In California, new products


When legal technology reporters all across the country have to resort to calling each other and asking, "What's new?" you know there's been a slowdown in the industry. What with the megagiant publishing mergers and tiny legal software companies disappearing on a daily basis, there isn't much new fertile ground for new technologies or ideas.

Not so in California.

Our office has virtually worn out our FedEx delivery man by doubling or tripling the number of packages and mysterious boxes that he delivers to us on a daily basis. We've got new products and ideas coming out of our ears. So if you're one of the folks who can't make the State Bar Annual Meeting in Long Beach this month, here's a preview of some of the products and ideas that I'll be talking about. I'll be giving four seminars on technology and the Internet.

I get three or four e-mails a week about whether speech-driven input (that means, "do I still have to type?") has come to law office computing. The answer as of yesterday afternoon is that it has, and it has come in a box with a big IBM label on the outside. While it still requires discreet speech and a mighty powerful computer, it does work and it works well. The best part of the system is that it is all software, requiring only a CD-ROM drive to install and run it. You're going to love this demonstration.

Then we've got the gadgets:

Add-ons for your desktop machine that allow you to use the peripherals that used to reside only on your laptop; super office machines that combine fax, copiers, scanners and printers all in one machine; CD-ROM recorders that now cost less than $500 and require no expertise to make the fastest and cheapest backups in the world.

Then you'll hear how I've actually changed my mind about CD-ROM drives and why. I'll show you a brand new CD-ROM drive that cost me less than $3 -- that's right, less than three bucks! Then I'll explain why Microsoft has cut back on disk production for all its products, because now nearly 80 percent of the software they ship is on CD-ROM disks.

You'll see a screen comparison of version 7 of both Word and Word Perfect to help you decide which Windows 95 word processor you will want to use. We'll have our annual discussion of viruses and backup disasters with suggestions for new software and safe computing techniques.

You'll see how mature digital photography has become with cameras that use no film, where pictures can be put into pleadings as you word process them, all for around $200.

And you'll see the world premier of a new application that lists every court, phone number, rule, filing fee and more for every county in the state.

There will be some products that you won't see this year as well. First, you won't see a new forms product from the folks who make Hot Docs because they've refused to send it to me (they see me as a competitor). Absent as well are the fly-by-nights, the boxes mysteriously covered in black masking tape, and the special Beta versions that are going to be working real soon now.

My job, as I've always seen it, is to eliminate the junk and show you tools and techniques that can help you be better lawyers. As I always say when I begin these seminars: "If you don't know how to write or think, these products won't help much."

See you there.

Martin Dean, a San Francisco attorney, is president of the newly renamed Essential Publishers, makers of Essential Forms and Essential Attorneys. He can be reached by e-mail only at