Law & Computers, 1994

This paper, now historical, was a required research paper at El Camino College in Torrance, California.  The credits received were toward my Associate Degree in Legal Assistant studies.  My main purpose to present it here is to highlight present students – and other interested parties – to know, acknowledge, and appreciate what “it was like back then,” 1994.


“The “Information Superhighway” is a vision of the idea that eventually all homes and business will be connected electronically and that all sorts of information will be available for downloading into your home or office.  Exactly how this information will be delivered remains a major topic of debate. With faster networks on the horizon, more connections between networks, and more services available, there is no question that new applications will change the way we use information ‘at the office’ as well as at home.  Currently, traditional providers, and public utilities, are vying for the right to provide the lines that will deliver this kind of information.  Nationwide computer networks will impact business long before they enter every home.

“Already more than 50 percent of office workers in the United States use computers and nearly half of the PC’s in the United States are now connected to networks.  All sorts of information is now available through corporate networks.  It ranges from a simple email to schedule management, and on to more complex procedures such as management of transaction date and information handling.

“Most major companies could not operate without computer systems.  Executives have realized managing these computer systems is a important as the managing of their manufacturing facilities or their products.

“Well, the legal profession is no different.  Legal Assistants/Paralegals are entering the legal profession in a time of exceptional turbulence.  It is a place of opportunity as well as risk; a necessary phase of the system’s adjustment to new challenges.  The future of Paralegal work in litigation is high technology — legal database research, computerized litigation support, and general office administration computer skills.  If the much-hyped “information highway” is constructed, then cable television will own the high-occupancy fast lane.  The fiber-optic networks now being assembled in most areas by the companies that bring you Cable News Network and the Discovery Channel are by far the best conduits for information


“The fiber optic industry has rapidly transformed the way the world send and receives information.  Optical fiber, first discovered in the early 1970’s, holds a large percentage of the communications links installed my major long distance carriers and local telephone operating companies.  And these companies utilize fiber optic cable.

“Made from fine strands of glass that can bend and flex, optical fiber is used to transmit consumer telephone traffic by pulses of light.  Thinner than a single human hair yet stronger than steel, optical fiber can carry thousands of times more information that conventional copper wire, and just tow optical fiber can transmit over 24,000 telephone conversations sumiltaneously.

“Because it is smaller and weighs less than copper, optical fiber utilizes less space and is easier and less expensive to install.  The material is also immune to electromagnetic interference, and telephone conversations transmitted over optical fiber are virtually impossible to tap.

“As the 21st century nears, fiber optics has begun its trek into the next major frontier: fiber to the home.  Ever-increasing demands for the latest, fastest, and best communications technology will make fiber optics a technological necessity.  Applications of fiber optic technology already in use in the home and office include high-definition television (HDTV), home banking, shopping and tax services, rapid computer graphics transmission, videophones with high-quality images, a new generation of home and office security systems, and extended data-communications services.

“Optical fiber can carry a lot, and we are not just talking bits and bytes!  Taken in bulk, it would take 33 tons of copper to transmit the same amount of information handled by a half pound of optical fiber.  Tapping into a personal computer connected to an optical network brings the office to your fingertips.  Interactive video networks make it possible to shop and bank from home, rent a movie without setting foot in a video store, or check out the current stock market reports over the TV.  And there’s more!


“Videoconferencing at your personal computer, computer-aided designs for engineers and subcontractors along with “virtual reality” games are coming in the next few years via your local cable system.  Most likely with new dictionaries containing these new words and phrases!

“The Legal Assistant profession SHOULD NOT miss out.  This whole theory is a worldwide spider web of neurons that will cost billions.  For eight unregulated years from 1984 to 1992, the Cable industry raised subscription rates and boosted profits by not hiring enough employees to handle the growth.  After consumer complaints, the industry was re-regulated in 1992 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Yet with this happening, rate rollbacks made the health of the cable industry bad.  Problems include high debt levels, the huge cost of system modernization, pending competition from telephone companies, and direct-to-home satellite services must-carry rules that force cable systems to tie up precious channel capacity by obligating them to transmit obscure as well as popular local broadcast stations, and the FCC-mandated rate caps that threaten to limit cash flow and access to credit lines.

“All in all, if these companies should lose the will or the wherewithal to build the electronic expressway, the days of computer-aided design and virtual-reality games over cable will remain fictitious.  The traditional office is changing fast, thanks to rapidly evolving workgroup applications and new communications technologies.  For years, people have been talking about the “office of the future.”  In many ways, that future has arrived.  New software, new hardware, and new means of communications help us work together.


Cyberspace is electronic communicating: electronic communications involving the usage of a computer and a modem.  It means almost anyplace computer users are “online.”  This term was originally coined by William Gibson in his novel entitled “Neuromancer” to represent a universe of interlinked computers, a sort of futuristic Internet.

“What is a Modem?  A telephone hookup that allows computer operators to send message via their telephones to a receiving computer.  Cyberspace basically involves new forms of expression such as the discussions that take place in CompuServe (page 6).  For example, on Internet “newsgroups” or the conferences on online services such as America Online and CompuServe, a hundred people may each contribute a few lines to a discussion.  A main concern was copyright protection in that it protects expression, not ideas or facts.  For instance, information in a telephone book or a weather summary can be freely used.  On the other hand, the expression used in an essay on telephones or a creative explanation of weather systems is protected by copyright even though the underlying data and ideas are not.

“What does owning a copyright on an expression mean?  Simply, that no one else can copy, distribute, display or adapt that expression without the copyright owner’s consent.  This consent may be give for free, for a fee, or on the condition that an appropriate attribution be given.  It is always a good idea if you send material into cyberspace to explicitly state the conditions for its use and reproduction.


“According to Working Woman Magazine, the Legal Assistant/Paralegal position has been near the top of the national job-growth chart and plans to stay there for at least 10 more years!  Paralegals are an attorney’s right hand, preparing cases for court by researching facts and precedents, obtaining records and summarizing depositions.  Presently, entry-level salary is $21,000 0 $25,000; mid-level, $25,000 – $40,000; supervisors and specialists $45,000 – $75,000.  Having the knowledge, intelligence and background of computer literacy and its presently growing and developing communication factors will make the Legal Assistant/Paralegal even more marketable!

“As expressed in a local newspaper, The Press Telegram of October 18, 1994, “Computer are taking over the workplace, the classroom, even the home.  And unless you speak their highly complicated language, you could be left out in the technological cold.”


ONLINE = Computer + Modem, whereas a modem, as defined by the New Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, is “a device used in radio detection that converts data to a form that can be transmitted as by telephone to data-processing equipment, where a similar device reconverts it.”

CompuServe is accessible with any communications software.  It also has its own software: CompuServe Information Manager, which is available for Windows.

“CompuServe is the granddaddy of the major commercial online service; it has been around since 1979.  Owned by tax-preparing giant H & R Block, CompuServe has grown into a worldwide online service.  CompuServe’s primary clientele is lawyers and much of its law-related material is by and for lawyers, but non-lawyers can still find useful information and even get some free legal advice.

“When a Legal Assistant connects to CompuServe with his or her own communications software, they will encounter a rather cumbersome text-only interface — no button, icons, graphics, or pull-down menus.  And a mouse cannot be used.  Instead, an operator navigates through a seemingly endless series of numbered lists, or by typing “GO” commands (for example GO LAWSIG) to go to a particular area or “forum.”  “Forums” are special interest areas where the operator can find discussions and libraries of downloadable files on a particular topic.  Each forum divides its message and file libraries into a dozen or so subtopics.  This makes it easier to find discussions and files of interest.  And, CompuServe Information Manager provides a graphical user interface to most of CompuServe’s services, allowing a Legal Assistant to point and click to his or her destination.  Not only is this easier than trying to remember cryptic commands or wading through lists, it also lets the user compose and read e-mail and do some browsing off-line, without incurring connect time changes!

“The very active Legal Forum (GO LAWSIG) is the best place to find law-related files and discussions.  THe Legal Forum’s discussions and file libraries are divided into 14 sections, as follows: GENERAL [0], Computer/Tech Law [1], Attorney Wanted [2], Law Firm Economics [3], Legal Research [4], Software/Automation [5], Lawyer To Lawyer [6], Related Professions [7], LAW STUDENT [8], ***HOT TOPIC 888[9], MUNICIPAL PLANNING [10], Demos, Vendors [11], SUPREME COURT [12], and Bar Room [14].

“Hundreds of people weigh in with their opinions on issues ranging from estate planning to gun control.  The majority are lawyers, and although you don’t have to be one to join in, most of the discussion groups are not all that fruitful for non-lawyers.  Sometimes, however, people  ask legal questions in the forum, and sometimes they get answers.  As with forums of this type, the quality of this free advice varies, just as the quality of lawyers does.”What sets CompuServe’s Legal Forum apart from legal forums on other services is the size and breadth of it library of downloadable files.  There are more than 1700 law-related files to choose from, with dozens of new ones uploaded by forum member every week.  The forum’s library is divided into the same 14 sections as the discussions.  Among the more useful files in the Legal Forum’s libraries are: the full text of newsworthy Supreme Court cases (Library 12); Word-processing templates and macros for automating legal pleadings and documents (most are for WordPerfect 5.1 or Word for Windows 6.0 – Library 5); Windows Help files containing the complete text o The U. S. Constitution; The U. S. Bankruptcy Code and Rules; Federal Rules of Evidence; Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Library 4); Articles about the law, especially intellectual property (Libraries 0, 1, 4, 10 and 11); Countless applications and macros designed to help legal assistants and lawyers keep track of documents and billable hours (Libraries 3, 4, and 5).

“One particularly useful feature on CompuServe is the ability to read the contents of downloadable text-only files on screen, without having to download them.  You can browse through files, particularly articles, and decide which ones you want to download and store on your hard disk!

CompuServe Pricing.  The standard price is $8.95 per month, which includes unlimited connect time to “basic” services.  Accessing the forums mentioned, will cost an addition $9.60 per hour ($0.16 per minute) at 9600 baud or $4.80 per hour ($0.08 per minute) at 2400 baud.  Call 1-800-848-8199 with your modem to sign up.

“Once you are a member of CompuServe, you can download Information Manager directly.  Type GO CIMSOFT and follow the directions once you get there.  It cost $10 to download, but you get a $10 credit toward you connect time charges.


“Prodigy was conceived by a partnership of two giants: IBM and Sears, Roebuck & Company.  Like its corporate partners, Prodigy is huge with something like two million subscribers.  It is the largest commercial online service that offers information a consumer can browse through along with files and software that can be downloaded.

“Prodigy has many services.  It provides news, weather, sports galore, U. S. Government economic indicators, user polls and bulletin boards.  The bulletin boards have been known to be difficult to use.  To get to them, the operator must click a series of buttons on a number of screens, and it can be difficult to find the bulleting of interest.

“An intensive index of Prodigy services can be searched by typing words that describe what you’re interested in.  Prodigy calls the terms in its index “JumpWords.”  When you type the JumpWord “Law,” Prodigy provides no matches.  Entering “Legal” gets results, though not what you might expect: Prodigy jumps you to a colorful, full screen ad for L’eggs., Hanes and Bali stocking and lingerie, complete with pictures of the companies wares!

“There is a well-hidden legal bulleting board, and here is how to find it: (1.) On the opening screen, click the Business/Finance button. (2.) On the next screen, click the button labeled The Office. (3.) On the next screen, click Office Board. (4.) From the Topic List you see, select “Legal & Govt. Matters.

“There are about 100 different subjects under the Legal & Government Matters topic on the Office Bulletin Board (also called the Home Office Bulletin Board).  But they contain very little discussion.  Only 160 notes had been posted in all of these subjects during the last six weeks, the period available to browse through.

“Although Prodigy provides little hard legal information, there are some good, law-related items.  The Court TV service contains several news stories on current topics and a bulletin board that lets you post questions to the host of “Prime Time Justice.”  You can also get a schedule of legal education courses aimed at lawyers which would also be useful to the Legal Assistant and other non-lawyers.

“Prodigy does connect to the Internet, but only to send and receive e-mail.  You can’t gte to any of the legal resources available free of charge from the Internet.  Therefore, Prodigy uses miss out on the opportunity to conduct legal research on this and rapidly growing collections of networks and databases.

Prodigy Pricing.  Prodigy users must install special software, available for Windows, DOS and Macintosh to gain access to the services.  Prodigy software is sold in stores for $20 to $50, but don’t buy it there.  You can get it free ($4.95 for shipping and handling) by calling Prodigy at 1-800-PRODIGY.  The kit you’ll receive entitles you to 10 hours of free use during your first month of service.  After that, it’s $14.95 per month for unlimited access to the basic features plus two hours of extra services such as stock quotes, company news, and airline reservations.  Extra services cost $3.60 per hour.  E-mail messages cost $0.25 each.  There are additional charges for downloading shareware.


“As we have already read, being online is the ability to get information, any type of information, through a computer.  This costs money and takes skills not everyone has.  First, of course, you must have access to a computer and a modem.  Second, the most feasible way to get online information is to pay for a subscription to a commercial online service such as Dialog, CompuServe, America Online (where the rate per hour is about $3.50),  Lexis/Nex (the rate per hour averages $46.20) or West law.

“Although paralegals are not always involved in doing legal research, they need to be familiar with the online databases that are commonly used for legal research: LEXIS and WESTLAW.  Both are available as online services(meaning that you must dial into them with a modem for which you pay a subscription fee plus online charges).

“This simultaneous construction of the electronic “information superhighway” is a less obvious but equally serious threat to libraries and the free flow of information.  Much useful information is simply not available in conventional printed form.  It is now available only online, through a computer.  Existing books are being repackaged for sale to electronic form! But, being online certainly does help the Legal Assistant with research time and efficiency.  For instance, this would allow the Legal Assistant to get current legal information immediately without buying a lot of information s/he would not actually need and that would go out of date.  It would also be useful to get quick updates on changes tot he law.  And the electronic bulletin board would be used for people (Legal Assistants in particular) to post messages with comments, suggestions or questions.

“America Online offers far superior Internet access that includes Gopher menus and WATS searches to help find information in databases, mailing lists (discussion groups), newsgroups as well as sending and receiving e-mail.  And just in case you didn’t know, a “gopher” in computer land is an Internet term for an electronic search tool.  It locates topics, files, or documents that match a computer user’s interests.  By the end of 1994, America Online users should be able to transfer files and telnet (log on to remote computers from their own computers) on the Internet.

“To obtain information on American Online, or, to start your software, pull down the GO TO menu and select KEYWORD.  Then type LEGAL and then click OK.  You will go to the Legal SIG forum.  Open the Legal SIG Software Library.  You may have to click the “List More Files” button a few times and scroll down the list to find all the files.

“The key to using an online service is knowing how to log onto the service (each vendor has its own log-on procedures) and how to formulate the request using the right key words.  in this regard, the paralegal might do some of the same things that an “information broker” does, and as a result, in some cases, it might be cheaper to call a professional researcher than to spend time and money doing the research.  There is a wealth of information available at one’s fingertips through online services.


“Intenet is an “international interconnection of thousands of computers via ordinary telephone lines.  It is a complementary information source.  It has also been described as “the global network of computer networks” and has become the fastest growing communications medium.  Let’s see how WEBSTER’S measures up in their latest dictionary!

“The “NET,” as it is referred to, offers free access to government documents, statures and case opinions, as well as the opportunity to directly communicate with global and neighborhood colleagues.

“For the paralegal, the NET is an information research pool providing cost-effective access to a number of substantive resources, including documents and databases.

“This 25-year old computer system that most of us are just learning about can connect us to libraries, newspapers, universities, businesses, and customers!  Even our children!  The world is wired!  Internet began as a child of the Cold War: a headless, decentralized data network designed to function in the aftermath of an all-out nuclear attack.

“Mike Toner, in his Press-Telegram article of October 31, 1994, writes that “the doomsday network developed by the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency grew to include more research institutions with more diverse interests.  By the late 1980’s, it had been absorbed by the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET, an electronic backbone linking U. S. supercomputing centers, dozens of government agencies, and a rapidly growing list of universities.

“Then in 1991, the government ended restrictions on the use of the Internet for business and Congress decided to spend $2 Billion over five years on a major network expansion.  Phew!  This expansion is now known as the “information superhighway.”   The NEW BACKBONE, when completed, will be able to deliver a billion bits a second, roughly equivalent to an entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in six-tenths of a second!

“Let’s compare television.  It is, for now, something you watch.  And the telephone is fine for one-on-one conversations.  As defined by Mike Toner in the same article of October 31, 1994, “Internet allows individuals to interact, share, argue, preach, plead, court, annoy, or harvest information in a way the world is only beginning to explore.”

“Click, click and your commute to the library can become an electronic commute that can give you instant access to the library’s card catalog.  Geez, what paralegal would not have fun with this?!

“Already the demand and rapid growth has produced the electronic equivalent of gridlock, making destinations unreachable for hours at a time.  It’s a new frontier and we’ll see what evolves.


“eWorld is Apple Computer’s new online service.  Anyone with a Mac, a modem, and a phone line can explore eWorld.  All new Macs come with eWorld software already installed.  If you have an older Mac, you can get the software for free from Apple by calling 1-800-775-4556.  There is a self-help law center that contains a discussion board where you can exchange tips on do-it-yourself law and discuss everything from legal reform to lawyer jokes.

“E-mail provides access to regional and international mailing lists.  But, to gain access to mailing lists, you must be connected to a provider such as America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy that presently offer limited Internet access, but are planning to expand their services.


“In researching this project, I have actually been fascinated with what I did not know.  Communicating through technology has advanced at the speed of sound.  Presently, I am glad to be back amongst the computer operators of my era, ready to tackle, obtain, and become up-to-date myself with what has been going on around me!

“All in all, I am able to partially explain (and educate) another interested party on getting started on the information highway and would like to share this information with you:

  1. Necessary Equipment: A computer, a telephone, a communications program, and a modem.  High-speed modems are recommended.
  2. Getting one: If you don’t have access through an employer or academic institution, you’ll need a personal account.  They come in two basic flavors: a dial-up shell account that connects your computer to one that is already “on” the Internet, and dial-up connections that make your computer a functioning part of the Internet.
  3. Shell accounts: The dozens of providers include: Delphi Internet — (800) 695-4005 with five free hours and monthly rates as low as $13.00 for four hours of connect time.  Netcom — (900) 501-8649, $17.70 a month for unlimited connect time.  CRL — (415) 381-2800.  $19.50 initialization fee plus $19.50 a month.  Pipeline — (212) 287-3636, which offers five free hours and easy-to-use Windows-style Internet services starting at $15.00 a month, plus local access and/or phone charges.
  4. Direct connections:  THese give users more control over Internet ventures and make it possible to use MOSAIC, a sophisticated software tool developed the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Champaigne, Illinois, that integrates text, sound, photos, and motion pictures.  The dozens of providers include Atlanta-based MindSpring Enterprises, Inc., (401) 888-0725, a small firm whose goal is to provide convenient and economical Internet access.  The firm sells a $35.00 custom package of freeware and shareware programs that have everything you need to get started and charge $15.00 a month (plus $1.00 an hour after 15 hours) for unrestricted Internet access.
  5. Software notes: If you like to do it yourself, you can download MOSAIC free from teh National Center for Supercomputing Applications, (217) 244-4130, but the program must be configured with other network software, most of it available free or at nominal cost.  Bundles of network software are available as “Internet in a Box” developed by Spry, Inc., and the “Internet Membership Kit” by Ventena Media.
  6. Major on-line services: America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy offer limited Internet access, but are planning to expand services.


  1. Hopper, Commodore Grace Murray, United States Navy with Mandell.  Professor Steven L., Bowing Green State University.  Understanding Computers, © 1984, West Publishing Company, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, P. O. Box 43526, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55165.
  2. Hussey, Katherine Sheehy with Benzel, Rick.  Legal & Paralegal Services on your Home-Based PC, © 1994, Windcrest/McGraw-Hill.
  3. Parker, Charles S. Understanding Computer & Information Processing, © 1992, The Dryden Press, 301 Commerce Street, Suite 3700, Fort Worth, TX, 76102.
  4. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, © 1972, Simon & Schuster, New World Dictionaries, 850 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 44114.


The Press-Telegram: October 8, 1994 — “FCC ready to change cable TV pricing” by Jeannine Aversa, p. E1; October 10, 1994 — “Catching Up On Computers” by Rachel D’Oro; October 31m 1994 — “Election databases offer everything rom Assembly to Wilson” by Daniel De Vise, P. A1 & A6; October 31, 1994 — “Internet jam-packed with election data,” p. A1; October 31, 1994 — “Turn on, hook up and plug into THE NET,” pp. C6 – C12.

Working Woman, June, 1994; “Hottest Careers — The Best-And-Worst-Jobs For Women,” pp. 45 & 46.

PC Magazine, May 1994; “The Changing Office” by Michael J. Miller, pp. 112 – 128.

Vital Speeches Of The Day, August, 1994; “Law in a Time of Turbulence” by Mary Ann Glendon, Professor of Law at Harvard University, pp. 620 – 622.

FW Financial World, “Crossroads” by Russell Shaw, pp. 52 – 55.

PIRELLI Fiber Optic Cables, Reference Guide, April, 1993, provided by an employee of the Pacific Bell Corporation of Southern California.

Nolo News Legal & Consumer Information for Everyone, Summer, 1994: “Law on CompuServe” by Albin Renauer, pp. 18 & 19; and “Copyrights in Cyberspace” by Steve Elias, pp. 20 & 21; Nolo News Legal & Consumer Information for Everyone, Gall, 1994: “How the Online Revolution Threatens Libraries” by Steve Elias and Monica Jensen, p. 17; “Law on Prodigy” by Dale Mark Ross, PP. 20 & 21; and “Self-Help Law Centers on Internet, eWorld” by Alvin Renauer and Fred Horch, pp. 22 & 23.

Law Office Computing, Feb/Mar, 1994, “Connecting On The Internet” by Josh Blackman, pp. 68 – 73.

NOTE FROM AUTHOR:  I truly hope you enjoyed reading this blog.  It’s just as simple as that!  Thank you.  #buckroth.

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