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Home >> Customers >> Success Stories >> CLARA Web

California Public Defenders Association CLARA Web Search Site

Michael Cantrall, Executive Director of the California Public Defender’s Association, had a great idea. Wouldn’t it be a terrific service for their members, criminal defense attorneys in California, if he were to publish their database of motions, briefs and other related documentation onto the Web, creating an up-to-date infobase for legal research?

The California Public Defender’s Association (CPDA) is a membership organization of criminal trial attorneys in California. Located in Sacramento, the CPDA started offering its database of defense motions and other information to its members published on CD-ROM. This product, CLARA-ROM (Criminal Law Automated Research Assistance) proved extremely popular and gave the trial attorneys a research medium for quickly finding motions related to cases in which they are currently involved.

However, since the CLARA-ROM product is updated annually, there is a time lag for including new documents. "We have as many as 1000 new documents a year" says Cantrall, "so it may take as long as a year for our subscribers to see new information from the date it actually became available to us." What Cantrall wanted was a way to provide up-to-the-minute information to his subscribers. Clearly, a web site was the way to go.

One of the requirements the CPDA needed for its web site was text search capability. Cantrall was very familiar with the ISYS product, having used it as the search engine in the CLARA-ROM product. "I first saw ISYS at a seminar where an attorney was demonstrating how he managed a case using the ISYS text retrieval software. When I decided on developing a web site, I began talking to ISYS Search Software about my plans and they showed me the ISYS:web product. I evaluated the product and was amazed at how well it worked; it's basically ISYS-on-the-Web."

The CPDA site, called CLARA Web, is open only to its paid subscribers; visitors must enter an id and password to enter. Cantrall uses a Macintosh for their web server and networks this to a separate PC node for their ISYS:web server. They have named the search function they developed CLARA WebSearch and offer users their choice of two search methods; a Command-Based Query or a Menu-Assisted Query. ISYS:web also offers a natural language option called the Plain English Query, which Cantrall elected not to use. "Our web site statistics show that about 70% of our users opt for the Menu-Assisted Query." In addition, Cantrall took advantage of the highly customizable architecture of ISYS:web to modify the standard ISYS queries to suit his subscriber base. "The ISYS Menu-Assisted Query ordinarily lets a user build a query by entering keywords into a text box and linking them together by clicking on one of the Boolean operator buttons; AND, OR, etc. I found that for most of our members, two keywords is sufficient for most of their searches. So I altered the query screen to give the user a text box associated with each different Boolean operator. Users can enter words in up to two boxes at a time. My subscribers love this method of searching; I look at the search logs in the morning and am no longer surprised at seeing attorneys doing searches at all hours of the early morning. The users who want to make a more complex search prefer to use the Command-Based Query, where they can type out whatever Boolean string they want."

"Another thing I’ve always liked about ISYS," adds Cantrall, "is that it leaves my files alone." When publishing information to the web using ISYS:web, users create an ISYS index using the ISYS Utilities program. This is a very simple process of defining the file types to be indexed and specifying the location(s) of the files. The ISYS Utilities program then creates an index of all the words in the specified files. ISYS does not change, alter, or move files in any way during the indexing process. In addition, system administrators can schedule regular automatic updates of the ISYS indexes in the Utilities program.

Also important to Cantrall is ISYS:web’s exclusive Outline Browsing feature. This is the unique ability to deliver only the portions of documents surrounding the keywords specified by the user. For example, if a user elects to view a document from the ISYS:web Query Results Screen, the viewer will only display selections from the document surrounding the keywords. Either the user or the administrator can define the size of selections to show in the viewer and screen prompts in the viewer let the user advance to the next section of text or revert to the previous selection. This feature has two significant benefits. First, it dramatically slashes system resources by reducing the amount of information downloaded; particularly for large documents. Second, users get the information they want delivered to them faster. "We have some very large documents in our database an Outline Browsing works very well for us" says Cantrall.

The CLARA Web site has been very successful for the CPDA and has, according to Cantrall, solved a big problem for him. "Our subscribers no longer have to wait a year to received updated information. With ISYS:web, we can publish new motions and articles as they become available and our subscribers can access them immediately." In addition, Cantrall envisions growth for this kind of service. "I think this will probably be the wave of the future as more and more attorneys see the value of a web-based search medium."


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