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KM for law firms--legal or not?

This article appears in the issue July/August 2006, [Vol 15, Issue 7]
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For example, some partners had assumed that doing most of the legal work themselves was best for the firm, but in fact, it proved more expensive for clients and detracted from their ability to leverage more valuable contributions in management or marketing. As a result of having supporting data, Bryan Cave does not have to rely on anecdotal evidence for decision-making.

Another benefit was the ability to offer more flexible billing approaches to clients. One real estate client believed that its billings should be correlated with the size of its deals, as measured by floor space; i.e., larger transactions would be expected to be more expensive.

"By using our BI software," Alber says, "we were able to make calculations that showed this approach to be feasible." Adoption has been widespread, with nearly half of the 300 partners at Bryan Cave using Dashboard regularly to monitor financial performance at both the organizational and the individual level.

Let lawyers practice law

"We developed the Redwood Dashboard to meet the need of firms to manage their performance more closely and efficiently," says Dan Pomerantz, COO and CIO at Redwood. "They needed ways to easily find out if their staffing of a client matter is profitable or not, for example, or whether a fixed fee arrangement or volume discount will help or hurt the firm.

" One of the guiding principles of Redwood Analytics' software is that it not interfere with the attorneys' mode of work. "As we start deploying business-related content to attorneys," Pomerantz says, "we are very careful not to give them something that gets in the way of their practicing law."

For clients who want the option of performing deeper analyses, the Redwood Analytics platform has incorporated software from Cognos. The Cognos BI tool is not designed for use by attorneys; rather, it allows power users to perform analyses and provides drill-down capabilities beyond those presented in the Redwood Dashboard. Both of Redwood Analytics' BI tools are tailored for law firms, but the Cognos version brings expanded functionality.

Tailor-made

A number of leading KM software vendors have built legal applications onto their basic platforms. Both Interwoven and Hummingbird have solutions tailored to the legal market, for example. Interwoven offers its Engagement/Matter-Centric Collaboration solution for client documents, e-mails and other content.

Hummingbird first introduced a portal for the legal vertical in 2000, and its current products include LegalKEY Practice Support Solutions, which includes a records management component designed for law firms. Recommind began as a broadly based search product but is now focused on the legal market.

"There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to using a product built for the legal market as opposed to one built on a more general platform," says Ron Friedmann, president of Prism Legal. "Many law firms will select products from both categories and use them successfully." Prism Legal works with law firms to help them choose software and with vendors to help them design software that is well suited to the legal market.

Friedmann suggests identifying a particular problem, such as retrieving work product, and starting from that point. For that application, Friedmann likes RealPractice from Practice Technologies (realpractice.com), a software suite that runs on top of document management systems and is designed to access attorney work product.

"Search software has gotten quite a bit of traction in large law firms," says Friedmann, "but sometimes the results are not specific enough. RealPractice searches for and categorizes documents in a way that matches the way lawyers think." 

Law firms collaborate via extranets

In most large litigation cases, multiple parties must collaborate to share documents, perform discovery, conduct online conferences and carry out administrative tasks such as scheduling meetings. One of the largest such cases was the lawsuit in which the U.S. government sued tobacco companies. The anticipated volume of material was such that the court mandated a hosted extranet to provide a secure collaborative environment. Initiated on Sept. 22, 1999, the case continued for more than six years.

E-Solutions, which provides managed hosting and application development services to law firms and other organizations, developed the hosted extranet for the tobacco lawsuit, in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Over time, the number of law firms opting to use extranets has increased steadily, as they become more comfortable with doing business online.

"People are now beginning to realize that a secure online environment is much safer than a laptop or even a desktop work environment," says Michael Morizio, president of E-Solutions.

The recent theft of a laptop from an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs is a good example. That computer, carrying data about millions of veterans, has put many at risk of identity theft. Even in the absence of such catastrophic failure, laptop data is often not adequately backed up, and e-mails--particularly those sent over wireless networks--are vulnerable to interception. With an extranet, authorized users can access the most recent version of a document from a common repository and safely communicate with other parties in the case.

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