That Was The Legal IT Year That Was – 1996

Our run down of 20 years of the Legal IT Insider continues as we look at some of the big stories from 1996…
The Palm Pilot was the hot gadget of the year. The hot time recording system was ProSoft Carpe Diem (now Tikit) which in 1996 was given the ability to handle VAT for the UK market. Speech recognition, then in its first manifestation, was also attracting huge crowds at tech shows although the cost of the high-spec PCs needed to run it meant there were subsequently few takers. And there was huge excitement at the prospect of new V.34 modems being launched that could support dial-up speeds as high as 33.6 kbps.
Over in the vendor space, the No #3 in document management systems – Saros Mezzanine was acquired by FileNet (now part of IBM) – and Hexar and RightFax were duking it out over whether “switch” or “network/LAN” platforms were the future of the fax technology. As it happens, it was fax in general that had no future. The CMS Data Corporation launched CMS Open (now Aderant Expert) into the UK. Berwin Leighton (no Paisner then) stunned the UK market by saying it would put Windows NT (initially v.3.5.1) on the desktop. And WordPerfect (which earlier in the year was sold by Novell to Corel) announced its fightback against Microsoft Office with the launch of a Windows 95 compliant WordPerfect 7.0 – it proved to be too little, too late.
This was the year that Linklaters launched its Blue Flag online legal information portals – arguably the start of “productisation” within corporate legal services. Deloitte partner Gary Simon stood up at a tech conference to say that “almost half” of the legal practices that his firm audited suffered from accounts systems with limited management reporting and analysis capabilities. By contrast the then finance director at Charles Russell said the problem was actually that most legal accounts systems were already too complex and needed simplifying. It was also the year that the Lord Woolf Access to Justice Report was published, promising a brave new world of communications and case management systems in courts in England & Wales. As with most attempts to bring technology to the UK justice system, this proved to be yet another missed opportunity.
And, it was a bad year for the English Law Society with its REGIS membership database running £7.5 million over budget and four years late, while its flagship High Street Starter Kit (HSSK) project to enter the software market with a low-cost system for smaller firms “that would be sold into at least 500 forms in the first year” (promised the then Law Soc president) was “put on hold” after it was revealed there was no clear date when it would become commercially available, that only one firm was piloting the system, that it did not comply with the Society’s own Solicitors Accounts Rules, and that having already cost £150,000, at least another £770,000 would be required to complete it. Oh yes, and the technology correspondent of the Society’s own august organ, the Gazette, quit in a dispute over “editorial interference”.