Construction and Engineering disputes are typically very document-intensive. Lever arch files full of photocopies work reasonably well for low documentation cases, but are inefficient, expensive and environmentally unfriendly in larger cases.
There are some commercially available software packages that are designed to provide a database solution, but these are expensive, relatively inflexible and do not address the needs of real cases as well as we would like. Accordingly, we have, over the years, developed a software package which works better. The software has been written partly by Robert Fenwick Elliott (for whom computer programming has long been a bit of a hobby) and partly by a team of programmers.
The software uses two database systems:
- The majority of the data manipulation is carried out using Visual Foxpro, which is a very powerful and adaptable programming language. The front end for these databases is available to anyone within the Fenwick Elliott Grace office, either physically, or by means of a Virtual Private Network connection. This system is known as Lodedocs.
- In order to allow internet access, the databases are mirrored to a MySQL database, which is accessible to anybody in the internet who has the right password authorisation. This system is known as Lodemark. The Lodemark system allows full searching facilities, but does not contain provision for data manipulation.
The way the database works is simple in concept, but has required very considerable programming. In short, any electronic document that is placed in the appropriate folder (whether directly or in a sub-folder) gets logged on to the system. File types that contain text (such as Word files, Excel spreadsheets, emails etc) have the text gathered, and copied into a fully searchable form. Image files, such as image only pdf’s, are automatically run through an OCR routine, and that text is put in the same searchable form. For images, the quality of the text which is gathered depends upon the quality of the image; good quality A4 prints are collected more or less perfectly whereas handwritten notes will yield little, if any, useful searchable text. In the case of emails, the system will also gather the date of the email, who it is from, who it is to, etc. In the case of other documents, the system will guess the date of the document by searching for the first date that it finds in the text.
In this way, hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of documents stored on CD’s, DVD’s or external hard drives, can be added to the system and automatically logged. Even for our fast computers, a large case will take many hours to process, and as far as possible, this is entirely automatic, such that the loading process can operate overnight or over the weekend. For processing during the working day, we have a computer in the office dedicated to the process (somewhat unkindly known as our House Slave).
The databases are regularly updated, so that as new documents are made available, they can readily be added, and there is a sophisticated word search regime. Documents can readily be viewed and, if required, printed. There are numerous bells and whistles within Lodedocs. For example, the system keeps track of the order in which documents are accessed, so as to enable recently accessed documents to be advanced. There is an importance rating, so that documents which are accessed, or printed, or noted as important, are advanced.
The MySQL access is subject to a sophisticated password protection system, so that clients can authorise particular individuals access either to all of their databases, or just to one or some, and in this way, data can be made available to expert witnesses, counsel, client personnel preparing claims etc.
The system is designed to, and does, save time and money, by hugely reducing the time taken searching through documents looking for evidence on particular topics, and by very significantly reducing the amount of photocopying that is necessary to give access to members of the legal team, both within our office and outside. Unlike some systems, the system does not require lengthy and expensive coding, whereby some clerk enters details of every single document; instead, the system works by absorbing large amounts of electronic data wholesale, and allowing effective searches within that material. The philosophy is that about 90% of the benefit of a coded system can be achieved at about 10% of the cost by using the sophisticated analysis tools.
In cases in which the software is made available, it is made available by our Service Trust, FEG Services Pty Ltd. FEG Services makes a charge for cases using the system, depending on the size of the case in documentation terms. The monthly charge (to which GST is added) is as follows:-
|Small cases||Less than 1,000 documents||$250 per month|
|Medium sized cases||Less than 10,000 documents||$1,000 per month|
|Large cases||Less than 100,000 documents||$2,000 per month|
|Very large cases||More than 100,000 documents||$5,000 per month|
This charge is made on the 25th day of every month, and normally the Service Trust will charge the partnership, so that the charge appears as a disbursement on the firm’s bill. If preferred, the Service Trust can deliver its invoice directly to clients.
This monthly charge is applied every month as long as the database is required.
The charge includes:-
- Making the software available;
- Loading all electronic copies of documentation, from CD, DVD, portable hard drive, USB drives or even downloading from the internet;
- Keeping the data up to date. The systems search facilities, in the form of the Lodedocs interface that will give the office or the Lodemark interface anywhere in the world to any computer connected to the internet;
- Maintaining the password protection for the Lodemark facilities.
The charge does not include the cost of scanning documents. Many clients now have their own scanning facilities, alternatively a number of agencies will scan documents if required.
In cases where there is a requirement for disclosure or discovery of documents, the system provides a very good base for that, but does not circumvent the need for some work in terms of preparing Lists of Documents in whatever format that is required by the Court or Arbitrator in question.