January 21, 2004

Firm donates software to law school

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. --Trial advocacy students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's law school will soon be among the few nationwide to augment their studies with the latest litigation support software available.

The University recently received computer software and licenses from inData Corp., a manufacturer of litigation support software packages for electronic document management and evidence presentation.

"It is so exciting for us because we can train our students with the latest technology and send them into the workplace with the ability to use the software, even if they are going into a small or medium-sized firm," said Dean Peter C. Alexander.

"We are very grateful to inData Corp. for the gift. And we are very excited about the prospect of educating our students in new and different ways," he said.

The system allows attorneys to effectively manage presentations at trials. Instead of the days when attorneys brought several boxes of file folders containing depositions, photographs, memorandums and other exhibits for trial, the software allows attorneys to present the same evidence from a single disk. Attorneys can highlight portions of specific documents for judges and juries to review on a screen, as needed, as well as show video clips.

The software is becoming standard in larger law firms, said Alexander, who estimates the value of the in-kind donation at about $10,000.

Alexander anticipates introducing the software into the trial advocacy curriculum in the 2004-2005 school year to allow time for setup and training. The license the University received permits up to 20 users on the system.

As a litigation support tool, third-year students taking trial advocacy will learn the software. But Alexander also sees the software as a general teaching tool.

"Many of our professors have already expressed an interest in using it in courses other than trial advocacy to support their instruction," he said.

Alexander pursued inData officials about a contribution after becoming dean last year. He used similar software to a limited extent while part of the trial advocacy faculty at The Pennsylvania State University's Dickinson School of Law.

"When I came to SIU and saw we had a state-of-the-art courtroom but didn't have state-of-the-art software, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to approach inData Corp. to see if they would give SIU an in-kind gift as well. And they were very, very agreeable."

In a day when it is standard practice in federal courtrooms to have attorneys using litigation support software, the inData TrialDirector Suite 4.0 is the latest in courtroom technology, Alexander said.

"It makes our students competitive in the marketplace when they go out and apply for jobs," he said. "For teachers, I think it has a great benefit in how you can present materials. Students are visual learners as well as aural -- they learn by seeing as well as by hearing, and this gives us additional teaching tools to reach students."

For inData, the decision to present the law school with the in-kind donation was easy, President Derek Miller said.

"The dean is very progressive and forward-thinking," he said. "Once he called and asked if we would be interested in a donation, for us, we looked at it as a long-term investment. When students enter the professional market they will use what they are familiar with."

The company is based in Phoenix and has an office in Washington, D.C. inData has made similar donations to the College of William and Mary School of Law; The Pennsylvania State University's Dickinson School of Law; The University of Texas School of Law; and New York University School of Law.

Having the ability to work in a real-world application sets students apart from others who do not have that opportunity, Miller said.

"Right now, the courts are all looking at technology, and everybody is trying to apply technology in the law, which hasn't happened except in the most high-profile cases," Miller said. "But in the last two years there has been a significant increase in the number of cases that are using this technology because it has become more affordable and more mainstream."

Alexander added that another use in the near future could be to offer continuing legal education courses on using the software to attorneys throughout Southern Illinois.

John M. Dunn, provost and vice chancellor, said the gift "will enable our students to receive cutting-edge instruction using the latest technology. The support and cooperation from inData Corp. represents the very best in cooperation between a corporation and higher education."

Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement, said inData's gift will enhance current students' law school experience and help in the recruitment of future students.

"We're grateful to inData for their investment in our University and our students," he said.

Offering a progressive education to graduate and professional students is among the goals of Southern at 150, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.