Future Lawyers Get a Look at Tools for Tomorrow's Law Office
April 08, 2003
Law Review editors see today how the Tablet PC and collaboration, digital rights management features in Office System 2003 will influence how they work tomorrow.

SEATTLE, Wash., April 8, 2003 — Some of the brightest minds in U.S. law schools work on law reviews, quarterly publications of scholarly legal writing. The students write and edit articles that shape the nation's legal fabric, providing analysis of recent court cases, legal theory, public policy and jurisprudence read extensively within the professional legal community.

Tomorrow's legal leaders recently got a preview of what the next-generation law office might look like with a demonstration of Tablet PC and a preview of Microsoft Office System 2003 at the annual National Conference of Law Reviews (NCLR), hosted by Seattle University School of Law.

To help focus the conference on how technology is changing life in the legal community, conference organizers Colin Folawn and Michael Gordie invited Microsoft and Toshiba to show students how they could use the Tablet PC and Office System 2003 in their law careers.

Seattle University and its law school have been exceptionally aggressive in integrating technology into their curriculum. The law school has its own Dean of Information Services, Stephen Burnett, and each student is required to have a laptop that can connect to the school's high-bandwidth network, which provides wired and wireless Internet access from anywhere on campus. The Seattle University Law School Law Review was also one of the first reviews to move a portion of the extensive editing and review process online a few years ago, using a file share and the track changes in Word to electronically manage the many layers of edits each article receives before going to print.

Before the conference, both Folawn and Gordie tried out a Tablet PC for themselves. Gordie says he immediately found use for the Tablet in classes, being able to take notes and draw diagrams electronically. Gordie found the Tablet PC fits the tasks lawyers need to complete better than a notebook computer. "For lawyers, how natural it feels is a big sell," he says. "It's the nature of our business to take notes, and in pro-bono work especially, a laptop can create a barrier in an interview."

Folawn found keeping electronic notes using the Tablet PC to be more efficient than using the traditional yellow legal pad while preparing for the conference. "There's hundreds of tasks, and things are always changing," says Folawn. "The great thing about keeping notes with the Tablet is that when things do change, you can select text, move it to another page, and reorganize. It out-papers paper."

The Tablet PC may allow Seattle University to make the law review's editorial process completely paperless, Folawn says. Today, his law review editors do much of the editing electronically, but ultimately still print out copy to do a final review and citation check. But since getting the Tablet PC to use, he's experimented with doing that final read electronically as well. "There's a clarity on this that is remarkable," says Folawn. "I can go through on my final read and I can highlight the text. I can start making editors marks on the computer, rather than printing the draft out, wherever I am. A really cool feature is the ability to write, turn the stylus around, and then erase. I just dig that."

Visitors to the law review conference also got a look at Microsoft Office System 2003, due to release later this year. A new feature Folawn found most interesting was Office's support of digital rights management. When used with Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Office 2003 allows a document owner to restrict how a document or e-mail can be used by limiting others' ability to save, print, or forward it.

"It's one extra step we can take to protect us and our clients," says Folawn of the DRM feature. "It's not foolproof, but it keeps honest people honest, which is a great thing to know about as we start our careers."

Folawn says that this feature would also benefit authors submitting articles to legal publications for consideration. "It's a very cool way for authors to send electronic submissions without having to worry about plagiarism," he says. And the ability to provide permissions to specific sections of a document using SharePoint Team Services makes it easier to allow for multiple edits to simultaneously happen to the same document. "I was blown away by being able to assign portions of a word document at the sentence level," says Folawn. "You can go into Word and give permissions to be able to read or edit only part of the docs, which is how we edit."

Conference attendees were given vouchers by Microsoft for a free copy of Microsoft Office System 2003 when it releases later this year. "I can't wait to see what the next group of editors will be able to do with Office 2003," says Folawn.

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