Connecticut law offices consolidate their data

Connecticut law offices consolidate their data

To litigate successfully, lawyers require mountains of data for each case to be instantly accessible.

Then those reports, filings, regulations, statutes, court rulings, copies of investigations, and court and attorney schedules must all be collected and stored.

Because of its growing caseload, the Connecticut Attorney General's Office has put a case management system on an intranet to ease that paper burden.

'Reliable and timely access to information is key for our attorneys,' said Evelyn Godbout, director of information technology at the office.

The AG's office staff relies on network database access to provide close-at-hand information, she added. 'Our ability to distribute individual case information and related data across the agency is what makes it all work.'

Attorneys at the office use the intranet for case management and legal research. All attorneys can access Lexis, a legal research database from Reed Elsevier PLC of London, via the Web, use e-mail for internal and external communications, and track case data.
About 10 months ago, the attorney general's office made a case management database available via its WAN.

The network runs under Microsoft Windows NT Server on a server that houses an Oracle8i Enterprise Edition database and associated modules. More than 400 users can access the intranet.

Nonstop access

The AG's office has five main offices and many small, remote sites throughout Connecticut. Making case information available to everyone was a major challenge, Godbout said. The office needed to supply simultaneous access to case materials on a round-the-clock basis, she said, and the intranet filled that need.

The biggest benefit is the ability to search by any name or company for association with the cases, Godbout said.

Attorneys can scan all open cases and the system displays all names involved. Attorneys then create reports that are viewable by browser. The case management system makes records, documents and assignments available quickly, officials said.

Before adopting the intranet and database, the office relied on 20 standalone databases, which tracked all functions separately and resulted in fragmented data collection and viewing.

'We now have one central repository for all agency information,' Godbout said. 'This translates into having better-prepared trial attorneys.'

The office's WAN connects all of its 16 departments. The intranet is accessible 24 hours a day and supports remote access via T1 line or dial-in access.

Case-tracking components consist of a Hewlett-Packard 9000 server outfitted with two 180-MHz RISC processors, 2G of RAM, and a 36G hard disk. It runs HP-UX 11.0 and an Oracle8i Enterprise Edition database. Oracle8i is the central case management database; it also provides tools for application development and database management.

What's inside

A Dell Pentium II OptiPlex GX100 running Windows NT acts as the network's forms and reports server. It is equipped with 256M of RAM and a 10G hard drive.

The forms server deploys Oracle Developer Forms as Java applets over the Internet. The report server runs Oracle Reports and sends the results to the browser as Hypertext Markup Language, ASCII text or Adobe Portable Document Format files.

The system also includes Oracle's Internet Application Server, which brings together all functions and directs information from each one to the browser, and the company's Portal Web site development tool.

The Virtual Private Database feature of the Oracle8i database lets the agency maintain all data in a single database while controlling single-user access.

The Internet Application Server and Portal run under NT Server; portions of the Portal also reside on the HP server.

There are over 400 PC nodes on the WAN, mostly Dell OptiPlex GX100s. Each contains a Pentium II processor, 128M of RAM and up to 10G storage capacity. The desktop PCs also run Windows NT. Because attorneys commonly work late into the night, tape backups are scheduled around 2 a.m.

Intranet access is available even during the online backup period.

The database implementation is server-based; no applications, other than browsers, run on the end-user PCs.

That makes for fast deployment and reduced user training, officials said.

The Attorney General's office uses the Lotus Office Suite but will move to Microsoft Office soon.

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