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Legal specific CD-ROM growth continues.

Legal Line

Legal Specific CD-ROM Growth Continues

As little as two years ago the content of this article would have been more theoretical than practical. Much of the discussion would have centered around the potential of applying CD-ROM technology to the practice of law. Questions about the technology would have been addressed. What does it take to run CD-ROM applications? Are there CD-ROM standards? How much does the hardware cost? How much do CD-ROM applications cost? And, of course, there may have even been a listing of a few currently available products.

Even today many of the preceding issues require our attention. The field of CD-ROM applications in the law is still fresh enough to require a brief overview of the application potential for CD-ROM technology to the practice of law. And because an informal survey of colleagues and friends indicates that approximately ten to twenty percent actually subscribe to or are using CD-ROM technology, some of the basic issues of getting started still need to be addressed. And, of course, an article of this type requires a listing of currently available legal-specific CD-ROM products.

The major difference between today's article, and the article of two years ago, is the degree of space allocated to the preceding issues. The earlier article would have focused and spent more time discussing the theoretical aspects of CD-ROM applications in the law. This article will spend more time discussing the wide variety and range of currently available legal-specific CD-ROM titles. And because in two years the landscape of legal-specific CD-ROM products has so drastically changed, this article will also discuss legal-specific CD-ROM application trends, with obvious implications for the future.

Ever since the basic CD-ROM standards issues were addressed, many different people have foretold rapid development and availability of legal-specific CD-ROM applications. If you contemplate the potential for applying CD-ROM technology to the practice of law, it is easy to imagine its efficacy. But not surprisingly (for the legal profession), the development has been somewhat slow in coming.

In 1986 the CD-ROM industry overcame one very large hurdle to the widespread development, use and availability of CD-ROM products: the adoption of industry-wide standards. The industry has adopted what has become known as the High Sierra Group standard. The High Sierra Group standard, proposed in 1985, was also adopted by the European Computer Manufacturers Association in 1986, and by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in 1988. The ISO description of the standard is "ISO 9660 Volume and File Structure of CD-ROM Information Interchange."

The importance of the preceding is simply that these standards allow hardware and software manufacturers to create products that will run in certain generic environments. In more practical terms, when a consumer purchases almost any of the wide variety of currently available CD-ROM drives, the consumer can feel secure in the knowledge that the drive will be able to read all of the CD-ROM titles listed at the end of this article.

Unfortunately, the adoption of industry-wide standards does not immediately translate into the wide spread availability of CD-ROM products, particularly for the legal profession. And yet when examined, the legal profession seems to be particularly well suited to take advantage of this relatively new information technology.

The practice of law is an information and word intensive business. CD-ROM technology has the ability to store massive amounts of information on one small disc, and make it retrievable using a number of computer assisted research techniques that offer researchers more complex management capabilities than manual methods of managing information. Though there are other reasons for law offices to pursue the widespread adoption and use of CD-ROM technology, the increased ability to store and manage information (when information is the key product of the profession) would seem to imply that most legal professionals would be clamoring to acquire and use CD-ROM technology.

Unfortunately, unlike many other kinds of businesses, the practice of law has historically been averse to the rapid adoption and use of computer technologies. This technological aversion impacts the use of legal-specific CD-ROM products in two fundamental ways: CD-ROM technology is still too new to be used widely, and the computer infrastructure required to hook-up and play CD-ROM drives is for many law offices not entirely available.

Today, many law offices are only beginning to automate. Many of these offices may finally be making use of personal computers (PCs), but having PCs on every attorney's desk is the exception rather than the rule. And for the attorneys who are actually using new computer technologies, their use is generally restricted to word processing software. Consequently, complete new information technologies like CD-ROM applications may in some law offices appear as expecting too much computer literacy too soon. Many attorneys simply don't have the computing background or level of experience to make adequate use of this new technology.

And in many offices the kinds of hardware required to run these new CD-ROM applications are simply unavailable. Consider, for example, West Publishing Company's CD-ROM products.

In order to use West's CD-ROM products, potential users need to purchase or lease a CD-ROM player, and purchase a high-end personal computer. The basic costs associated with the kinds of hardware and software required to run West's products (as well as many other CD-ROM products) are itemized in Table 1.

Basically, Table 1 indicates that West CD-ROM product subscribers must have at least an IBM PC/AT microcomputer (or compatible), and at least 4-6 megabytes of empty hard disk storage space (for a work space). Although these products will run suitably well on 80286-based PCs, as with programs, the more powerful the PC, the faster the application will be processed.

Potential subscribers who have IBM PCs, PC/XTs, or any compatibles based on the 8088 microprocessor will not be able to use them to run West's CD-ROM products. Although the preceding is not universally true for all legal-specific CD-ROM applications, it is true that they all run faster (and presumably better) using higher-end PCs.

For some law offices the other obvious hardware requirements that may need to be purchased include a printer and a CD-ROM player. All of these hardware costs begin to add up. Add to the cost of hardware, the cost of subscribing to the actual CD-ROM title, and for many law offices the overall start-up costs many restrain the rapid adoption and use of legal-specific CD-ROMs.

But it should also be noted that both the trend toward computer literacy, and the law office availability of the hardware infrastructure required to use CD-ROM applications is improving. Most of today's law students and recent graduates were raised on PC technology, and are familiar with using a wide number of PC applications. These newer users are already creating a good foundation of very computer literate attorneys.


Hardware & Software Required to Run Many CD-ROM Products


Item Approx. Cost

IBM PC/AT (minimum) or compatible with $1,500-4000 46 megabytes of open memory

CD-ROM Drive $500-1000 (includes CD-ROM PC card)

Printer $500-1000

Printer                                  $ 500-1000
Premise CD-ROM database               Included with
management package                           CD-ROM
Microsoft DOS Extensions               Subscription

As law offices automate, and begin to place more PCs on more attorneys' desks, they begin to realize the productivity leverage that the proper use of computer technology can produce. The obvious result is the availability of more and more PCs, as well as an attitude of exploration of how that productivity leverage can be increased.

All of the preceding both supports the phenomenal growth that legal-specific CD-ROMs have experienced in the last year or two, and explains why that growth has not been greater. Over the past year an informal survey of the number of available legal-specific CD-ROM products indicates that the field has practically doubled. In eary 1990 I counted approximately 20 products produced or sold by approximately 9 vendors. The following list identifies vendors that produce or sell products.

The preceding statistics indicate that the availability of legal-specific CD-ROM applications are growing. Unfortunately, the preceding discussion also indicates that the practice of law is still far from the widespread adoption and use of the technology. Still, the last year's growth should be construed as a harbinger of the continued growth and development of the application of CD-ROM technology to the practice of law.

The List

The following list has been compiled from a variety of sources. The purpose of the list is to convey a sense of the wide number of legal-specific CD-ROM products that currently exist. In compiling the list I have tried to construe legal-specific in very narrow terms. If a product was primarily business related, it didn't get included on this list. However, in some instances there is overlap between the legal research and business use of a product. In a few cases where there was overlap between the legal research and business use of a product, the CD-ROM title was listed.

This list does not include forthcoming CD-ROM titles. If the title is not currently available, it was not listed.

Neither does this list include pricing information. Because the technology is so new, and because so many legal book publishers are publishing competitive CD-ROM products, there is still a great deal of variation between how products are priced and sold.

CD-ROM producers want to make their products attractively priced and heavily subscribed to, but they also want to make money. And the publishers who also publish print publications don't want to erode their book sales by oversubscribing their CD-ROM products at half the cost of their print products. All of the preceding makes for a very fluid pricing environment. Consequently, readers interested in any of the titles listed here are well advised to contact the publisher.

And, finally, this list is not exhaustive. While I have tried to be complete, I'm certain I have omitted legal-specific CD-ROM products that some lawyers would find very useful. In an effort to make the next publication of this list more thorough and complete, please send any comments or suggestions for additional entries to: Cary Griffith--HQW12U, Control Data Corporation, 8100 34th Ave. So., Minneapolis, MN, 55425.
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Title Annotation:Legal Line
Author:Griffith, Cary
Publication:Information Today
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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