How Digital Content Has Transformed the Way We Work: Take a Look Inside the Real World of Econtent

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Preston Gates & Ellis Makes Digital Discoveries
When you're dealing with legal clients like Microsoft, you'd better be equipped to digest vast amounts of digital content on a daily basis. The law firm Preston Gates & Ellis, based in Seattle with offices nationwide, figured out before most of its competitors that its information infrastructure was going to have to be prepared to meet upcoming technological challenges. While the firm initially got some help from the old Microsoft Office stand-bys (still pretty advanced for 1997), the partners realized that they were going to need something that could search and manage much bigger chunks of information that came to them in a variety of formats.

A quick turn through the shelves of existing content management solutions left PGE partners such as Julie Anne Halter uninspired: "We evaluated every then-existing product that we could find but didn't find one that met all our needs," she recounts. Instead of settling for a substandard solution, PGE decided to form its own software company, called Attenex, to create a solution suited for the robust demands of litigation review.

In 2000, Attenex Patterns E-Discovery Software debuted in PGE offices. The integrated software suite's features included a more powerful electronic document processing engine, oversight and management capabilities, and tools to speed the document review process. The 200 members of PGE's Document Analysis Technology Group (DATG) adopted the new software with little problem. According to Halter, the amount of work that each employee could do increased exponentially: "Both the immediate and long-term effects have been significant cost and time savings for clients," she says. Attenex estimates that its Patterns software—available on the open market since 2001—has increased user efficiency by up to 10 times.

Attenex Patterns helps employees search and sort up to 20,000 documents at a time. Employees can search for key nouns and noun phrases, and Attenex's visualization capabilities create clusters out of related keywords. Instead of having to sift through boxes of paper manually, DATG workers perform simple searches to locate important paperwork and literally see the connections between the documents. This process enhances PGE's ability to perform what Halter calls a "linear review"—a consistent search across a variety of formats for material relevant to a specific subject.

Since Patterns' debut in 2000, PGE and Attenex have continued to work together in order to refine the core system and develop new technologies to keep pace with PGE's big-business, high-tech legal clientele. Information visualization has been a focal point, as have refined searching and improved databases—all necessary to keep up with the exponential increase in digital content associated with high-profile legal cases. According to Skip Walter, Attenex's CTO, "Five years ago, 50 gigabytes was considered to be a big case. Two years ago, we started seeing documents in the terabytes, and this year, the company has seen its first petabyte-sized case."

Despite the wide availability of the software and its time-saving benefits, Walter estimates that nearly 80% of law firms still keep most of their content locked in old-fashioned file cabinets. Halter speculates that "lawyers are very cautious by nature," and some clients still prefer to send more traditional (and more time-consuming to process) boxes of files.

However, recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure set to take effect on December 1, will force even technophobes to upgrade—the three rule changes create a new set of standards for handling digital content in the discovery phase of litigation. Despite stacks of emails, text files, spreadsheets, and websites that are quickly becoming critical to corporate legal cases, the digital discovery process has been botched even by prestigious firms and their high-profile clients who weren't equipped to scrutinize all that electronic content. These changes guarantee that many law firms will soon be looking to products like Attenex Patterns in order to easily, efficiently, and effectively get up to speed—or else risk hefty sanctions. PGE's foresight into the importance of digital content, as well as its groundbreaking partnership with Attenex, ensures that it'll be up to the rigorous new federal standards before many competing firms.

(www.attenex.com; www.prestongates.com)

Giovale Library Adds an E-Wing
Westminster College's Giovale Library, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, wanted to expand its collection to keep pace with the release of the latest academic research. But it ran into a problem that even computers couldn't fix—the building was just too small. With 150,000 titles already making their home there, Giovale's staff needed to find a way to squeeze hundreds of new additions in every month.

In December 2002, Westminster switched gears and tested a digital book solution called eBrary. It purchased eBrary's inaugural collection, which had several thousand titles that ranged from novels to references books. eBrary's advantage, according to Chuck Malenfant, a reference and instruction librarian at the Giovale Library, was that it allowed the library's staff to trim unwanted titles and add relevant ones.

Since 2002, eBrary has released 88,000 digital books from 220 publishers, and Giovale now has 30,000 digital titles in circulation—although "circulation" isn't quite the right word for what eBrary does. "With eBrary," says Malenfant, "multiple people can access the same piece from the same collection at the same time." This feature makes the 30,000 digital copies stretch significantly farther than their hard-copy counterparts can.

Westminster uses a collection called "Academic Complete." eBrary's digital format can quickly replace older editions with new ones as they are released. The downside to the licensing business model, says reference librarian Diane Raines, is that when eBrary ends agreements with certain publishers, those titles wind up being yanked from the electronic shelves. Still, she notes, additions heavily outweigh subtractions: "In the last year or two, I've been loading between 50 and 600 new records each month." Deletions vary, but she estimates there are only five or six monthly. And when the records come, they are fully detailed and quickly loaded into Giovale's electronic card catalogue.

The system allows quick pageby—page browsing through the library's network, instead of making students download super-size digital documents or PDF files. Instead, eBrary's books come in EDF (Exchange Data Form) format, which are digital images of PDF pages. The EDFs, according to Gina McCue from eBrary, allow for richer interaction between readers and the text.

When each student logs in, he or she can access a personal home page with links to recently viewed books and chapters. While marking up paper books might earn you a hefty fine, students can take notes in the margins and highlight text in three different colors. The system then saves the notes under the student's user name; at next log-in, the student will still have all the annotations. Each word in the text is its own link, whether it's to an online dictionary, encyclopedia, the library catalogue, or reference material.

Giovale's users tend to fall pretty passionately into one of two opinions about the digital collection: "Either they really love it, or they really hate it," Malenfant says. The professors in particular seem to still prefer their books printed and bound. "They spend all day working at their computer screens—after that, they don't want another screen, they want a book," Malenfant says. Nevertheless, Malenfant, who takes each freshman English class through an eBrary training session in the fall, has noticed that newer generations of students are much more willing to embrace electronic editions, especially after they become familiar with the features.

Academia might always prefer the comfort of a bound book, and Giovale's librarians are similarly eager to keep their traditional materials in active circulation. The librarians have integrated their electronic offerings into their online card catalogue alongside traditional books. With each new class, the number of holdouts shrinks, and the digital collection grows.

(www.ebrary.com; www.westminstercollege.edu/library)

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