Litigation support products, including us(!), make much noise about “linking” because linking allows you to locate information quickly. In reality, this simply means tagging information to issues or linking to a document — or a part of it — because a relationship exists (an affidavit and its attachments) or you’ve discovered a relationship (contradictory testimony) and you want to be able get to that related material quickly through some type of link.
To do this, competitive products present a confusing and dizzying array of “linking” abilities:
- CaseMap® talks of object links, issue links, source links, potential source links, question links, document links, linked files, related files, etc.
- Summation® talks of transcript links, evidence links, file attachment links, image links, internet links, linked documents, linking to “Core DB Summaries”, case organizer links, cross-links, link fields: Linked Document, Attachments, Related IDs, Attachment Doc IDs, Parent ID, Related Document IDs, Transcript Zoom Field, Case Organizer/DB Fields, issue fields, etc.
- Concordance®, on the other hand doesn’t provide any “linking” features similar to the above in CaseMap or Summation, other than tagging documents or notes with issues.
In this post, we unravel some of the problems with those approaches. We cover:
Issue linking done right →
The problem with CaseMap’s direct file links: broken links →
The problem with CaseMap’s “short names” →
The problem with point-to-point cross-linking of related information →
MasterFile’s solution to the above: Doc-links →
Issue linking done right
Before we dive in, we’d like to make one point: despite the critical importance of linking evidence and information to one or more issues, only MasterFile lets you review and/or explore everything (documents, extracts, facts, events, players) linked to the issues as a live view, like this
Even CaseMap which claims it “makes it easy to … explore the facts, the cast of characters, and the issues in a case”, doesn’t let you review, browse or explore everything “by Issue” — you have to print and re-print paper reports to use alongside it.
The problem with CaseMap’s direct file linking: Broken links
Since CaseMap does not have any sort of document repository, it must use “linked files” and “related files” fields to connect the real document files (Word, PDF, TIFF, etc. wherever they are on your network) to the document objects, facts, etc. If the actual files are renamed, moved, or become unavailable, such as when on the road, or when a client or co-counsel share the database on their own networks, the links break and you can no longer get the document.
You can avoid this by purchasing a document repository, such as Concordance or Summation, to use with CaseMap. But now, all users — mobile users, clients, co-counsel, and remote offices, etc. — need the same software and a copy of the document database to review the documents.
Unfortunately, that still won’t solve all your problems. Concordance, for example, uses direct file linking for its PDF files, and specifically say they break if you move the PDF files (or looking at it another way — if you move). They suggest you use their utility to bulk fix it. So you’ll bulk fix at home, bulk fix back at the office, co-counsel and other colleagues are all bulk fixing. Similar problems exist with Summation’s handling of PDF (and other native format document files) with their “pleadings” feature, but not their “edoc” feature (which has its own problems), and so on. (Summation also has other linking problems unrelated to document files described later in this article.)
You will no doubt run into these, and other subtle surprises and nuances (such as finding out other users can delete, move or rename directories with critical documents and break the file links even at the office) — but only after the fact and usually when you least need to be “surprised”. The simple fact is that direct file links are a weak method.
So what’s the solution? The MasterFile doc-link. First of all, MasterFile doesn’t treat PDFs, “edocs”, pleadings, etc. “specially”. A document is a document. Secondly, MasterFile stores all documents in the database itself. There are no external files. None. So there are no direct file links to break! It’s that simple. MasterFile doc-links work all the time, everywhere.
The problem with CaseMap’s “short names”
In CaseMap, every document is an “object”, every person is an “object”, every organization is an “object”, etc., and every “object” must be given a “short name”. For example, if you refer to 1,000 key documents you’ll need and end up with 1,000 “short names” for these documents. This is like the pre-Windows and Mac days of DOS when every file was limited to (usually cryptic!) 8 character filenames. Naming conventions were then adopted but were often abandoned and so errors crept in. Figuring out which file was which was one reason why desktop and server search tools were developed.
To solve similar problems, CaseSoft recommends you use ID numbers instead of short names, and even released a “Bates Stamper” to generate these ID numbers for you. This actually creates bigger problems as we explain here. Nevertheless, despite all their different types of links, short names, objects, etc. you can’t link one fact in CaseMap to another — as they often are in the real world.
The problem with point-to-point cross-linking of related information
Despite Summation’s® sweeping array of link types and fields for the above two tasks, their evidence/transcript links are what you use to cross-link two pieces of information that have a relationship you’ve uncovered as in the affidavit/attachment example above. However, all direct cross-links cause a problem:
Imagine reading an encyclopaedia and as you uncover something new and critical which is related to other information you’ve already read, you decide to make a citation in the margin with the volume, page and line number where the other stuff can be found — and perhaps also doing the reverse to create a “cross link”. Some of your citations may also be to relevant reports and documents you’ve collected in your filing-cabinet.
Now, come back after a few days, or give it to a colleague. Does anyone understand what links you’ve uncovered, where they are, what they were about, etc.? No, because they’re hidden, lost and forgotten in the margins of hundreds of pages.
After a while, all you have is hundreds of references pointing here and there, scattered willy-nilly throughout the encyclopaedia. There’s no order or organization to your references and nothing to explain why you created them. You could make an extra effort to put a reminder note next to each and every reference (which, by the way, Summation recommends “to keep track” of evidence links), but remember, the notes will be hidden in the pages along with references. And even if you could also then search for your notes, you have to first remember you’ve got some references or notes to search for to begin with. If you don’t, you may miss critical links you’ve found, which could still happen if you don’t search with the right keywords. Your colleagues too would have no real idea what to search for and what keywords to use. They have no idea about what you’ve discovered that’s hidden in the margins. Not the best way to research and document your findings — let alone reconstucting your original thoughts as a coherent picture.
All methods of cross-linking information directly suffer from this problem. The root cause being your links and notes (i.e. your citations, etc.) are stored >with the original information rather than being organized separately, where they would always be readily available for review by anybody. Electronic ‘sticky notes’ unlike paper sticky notes are the same.
So we say that point-to-point cross linking and electronic sticky notes are technologies that test your memory, rather than assisting it.
MasterFile’s doc-links substantiate argument, provide security over e-mail, eliminate file links, and more
MasterFile has only one linking technology — doc-links. They’re simple to understand and easy to use.
It doesn’t matter why you’re linking or what you’re linking — they’re used for everything. They let you link work product, evidentiary documents, transcripts, extracts, or facts to any other document, extract or fact. They’re self-descriptive so there are no short names to remember, and because MasterFile stores everything in its database, there are no external document file links to break when you go mobile or share the database with co-counsel.
Let’s revisit our example and see how you would really manage your encyclopaedia research.
While browsing the encyclopaedia you would naturally have a notepad next to you. Each page would be titled with a description of a fact you’re researching. Then, as you uncover something important about any fact, you’d simply turn to the relevant page and make a note about what you’ve uncovered, perhaps also citing how and why it’s related to something else you’ve jotted down earlier on the page, or another (i.e. another fact). Finally you’d write in the volume, page and line number next to your new notes so you can locate the source information again.
Nothing is hidden so nothing gets lost or forgotten. References back to the source evidence and an orderly set of notes and points exist for each fact.
MasterFile works exactly the same way — the way you work. Its exclusive Fact & Argument drafting system and doc-link technology lets you make your notes inside each fact (i.e. like the piece of paper) complete with doc-links (i.e. volume, page and line #) directly to the source document, extract or other fact.
As can be seen below, first, each point in the argument for this fact is set out, just as you would do on a notepad. Then, following each point, is a yellow doc-link hotspot to the source evidence — a document, extract or another fact. Note how the doc-link is self-descriptive with details and description of the source evidence.
What’s shown is the argument for a hypothetical point thrown out by the other side (Sky High Elevators), stating Arcade (our client) is responsible for an elevator failure because of faulty brake maintenance by their engineer.
First, the opposing side’s position has been set out together with an extract from an expert report and an authority they’re relying on. Then, our position is set out, substantiated by a letter and another fact we’re relying on. Notice how you’re able to set out positions and substantiate them, point by point. Any team member (and now even you!) can immediately understand, or be reminded, how to argue and substantiate this issue.
MasterFile’s exclusive Fact & Argument Drafting system and doc-link technology lets you be professional, confident, clear, concise and to the point — there’s no chaos, there’s nothing hidden and there’s nothing willy-nilly.
Since MasterFile stores all your case documents (evidentiary, work product, and work in progress), the powerful synergistic value of MasterFile’s repository design immediately becomes obvious — you’re able to set out and substantiate your argument with any supporting information.
And because you can even doc-link other facts, you can build argument for a fact by relying on, and linking in, other facts to be argued, already established or stipulated, as shown.
You can even reference documents, extracts and facts in other MasterFile databases. These databases could be from other cases or research databases, for example, which contain only authorities.
Although we’ll now try and explain how smoothly and fluidly MasterFile lets you “research the encyclopaedia” and create the above argument, there’s nothing better than seeing it in action in our short video Creating and working with doc-links.
When you uncover something new, simply select the text and click on the “Add to Existing Fact” button, shown below:
You will be shown MasterFile’s fact management views. Simply choose the fact to update and the selected text, together with the doc-link, is automatically inserted into the fact’s argument. The fact is then opened ready for you to add your notes or comments. It’s no different or harder than turning to the correct page in your paper notepad and updating your existing research with new notes and a bibliographic citation back to the source evidence.
Alternatively, you could first click the “Make Extract” button shown above to instantly create an extract of the critical information. And then, from the extract, simply click on “Add to Existing Fact” to insert a descriptive doc-link back to it in the fact’s argument (the first bullet in the above screen shot). By making an extract, whenever you review the document, you’ll see at a glance this key information along with any other already identified in the document plus you’ll be able to easily link to the extract elsewhere as needed.
Doc-links can also be used whenever you need to reference documents such as exhibits or attachments.
Finally, and most impressively even if we say so ourselves, when it comes to collaboration doc-links are unmatched. With one click on the buttons shown above, you can even e-mail doc-links to your colleagues or others with access to the server or database replicas instead of bulky file attachments. Besides clogging up the mail system from copies of documents, security is maintained over e-mail as only those with permission to the specific documents, facts, etc. will be able to retrieve them since MasterFile controls access flow through the doc-link. In Outlook, they look like this — secure URLs at the top and secure doc-link shortcuts (like Windows shortcuts) at the bottom.
Be more effective with MasterFile – a true, small-firm platform for simple document management through complex litigation that replaces CaseMap, Concordance, & Relativity, etc.