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A few years ago, the one-stop shopping craze exploded. Almost overnight, you could get your vacation pictures developed, open a checking account and test out new Barcaloungers, all while your car got its oil changed. Now the concept is moving into the legal technology world. Two fledgling companies, Aspire.net Managed Systems Inc. and mindSHIFT Technologies Inc., have begun offering soup-to-nuts technology packages to small and midsize law firms. For a monthly fee, these companies will come to your law firm and install software, set up new networks or reconfigure your servers. And both provide “24/7″ technical support, much like the in-house IT departments at the nation’s biggest firms. The services are best suited for law firms that don’t want to pay a huge IT staff or simply overhaul their technology on their own. “It makes a lot of sense for small- to medium-sized law firms,” says Mike Lauricella, an analyst at the Boston-based Yankee Group, a technology consulting firm. “Outsourcing gives their firms a chance to upgrade fast and without a lot of effort.” Earlier this year, New York-based Aspire.net was spun off Union Square Technology Group, a systems integrator that caters to large law firms. So, naturally, Aspire.net targets the legal industry and has expertise in software used primarily at law firms, such as document- and case-management applications. “We’re vertically focused, so we feel like we really understand the demands of legal practitioners,” says Aspire.net co-founder Sam Collier. Reston, Va.-based mindSHIFT, on the other hand, goes after small businesses from all industries, not just law firms. And its offerings are slightly more comprehensive than that of Aspire.net, which doesn’t traffic in hardware. mindSHIFT leases desktops, laptops, docking stations and printers. “We’re able to say to a law firm, ‘Take all your IT worries and place them on us,’ ” says mindSHIFT Chief Executive Officer Mike Wheeler. “ After all, they’re lawyers — they should be able to focus on practicing law.” Charapp, Deese & Weiss, a 10-lawyer firm based in Washington, D.C., recently hired mindSHIFT to overhaul its technology. According to managing partner Michael Deese, the firm’s computers had become outdated and unwieldy. “Our software applications were literally bumping into each other on our server,” he says. Rather than fashion a piecemeal solution, Deese got in touch with mindSHIFT. They discussed how best to set up the network and which software to run (both mindSHIFT and Aspire.net support the off-the-shelf software packages most commonly used at law firms). And one Saturday last October, the mindSHIFT team ripped out the old and plunked in the new. “My partners and I were scared to death,” confides Deese. “But Monday morning, I walked in on a brand-new laptop and docking station, and everything worked. It was wonderful.” In addition to the hardware, the firm was outfitted with Microsoft’s Office 2000, the latest version of time-and-billing platform TimeSlips, DSL lines and wireless servers. Deese says that the arrangement makes financial sense. He won’t divulge what he’s paying for the service (mindSHIFT and Aspire.net charge on a per seat/per month basis), but he swears it’s far less than the cost of doing it yourself. “We’re way ahead of the game,” he says. Right now, Charapp Deese is mindSHIFT’s only law firm client. But the company hopes to have 300-400 total clients by this time next year. Aspire.net is winning fans, too. One of them is Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Whenever the firm handles a deal large enough to require an on-line “deal room,” the firm turns to Aspire.net. Aspire.net, in turn, uses eRoom Technology Inc., to provide the service. Akin Gump is one of the country’s biggest firms. And its executive director, Jim Leary, admits that his firm probably isn’t within Aspire.net’s target market. But he says that the outsourcing trend will “be hard for big firms to ignore.” Says Leary, “We all have the problem of keeping good IT staff around, and we all struggle with figuring out the best ways to communicate with clients.” Still, outsourcing mania is probably not going to sweep the country right away. For one thing, a lot of lawyers would probably wince at the thought of placing tech support responsibility in someone else’s hands. “There’s a difference between calling someone who only reports to you and calling someone else who might report to a half-dozen clients,” says Bob Dolinsky, the vice president of the Potomac Consulting Group, a Washington, D.C.-based technology consultant. “Outsourcing is an option, but I’m not sure it’s an option for every firm.” Adds the Yankee Group’s Lauricella, “Law firms have to grow comfortable with this. That’s not likely to happen overnight.” Please e-mail comments and suggested topics for the “Lawyers and Technology” column to [email protected].

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