One of the nation’s largest law firms has built an infrastructure to speed the process of transforming paper files into electronic information and help lawyers manage data more effectively.

Toronto-based Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP (Gowlings) is rolling out a set of e-litigation services across

its offices — a process that should be completed early in the new year. The system, eLS, should cut back on the amount of paper documentation required to litigate a case.

One element of eLS is “”e-discovery.”” The discovery process in the Canadian legal system requires the presentation of all relevant legal documentation. The volume of documents brought to bear can be overwhelming, said Alan Butcher, commercial litigation lawyer and partner at Gowlings and the person that is spearheading the project for the firm.

“”Obviously, from a judge’s point of view, if you’re looking at 26 volumes of documents for your trial, you’d much rather have a CD-ROM in your laptop to take home,”” said Butcher.

The move from paper to electronic documentation has been under way in Canada for some time, according to Alan Gahtan, principal of the Gahtan Law Office in Toronto.

“”It’s something that law firms have been doing for at least the last 10 years where it’s appropriate. There are certain cases where you have a lot of documents and it becomes cost-effective to handle the whole discovery process electronically,”” he said.

The transition has been slow, though, said Butcher. Some parts of the Canadian legal system are more forward-looking than others. For example, the Alberta Court of Appeal requires all appeals be filed as PDF documents to cut back on the volume of paper, he said.

Where eLS will make itself useful is not only the creation of electronic documentation, but as a presentation tool in the courtroom and a management tool that the lawyers can use to store, file and exchange information.

“”One of the services we’re focusing on with the eLS is the ability to cull, review (and) process that data and use the most advanced tools that we can bring to bear,”” says Butcher.

The system will be intuitive to use and support will be available as needed for all users across the country.

Lawyers don’t have a lot of time for in-depth training, he says.

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