University of California Berkeley School of Law Legal Assistant conquered mounting legal case records with Bento
UC Berkeley School of Law
There's a lot of paper in law. Case files are stuffed with it and law offices devote enormous resources to manage it. Christopher Felker, a former Legal Assistant with the UC Berkeley School of Law, was asked for an easier way to keep track of all the paper he deals with at the school. He worked with Bento as a Staff Attorney at the Department of Justice, using it to handle litigation files. He knew Bento could facilitate case research and help students access information quickly and efficiently. To make his assessment, he used Bento 4.
"Case records can be very difficult to manage," says Felker. "With Bento, students can keep track of paperwork, evidence, and notes. They can take the Bento library I've built and modify it to create their own case-management systems. Bento is a phenomenal tool for organization—it's powerful, flexible, and easy to use."
Felker helped manage case files for the UC Berkeley International Human Rights law clinic. Limited resources had limited the clinics to legal case management systems through online law databases like WestLaw and LexisNexis. "The systems were just too bulky for us," says Felker. "They're made for large law firms and they're not very flexible. The law clinics have new students every 14 weeks or so and they needed a system that was flexible and easy to learn."
The long-time Mac user soon discovered new features in Bento and knew that the tight integration with the Mac OS would ensure future success. "It's an extraordinarily easy to use application and you can do almost anything with it," he says. "I knew right away that it would be very useful for the clinics."
The legal assistant built a Bento database to keep track of legal records related to each clinic. "With Bento, I was able to build a custom database that charts the location of documentation and evidence," says Felker. "The database also tracks email correspondence regarding each case."
Setup time was minimal, thanks to a user-friendly interface, says Felker. "Initially I was able to set up the database in a few hours," he says. "new cases could be incorporated into a library in about 10 minutes."
Felker can also password-protect Bento 4 libraries to secure sensitive information. "That lets me limit access to case information, which is very important when we're dealing with litigation," he says. "Only students or teachers assigned to a case would be given access to the documents. That's was critical for developing a viable alternative system that will have many persons involved every semester."
Bento is a valuable tool for organizing physical files. In a module that was implemented at Berkeley, "Bento’s new label-printing function was very useful for managing correspondence sent to all Berkeley’s clinics," says Felker. "We considered a Dymo label machine, but with Bento we were able to put logos and more specific information on file labels. We were also able to print many labels at once from our Bento records, which led to rapid responses lower costs because we did not need proprietary supplies."
Felker has been encouraging other members of the UC faculty and administration to use Bento as a classroom management tool. Felker has moved to Los Angeles, and knows from his Berkeley days that assistants may set up a Bento database to track student evaluations, notes, and more. "Many students ask for letters of recommendation based on their work in the clinics," he says. "With Bento, it is possible to look at the student evaluations in tandem with their participation in clinic work. Instructors then get concrete information and that makes the letters much more specific and relevant when those students look to transfer their experiences into judicial clerkships."
For Felker, Bento 4 has become an indispensable organizational tool. "The records he encountered at Berkeley (and expects to address at UCLA) are often in bad shape." "Bento offers a tool that can be used track them in detail, a tool that's open to everyone and that's easy to use. In a period of unprecedented fiscal crisis for UC, Bento truly can change the way we work."