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Last July, Warren Jones, the information technology director at San Francisco-based Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, was vacationing at Disneyworld when he got a page from Michael Sikora, the firm’s executive director. “He told me we were merging with a New York-based firm,” recalls Jones, “and that I had to coordinate a conference call with 70 IT people that day.” Not exactly the first thing you want to hear while traipsing through Snow White’s castle, kids in tow. But it didn’t faze Jones. “I thought it was incredibly exciting, there was so much to talk about,” he says. So he set up the meeting from his hotel room and went to town. “It was a great call. It went incredibly well.” It’s a good thing. The firm had just announced plans to combine its 500 attorneys with 250-lawyer Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts. (The new firm will be called Pillsbury Winthrop.) And, among everything else that accompanies the merger of two large firms (who will run it? what do we call it?), the brass at both firms had to figure out how to meld two separate and often incompatible technological systems. It’s harder than it might sound. For one thing, consider just how many of a big law firm’s operations hinge on technology. In the back office, there are time-and-billing systems, financial systems, case docketing, conflict checking programs and so on. And then there are all the programs that sit on each lawyer’s desktop, like word processing, e-mail, and litigation support tools. There’s usually a firm intranet and comprehensive knowledge management system, which acts as a repository for all of a firm’s work product. Of course, the entire system sits on top of a network, which links desktop to desktop and office to office. “A merger the size of this one requires that we examine everything about the two firms through the lens of technology,” says Marina Park, Pillsbury’s managing partner. “It’s a huge, critical undertaking.” So, not surprisingly, phones at both Pillsbury and Winthrop started ringing immediately on that fateful day in July. “We knew that if we didn’t prioritize on the technology front,” says Park, “we’d be running around like chickens with our heads cut off when the merger date came around.” Park brought together Jones, Sikora, and Mary Cranston, Pillsbury’s chief executive along with John Pritchard, Winthrop’s managing partner, and Anthony DeCerce, Winthrop’s IT director. This group devised an enormous to-do list. The team then broke the list into two groups — items that had to be completed by the proposed January 1, 2001 merger date, and those that could wait until after the merger. Translation: systems affecting clients get fixed now; those affecting only lawyers come later. Topping the list was the time-and-billing systems. For years, Winthrop had used Rippe & Kingston’s Unix-based system, while Pillsbury had used the more popular CMS Open platform. But Pillsbury’s brass insisted that the merged firm wasn’t going to use a Unix-based anything. “It was vitally important to us that we use CMS,” says Park, “so we wrote it into our letter of intent to merge.” The quick decision meant the firms could immediately tackle the avalanche of details that goes along with merging time-and-billing and financial systems. “There was so much to do,” says Winthrop’s DeCerce. Among other things, the firms had to develop new systems for client and matter numbers and reassign every employee ID number. And each of these changes prompted something else, from redrafting the billing memoranda that get sent to clients to reprogramming the tracking devices that monitor the copy machines. The firms have finished much of the financial project. And the preliminary tests have reportedly gone well, although bugs still need to be ironed out. Jones maintains they’re “right on track.” Of course, starting January 1, the attorneys at Pillsbury Winthrop will do more than just send bills to their clients. They’ll actually have to talk to them and write briefs for them. So Jones, DeCerce, and their crew have also red-flagged e-mail and word processing as top priority items. Again, each brings its own set of problems. For instance, Winthrop Stimson runs Lotus Notes as its e-mail platform; Pillsbury runs Microsoft Outlook. Until they decide which platform to go with permanently, they’ll use a stop-gap solution called Notes Connector as a link between Outlook and Notes. “It’s not a perfect solution,” says Jones, “but it’ll work in the interim.” And while both firms use Microsoft Word, a whole set of decisions has to be made before the new firm can churn out official documents. First, the firm letterhead has to be created. Then memoranda, pleading formats, and even standardized margins have to be developed. And there’s more. The two word processing systems need to be linked so that, say, a Winthrop attorney can get access to a Pillsbury document that was made last year. Jones claims it “won’t be that huge of a job.” But until the firms can give it proper attention, they’ll have to use another temporary solution called Citrix MetaFrame. MetaFrame is typically used to allow travelling lawyers remote access to their firm’s network back home. But, for the time being, Winthrop and Pillsbury will use it full-time to access the other firm’s documents. The firms haven’t even begun to address a myriad of additional issues. They’ve got to decide which document managment system to use, PC Docs or iManage (Winthrop uses PC Docs, Pillsbury uses iManage); what software to use to run payroll, and which internal telephone system to use. These issues have been shelved until the firms’ partnerships officially vote on the merger, which happens later this month. After that, a smaller technology committee made up of partners and IT staff will choose a technology consultant to help make tough, long-lasting decisions. Pillsbury hired Jones away from Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe earlier this year. The firm picked him largely because he had big firm merger experience — last year he oversaw the merger between Baltimore’s Piper Marbury and Chicago’s Rudnick & Wolfe. Even so, Jones at times feels overwhelmed by everything going on. “The workload definitely seems to be increasing,” he says. Fortunately, neither Jones nor DeCerce has to worry about job security. After the merger, Jones will become the director of information technology. DeCerce will head knowledge management activities. And they’ll report to different people. “I don’t think there will be any problem with this arrangement,” says Park, “they seem to get along quite well.” Until then, Jones and DeCerce just have one date to worry about, January 1. “It’s Y2K all over again,” DeCerce says, “although this is much more difficult than that was.” At the very least, it means another busy holiday season. “I imagine we’ll all be working incredibly hard right through the holidays,” adds Jones, “there probably won’t be a lot of time off.” Which means you can bet there’s one thing Jones won’t be doing — finishing that family vacation at Disneyworld.

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