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Law firm enriches its IT infrastructure, KMWorld Best Practice Award 2001

This article appears in the issue Nov/Dec 2001 [Volume 10, Issue 10]

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Strengthens CM & self-publishing capabilities

By Judith Lamont

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher wanted a top-notch knowledge management solution. An international law firm with 700 attorneys in 40 different practice areas and a dozen offices worldwide, GD&C faced a constant challenge in managing its extensive information resources and workflow. It was also seeking effective ways to use the Internet to build client relationships.

GD&C had made a significant commitment to information technology, including the creation of a variety of computerized information systems, an intranet, a Web site, and several extranets that connected a number of its clients. However, the different information components were not coordinated or connected. Third parties were providing some of the services such as extranets on a case-by-case basis, as well as hosting the Web site. GD&C wished to bring those activities in house and integrate key functions such as document management and finance. The firm also sought efficiencies that would control costs and at the same time, help employees do their jobs with a minimum of stress.

One of the important motivators for implementing the new system was so that GD&C could respond to a broader range of clients who wanted to connect to the firm. Such clients might want access to critical documents, case status or even news feeds that GD&C was obtaining that related to the case. In order to provide such access, the publishing process would have to be automated.

“A key criterion for the system was that it have strong content management and self-publishing capabilities,” says Eric Hamburg, CIO of GD&C. “Rather than coding pages manually, we needed to have them become data-driven.”

A few other things were clear from the outset. The new system would have to be easy to use—no one in the busy law firm had time for extended IT training. Since it would serve a wide range of staff, from secretaries to paralegals and attorneys, it would also need to present information in a way that accommodated a variety of working styles.A team that included the director of Practice Systems, IT staff and the director of Library Information and Knowledge Services evaluated requirements and product options. The team concluded that LawPort, a product developed by SV Technology, was the most promising solution. The system was implemented in stages over the past year, and continues to be enhanced with additional capabilities.

LawPort provides a knowledge management infrastructure for law firms. In addition to allowing easy publishing, it also has built-in business logic and a robust database architecture that was another requirement for Hamburg. LawPort serves as a portal to other applications, but it does more than provide an attractive interface. It integrates data sources behind the scenes from sources throughout the company. For example, the information for a staff directory accessible through LawPort comes from GD&C’s PeopleSoft database. Updated automatically every night with any new information from the HR department, the directory always provides current and consistent information.

It’s all in the taxonomyThe development of a well thought out taxonomy was critical to the success of GD&C’s implementation of LawPort. “Having a good taxonomy was one of our biggest concerns,” says Pam Soreide, director of Library Information and Knowledge Services (LINKS) at GD&C. “We needed to reflect the way our attorneys really use documents, rather than have a generic taxonomy.” With the help of SV Technology, GD&C developed a taxonomy that handles thousands of categories.

Using the taxonomy, employees have a streamlined process for publishing new content. Previously, each practice had its own page within the intranet, and routed new material to the Webmaster after creating HTML pages. Now, a designated content publisher in each practice can deploy new content directly. The employee works from a checklist to link the document to a variety of topics defined by the taxonomy. For example, a given document might relate to the state of California, environmental issues and labor.

Because multiple views are possible with the new knowledge management system, users can access the same document from any of those topical categories. Each attorney can select a search strategy that best matches his or her working style and case requirements. Moreover, documents are refreshed in real time on the intranet as they are updated in the document management system.

Clients access information relevant to their cases through a secure site that is set up for each client. As with information on the intranet, documents and other information to which they have access are updated automatically to provide a consistent view. Some information, such as press releases and partner biographies, are tagged for inclusion on the public Web site. Each element is included only once in the database, and used in the appropriate location.

The familiarity that SV Technology has with the culture of law firms was a significant contributor to the system’s success.

“The company includes many people who have worked for many years in the legal industry and have moved to the technical side,” says Daryl Teshima, VP of Knowledge Management at SV Technology. Founder Marty Metz was CTO at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, and left to establish LawPort in 1999.

Another big change that was enabled by LawPort is electronic delivery of financial information to GD&C attorneys. Previously, such financial reports were provided in hard-copy form. Now they are delivered electronically, and updates are available at any time. Financial data can be accessed through LawPort because the knowledge management system integrates data from its financial management software using a suite of products from Whitehill Technologies

Similarly, InterAction, a relationship management product from Interface Software, has been integrated into LawPort. The integration allows GD&C employees to access information about clients, contacts and working relationships in order to develop new business and enhance customer service. Enabling that integration is the InterAction Relationship Intelligence Server (IRIS), an XML-based solution for delivering the centralized relationship content.

Integration is accomplished both through SV Technology and through use of in-house staff. When LawPort has already developed a partnership with a software company, SV Technology usually implements the integration. For example, SV Technology has incorporated the West Group’s Westlaw product into LawPort, and did the integration work into GD&C’s portal. However, GD&C also wanted to add Lexis/Nexis, so staff from the IT department wrote code that brought in that data.

Soreide advises developers of legal information systems to make a concerted effort to keep staff aware of system updates. “Attorneys do not have time to check the system for updates,” she points out. “You really have to help them integrate these new capabilities into their workflow.”

GD&C is pleased with the advances that LawPort has enabled for its intranet and extranets. Still in the pipeline is a plan to deliver all external information from the Web site, with one view for the public and another view for clients accessing an extranet.

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintm

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