Microsoft targets firms

Fennell Betson reports

Major US software house Microsoft has launched its package for the legal market.

Based on its Office suite of applications, it includes access to LawTel, an on-line database of 13,000 case summaries, and to the CompuForms electronic legal forms service.

Microsoft business development manager Charles Emes says that law firms are "power users of IT", particularly in relation to document preparation.

"Microsoft is not designing any applications for the legal marketplace, but is working with existing suppliers when looking for solutions," he says, referring to the links with Lawtel, a sister company of The Lawyer, and CompuForms.

The development of Windows 95 would result in easier access between front and back office systems. The aim is that the back office should be accessible from the lawyer's desktop, he says.

The group was working with a range of suppliers in order to help them move to Microsoft technologies, according to Emes, mentioning Admiral, AIM, Avenue, Dart, DMR, Kienzle and Pilgrim.

Rachel Lessiter, marketing manager of LawTel, says that the LawTel data can be accessed directly on screen through the Office package and the case material be integrated with the applications fee earners are using. Other LawTel services such as email, law directories and company information will also be available.

Paul Carpenter, technical director of CompuForms, says the firm's full library of 600 legal and statutory forms are obtainable through the software. "Electronic forms are an integral part of the modern legal office."

LawTel would be working with CompuForms to provide for the automatic downloading of forms to subscribers.

Microsoft Office 4.2 for Windows includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation graphics and mail merger, with a database management system also available. For Office users, Lawtel gives a one-month free offer and 25 per cent discount on the annual subscription and CompuForms provides a free starter kit and a 10 per cent discount on annual rental.

Christina Archbold, IT adviser with the Law Society, says: "This product has been developed in association with the Law Society and is suitable for solicitors' offices."

The group is also working with the IT Legal Advisory Council and contributed to the 'No IT please, we're solicitors' video issued by the Law Society and the Society for Computers and Law, says Emes.