California Public Defenders Association CLARA Web
Michael Cantrall, Executive Director of the California
Public Defenders Association, had a great idea. Wouldnt 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 Defenders 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 Ive 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:webs 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
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."