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Early in February 2002, four other lawyers and I, along with a paralegal and two secretaries, made the decision to split off from a large international law firm and form our own firm, specializing in real estate, tax, and corporate law. By Monday, March 4, 2002, clients would be on the phone, and we had to be ready to serve them. We had just 30 days to get our new law office up and running. It was not a goal, it was a necessity. We were leaving our old firm, Pillsbury Winthrop, on a cordial basis and taking our clients and client records with us, moving from its 20-lawyer outpost in Orange County, Calif., and setting up our new offices nearby. Aside from our name — Garrett DeFrenza Stiepel — we had practically nothing, just some office furniture. At Pillsbury Winthrop, we had been part of an international law firm of some 850 lawyers that used iManage document management software and other leading-edge technology. We did not have to worry about how bills were prepared and sent out. Our secretaries would enter our time and get printouts of the bills. The rest was handled by IT teams in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Suddenly, all the things we did not know about computer hardware and software loomed large, and opportunities to cram in all the knowledge we lacked about setting up a new law firm were constrained by the fact that, until the end of February, we would continue working full time at Pillsbury Winthrop. Luckily, because we worked at a large law firm, we knew what capabilities were available and what could be done. We needed someone to lead the effort. Because I had served on Pillsbury Winthrop’s technology committee and had a clearer sense than my partners of what had to be done, I got the job. For document management, I looked into sticking with iManage, but quickly discovered that it was complex and required expensive SQL server hardware we could not afford. Yet we were determined to duplicate its advantages as best we could. I checked out a number of software Web sites, tried a few demos from those sites, and eventually settled on Worldox, from the World Software Corp. in Ridgewood, N.J. It was simpler and considerably less expensive than iManage, yet it provided all the features a small firm needed. It did not require a SQL server to run, which solidified my decision. By this point, I realized that we did not have enough time to keep trying out software and pondering our decisions. We had to select the rest of our software ASAP and hope that we had made the right choice. It was a huge risk, but we had no choice. I knew that we needed professional guidance. The people at World Software recommended Baker+Cadence Solutions, a Pacific Grove, Calif., consulting firm that specializes in providing technology-related services to law firms and corporate legal departments. We handed them the challenge of helping us get up and running on time. By now, our 30-day deadline had shrunk to two weeks. Baker+Cadence agreed with our choice of Worldox, pointing out that it integrated with the practice management system PracticeMaster, from Software Technology Inc. in Lincoln, Neb., which, in turn, integrated fully with STI’s TABS III time-and-billing software and DeltaView document comparison software from Workshare in San Francisco. We used DeltaView at Pillsbury Winthrop, and TABS III was on my short list of billing systems to check out. With no time to try all the software programs, we called other small firms we knew, some of which used Worldox and TABS III. The technology worked well for them, they said, so we promptly ordered our hardware and software and crossed our fingers. The first weekend in March was chaotic. On Saturday, we struggled to get furniture in place, hardware hooked up, and files moved in. At the same time, Bill Baker and Mike Crouch of Baker+Cadence were installing the software. Despite missing a few pieces of hardware, we got the system up and running. We worked late into that night and returned early Sunday to start our training and to ready the office for its Monday opening. On Sunday, Baker+Cadence focused primarily on giving our five attorneys enough understanding of the new software that they could use the key features and a few “bells and whistles.” Worldox had different screens than iManage and presented information in a somewhat different way; but overall it was quite similar to what we were used to. On Monday, Baker and Crouch were back, this time to work with our paralegal and two secretaries. Our five lawyers were already on the phone with real estate developers, property managers, and other clients, and they could not break free for additional training. Even for the staff, training had to be squeezed in between regular work and ringing telephones. Cooperation from Pillsbury Winthrop made the job a lot easier. With the firm’s help, Baker+Cadence was able to move our documents electronically from Pillsbury Winthrop’s mainframe to one of our desktop computers before the move. Then Baker+Cadence uploaded the documents into our new server and entered our new client and matter numbers into Worldox and PracticeMaster. When our doors opened on Monday, we had some 200 client/matter numbers in the system. We also had all our Outlook files loaded onto CD-ROMs and imported to our new computers. That meant all of us, including secretaries, had our contact lists, calendars, and e-mail. Without Pillsbury Winthrop’s cooperation, we would’ve had to scan hundreds of documents, and each of us would’ve had to enter 1,000 or more contacts. Despite the frantic weekend, by Monday we had a curious sense of déjà vu. From a computer standpoint, everything was much the way it had been just a few days before in our old offices. One key lesson from those initial days was that you can absorb only so much training at one time. During the next month, we were on the phone with Baker+ Cadence with questions about this or that process. At the start of April, Bill Baker returned to spend two more days training our secretaries on TABS III and helping them through our first billing period. He also gave our lawyers more training on Worldox, PracticeMaster, and DeltaView. Our first month’s bills were completed and mailed by the fourth of April. They included all the detail our clients were used to. GROWING PAINS We did not fully realize how smoothly our transition had gone until almost a year later when we added five attorneys and three staff from another small firm. This transition proved more difficult. We had purchased new computer hardware and were using Windows 2000, but the new team brought their old computers using Windows 98. Also, they had never worked with a document management system such as Worldox, though they were using TABS III and DeltaView. The merger became final in January 2003. Over the weekend of Jan. 11 and 12, we moved in and installed their computers, furniture and files, and Baker+Cadence trained the new members on Worldox and PracticeMaster. That hectic weekend made our original transition a year earlier look smooth. Why had it gone so well in March of 2002? There were a number of reasons. First, we received good advice and assistance from Baker+Cadence. Then, instead of simply accepting what the consultants said, we talked with a number of small firms using similar systems. As a result, we knew at the outset that the systems we planned to install and integrate would work together the way we wanted them to. Cooperation from our former firm in transferring documents electronically helped immensely, and our staff worked very hard and put in lots of hours. Don Hickman is a partner at Costa Mesa, Calif.’s Garrett DeFrenza Stiepel. His e-mail address is [email protected]. This article first appeared in Law Technology News, an American Lawyer Media publication.

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