January 2016 Bar Bulletin
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January 2016 Bar Bulletin

Bits, Bytes and Brains: Still the “No-Brainer” E-Discovery Tool

By Larry G. Johnson


I love gadgets and toys. I have spent a good deal of my life justifying purchases of all kinds of computer hardware and software just so I can play with them (after, ahem, justifying them as business expenses … which of course they are, IRS).

When Computers Were New

Back when computers were fun and new, what did lawyers expect to do with them? I first got into personal computers the moment they became commercially available in the late ’70s. One of my first thrills was to have a disk drive the size of a shoebox that ran this huge thing called a floppy disk that could hold a whopping 16,000 bytes! Wow!

I was always looking for ways to work computers into my law practice. I had a chance to do so when there were so many documents in a mass tort case, the 1981 MGM Hotel fire in Las Vegas, that my firm had to hire a librarian to catalog and keep track of them all. So, I figured I would create a database of those files that were in electronic format, such as the text of deposition transcripts, and be my own librarian. I had great fun putting that together and showing it off.

In those days, I had a “portable” computer the size of a small suitcase called an Osborne 1 that I carried around with me to depositions around the country. The thing barely made it into an overhead bin on an airplane. It had a screen about 3 inches wide, with small, green text against a black background that was barely readable. But it did the job: It found very quickly relevant snippets of other witnesses’ depositions with which I could challenge the current deponent.

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