The Demise of Hyperlinks?

September 9, 2015

Internet BackgroundEvery legal technology you’ve been pitted into this year claims “integration” with other tools you use.  Yet as you begin using the software, often this integration reveals itself simply as hyperlinks between programs, and as you click those links, the number of windows or tabs open on your screen multiplies. “When,” you think, “will this be replaced with something better?”

You’re right; hyperlinks are skin-deep integration. Your cell phone “integrates” with your home thermostat. Your paint color “integrates” with your sofa pillow pattern. The term “integration” gets tossed around a lot. Integration is defined as an act or instance combining into an integral whole—so  developing habits, using technology in a work process, and even forming friendships L-392414_240x400could all be considered examples of ways we “integrate” in our lives. What does integration actually mean in legal technology?

As with most of the law, it depends. When you consider technologies it’s a good idea to investigate which kind of “integration” your potential purchase involves. Here are a few types of integration that you’ll run into:

  • Copy & Paste with Features: you are able to paste the information from one program into a different software, while maintaining some of the data or the visual color/layout. An example of this is creating a pie chart in Excel, and pasting it into Word. Or, copying a set of Excel information and pasting it into Word: there it becomes a table. It has no live connection between the new table and the original raw data.
  • File Export / File Send: this loose integration allows you to complete your work in one program, then package it to be delivered into a different program where you will use it.  An example is exporting a contact list in Outlook, then sending it to a billing software to be invoiced. This integration usually starts by clicking “Send to…” or “Export to…” in a drop-down menu. In reality, what you’ve done is created a third program file—perhaps a .csv (comma separated value) —which then uploads that file to your program and maps the information to the correct location.
  • Visual or Text Hyperlinks: Here, clicking a spot in one program launches you into a separate program, leaving both programs open in divergent windows/tabs. One example is placing a hyperlink from Westlaw in a draft, so you or others can quickly click to see the supporting law. When a user clicks, your internet browser opens and comes to the front of your screen, while your word processor remains an active window behind it. A hyperlink may appear as colored or underlined text, or it may appear as an image, a clickable icon, or a clickable cell in a spreadsheet.
  • Working module: Within one program, there is a defined space that allows you to initiate a single task using another program. An example of this is a Google search bar on your smartphone’s home screen. Like a hyperlink, when you use this feature it opens the second program in a new window/tab, leaving the original program active in the background.
  • Data Portal: This integration looks somewhat like a working module, displaying data from a second software program within your current screen. Except, this portal allows you to quickly access the information without opening a second window.  An example of this in the legal space are Case Notebook files that appear within Drafting Assistant.  While drafting a document with Drafting Assistant, you are able to access transcripts and documents from an electronic trial notebook seamlessly.
  • Seamless Integration: Finally, this integration brings the functionality of one technology onto the screen of another technology without any effort of an end user. An example of this is the integration of Westlaw research within Firm Central. You can initiate new legal research and see your research trail directly within Firm Central. Additionally, research can be saved directly to client files. This lets you get a fair amount of the way through your legal research from within your practice management program, only opening WestlawNext online when you need the complete research document.