second year running in the large stand design competition, for its two-storey orange and blue stand which had a wine bar at the top; and signing a major deal with a firm for a product which has yet to be fully developed.

London firm Rowley Ashworth managing partner David Prain signed a phased contract, worth about £400,000, with Axxia for a system based on Microsoft NT5, which is not expected to be available until the end of the year.

Grant Thornton IT consultant Andrew Levison advised Rowley Ashworth on the deal.

Axxia will begin implementing the system at the 19-partner specialist personal injury and trade union firm in December.

If the new version of Windows NT is not ready in time, however, Rowley Ashworth will receive a Unix-based system, with NT5 being phased in when it becomes available.

Prain said: "We expect to be the first firm in the country to use the new system and chose it because it is easy to administer, which suits our six-office firm perfectly."

He added that changing from the Unix-based system to an NT5 one would be a "seamless transition" for the fee earners.

Axxia managing director Stuart Holden said he planned to arrange 10 phased contracts for an NT5-based system before it became available on the market, and that Axxia would eventually switch from its unix-based Arista system to a microsoft-based one.