Attorney, programmers were on the same page

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Law of the seas

After all those years in law school, Leila Afzal can add something else to her resume: application development adviser.

Afzal is the managing attorney for the general counsel's office at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She worked closely with the staff of the NOAA Fisheries CIO's office on the General Counsel Litigation Database.

Afzal said that her old Microsoft Access database was helpful in tracking cases for the annual audit, as required by the inspector general's office and the Chief Financial Officers' Act of 1991-1992. When the assistant counsel for fisheries asked her to expand it, however, the experience became frustrating.

NOAA Fisheries wanted Afzal to do a much more sophisticated analysis of the lawsuits, but 'my old database really couldn't answer those questions,' she said.

Afzal worked with the IT developers on flow charts, samples and mockups. She studied samples of other databases that the developers brought to meetings.

Clearly defined needs

'I had a very clear understanding of what I wanted and needed, what worked and what didn't work,' Afzal said.

She met with the software developers at least once a week, sometimes twice. 'They were so creative and so quick to understand, that it was such an easy process,' Afzal said.

'We had to give [the developers] sort of a Litigation 101 course in how a case works,' Afzal said.

The new database has a lot of drop-down boxes for data consistency. NOAA is regularly challenged on a certain list of statutes such as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, also known as MSA.

If different attorneys cite MSA with multiple shorthand names in the database, subsequent researchers may get only a partial list of litigation citing MSA, Afzal said. Thus she welcomed the use of drop-down boxes for such data.

'Maybe we all learned more about each other's expertise than we intended to,' Afzal said.


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