by Pamela Conway
Word 2002 is the most legal-friendly release to date of this application, which is vital to so many law firms. Part of the reason for this is the creation of the Microsoft Legal Advisory Council, industry leaders who worked closely with Microsoft in detailing the unique needs of the legal community. Does anyone besides me find it odd that Microsoft, in the wake of their woes with their anti-trust lawsuit, has rushed to embrace the legal community? Well, I, for one, am not going to complain. This latest version of Word is truly a must-have for anyone in the legal field, and I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. With too many great new features to showcase in the space available, I want to concentrate on just one: Smart Tags.
After a shaky beginning, which resulted in Microsoft opting not to include Smart Tags in its release of Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6.0, the surviving Smart Tags found in Office XP are starting to grow and thrive.
Most notably, the legal community is embracing the Smart Tag technology, using them to empower legal research by making it more efficient and decidedly more convenient. Part of the reason for this is, again, the Legal Advisory Council. Companies such as LexisNexis and the West Group have been working with Microsoft to develop Smart Tag technology long before the official release of Office XP. Consequently these companies, along with several others, are already able to integrate their products with Microsoft's new application suite. While Microsoft withstood some intensive heat for the attempt to integrate Smart Tags with its operating system and Internet browser, the response to Smart Tags in Office XP has been very favorable.
For those of you yet to embrace Microsoft's latest brainchild, you might be wondering what exactly are Smart Tags and why on earth LexisNexis and the West Group would invest such time in one feature of a new word processor (some of you who have made the leap might also be wondering the same thing).
Well, let's start by explaining what a Smart Tag is. Put most simply, a Smart Tag is a hyperlink which retrieves not only data found on the Internet but also information from within other applications and other data sources. Based on eXtensible Markup Language, Smart Tags are available when working in Word 2002 and Excel 2002.
The default Smart Tags shipped with Office XP recognize names, addresses, zip codes, telephone numbers, stock symbols and dates. When one of these elements appears in a document, the item is tagged with a purple dotted underline. If the mouse is then rolled over the tagged item, a button labeled with an "i" (for information, get it?) will appear next to the item. By clicking on the button, a menu of available actions will appear. For example, let's say you type the name Bill Gates into a document, the list of available Smart Tags will allow you to perform such actions as add the person to your Outlook Contact list, open the Contact in Outlook, send an email message, insert an address or add to Contacts. When an address is tagged by Word, you cannot only add it to your Outlook Contact list but you can also access the Expedia Website (www.expedia.com) to display a map or get driving directions.
The real benefit of Smart Tags though comes from the available third-party add-ins. To date, the two most beneficial legal add-ins are available from LexisNexis and the West Group. Both downloads are available from the Microsoft Website: http://office.microsoft.com/services. Not only will you find these Smart Tag tools at the Microsoft site but you will also see tools from such companies as FedEx, ESPN, Expedia, CNET and many, many more. Any Smart Tag add-in found on this site must be downloaded and installed. Once installed, you will be able to activate the Smart Tag by accessing the Tools menu in Word and selecting the AutoCorrect Options command. Once in the AutoCorrect Options dialog box, click on the Smart Tags tab to view the list of installed Tags. As far as legal-specific Smart Tags are concerned, you can do no better than those released by LexisNexis and the West Group. LexisNexis offers you three Smart Tags: Legal Case Names, Person Names and Address. Each of these three tags must be downloaded and individually installed. The Legal Case Names Smart Tag searches documents for any text resembling a case name, like Roe v Wade. The actions menu will allow you to access federal cases, state cases, law reviews, verdict information, judgment information and news articles pertaining to the case. The Person Names Smart Tag will mark any names found in a document and allow you to obtain legal bibliographies, person locator information, property records, judgment and lien records, bankruptcy records, verdict information, judgment information and news stories which mention the individual tagged. The Address Smart Tag will recognize any address listed within a document and offer person locator information, property records, judgment and lien records and bankruptcy records about the address.
Searching using the LexisNexis Smart Tags is effortless since the add-in provides you with a pre-populated search, which includes not only relevant search terms but also the correct source selection. In addition, you can modify the search information if you wish. Of course, in order to successfully use the LexisNexis Smart Tags you will need to have Internet access and a subscription to the LexisNexis service. If you should link to materials not covered by your subscription, a transactional charge will be assessed; however, you will be warned and will be able to cancel the action before the charge is applied.
The Westlaw Smart Tags can be downloaded alone; however, they also come bundled with the WestCiteLink software available at http://www.westlaw.com/citelink/. Currently the Website lists this software as a free service, a great deal if you can get in on it now. The inference is that it will eventually become a pay service but there is currently no indication on the Westlaw Website if or when that will occur. In addition to the Smart Tags, WestCiteLink also offers you a toolbar with features such as one-click legal citation marking, KeyCiting your document and automatic generation of Table of Authorities, previously a painful task without the use of a third-party tool.
LexisNexis is the route to go if you are looking for the maximum amount of research, but the Westlaw Smart Tags do have a few features all their own. For instance, Westlaw's Smart Tags work in tandem with the citation marking and table building features of the rest of the WestCiteLink software. Westlaw Smart Tags allow you to easily do such helpful tasks as find a document on Westlaw, determine the KeyCite history, identify citing references, insert a hypertext link to Westlaw and generate a Table of Authorities.
Neat stuff, however, the naysayers will proclaim that between the red underlines of auto-spelling and the green underlines of auto-grammar check, the purple underlines now have documents appearing like some kind of bad work of Abstract Expressionism. Fear not; like the automatic spelling and grammar checker, Smart Tags can be disabled. In addition, individual Smart Tags can be enabled and disabled on an as-needed basis. In my opinion, a good heads-up move by the developers. As more companies create Smart Tags, you may reach the point one day when 50 percent or more of your documents meet the criteria for one or more of your installed Smart Tags. In that eventuality, the ability to determine which set of tags is operating within a document will be very beneficial.
While at this point the utility of Smart Tags for general Word XP users is not overwhelming, for those users in an industry whose leaders have supported and embraced this technology, the benefits are tremendous. Fortunately for all of us, the legal community has latched on to this new feature with great determination. If you are not yet sold on the benefits of Smart Tags, visit the Microsoft Smart Tags Website and begin to experiment with those offered. With this feature, seeing is believing. If other business communities begin to support Smart Tags, this feature will continue to grow and I'm sure we will see increased sponsorship for the development of even more exciting and beneficial Tags. In the meantime, take advantage of the existing legal specific Smart Tags and let them make you more productive, efficient and connected.Pamela Conway is vice president of Educational Services at CompuWorks Systems, Inc., an industry leader in technical education since 1987, delivering consulting, training, help desk, support and documentation services to the legal community, corporations and government agencies. CompuWorks specializes in servicing the training, support and consulting needs of law firms and corporate legal departments.