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E-MAIL in law firms: a case in point

Law firms face all the same problems with e-mail that other industries do, only more so. A large percent of their business is carried out via e-mail, generating huge volumes of messages that need to be managed. In addition, law firms are responsible for managing e-mail messages as records, not only for their own activities but also on behalf of their clients. Finally, because e-mails are a mission-critical component in law firms’ business activities, integrating them with other aspects of the workflow of attorneys has become essential.

McGuire, Wood & Bissette is a small, general practice law firm that was finding it increasingly difficult to manage the volume of e-mail that had accumulated over the years.

“When the number of files reached a level that temporarily shut down our Microsoft Exchange server,” says George Leloudis, firm administrator, “we were forced to confront the need for a better solution relatively quickly.”

Document management had been in the budget as a pending item for several years, and the firm hoped to find a single solution to both issues. In addition to instituting better e-mail and document management methods for its daily activities, McGuire, Wood & Bissette also wanted to ensure that a disaster recovery system would be in place.

After one of its IT staff members heard about a hosted solution from LexisNexis and NetDocuments at a professional meeting, the firm investigated further and decided the solution was a good match. Several other products were considered. “We also devoted considerable thought to whether a hosted solution was the best alternative,” says Leloudis.

After evaluating the options, though, the combination of capabilities offered by LexisNexis through its partnership with NetDocuments in the legal market was found to be the best match for the firm’s needs. The new system was up and running within just a few weeks.

When a new matter is established during the client intake process, the IT department at the firm creates a folder in NetDocuments and pushes the folder into the workspace for that matter. A corresponding folder is also pushed to Outlook for each individual who is involved in that case. When an attorney receives an e-mail related to the matter and drags the message to its folder, the e-mail is automatically entered into the NetDocuments application. Similarly, related documents are stored in Microsoft Word folders that become part of the NetDocuments application.

“Now, our attorneys can see all their documents from the workspace,” says Leloudis, “whether it’s e-mail, word processing, image or other format.” McGuire, Woods & Bissette is in the process of establishing and automating best-practice retention policies for all of its documents.

The performance of the firm’s Internet connections has allayed initial concerns about whether having the information outside the office walls would provide the reliability that McGuire, Woods & Bissette needed.

“We have a lot of redundancy in our system,” Leloudis says. “In addition to having each worker’s files available on a local drive, we have an in-house server that echoes the NetDocuments server.”

The firm has both a T-1 line and a wireless server that is even faster. Last year, the firm was without Internet service for only four minutes, an enviable record. The hosted service offered by LexisNexis typically attains an uptime exceeding 99.99%.

LexisNexis provides solutions for law firms, including practice management, research and litigation services. The company also offers a variety of products and services to the academic and corporate communities.

“We think that NetDocuments provides an elegant solution for treating e-mails as documents,” says Tim Titus, director of managed network services at LexisNexis. “In addition, because the NetDocuments agent monitors Outlook folders and moves the e-mails into the system automatically, it does not require that lawyers step out of their customary workflow.”

In January, enterprise content management company Open Text expanded the features of its LegalKEY Practice Support Suite to include an e-mail management solution. E-mail is handled through LegalKEY Records Management, one of the components of the suite. The suite also includes software for new business intake, conflicts management, critical dates management, document management and other functions.

LegalKEY Records Management is accessed through Outlook in order to move e-mails into the system.

“E-mail is one of the biggest issues in any industry, but especially in the legal profession,” says Mohit Thawani, business development manager with Open Text Legal Solutions Group. “Lawyers live in Outlook, and being able to stay in their application and save e-mails that need to be retained as records increases both productivity and compliance.” A button in Outlook brings up a form in which the lawyer specifies the matter to which the e-mail is related, and the message is then stored as a record.

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