Planning For Computerized Litigation Document Management


By John W. Olmstead, Jr., MBA

Copyright 1995 by Olmstead & Associates. All Rights Reserved.

“We are using missiles while the other guys are using bows and arrows.” This statement has often been made by attorneys referring to the use of computers in the area of litigation support. During the last two years there has been a steady increase in the use of computers in litigation support activities. Portable computers are being taken into the courtroom in cities across the United States and are being used to keep track of evidence and search transcripts, depositions, and documents. As this trend continues the attorney on the other side of the case without such tools will be at a distinct disadvantage. Additional technological advances in the areas of computer portability, optical scanners, document imaging, optical disks, and other forms of mass storage devices will further accelerate this tendency.

Based upon our observations drawn from working with numerous client law firms we have concluded that confusion exists with regard to the area of litigation support. This confusion involves the belief that if the firm is using automated litigation support every case must be automated; failure to distinguish between litigation document management, case management, and other litigation support activities; inadequate understanding of the appropriateness of full text vs document summary databases; and neglecting to formulate an overall case and document management strategy.

Although litigation support actually encompasses all of the activities related to a litigation case such as management of the case itself, legal research, attorney and staff assignments, document management, docketing, and a variety of other tasks and responsibilities – the term “litigation support” actually means litigation document management to both the legal profession and the computer software industry. Thus the concern is with the handling and the management of numerous documents in larger litigation cases. Most law firms do not automate every litigation case in the office – they only automate the larger cases. In such situations litigation support document databases are being used primarily for control of the information in documents that flow into the lawyers possession during preparation and trial of the case. Managing the paper efficiently increases the possibility of success in the case and decreases the cost of the litigation in many cases.

Full Text VS. Document Summary Databases

There are two types of document litigation support databases in use today in law firms. In a full text database the complete document is stored on the computer and the complete document can be searched. Conversely, a document summary database only includes summary and abstract information about a document. Thus, a search must pertain to information contained in the summary. Accurate document coding is critical to subsequent search credibility. There are advantages and disadvantages with both types of databases. Most law firms employ a combination of both types of databases. The appropriate mix involves consideration of the following factors:


Full text databases permits lawyers to have access to the full document at any location. Document summary databases requires lawyers to be in a location where there is a library of hard copies of the documents.


Full text databases are more significantly expensive as a result of increased input time and computer storage. Some full text databases must have headnotes which are short descriptive or coded entries describing the document. These are similar to, but often less extensive than, document summary entries. Therefore, these full text databases will usually incur most of the same labor costs for lawyer, paralegal, or clerical time in reviewing and assessing the documents as will be incurred with the document summary database.

Data Input Costs

Entry by Keying


Full text databases are considered more flexible than document summary databases.


Input demands may be greater for full text


Suggest the law firms consider using document summary databases for a majority of their document management requirements unless circumstances indicate that a full text system should be utilized. For example:


Proper planning is necessary for the success of an automated litigation support program. As a first step the firm must consider whether it will use full text, document summary, or a combination of both; what type of full text database to use; what type of summary database to use; and how to implement a document quality control system.

John W. Olmstead, Jr., MBA, CPCM is a legal management consultant and president of Olmstead & Associates, a legal management consulting firm based in St. Louis, Missouri with offices also in Lexington, Kentucky and Des Moines, Iowa. The firm provides management advise and assistance as well as computer system implementation assistance and training to law firms and corporate and governmental law departments and is presently serving clients across the United States.

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