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Technology

Technology matters: no really, it does

Charles Christian, editor of the Legal Technology Insider newsletter begins a regular Managing Partner technology column. In this month’s introduction, he explains why technology is so essential in the modern law firm.

Making the intranet the “place to be”

What do you do when your intranet is out-of-date, under-utilised and doesn’t meet the needs of your organisation? You redesign it, says the Law Society’s head of knowledge management Fiona Parkinson, and knowledge architect Sarah Benfield. They explain how the introduction of a common information system and a crystal-clear taxonomy is finally making the Society’s intranet a crucial resource.

Technology Q&A: Portal power

Many firms are now looking at the business benefits of developing a portal. Effective implementation, however, requires a clear strategy, a balance of internal with external needs and a commitment to the content-migration process. Caroline Poynton talks to IT directors Janet Day, of Berwin Leighton Paisner, and Ian McFiggans, of Lovells, about their experiences.

Technology Q&A: Derek Southall, head of strategic development, Wragge & Co

Technology Q&A: Derek Southall, head of strategic development, Wragge & Co How has the legal technology market changed in recent years and how well are law firms responding to that change? Eight years ago, legal software suppliers were very small –effectively three men and their dogs. Firms were forced to develop their own software in areas like document management. Since then, we have seen an invasion of very good, cutting-edge software from the US in key areas such as document-management, finance and CRM systems. Also other very capable systems such as Solicitec have really developed. This has created a shift in emphasis with more firms seeing themselves as system integrators rather than developers –making the making the third party software work together and using it well. Firms were previously using large development teams to create their own systems, which incurred problems and cost disadvantages. Can you tell me about your role and the development of the IT team? I head up the strategic development team, and our focus is the best use of IT internally and externally and the services that we are providing to clients. I am also technically responsible for our IT as a whole but this is not too onerous as we have a great team headed by Nigel Blackwood. In days gone by, legal IT equated to an IT director flying a biplane at about 80 mph. That director is now flying a 747, with 360 clients in the back; you’ve got to have someone looking at the clients, someone looking at where you’re going and the whole process needs to have a ground crew supporting it. It’s a much more involved job where performance, cost and client care are key. There are four of us in the team that we call central IT and we each have functions for which we are primarily responsible. They are: Nigel Blackwood, head of IT, who performs a great role in buying and technology trends; Andy Ruddall, IT services manager, focuses on the infrastructure and makes sure everything is up and running all the time with excellent service levels; Mat Cleverdon, systems development manager, is responsible for everything software related in the firm; Matt also does some key work in relation to listening to and delivering client requirements. I look after the client side, how we’re deploying and using IT internally. I try to turn a blind eye to the technical side of the software as we already have people with huge amounts of expertise in the area. Can you give me an overview of your technology portfolio? We’re principally a Hummingbird house; we use their DMS, their deal-room and their portal product. Via that, we can give clients pretty much anything on our systems, for example, financial information, documents, dedicated news feeds and access to different contract databases. We use CMS as a finance system and Interaction for CRM. We also use Hotdocs for intelligent document production and CaseFlex for matter management. What does your intelligent document service provide? If you imagine you’re producing a shared purchase agreement, you have information that you put into that document and you have certain clauses that you use depending on the nature of the deal. You would normally do the whole process manually, which could take six to eight hours to produce a decent first draft by the time it’s been processed and checked. What you can do using this system is programme your precedent in such a way that it asks you all the key questions, inserts the data, and builds the document for you in a fraction of the time. In a recent client trial, we got to a very good first draft on a purchase agreement in just 18 minutes. It’s a matter of time before clients demand their firms use this technology. We take the view that complicated documents, however difficult they are to code up, must be automated in this way. We also automate the really straightforward documents, as they are easy to do. It’s the documents in the middle that are the real challenge, i.e., we don’t do enough of them to justify the effort needed to build a “machine” to generate the documents. What has been your most successful experience in IT? We have achieved a cultural shift where our people and partners walk and talk IT and really use it to impove client’s lives – I think that is our biggest achievement. The trick has been implementing it by making everything accessible. We have four or five methods of training, including our “advanced driver training” programme. We also held a conference for partners and senior people on the use of technology in business. I believe we’ve experienced more of a cultural shift than any other law firm, with the partners and fee earners thinking IT more than anywhere else. There was an independent survey of partnership attitudes to IT last year. One of the things it picked up on was return on investment (ROI). We came out as one of the top firms in the UK where the partners felt we had a real ROI in IT. This came completely out of the blue and it was really satisfying for the team. The fact that people are motivated and educated to enable them to use IT is phenomenally valuable to us. 2002 was a particularly successful year for your team (best use of IT, Legal IT awards, and IT team of the year, LOTIES). What do you think gave you the edge over the other firms shortlisted for those awards? There’s a leading firm that’s quoted saying that they’re not convinced that deal rooms are that successful as they barely have anyone using them. We’ve got over 400-500 users at any one time. I think we’ve achieved our success by spending a lot of time talking to clients to identify the best uses of all our products. We find out what they need rather than force things on people. I think this has been a key difference in our approach. Also our offerings are not just technological. They are a thought through balance of the right mix of law and IT. In term of our strategy, six years ago we were sitting in a room and we asked where things were going and what’s going to happen in terms of legal IT. On that basis, we formed a development plan – we wanted a plan but we also expected it to change. Call it judgement or good fortune, but the plan hasn’t really changed. What we haven’t done is go off on frolics on bizarre e-business projects that cost a fortune with no benefits for clients or meaningful returns. We’ve concentrated on the basics, as in our internal infrastructure and the basic services that a client needs from a major law firm. Some firms have leapt onto the e-business bandwagon without getting their core systems and basic services sorted. We’ve gained enormous ground from that. Bizarrely, we’ve done things that are uninteresting but we’ve done well because we’ve focused on the service delivery. We had some feedback from a client who said that he was staggered at how professional the delivery of one product was. For us, we were just trying to apply the same Wragge & Co standard to our technology services but it is proof that basic things do matter. One interesting thing is that we use a project co-ordination process where everything we do is logged onto a central matter management system where our deadlines are driven using quality processes as though they were legal work. As a lawyer managing various cases, you have certain deadlines and documents being produced with reminders, time costs, etc. We do the same with our IT projects, so that people can check the status of their project – what it’s cost so far, where it’s at, what milestones have been hit and where it’s going. We’ve tried to apply to ourselves the same working methodologies that fee earners are doing on the floor. This has proved to be incredibly helpful – we’ve been able to drive up quality and avoid becoming over-bureaucratic while appreciating other people’s problems. Users also have the ability to order services on the intranet. For example, if you want to get a client deal room, you can go onto the intranet and it will ask you the kind of questions we need to know: name of client, what documents you want in there, etc. It’s very focused on exactly the information we need to establish the system in the best possible time. We’re trying to make everything as user friendly and unbureacratic as possible while making sure we maintain quality. What are your plans for the future? We’re working hard on expanding our e-billing capability. We’re also looking a lot at third-party client systems. There’s an emergence in the popularity of client systems where law firms insert data into a client’s central system over a web interface. British American Tobacco and Ford have launched such a system (anaqua.com) to manage their firms worldwide. The system is used by all law firms to enter their data so that the client has a single interface to refer to. We’re seeing a lot more of these emerging as well as management systems (for clients) such as Serengeti Law, which manage all of an in-house lawyer’s matters. This is where we see the market going for some clients although we see clients requesting a whole range of systems from us in the future. Some clients will require nothing while others will need specific services and others will be using systems such as this. We will have to interface, manually update or provide data to a range of systems and so we need to be extremely slick in our delivery. This is something we’re looking at very carefully to stay ahead of the curve. Most of all, we’ll retain our enthusiasm without going out on frolics of our own. We’ll continue to balance IT and law, integrating the two with a lot of input from clients. That’s what makes the difference. Derek Southall is head of strategic development at Wragge & Co. He can be contacted at: derek_southall@wragge.com.

End of the line for DJ Freeman

Following a strategic review, D J Freeman is to split in two with its technology and media practices joining Olswang. The remaining practices, which will focus on insurance, corporate and litigation will re-brand as Kendall Freeman.

You have the technology, but what next?

CRM systems have proved hugely popular with law firms looking for ways to differentiate their client service. The success rate, however, is varied as firms implement those systems with differing results. Michael Warren, client services director at Shamrock Marketing, looks at CRM projects and the role of high-quality data in ensuring the expected return on the initial investment.

Law firm profile: Pannone & Partners. Making the most of technology?

Many law firms have invested considerable sums in their IT systems, but how many are truely satisfied with the results? Caroline Poynton talks to Joy Kingsley, managing partner, and David Griffiths, IT director at Pannone & Partners, about their technology and how it has supported the ongoing strategy of the firm.

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