Software package simplifies recordkeeping
The civil division of the Maricopa County (Ariz.) attorney’s office began using information retrieval software several years ago to more efficiently track and locate prior legal opinions and court rulings. Years and years of records and staff turnover had made sorting through and finding documents unwieldy tasks.
Most documents were computerized but, with hundreds of cases on record, attorneys needed a way to navigate through all the information. Investigation revealed that an information retrieval program used with the word processing software would be a good solution.
After examining other legal firms’ systems, Maricopa County personnel discovered that many programs required extensive indexing preparation before or after the document was created. These applications required the user to input the author’s name, key words, document types and other information, which was time-consuming and left room for operator error.
Ease of use was a prime consideration since most county attorneys do not use computers regularly.
County officials settled on Isys, an information retrieval program by Odyssey Development, Greenwood Village, Colo. They were particularly satisfied with the fact that the program did not require a lot of prep work or indexing.
First installed in the civil division, the program proved effective in tracking court rulings, allowing attorneys to quickly home in on the information without a prescribed indexing system. Using the search function, the user can follow a train of thought.
For example, if the user wants to check into possible associations between two individuals, he or she can type in each person’s name and the program creates a log, listing each document in which those two names appear together.
The program also can be used as an investigative tool. In the county attorney offices, multiple levels of investigative divisions needed help in dealing with tremendous amounts of information inherent in their investigations. In large cases, many investigators follow a number of leads, but it is very difficult to share all the information being gathered except through meetings during which all the deputies compare notes.
Once Isys was demonstrated to deputies, they agreed it would make their jobs easier and save time. “During the course of [one murder case], we had accumulated between 90,000 and 100,000 pages of documentation which added up to 200 volumes of documents,” says prosecuting attorney K.C. Scull. “There was no way we could have dealt with this amount of information without the software.
“After an hour of practicing search techniques, I could look up virtually any information I needed,” Scull says. “When we had all the documents computerized, I could take the entire case home with me every night. It helped me realize an incalculable time savings. I even used the laptop in the courtroom.”
The program now is being used extensively in Maricopa County not only by paralegals, but also by attorneys working on numerous cases. A recently installed local area network in the Major Felonies and Sex Crimes sections of the department serves 38 PCs.