However, it is not clear that merely transferring these technologies to the legal services context will be sufficient.Rather changes in both content providing and content consuming organizations will be needed for these innovations to be used to best effect.
At the simplest level, this means that the user is welcomed by name: “Welcome Richard”.At the next level, the system offers the user the option to customize their own display by answering questions – where do you live, what sports team do you favor, which newspapers news are you most interested in?
The next level customization is driven not by the users conscious choice but by the information the portal has collected about the users prior selections and behavior.A portal can, for example give a user news based on the news links that the user has previously followed, or can tell of new books based on prior interests of purchases of the user.Of course, as time goes by, more and more of this information is driven by commercial and marketing concerns, and more and more of it is provided by content owners outside, but in partnership with the portal itself.Depending on the marketing strategies and the relative bargaining power of the partners, this linkage may be totally transparent, or totally obvious to the user.
This capacity is driven by improvements in power of the databases linked to the web servers, and by changes in the way client software on the users computer communicates with the servers on which the data is stored.
The same kind of technology can be used to create user-specific legal home pages for either clients or advocates.
Firstly, the volume of information indexed on the web is increasing exponentially.
Secondly, of necessity, driven by the impossibility of finding what the user needs finding mechanismsare coming to depend less and less on raw indexing strength, and more and more on patters of prior searches, on automatic intelligent editing of searches on and relationship between sites and usage.More and more of the search sites are driven by experience, and by detailed expert review of the information.
Similarly, branding is becoming more and more important, with specialist sites having the most detailed information, being recognized in the market as the leaders, and being linked to by the main portals.These links are the subject of complex and high-powered financial transactions.
To the extent that there is cross linking by hyper-linking from website to website, the system is idiosyncratic rather than systematic, and its utility for any one user is dependant on chance rather than on plan.Similarly, even if the material is properly findable in a search engine, it is hard to search in terms that the information is actually needed, or in the ways that it is thought about by the searcher.
Extensible Markup Language (XML) offers some solutions to these problems of the legal community, potentially both in terms of client data and advocate data.Put succinctly, XML allows information (including legal information) to be structured in such a way that it can be retrieved according to its content, not just its words.This is achieved by having the content “labeled” and structured according to pre-existing rules and definitions.Such rules and definitions can be established for any field, and indeed have been established for many fields.
In the legal information context, an XML standard might include information about type of legal material, date, author, substantive content, topic area, skill needed, and the like.Indeed, various working groups and various private vendors are already building varied XML standards for the legal community.
Such client and advocate XML standards would make it easy for centralized systems to access information on many many servers, index them, and make them available to large populations.Most importantly, submission to these systems could be automated.
One of the major commercial products is Entry Point, which offers the typicalscrolling “ticker” and customizable menu bar on the downloadable desktop.Within the legal services community, the main implementation of this technology has been Handsnet, the first and most traditional provider of news content to the legal services community.The Handsnet WebClipper routinely monitors about 500 websites for changes or additions, and sends subscribers a daily e-mail bulletin listing these changes and providing links.Each user can customize his or her feed based on interests such as “families and children.”
While the legal services community has made some use of this tool, its adoption has been relatively limited.Generally the feedback seems to be that the information is too general, and not specific to the legal services community.However, Handsnet has created a working technology that actually delivers updates on line and is currently functioning.As such it provides an important model, and a source of lessons.A Handsnet subscription costs $100 a year or $10 a month.
Similarly, BackWeb is a commercial product that is programmed to pre-review certain environments, collect additionally submitted information, and send it out, filtered by subscriber filters to users.This software is expensive, very awkward to install and use, and is therefore used mainly by corporations that seek to maintain very tight control over their users; it illustrates the changes that are occurring in information retrieval.
For pages that had to change regularly, such as calendars, publication lists, resource lists, or newspapers such as he New York Times that was highly labor intensive and very expensive.Recent developments and new software products such as Cold Fusion (a web authoring environment) make it possible for programmers to build systems that let people fill in a simple on-line web from which automatically updates the appropriate web pages.
The submission form can be built so that the submitter describes the information, categorizing it by subject, keyword, date, etc.A user can then request that the display web page show only that information.
Within the legal services community, the best example of this approach is ProBononet, in which calendars and resource information for different practice areas are submitted by experts in appropriate organizations.Probono.net provides an important model both technically and organizationally.Other nonprofit examples include Open Studio – The Arts On-line, a collaboration of the Benton Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and Connect for Kids, a multi-featured site that provides resources for child-serving organizations and communities.
Packages such as iRenaissance are commercially built software environments that come with templates that allow for any group of organizations to create a centralized web site to which information and calendars can be submitted by all member organizations, and which can be viewed according to pre-set filters.
Using this model, for example a legal services information entity, instead of purchasing their own servers, server software and programming language, would rent (or be given) access to this software on already functioning Internet servers. Such servers could handle case management, intake, referral, information, litigation support, and indeed the whole emerging legal technology support system.
This would make it far easier for an innovation to start up without huge start-up costs and maintenance and programming overhead.
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