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The folks at Memphis, Tenn.-based Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell aren’t coy about their plans for the firm. “We want to have 400 to 500 lawyers very soon,” says Charles Tuggle, the chief executive officer of the 220-lawyer firm. Firm executives aren’t shy about their offbeat strategy, either. Let’s call it “bigger and better lawyering through technology.” Says Tuggle, “This is largely about technology. We need the best technology in place before we can become a regional firm with a national presence.” Baker Donelson views technology as more than just a tool for convenience and efficiency. The firm is looking to technology to help it grow its existing offices and expand into other cities. The thinking is that a bevy of new hardware, software and applications will help keep Baker’s lawyers at the firm and entice outside lawyers, either directly from law school or from other firms, to join. Technology may even help Baker swallow another firm. “A firm looking to merge with us wouldn’t have to invest much in technology,” explains Tuggle. To set the plan in motion, the firm recently plunked down $4 million to equip its eight offices with new technology. That sum is enough to “make a fairly loud statement,” says Jo Haraf, the technology director at San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster. The firm’s approach hinges on a knowledge management initiative put together by systems integrator SV Technology, a San Francisco-based company founded by Marty Metz, the former MIS director at that city’s Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. The system gives all Baker attorneys access to documents, calendars, e-mail, research materials and invoicing information from a secure, Web-based location. The firm also hired Niku Corp. to create an extranet platform, which creates secure links from the Web site to clients. Microsoft’s Digital Dashboard organizes the various pages on the site and uploads it all to the attorneys’ computer desktops in a clean, Windows-like interface. So with the click of an icon, a Nashville, Tenn.-based client and a Knoxville, Tenn.-based attorney can simultaneously read about a lobbying effort in the Washington, D.C., office. But that’s not all. The firm is giving its attorneys new laptop or desktop computers, both of which attach to standard-issue 19-inch monitors. It’s also arming lawyers with RIM BlackBerrys, the latest Palm Pilots and cell phones. Tuggle boasts that the system “allows everyone easy access to the work product of the firm’s most talented and knowledgeable lawyers.” According to the plan, the technology will improve efficiency by keeping the firm’s own lawyers connected to one another. “Implementing a knowledge management system is a good strategy for a medium-sized firm looking to run with bigger firms,” says John Hokkanen, the former chief knowledge counsel at Atlanta’s Alston & Bird. According to Hokkanen, any firm that has a half-dozen offices and a fair amount of lawyer turnover will benefit from a well-oiled Web site that features, say, examples of airtight nondisclosure agreements or brief-writing tips from the firm’s most experienced litigators. Tuggle gets high marks for jump-starting the firm’s technology. “Charlie did a great job convincing the management that we needed to grow to stay competitive,” says Randal Mashburn, the Nashville-based head of the firm’s technology steering committee. In Mashburn’s opinion, the firm had better-than-average technology in place already, “but we figured out that even better technology would simultaneously help us grow and make that growth easier.” Partners expect that the investment in technology may cut into their take-home pay during the next couple of years, admits Tuggle. But the hope is that the changes will bring higher revenues down the road. The biggest risk may be that lawyers won’t use the technology in which they have just invested so heavily. “You’re not just going to write a check and have this thing run itself,” says the chief information officer of a large Southeastern law firm. Baker Donelson is trying to avoid this all-too-common pitfall. Each practice group has a lawyer who is responsible for putting together that group’s Web page. The firm will compensate these lawyers for their Web tasks based roughly on the number of hours they work on their pages, so that any drop-off in their billable hours won’t hurt them financially. But there will still be a certain amount of unpaid legwork. “Everyone’s going to have to make a commitment,” says Mashburn. For more about Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell, go to www.bdbc.com. Its extranet vendor is Niku Corp., whose Web site is at www.niku.com.

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