Most of our devices these days are “integrated” with one another—or at least they “sync” for access to the same information at home, office, and mobile locations. But legal information should never be as freeflowing as a simple calendar reminder to walk the dog. What is integration in the real world of confidential, detailed, legalese-packed law firm technology?
Matt St. John and Jason DeVries, both technology experts and former practicing attorneys at Thomson Reuters, clear up the varying depth of capabilities that legal software can offer. All can be billed as “integration,” so it’s important, as attorneys investigate software, to delineate which type of connection your potential purchase includes. St. John offers six distinct levels of integration, which you may recognize if you have explored litigation tools (or if you patch together the generic Microsoft tools for a “cobbled” working approach):
- Copy & Paste with Features: this ability lets you copy and paste the information or text from one program into a different program, automatically attaching some of the data or the visual color/layout. The “Copy with Reference” feature of WestlawNext is just such an integration—letting you copy the text, and when you paste it into Word, the citation automatically appears with it. Or, you may copy a set of Excel information, and Word automatically translates it into a table. This type of pasting may or may not maintain a live connection between the new document and the original data (our Westlaw example does include a live link; the Word example does not).
- File Export/File Send: this loose integration allows you to send a complete file of information from one software program, into a different software program where you will use it. For example, you might “file send” an Outlook contact list into a billing program to be invoiced. In practicality, this integration usually begins by clicking “Send to…” or “Export to…” in a drop-down menu. In reality, what you’ve done is translated your Outlook data into a third translator file—perhaps a .csv (comma separated value) or Excel .xlsx. The Translated CSV or Excel file then translates a second time, into your billing program. No connection is maintained between the original data and your ending work.
- Visual or Text Hyperlinks: Here, clicking a spot in one program launches you into a separate program, leaving both programs open in divergent windows/tabs. If we pick up our prior example of a Westlaw citation that you pasted into Word, the hyperlink appears a different color. One click on the link in your draft lands you right back in the supporting document in Westlaw. Your internet browser opens and comes to the front of your screen, while your word processor remains an active window behind it. A hyperlink may also appear as an image, a clickable icon, or a clickable cell in a spreadsheet.
- Working module: This type of integration is a significant step in depth. Here, one application shows a defined space on your screen where you can initiate a single, sometimes simplified task using another software. An example of this is a Google search bar on your smartphone’s home screen. Similarly to a hyperlink, a working module usually acts as a portal, letting you start your task in the original software, and then at some point opening a second program where you can finish your task. Again, taking the Google example, you would type your text and click “Search” on your homescreen, and the module automatically opens your internet browser where you scroll through the results. With a working module, the original program remains active in the background.
- Data Portal: This integration goes even deeper, and this is where law firm software can provide significant advantages over patched-together generic programs. A data portal looks somewhat like a working module, displaying information from a different software program within your current screen. Except, this portal allows you to quickly access the information without opening a second window. An example of this, in select legal software, is your Case Notebook files that appear within Drafting Assistant. While drafting a document with Drafting Assistant, you can access transcripts and documents from your electronic trial notebook in order to find and reference facts, quotes, and text. Oh, and your Drafting Assistant work is already seamlessly integrated into Microsoft Word—so this example can be considered integration-within-an-integration.
- Seamless Integration: Finally, seamless integration brings the functionality of one technology onto the screen of another software program without any effort from you. An example of this is the integration of Westlaw research within Firm Central cloud-based practice management. You can initiate new legal research, and see your research trail directly within Firm Central. Additionally, research documents can be saved directly to your client files without leaving Firm Central. This lets you get a fair amount of the way through your legal research from within your practice management program, only opening WestlawNext online when you need to scrutinize the complete research document.
For a closer look at how integration comes to life in legal software, such as Drafting Assistant, Case Notebook, Westlaw and Firm Central, DeVries offers a white paper The Case for Deeper Integration: Why Your Tech Tools should “Play Well” Together. Download it free to see a feature checklist, case study of tools in action, and a cost/benefit analysis that you can apply to your bottom line.