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No longer confined to paralegal and tech departments, litigation database and extranet technology is increasingly becoming a resource for both law firm administrators and practice group leaders. Law firm administrators and managers in the more tech-savvy firms are using the time-honored tools of litigation-document management to increase firm efficiency, while litigation practice group leaders are finding that some of the tools used to manage document productions in-house can, with some modification, become tools that help further erase the borders that divide law firms from their clients. Collaborative work across departments and disciplines within a firm, and collaborative work between attorneys and clients, is no longer the Holy Grail of the future; it is a reality. It’s time for the next step: sharing litigation support wisdom within law firms. Fifteen years ago, when the concept of litigation support was just beginning, simply typing in a list of trial exhibits once, and then having the ability to print that same list sorted by both number or date, was just short of miraculous. Jump forward to the present day, and times have indeed changed. That list of trial exhibits now sits on an extranet, updated in real time by legal staff, and accessed via secure encrypted Web sites by clients, co-counsel and expert witnesses. Deposition video streams across the Web, enabling the case team to watch a deposition being conducted on the other side of the country. Preprogrammed key words are stored on the attorney’s deposition-capture software, automatically tagging the live feed from the court reporter with key flags for cross-examination and post-deposition research. Back in the office, attorneys are conducting full-text searches on deposition transcripts taken the day before, and displaying their hits with synchronized video and text. Clients are logging on to their national counsel’s litigation management system and checking on the status of motions to be filed in 30 states the next day, reviewing the collection of reports uploaded by local counsel and sending mass e-mails to the preprogrammed distribution groups of products liability subcommittees. Attorneys are reviewing not only defendants’ e-mail, but the metadata-imbedded information that is sometimes obvious (such as author, recipient, etc.) and sometimes not (such as Internet service provider tracking information). Litigation partners are staffing their cases with the best talent for winning, even though the lawyers and paralegals are scattered across the country. In litigation, the borders are disappearing. Lawyers are now reviewing that trial exhibit list on their BlackBerry devices miles away from any computer. So why are paralegals filling out timesheets on triple-carbon paper forms? Why is that expense reimbursement request sent via interoffice mail to four different people to gather signatures for payment? How many people does a partner or manager need to ask in order to find out the utilization and realization rates for his or her billable staff? Where did all those supplies go that were ordered last month? Who didn’t fill out the library card when borrowing the last copy of the Bankruptcy Code? Clearly, in many firms, technology distribution is uneven. The pace and demands of litigation drove firms to create departments that would keep just one step ahead of the competition, devising new ways to use technology to serve their clients better, faster and with greater precision. Yet internally, law firm management has not been offered the fruit of this technology tree. Rarely does a request for proposal come to the firm without questions regarding extranets, technology infrastructure, electronic billing capabilities and trial technology details. Excellent-the more tech-savvy firms have those answers. But how many firms look to their own backyard, and look for similar efficiencies in their administrative groups? The incentive is there, as litigation departments have shown time and time again the savings to be had by automating routine aspects of their cases. Those who have begun this process have seen the rewards: reduced operating expenses, increased staff and attorney productivity, streamlined efficiencies, decreased staff turnover and, ultimately, better-served clients. There is a very good chance that much of what a firm needs to streamline its administrative side is already in place-albeit hidden, in pockets of data and staff throughout the firm. By tapping into the resources of its litigation support, information technology (IT), library and knowledge-management staff, a firm may find a wealth of talent ready to take on this challenge. Firms that have not yet become comfortable with the idea of funding a specialized, stand-alone team of knowledge-management professionals might benefit by looking to their litigation support and library groups as latent knowledge-management talent. Litigation support professionals are experts at finding data, converting it to a format that is supportable by multiple groups and establishing a platform on which this information can be shared. More often than not, this unique breed of talent will take on such a project with pride, as they enjoy a creative challenge. Whether it’s consolidating databases for a client or the firm, they view this challenge with excitement, not simply another task on an already full plate. By turning to in-house staff, and understanding the talent that is already in place, firms can immediately realize savings in what might otherwise be spent on outside consulting firms that, while having the expertise, often fall short of understanding the firms’ culture, challenges and methods of operation. From timekeeping to supplies Some of the areas that lend themselves well to streamlined electronic efficiencies will be obvious-those where lawyers spend an inordinate amount of time on a day-to-day basis in a paper-based or telephone-tag quagmire. The most obvious is timekeeping. If a firm already has some system of database-driven time entry, with just a few simple modifications, its IT department should be able to enable that software to be available to attorneys and staff not only in the office, but also via remote access or a virtual private network while traveling on the road, attending a deposition or camping out at a trial site. This is not just a convenience; it is vital for accurate timekeeping. Even if timekeepers are diligent about keeping paper records of time spent while out of the office, they will still need to rekey that information upon return. By offering remote access, the time, money and aggravation costs are greatly diminished. A firm should consider automating its library’s card catalog. With some creativity, this database can be made available firmwide, enabling a lawyer, with a few quick clicks, to determine whether the book he or she is looking for is available, and, if not, who has it. Library professionals are the boilerplate of today’s knowledge-management initiatives. Organizing, classifying and cross-referencing information is their world, and they should be included in any strategic technology initiatives. Keeping a staff directory up to date, particularly in the larger firms, can incur time and expense far beyond reason. The information is already being typed into some system, which is then often formed into an expensive booklet of some sort, printed and distributed. Even if it is only updated yearly, this process entails surveying all concerned with changes of contact information, deletions of retired staff, suppression of private contact information and the like. From the standpoint of cost efficiency, real-time accuracy, risk management and ease of use, firms should consider going electronic. An online directory where attorneys and staff can update their own contact information saves time and money, and ensures that information is accurate when needed most. Put the tools for updating Web bios into the attorneys’ hands, and the result will be a Web page that shows the face of the firm’s expertise faster and clearer. If a firm isn’t already tracking its supplies in a database, it’s time. Inventory control is vital to expense management, and there is no reason why even the smallest items can’t be included. Again, professionals in the purchasing department are probably already tracking this through their system; a firm might consider working with its IT team to migrate this system to a database that can generate reports for senior management, set alerts when supplies are low, flag items of little or no interest and share expensive items across regional offices when one has a surplus and another a deficit. They might also consider implementing a Web-based supply checkout system. The office supplies department might spend a bit more time delivering the items to attorneys and staff, but it will immediately realize savings by understanding who needs what, and how often they need it. Litigation support professionals routinely create databases of expert witnesses for use in litigation. Firms should consider applying the same logic internally. Instead of the flurry of firmwide e-mails looking for an internal expert on an obscure point of patent law, firms can create a database of firmwide expertise. They can give their attorneys the tools to update this themselves, so that when the attorneys conduct their first Markman hearing, the information is available to partners firmwide. This same database of expertise can also function as an excellent professional development tool. Which associates have not yet had an opportunity to defend a deposition or to take the lead role in an arbitration? Attorneys will appreciate this, and no longer will managing partners hear grumblings about inequitable distribution of assignments. Clearly these are just a few examples, but the concept can be expanded as far as creativity allows. Firms might consider automating the budgeting process; tracking associate project assignments and staffing; enabling video conferencing for firmwide town hall meetings; implementing knowledge-management solutions for cross-referencing of internal work product to online Westlaw or Lexis databases; automating benefits data for staff to see their benefits at a glance and make changes to their address or marriage status or investments; automating auditor response letters; and instituting online training in such a way that it is available to attorneys and staff when they want it, at their own pace. It sounds daunting, but it need not be. In the above examples, the information most likely exists somewhere already. The staff with the talent to put it together are probably already in-house. Firms that think outside the box and ask their litigation support staff to apply their trade to firm administration may be surprised at just how fast they’ll see results. Freeing up time to allow a firm to focus on what it does best�engage in the practice of law�should be the goal. Christopher J. Corey is the manager of practice support for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s national and international offices. He is responsible for managing aspects of computerized and professional support for each of the firm’s practice areas, particularly employment law, litigation, IP and securities litigation.

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