Affordable Bridge Software Options

Who hasn?t been a David against Goliath in the courtroom? Most every small or solo litigation attorney has stood against large-firm lawyers carrying arsenals of paralegals and support staff. It?s sometimes intimidating, sometimes inspiring. It?s a rivalry that built the best on-screen courtroom dramas.

Yet the archetypal showdown is becoming less common as technological tools empower smaller firms and equalize the playing field. Bridge software is one of the most effective weapons for the “Davids.” These less-expensive, easy-to-use programs are breaking ground and make complicated litigation-support software more accessible and manageable for firm employees and attorneys.

Bridge software simplifies the three basic steps most every lawyer takes when going to trial: 1) capture information; 2) process and load the information; and 3) use that information to win. Larger firms with bigger budgets historically had the upper-hand in this process because they could afford to buy and maximize use of high-dollar litigation-management software, which is so helpful in lengthy trials. Bridge programs make litigation software accessible and realistic for small firms and solo lawyers that before couldn?t afford it. And it saves firms that already have the databases but rely on outside vendors to convert files into it.

A single license for Summation or Concordance runs between $1,500 to $2,000. But the programs require image and file data to be processed, formatted, and organized in a load file before they can be imported into the application for use. Most often small and solo practitioners shuck out thousands of dollars on outside vendors to do this job. But wouldn?t it better if they could do it on their own?

Bridge software accomplishes that. It simplifies the steps from capturing information to document conversion to load-file creation. Now these functions can be done at a desktop with little training. The software virtually builds a “bridge” to the databases. Bridge software allows firms to do steps one and two of the trial process in house. A firm can scan documents, convert documents—from multipage TIF to single-page TIF, multipage PDF to single-page TIF, and so on—while creating the necessary load files. Bridge software allows this process to happen in-house, meaning a firm can increase its billable hours or pass the savings onto the client.

It also reduces a firm?s cost and dependency on outside vendors. Most importantly, law firms can get work product when they need it, instead of gambling on an outside vendor?s time frame. Sure, outside vendors will still be necessary for large batches of documents, but bridge software eliminates that servility for single boxes or bundles of documents. This is key for small or solo firms.

“Technology has become the equalizer between small and large firms,” said Simon Aleman, whose company iDea Mill Technologies developed the latest and inventive bridge software package, called Breeze. “It provides that three-lawyer firm or solo practitioner immediate access to electronic documents. Often that edge of time is the difference in winning a case against the biggest firm in town.”

He said bridge software meets clients? growing demand to get things done more quickly. “Attorneys are winning or losing cases by how fast they can get the work done,” said Aleman, who has worked as a litigation specialist for more than a decade. “Their clients are demanding it. The more they can work faster and better, the more they will be able to save their clients money, and the better off they will be.”

Bridge software has been around for some time, but it was expensive and clunky, much like the databases it facilitated. That?s because bridge software traditionally was made for and mostly marketed to service bureaus.

“A lot of these products have a little higher level of difficulty,” said Tom O?Connor, director of the Legal Electronics Document Institute, a nonprofit corporation established to promote the development of education and standards in the field of legal electronic documents. “Is it more cost-effective to send those documents to a service bureau to dump into Summation, Concordance, or whatever? Are you wasting time flub-dubbing around with a scanner and software you don?t understand? Sometimes it can be less expensive to pay 12 cents, 14 cents, a page to someone to scan and convert it for you.”

The developers of Breeze realized this dilemma. Aleman knew how cumbersome bridge software can be because he uses it nearly every day in litigation support. He wanted to create the antithesis. He wanted to create simplicity. So when Aleman wrote Breeze, he cut out bells and whistles that a service provider may want but a law firm doesn't need.

“It was us saying, „Why can?t a legal secretary do this at his or her desktop??” Aleman said. “I saw this as a great opportunity to simplify the process and develop a product that would allow the end-user to perform these functions.” The result is an intuitive program that allows an untrained end-user to scan, convert documents, and create load files in a few easy steps. Breeze also processes eStamp and OCR (optical character recognition).

With Breeze, a small or solo firm can maximize its investment in a multifunction device without paying a high-dollar professional for desk time. Breeze is packed with functions that firms need and free of the ones they don?t. Without this superfluity, the software is simple and clean. And affordable.

Breeze is a fresh-faced pioneer in the field of bridge software because it offers for the first time a crystallized process that requires little to no training. Plus, its framework design allows for add-ons that catch the latest technology. Just thirty days after Breeze went to market last fall, it was in twenty-seven seats, including some in the nation?s top-25 law firms. One firm said Breeze paid for itself in one day.

Doculex, Inc. also makes bridge software and markets it mainly to service vendors. But word caught on at small-to-midsize law firms, said Tim Nissen, Doculex?s director of marketing.

“It was a surprise,” Nissen said. “The smaller firms needed a streamlined way to quickly add this document to the collection they currently had. It was the simplicity of loading into Summation, Concordance and others. The thing that people wanted was speed. They wanted to put a small batch of documents into the large databases without outsourcing every single piece of paper.”

Doculex?s Goby Capture gathers and converts documents. Its Discovery Capture turns a scan to a load file, and it simultaneously scans and runs OCR.

“The user is literally in control,” Nissen said. “It allows them to manage the image and capturing process. They can do it. They have total flexibility.”

Doculex does offer training to use the aforementioned software, but Nissen said it isn?t necessary. He said the programs are very user-friendly, especially Discovery Capture. Both programs are needed to scan, convert, and create load files.

Another company maximizing on bridge software is iPro Tech. It broke ground recently with the release of iConvert+. This is a free download that converts load files between different formats and offers and electronic file inventory. More than 5,000 downloads have occurred from the company website as of late fall, said iPro Marketing Director Donald Case. iConvert+ doesn?t convert image files or create load files. It doesn?t OCR or eStamp. It doesn?t scan. Then again, it?s free. If a firm wants those capabilities, Case suggested another iPro product called eScan-IT.

eScan-IT does eDiscovery, scans and prints documents at the desktop. It processes OCR and endorses, and it loads electronic evidence discovered into Concordance, Summation, and other databases. eScan-IT can process multiple jobs at one time with multithreaded processing functionality. eScan-IT is a scanning application, and it does not convert documents like Breeze does. That?s what sets Breeze apart.

Breeze is a document and image-processing application. It doesn?t require additional software and only needs a multifunction copier or scanner, which is the standard in most firms. That, along with Breeze?s price tag, are major selling points to small and solo practitioners.

“It?s really just ROI (return on investment),” O?Connor said. “How much time will it take me to get up to speed on this program? How often will I use it? What?s the investment on dollar versus time?”

Technology is forever evolving the field of law. Look back five or ten years ago. Everything was paper. Now so much is digital. Already more than 90 percent of U.S. district courts allow e-filing. And ubiquitous in the courtroom are PDFs (portable document format) invented by Adobe Systems. Electronic discovery intersects every road of litigation today.

“We successfully figured out how to get paper documents into a digital and manageable format,” Said Aleman of iDea Mill Technologies. “Breeze helped with that. Now we are trying to get all of the electronic documents under control.”

Bridge software also lets small or solo firms turn paper documents into digital ones, so they can be better organized and managed. That?s key after technology put its stamp on a once paper-dependent profession. Even so, attorneys still eschew technology. The NIMOs (not in my office) remain in great numbers. The dichotomy is great.

Andrew Adkins, director of the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida?s Levin College of Law, chuckled about consulting with a law firm in Tallahassee, Florida. Some attorneys there were digital down to the bone. Others didn?t even know how to open email attachments. Neither set were better attorneys because of it, Adkins said.

“You can?t force technology onto people,” he said. “They have to embrace it … A lot of it is just style. It?s what you?re comfortable with.”

Look at Ernest Svenson, who most know as “Ernie the Attorney” in the “blawgosphere.” Svenson is a national resource and frequent speaker on legal technology and says the most technology small to solo firms need is Adobe Acrobat. The latest version of Adobe 8.0 costs less than $500, and yet, its functions are limited. But like Adkins says, expense is a relative term. What?s a couple thousand bucks to an attorney who spends tens of thousands of dollars trying an in-depth case? That?s the gap small and solo firms can close with technology like bridge software. These firms are pushing the edge of a technological evolution in the law profession, Adkins said.

“They can make it work for them,” he said. “They can buy a $1,000 system or a $5,000 system and make it work for them. They are the ones pushing technology and how to use it.”

They are Davids catching up to Goliath.
© Copyright 2008, American Bar Association GP SOLO

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