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Use Case

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 5 months ago

 Use Case - Scenario

 

 

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Evaluation Criteria

 

GroupWare Typology

 

Collaboration Tools for Lawyers: Scenarios

 

“Collaborate” originates from Latin “collaborare” which means “to work together.” 

 

Background

 

Collaboration has never been optional for lawyers.  The practice of law is, has been, and will always be a collaborative process.  Lawyers collaborate with clients, colleagues, and others every day and in many ways.  Lawyers have been collaborating ever since the practice of law began, and the methods of collaboration have continuously evolved over time.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the evolution of the modern law office.

 

 

Not that long ago, the classic lawyer’s office had a large wooden desk and a leather chair.  The bookshelves were filled with voluminous legal books.  The desk weighted down with piles of paperwork and file folders.  There were file cabinets brimming with yet more paperwork, and in front of the desk were two chairs completing the most common layout.

 

 

We can tell that times have changed because the focal point is no longer the lawyer’s desktop but rather the computer.  The Computer-based Technology Revolution of the last twenty-plus years has gradually changed the way we live and work, and the law profession is no exception.  Consider the fact that the practice of law has become more electronic, digital, and reliant on technology than ever before.  Technology has changed the way lawyers provide legal services and the documents that are its primary deliverables, the greatest change brought about by technology is the way lawyers use it to collaborate with others in their practice.

 

 

Within the legal profession collaboration can take many forms.  Collaboration takes place when everyone is on the same side and working at the same purpose.  It can also occur when opposing sides are forced to work together to accomplish a goal or project.

 

 

Consider who the average lawyer might work with during an average day in an average practice:

 

• Attorneys and paralegals with the firm – Partners (equity and non-equity), senior counsel, associates (partner track and non-partner track), part-time lawyers, contract lawyers, law clerks, and paralegals (generalists and specialists) 

• Staff – Secretaries, administrative assistants, office managers, bookkeepers and accountants, receptionists, messengers, mail and copy room workers, IT directors, IT staff, librarians, litigation and practice support personnel, and a growing variety of personnel that depends upon the size and practice areas of the firm or organization

• In-house counsel, “C-level” executives and their respective staffs, including the chief executive officer, chief financial officer,  human resources director, and others

• Opposing counsel and their staffs

• Court personnel, judges, and professionals in regulatory agencies

• Experts and specialists (medical, accounting, forensics, et al.)

• Vendors – providers of various products and services

• Other lawyers – through member associations, networks, or mailing lists

• Clients – the most important collaborators of all, often with several points of contact

 

The fundamental legal processes, tasks, and activities have not, and likely will not, change dramatically.  Legal services are based on a traditional core or set of time-honored practices.  At the same time, the tools that lawyers use to provide those services are changing rapidly.  It is the increased pace of that change, more than the actual changes, that will put the greatest pressure on lawyers.

 

Collaboration tools enable and shape what lawyers do; at the same time, lawyers define, shape, and change the tools at their disposal.   The choice of collaboration tools does not occur in a vacuum.  You may be forced to use some collaboration tools by the requirements and mandates of others.  Consider how fax machines, email, conference calls, FedEx, or any number of collaborative technologies became ubiquitous to the point that we now take all of it for granted.  The next evolutionary wave of collaborative tools is instant messaging, videoconferencing, extranets, deal rooms, and wikis. 

 

The Solo Lawyer Practice

 

Solos who routinely share documents should consider an online office suite like Google Docs.  Solos can also use Basecamp to create simple extranets that provide basic information, calendars, task lists, and documents to their clients.  If the solo is geographically located in a rural setting they should investigate online meeting tools to cut down on travel time.

 

Solo trial lawyers would do well to invest in CaseMap online electronic discovery review tools, online document storage and sharing services for large documents, and online meeting tools.  Solos with transactional practices should consider redlining and metadata removal tools; case project management applications; and, depending on their clients, instant messaging programs.  It goes without saying that all solos should learn more about the advance features of their email systems.

 

Small Firm

 

Small Firms should look at the tools recommended for solos, and then specifically consider tools that will enhance and improve internal collaboration.  Case management and project management tools often make sense for small firms where several people are working on the same projects.  A collaboration platform like SharePoint might make sense, especially where a Windows Server Infrastructure is already in place.  Alternatively, small firms could use a hosted SharePoint portal.  Exploring the collaboration features of Microsoft Office, including OneNote, is another good approach. Online meeting tools also should get more emphasis as firms increase in size and have more than one office. 

 

Mid-sized Firm

 

As a firm size reaches 15 or more lawyers, there is a change in how collaboration is handled.  The focus on tools for individual lawyers continues, but firm-wide collaboration tools are implemented.

 

The trend indicates that individual lawyers and staff are best served using the same collaboration tools used by individual lawyers and small firms.  There is a need to realize the unused existing potential built into the software that is already owned by the firm.  In mid-sized firms, the expected use of collaboration tools in the Microsoft Office suite (including shared calendars) and in email programs are on the rise.  What drives the use of one collaboration tool over another in mid-sized firms is the practice of law focused on.  Practice areas and client needs will also drive the choice of tools used in this area.

 

At the firm level, it makes sense to consider a few platforms and standardize on tools.  Using SharePoint as a collaboration platform (intranet, project management, document management, and communications) definitely comes into play.  Google Apps could be a way to save money on software for staff and provide document-sharing capabilities.  Online meeting tools and conference-calling services are all but essential.  Mid-sized litigation firms will also need to move into using electronic discovery tools, and extranets begin to make sense at the mid-sized firm level.  Firms with several offices must focus on tools that will connect them, including meeting tools, extranets, and others.

 

Mid-sized firms are in an exciting place for implementing collaboration tools.  Trying to choose the right tools is a difficult task but, the potential benefits of small investments can become practice transforming events in a competitive environment.

 

Large Firm

 

Firms at or near the AmLaw 200 level will consider many different collaboration platforms rather than individual tools.  The choices of individual lawyers will be driven almost completely by what the firm already owns or has installed.  It is not common to discover that large firms often own software and other tools that never get installed or are not used.  Conducting a thorough inventory of the collaboration capabilities of software they already have, with an eye toward making better use of existing products and services rather than starting fresh with new tools.

 

 By definition, large firms have multiple offices in several locations.  Even in the same office, a big firm will stretch over several floors.  Information sharing is one of the biggest collaboration concerns in firms of this size.  SharePoint is the hottest topic in legal technology for large firms, but intranets and knowledge management projects are all part of the emphasis on information sharing.  Large firms will take bigger steps (or more likely will be pushed by clients) into the area of electronic discovery, where document review, document repositories, and project management take on greater importance.  On the transactional side, document markup (redlining and metadata) removal), document sharing, online meetings, and advanced videoconferencing (often across many time zones and borders) will be a priority.  Alert and notification tools like RSSalso make good sense at the large firm level.

 

More so than solo and small firms, large firm choices are driven by client needs and constrained by existing technology infrastructure.  Being fast and nimble will become important for large firms can and will use inexpensive tools to create a level of presence and services that rivals or equals what large firms are doing now. 

 

Corporate Legal Departments

 

The unique constraint for corporate legal departments is that often their choices are driven by country-wide technology policies made without the legal department specifically in mind.  A legal department might be required to use a project management that is part of the company’s high-end enterprise software system.  It would probably not be the lawyer’s first choice for a project management tool, but it’s the only available option.  Other policies might also restrict collaboration.  For example, external instant messaging with others outside might not be permitted.  After considering their specific needs, corporate legal departments should focus on a few key areas of collaboration:

 Management of and communication with outside counsel-communication tools, online meeting tools, project management, extranets

• Contract management (preparation, negotiation, records) document collaboration tools (relining, metadata removal, Adobe Acrobat, advanced review and markup tools), online meeting tools, calendaring, project management and workflow tools

• Electronic discovery – CaseMap, electronic discovery and document review tools, document repositories, project management tools

• Information sharing-intranets and extranets, SharePoint, case management programs, knowledge management programs

The size of departments, areas of practice, existing infrastructure, and budgetary issues all will play key roles in the corporate setting. Like mid-sized firms, corporate legal departments will want to focus on a few areas and do them well, rather than trying to cover all possible areas of collaboration.

 

Government Law Department

 

As a general rule, government law departments will have tight restrictions – budget, policy, and infrastructure – that will make significant collaboration technology initiatives difficult at best and impossible at worst.  Some of the collaboration options simply will not be in play.  In the government setting, trying to get a good understanding of all the tools that are available to you and then focusing on a small number that are workable and provide the biggest bang for the buck. Document collaboration tools-especially metadata removal tools (because of past metadata issues in government documents), redlining, and Adobe Acrobat-might be one area to target. Inexpensive litigation collaboration tools like CaseMap might be another; the litigation divisions of many governmental agencies currently use CaseMap.  We also suspect that because they are available at no cost, Open Source collaboration tools might make inroads in government legal departments over the next few years.

 

Legal Services Organizations

 

Legal services organizations (and we include public defender offices and similar groups of lawyers in this category), like government legal departments, often operate under tremendous budgetary limitations. Our recommendations are similar to those just discussed for government law departments.  You must be creative and focus on determining which tools will provide the most help to you and your clients, at the same time identifying the tools that are actually possible to implement. Open Source tools and online or Web 2.0 services might become very interesting in this context.

 

Recommendations Based on Budget Considerations

 

Budget is always an issue with technology. Here are a few tips on what to consider according to the budget you have.

No or Little Money Available

• Use collaboration features of software and services you already own

• Consider Open Source or Web 2.0 tools

• Focus on simple improvements that address major pains or provide significant benefit

• Learn better ways to use what you have

Modest Budget Available

• Focus on just one or two areas, such as electronic discovery, SharePoint, or Adobe Acrobat

• Consider hosted applications and services

• Upgrade current software to "professional" or "enterprise" versions, or move to the most current version of the software

• Seek the recommendations of clients

Significant Budget Available

• Consider collaboration in terms of building platforms

• Standardize tools with a focus on integration

• Invest in both client-facing (extranet) and information-sharing (intranet) efforts

• Make it easy to communicate with you and hear from you (online meetings, alerts and notices, extranets)

• Seek the recommendations of clients

 

Consider these recommendations as starting points for your discussions or as a checklist of tools you should consider. Before making your final decision, however, be sure to take into account the most important factor of all in collaboration technology efforts-creating a culture of collaboration.

 

 

 

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