KM for legal apps: Time is money
Posted Feb 5, 2008

Law offices handle most of their documents electronically, but a substantial minority of their work arrives in paper form, and getting it to the intended recipient can create a bottleneck in the workflow. Bromberg and Sunstein, a law firm specializing in intellectual property, has been using WorkSite from Interwoven for electronic document management for seven years, and wanted to integrate its paper management processes into that system.

Bromberg and Sunstein had received very positive responses from users during several pilot projects in which their multifunction devices (MFDs) were used to scan documents into the document management system, and made plans to standardize on a firmwide system. The firm selected AccuRoute from Omtool after looking into several options.

"We liked the fact that it lets users input the routing information from their desktops," says Monroe Horn, CTO of Bromberg and Sunstein. "That lets users minimize the time they spend at the scanning device."

A routing sheet placed on top of the paper document to be scanned directs it to the document management system, the inbox of the recipient or other destination. "We now scan every piece of client-related paper that enters or leaves our office," Horn explains. "Our attorneys can access everything, whether they are in the office, at home or on the road." Inbound faxes are also digitized and routed electronically.

The technical side of the deployment was smooth, according to Horn. "The biggest issue was sitting down with people and defining how they wanted to use the system," he says. "Then we tailored our procedures and AccuRoute to make that happen." Scanned documents are converted to searchable PDF files and then saved into the Interwoven document management system. PDF has become the standard for e-filing and other legal applications, so ease of use relating to that format is very important.

AccuRoute was well received by users, who had seen the benefits of having a document management system and were receptive to other technology-based innovations. "The benefits of the system were so clear that we did not feel the need to quantify the change that resulted," says Horn. "We knew we were saving time, improving productivity and meeting the needs of employees and clients alike."

AccuRoute can be used in any business, but Omtool focused first on the legal industry because it is very paper-intensive. "Law firms were spending so much money just finding paper documents they needed," says Karen Cummings, executive VP of sales and marketing at Omtool. "With AccuRoute, they eliminate that time because any document they need can be found quickly.

In addition, the software can perform multiple conversions in one step. "The paper copy can be converted to a TIFF file for faxing, and at the same time, to a PDF for storing in the document management system," she says.

Enhancing search

In a knowledge-intensive business such as the legal profession, a great deal of information is captured and stored, but finding information when it’s needed is often difficult. A prominent merger and acquisition firm has been testing the newly launched Interwoven Universal Search solution to see if it matches the firm’s requirements for a rapid and robust search solution. Attorneys had been dissatisfied with the previous search engine because it was slow, did not locate the relevant information effectively and did not search beyond the centralized document repository.

The ability to search across all the enterprise data—every repository including documents, e-mails, and the firm’s contact management and records management systems—is a primary concern, according to the firm’s KM architect. Another concern is to maintain security so that users do not access unauthorized content. Universal Search incorporates controls so that users cannot access information through searching unless they can also access it directly through the application.

Usually the attorneys are not searching for a particular document, but for information on a specific topic. They might find a phrase in a part of the tax code, and then want to search the system for documents that contain that clause. According to the KM architect, flexibility in how the results are presented helps the attorneys zero in on their topic. The results can be sorted by date, keyword or how many times the clause appears. Users can search their e-mails for conversations on the topic or use legal Web sites. All the searches are conducted within one interface. Interwoven Universal Search also can generate a taxonomy on the fly to aid in browsing the hits.

Better search capability remains a top priority for knowledge-based organizations, despite the many solutions available. "Last year we brought together 50 CIOs from top law firms," says Dave Packer, director of professional services industry solutions marketing at Interwoven, "and this was what they wanted." It’s one thing to fail to locate a document on the Internet using Google, but when in-house resources cannot be accessed effectively, time is wasted and complaints are loud.

The Interwoven Universal Search solution is built on Velocity 5.0 from Vivisimo. "When we were looking into different search engines, we liked the fact that Velocity’s index size is small, and its indexing process is rapid compared to other solutions we tested," Packer says. "We wanted our engine to be able to search across very large volumes of information so that users could find relevant information in the document management system, CRM, ERP or other location."

Avoiding conflicts

One of the most critical steps in processing a new case is checking for conflicts, such as whether the firm or one of its subsidiaries recently supported a company on the opposing side of a case. Failure to monitor cases for conflicts puts clients in an untenable situation and can make law firms vulnerable to malpractice suits or higher rates for malpractice insurance.

Several years ago, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal was using a manual system to check for conflicts. The firm, founded in 1906, has a staff of about 700 lawyers and other professionals. "In order to check for conflicts, our attorneys had to fill out a 14-page form," says Andy Jurczyk, CIO of Sonnenschein, "which would set off a series of e-mails and phone calls to follow up on potential conflicts." Opening a matter would take up to two weeks. "We were desperately in need of automation," he adds.

Already a user of the eDOCS document management system from Hummingbird, which is now owned by Open Text, Sonnenschein purchased the LegalKEY Suite. LegalKEY includes Conflicts Management and New Business Intake components.

"Now our attorneys fill in an online intelligent form that is much faster to complete, because it eliminates questions that do not apply based on their answers to initial questions," Jurczyk says. The time to determine whether a conflict exists has been cut to a day or two.

To set up the conflicts management system, a team of business analysts identified the workflow for the review process, recommended changes that would streamline the process, and then handed the project off to LegalKEY developers, who customized the LegalKEY Conflicts Management software accordingly. Once the system was deployed, two further modifications were made to streamline the workflow.

"Making the transition from paper to electronic mode is not completely straightforward," Jurczyk says. "Using an automated workflow gives you a new perspective, and then you see more that could be changed."

The new system does not provide an answer about whether a conflict exists; rather, it flags potential conflicts. "These red flags are worked by the attorneys as part of their business analysis workflow for new matters," Jurczyk explains. "We are now much more confident that we are identifying any potential conflicts and addressing them appropriately."

Automating conflict management along with other components of new business intake helps clients gain services more quickly and accelerates the firm toward billable time.

"LegalKEY helps firms collect all the information they need about a client upfront," says Mohit Thawani, business development manager at Open Text. "When a new matter is approved, the conflict information is sent to LegalKEY, billing information is sent to accounting and marketing information goes into the CRM system."

With attorneys’ hourly rates rising and corporate clients pushing for cost containment, law firms will be under increasing pressure to work efficiently.

"Adoption of technology by law firms is still slower than many expected," says Dennis Kennedy, a technology lawyer with a popular blog on legal technology topics. "However, the current generation of lawyers was raised with computers and the Internet, so the level of acceptance should increase steadily in coming years."

Kennedy also expects the various products used in law firms to work better together, more as an integrated whole than a series of functionally unrelated products. In particular, he notes significant interest in using Microsoft’s SharePoint with other programs.

SharePoint helps too

In addition to adding Open Text’s LegalKEY Conflict Management to its technology arsenal, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal has been doing a significant amount of work with Microsoft’s SharePoint07.

"We have over 6 million documents full-text indexed within the SharePoint system," says Andy Jurczyk, CIO of Sonnenschein, "and we will be porting all new business intake conflicts and records into it as well."

The firm wrote code to enhance the SharePoint search tool, which crawls Sonnenschein’s CRM, financial and document management systems to index information from that repository. "What we like is the consistent user interface," says Jurczyk, "which provides an access point into many systems, and aggregating the data is easy. It’s beginning to achieve what we hoped to do when we first started talking about KM years ago."

On the back end, Open Text enforces document and records management rules, security and stores profile information. "Virtually all my peers are thinking about using SharePoint in a similar fashion," Jurczyk says, "and the strong partnership between Microsoft and Open Text will help support this type of integration."