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Most law firms nationwide, regardless of their practice areas, have similar technology requirements and goals. While attorneys and law firms in the past have traditionally been slow adopters of new technologies, ongoing industry consolidation and increased competition for top clients have helped drive law firms to become more technologically progressive in order to stay ahead of the competition. As in other industries, technological prowess has come to play a greater role in the way law firms are perceived by clients and prospects. In addition, firms must also keep up with technically savvy clients to remain competitive. Falling behind the curve can mean missed opportunities or a drop in client billings. Law firms today are adopting a number of technologies that a few years ago may never have been considered, let alone implemented. Firms are providing their attorneys with applications that include videoconferencing, wireless networking, IP telephony, and unified messaging. This trend in the legal community to expand deployment of these and other technologies is helping firms increase attorney productivity and collaboration, lower operational expenses, expand client service and responsiveness, improve security, and establish new practice areas. Here’s a look at some of the key areas law firms are exploring today: COLLABORATION Today, clients and attorneys require ever greater levels of collaboration capability. Consequently, they are demanding technologies that provide them with the means to not only more quickly and easily share and review documents, but also to more effectively interact with law firm personnel and third parties. To facilitate collaboration, many firms have turned to Internet Protocol (IP) communications, which allows them to unify messaging and multimedia (voice, video, and data) conferencing over a single network. Unified messaging, in other words, enables firms to carry e-mail, voice mail, and faxes on the same network so attorneys can retrieve messages from a single source. Multimedia conferencing technology can be used to: • Increase attorney productivity among internal staff members, satellite offices, external colleagues, and clients

• Save money in travel expenses and time away from the office • Enable firms to conduct remote depositions, weekly partner meetings, team case collaboration and reviews, contract negotiations, and client updates. IP TELEPHONY Firms have also discovered that IP telephony (IPT) — telephone services provided over Internet Protocol — can help them manage their mobile work force and conduct business from multiple locations more cost-effectively. IPT implementations can incorporate call authorization and tracking tools to help firms meet requirements like call tracking, billing, expense control, and cost allocation. With integrated software applications, a firm can tag client codes to all phone calls in order to track billable calls and accurately capture revenue. With IPT, law firms can also provide clients a single number they can call to reach their attorneys at home, in the office, or via cell phone. IPT also allows attorneys who travel from office to office to log into a system with the same features they would have in their regular office. The same holds true if an attorney permanently relocates from one office to another; IPT reduces the cost and resources needed to make changes to the system infrastructure. If a firm adds a partner or acquires another firm, IPT helps it quickly and easily add new offices. IPT can also reduce costs by eliminating long-distance toll phone charges between offices. The flexibility of IPT allows firms to do gradual office migrations when working conditions or locations change, helping attorneys preserve precious billable hours. Remote and branch offices can migrate to a new phone system according to the time dictates of each office — and as attorneys are ready. IPT also saves time and money when firms branch to new locations or extend services globally. The solution makes it possible for one office to roll over its phones to another office during an outage or other emergency. IP telephony can also allow employees to work from home during incidents and have access to their company directory, call accounting system, and other features. WIRELESS NETWORKING Due in part to the multiple communications channels available today, clients expect immediate access to their attorneys. And, for that matter, legal personnel also need expanded access to their firm’s resources. That’s why wireless communications have become an integral part of many of the solutions that help firms meet this increased demand for both attorney productivity and client satisfaction. The size of a firm’s client base — as well as events such as vacations, blackouts, and weather emergencies — all affect a firm’s need for mobility. Catastrophic events like the September 11 terrorist attacks highlight the need for attorneys to have dependable off-premise access to their systems. And, even in ordinary times, attorneys who are away from the office must use constantly available wireless technology to stay on top of cases, conduct research, respond to e-mail, and access calendars to track and update appointments. In addition to the widespread use of BlackBerries, SmartPhones, and wireless laptops, many firms today are deploying advanced wireless networking technology, such as WiFi and wireless local area networks (WLAN), to further increase attorney mobility and the ability to travel seamlessly from conference room to conference room and office to office. Secure, wireless extensions to a law firm’s local area network allow staff and authorized visitors to do everything they do online in their offices from anywhere within the law firm’s facility. Wireless virtualization capabilities can enable visiting counsel, experts, and clients to access the firm’s secure network during depositions, presentations, and settlement meetings. A number of city and county courthouses across the country have also turned to wireless networking to increase the ability of attorneys to serve their clients while away from the office and return lost productivity to prospective jurors. While most federal courts do not allow laptops in the courtroom without a judge’s order, hundreds of state and municipal courts in North Carolina, New York, and New Mexico have already deployed wireless systems throughout their facilities. STORAGE Law firms pride themselves on their heritage, but the truth is, the longer the typical firm has been in business, the more space and manpower it usually requires to satisfy its data storage needs. Consequently, some in the legal community are beginning to tap into storage ideas that reduce storage-related expenses and increase the availability of critical information. A significant portion of the digital assets in most law firms includes scanned documents, faxes, e-mail, and other information that is intended to be preserved in its original state for some period of time, if not forever. This type of information is commonly referred to as “fixed content,” or simply, digital content that will rarely or never be modified. Content Addressable Storage (CAS) allows fixed content to be stored in a cost-effective manner. Content is typically duplicated across several servers, ensuring that an outage will not cause a service interruption. Law firms have also begun to adopt Storage Area Networks (SANs) to consolidate growing volumes of server-based storage. Server-based storage is traditionally more difficult to manage and protect. SANs use centrally located hard disks that are managed by a common set of tools. These hard disks are treated as a massive, multiuse storage resource that is carved into slices for use by servers that connect to the central disks through switching devices. Each server has a portion of the SAN that is allocated to it in a secure fashion. So, instead of managing and protecting critical information stored on 100 different servers, SANs allow a firm to manage all of that information from a single place and with a single set of tools. Storage consolidation with SANs enables new techniques for disaster recovery, backup, and redundancy in order to create an infrastructure that is resistant to site outages and data loss, and provides increased system and data availability. As new corporate data retention policies and stricter audit requirements become a reality in many firms, those who have invested in intelligent storage technologies such as SAN and CAS will find compliance significantly less challenging. SECURITY Traditionally, law firms have acted as custodians of sensitive data for their clients. Depending on a firm’s practice area, regulatory compliance requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the USA Patriot Act, and other regulations have intensified the need to ensure that information is both available and secure. More than ever, firms need to safeguard proprietary information and confidential records. To that end, law firms are deploying technologies like intrusion prevention systems and wireless network virtualization to block worm and virus attacks, keep out hackers, and assign wireless access to specific areas of the network based on predetermined user-group privileges for attorneys and clients. Making sure information is secure and available to clients is vital to maintaining strong relationships. For example, Seyfarth Shaw, a 600-attorney firm with practices in real estate, construction, labor employment, litigation, and government contracts, created a secure intranet database where clients can access case histories and activities in real time — and run reports on cases. While the legal sector traditionally has been a relatively slow adopter of new technologies, attorneys and their clients today are fueling an evolution in which firms are increasingly embracing the benefits of advanced technologies. As law firms begin taking a more strategic approach to technology in 2005 and beyond, and as more customized solutions for the legal sector emerge, IT staffs and law firm personnel will have to evaluate vendor solutions carefully, enter smart partnerships with the right technology solution providers, and establish a solid foundation on which to deploy future technology at a predictable return on investment cost. Caution and careful planning are essential. As firms adopt technology more quickly, they must ensure they do not further complicate already complex IT environments. It is crucial for law firms to make wise decisions today on the technology investments and partnerships that will determine their successes tomorrow.


Wesley Johnston is senior vice president of professional services and solutions at Dimension Data, a global IT services provider.

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