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Open Source

Open Source For Lawyers? 67

Posted by Soulskill
from the open-and-shut dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Law Technology News is reporting that FOSS for large law firms and corporate counsel is starting to gain traction. There's a project called FreeEed, for the electronic discovery step in lawsuits, and there's software for the document page numbering process known as Bates stamping — affectionately called 'Bates Master' by the programmers. Are big law firms ready to accept open-source code?"
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Open Source For Lawyers?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    am I the only one?

  • by JeffSh (71237) <jeffslashdotNO@SPAMm0m0.org> on Friday August 12, 2011 @04:50PM (#37073658)

    Just what lawyers need, free software because they don't bill enough to pay for software and the jobs it supplies.

    Typical lawyers, want to charge you $$$ (250+ an hour) and yet spend NOTHING on the backend. They do not know the value of other people's time while over-valuing their own.

    • by nomadic (141991)
      I don't get it; you're saying it's fundamentally immoral for a company to use FOSS?
    • by cptdondo (59460)

      Last time I checked, the majority of FOSS programmers and maintainers were paid for their efforts - including myself a couple of jobs back. Just because the software is free, doesn't mean the guy/gal working on it is unpaid.

      Plus FOSS software doesn't maintain itself. They pay for the maintenance contract.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      EVERY law firm I've ever done work for used at least some pirated software. (Granted, the largest was only 4 lawyers.) But given this was in 100% of the offices I've worked for, they really don't care if someone tries to sue them...their court time is free. Now for the big firms, that's probably different. The only other non-home customers who routinely use pirated software were...churches. Evidently they feel god gives them an exemption. Personally, I'm against piracy...if you don't want to pay for som

    • You like to generalize, don't you. Are you discounting and support contracts that would be generated through FOSS support companies. Just because the license is free doesn't mean it doesn't generate jobs, or cost money on the bottom line. Would you feel the same way if any other industry making a move? Are you just irrationally biased against lawyers?
    • Just imagine how the lawyers will respond when some patent troll or monopolistic company tries to sue their favorite software out of existence.
    • Just what lawyers need, free software because they don't bill enough to pay for software and the jobs it supplies.

      Typical lawyers, want to charge you $$$ (250+ an hour) and yet spend NOTHING on the backend. They do not know the value of other people's time while over-valuing their own.

      The market values their time. They can't sell it at $250/hr unless someone is willing to pay that. The only way to fix the problem would be up-front costs, which would help both the lawyers and the clients, but even those would need caveats in them, as work can take more time and money than expected.

      Lawyers have to keep track of their time in six-minute intervals. The billable hour is not fun for them either.

      • by nomadic (141991)
        Many lawyers would absolutely love to move away from billable hours; they are soul destroying. They are, however, fairly profitable for the partners.
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Lawyers have to keep track of their time in six-minute intervals. The billable hour is not fun for them either.

        As a private pilot, I took have to keep track of times in 6 minute intervals.

        You see, the reason is we track times in hours, with a precision of 1/10th of an hour (i.e., 6 minutes).

        All that means is that lawyers too have to keep track of their billable hours to a tenth of an hour. And given the number of apps out there for every platform for keeping track of time, I don't think keeping track of bil

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Hello all!

      I have a computer science degree and a law degree. For many years, I have been a practicing litigation lawyer. I also develop software on the side for fun. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of free time to do the latter.

      First of all, a charge out rate of $250 an hour = cheap. My charge out rate is $330 per hour and there are plenty more experienced lawyers that charge out more than me (i.e. $500+ an hour). I agree that the charge out rate is too high! But guess what, if I were to charge too little

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Hello, lawyer with a computer science degree. I am the author of FreeEed, and I have published it only a few months ago. I will grant that it is under development, but under fast development. That's because it is my third eDiscovery system, and also because I use very powerful open source components that I bake into it. So just watch the progress. In about a month, it will work on any platform, with the computations done on Amazon cloud.

    • by Trogre (513942)

      Or, you know, they can spend more on hardware with the money they would have spent unnecessarily on software.

      Plus in the fight against software patents, the BSA, et al, I think we should have as many lawyers on our side, don't you?

    • by DaveGod (703167)

      Lawyers spend lots and lots of money on their IT, at least here in Scotland they do.

      The medium-sized (5-10 partners) firms I deal with (as their accountant) all hire specialist firms to provide the software, support and hardware. The hardware, installation and initial software is billed and-and-when. The ongoing software + support costs are usually the second biggest expense on the P&L.

      From memory the total legal software costs (i.e. everything but hardware, installations, MS Office etc, even though the

    • by DaveGod (703167)

      Just to be clear, that $250 pays not only for their incomes but overheads and non-billed time like training/update, managing and so on.

      The (very broad) general rule for all industry is a chargeout rate should be approx double their payroll cost, but more than that for the learned professions due to the large amount of non-billable time.

      I'm of another profession and my rate is 3x my pay, if I get promoted it will be about 4x.

      Due to the multiple clients and the public generally do tend to assume pay is much h

      • by gshegosh (1587463)
        Sure, lawyers are the only ones who must train/update, manage and have other overheads. No other occupation has it as uphill as them. If only lawyers would be treated specially by the law, if number of lawyers was artificially limited, and if the law would force other people to use their services every time they sell a damn house... oh wait.
    • Just what lawyers need, free software because they don't bill enough to pay for software and the jobs it supplies.

      Typical lawyers, want to charge you $$$ (250+ an hour) and yet spend NOTHING on the backend. They do not know the value of other people's time while over-valuing their own.

      I do consulting for several lawyer firms, from 1 person to assisting 40 person firms. They do have specialiazed software programs that are $$$$$. Not to mention the online access to case history and trials is a yearly subscription. Say what you want about lawyers themselves, but the firms do have a lot of backend costs. Same as most industries really.

  • by nomadic (141991)
    Doubt large law firms will move towards it, the same way other types of large companies tend to be resistant to FOSS. If your client has $100 million riding on a case, do you really want to use something new and unproven without a robust support system?
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      do you really want to use something new and unproven without a robust support system?

      The only one of those adjectives that doesn't usually apply to specialty commercial software is "new". The support is sometimes better, but you'll usually pay an arm and a leg for it. Better to have an employee or contractor who's familiar with the OSS.

  • Perhaps ask the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) what they are using.

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Friday August 12, 2011 @05:11PM (#37073938)
    Lawyers have one of the biggest and oldest free culture ecosystems. They reuse existing arguments made by other lawyers and judges, and if necessary, modify them to fit their case.
    • by rdnetto (955205)

      Except that all the authoritative versions of cases can only be accessed through the publishers of the big law reports. Since each publisher has a monopoly on a subset of cases (e.g. Thomson Reuters publishes the Commonwealth Law Reports, the authoritative source for Australian High Court judgments), the subscription fees are fairly large.

  • For years, the legal profession was a major user of WordPerfect, because, regardless of newer versions, documents, such as depositions, could be read with the latest version. I personally loaded documents from the Amiga version (WP4 on a big endian CPU) to the Linux version (WP 8 on a little endian CPU). Seems to me that a similar case (yeah, I know) could be made for using Libre Office. It's native document format is open, so, even if it completely goes away, creating a reader and/or translator would be

    • by symbolset (646467)

      Wordperfect was originally written for a DataGeneral minicomputer back in 1979. It was hugely popular on minicomputers and Unix long before there was an Amiga. It was popular in the legal profession even back then.

      For many years WordPerfect 5.1 was the most portable word processing document in the world.

      Wordperfect fell from popularity many believe mainly because Microsoft engineered Windows beginning with W95 to prevent it from functioning correctly, particularly with printing. Novell sued in 2004, an

  • The "Bates Master" program mentioned in the original post can be found here: http://www.batesmaster.com/ [batesmaster.com] Their tag line? "Open Source - Because the best experience is the one you control."
  • I was a software development manager for a few years in this very industry working for one of the top companies.

    Doing things like Bates stamping is pretty straight forward. That's really so that when you exchange documents, and versions of those documents, you can refer to them in your filings. The real issue is conversion of the documents. These days most people are OK with PDF files. Amazingly, most law firms also use TIF files (FAX type encoding, 100dpi) for most of their work. Bates numbering will

    • by Tenareth (17013)

      I happen to work in the industry and yes, that is the biggest problem. The Law Firm would have nobody to blame but themselves, and anyone that has worked with Lawyers knows that taking on that much risk for things outside of their core competency (Technology) is not something they are jumping to get into.

      Don't get me started on the continued love of TIFF...

  • http://www.pdfernhout.net/microslaw.html [pdfernhout.net]

    This was originally posted to Slashdot on May 25 2002:
    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=33107&cid=3582999 [slashdot.org]
    It was in relation to an article: "MPAA to Senate: Plug the Analog Hole!" about the MPAA wanting copyright protection built into all computer hardware. I sent a copy to Richard Stallman back then and he said it made him laugh. :-) My comments to the Department of Justice request for comments were in the form of this satire:

    Transcr

  • I am an attorney, and I have made several internal stupid systems to deal with the lack of good free software for management of legal practices. There is one Italian piece of software last time I checked, but otherwise it is basically a bunch of companies that take their pound of flesh. Legal fees are expensive because in a grand sense of irony, lawyers create a parasitic culture that takes advantage of them. Look at West and Lexis. They resell government documents, and charge around 50 dollars per mont
    • by nomadic (141991)
      Loislaw and Fastcase are competing on the bottom end. Bloomberg has some new competitor, too. The value of Westlaw and Lexis aren't in the cases alone, a big part of their value are the keycites/Shepharding. That is an incredibly labor-intensive process to come up with those.
  • they will adopt it in a second.

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