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From almost any point in downtown Boston, you can see the Big Dig. The $12.2 billion highway and tunnel project is the most costly public works projects in U.S. history. It has turned the city into a jumble of cranes and huge ditches. Hale and Dorr’s offices, located in the heart of Boston’s financial district, offer views of the chaos. Meanwhile, the 400 Hale and Dorr lawyers have been coping with their own chaos within the firm. Hale and Dorr experienced the technological equivalent of the Big Dig last year. It switched operating systems — the backbone of an enterprise’s computer system — from Unix to Microsoft Corporation’s Windows NT and gave all its lawyers and staff new personal computers. “It [was] like performing open heart surgery on a man who insists on being able to play tennis the next day,” says Robert Mack, the firm’s codirector of information technology. The firm called the transition Project Genesis. The change was not just a beginning but also a break from the past. Under the old regime, lawyers and staff sat in front of so-called terminals with keyboards. All the firm’s applications and data were stored on central servers and accessible through the terminals. Now, each lawyer has his or her own computer outfitted with a suite of applications. But the application that lawyers care about most is Word, the word processor that has slowly taken over the legal world from WordPerfect. In the most recent AmLaw Tech survey [June], Word grabbed a 77 percent market share. Word, however, doesn’t work under Unix. (The firm had been using the Unix version of WordPerfect.) For Hale and Dorr to satisfy its lawyers, it needed to dismantle a system that was stable and steady. And there were other reasons to switch to Windows. Most legal applications are not made for the Unix platform. Which ones are absent? “Where should I start?” laughs Mack. “The ones we wanted to use.” The list is certainly long: document management, records management, litigation support, and docketing software, to name a few. Hale and Dorr is the last Am Law 100 firm to make the switch from a server-and-terminal setup to individual personal computers. It’s not a decision a firm makes overnight. Washington, D.C.’s Arnold & Porter made a similar conversion in 1998. Says Anna McManamon, Arnold & Porter’s IT director: “When changing from Unix to PCs, on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most difficult, it’s definitely a ten.” (The irony, of course, is that Linux, a variant of Unix, is starting to make inroads in the rest of the world as an alternative to Windows and as an Internet-friendly platform. Late adopters by inclination, law firms aren’t likely to embrace Linux anytime soon.) Life under Unix may have been reliable, but it wasn’t rosy, especially as clients started to want to exchange documents with their lawyers via e-mail. When documents are exchanged via fax and courier, the word processor at either end is irrelevant. Not so with e-mail. Converting documents created in WordPerfect under Unix for use in Word under Windows, and vice versa, is a pain. This was not a good work environment for an old-line firm that was winning New Economy clients even before there was a New Economy. “The corporate department was dealing with a lot of complex documents, dense documents with graphics and tables and all sorts of things embedded in there. You’d spend more time than you’d like converting things instead of doing legal work,” says a corporate associate. Another lawyer says that he would never admit that he couldn’t open the documents his clients sent them. He would simply call the help desk. Or go home, where he had a personal computer. For Susan Wood, Hale and Dorr’s director of training, the timing of the transition was perfect. “There’d been a lot of vibes for quite a long time about, ‘Why are we in Unix?’” she says. “There was a lot of pressure to change to Word because of corporate clients. That was a big push.” Another goal of Project Genesis was mobility: the ability to practice law and stay in touch anytime, anyplace, anywhere. You can’t exactly pick up your Unix terminal and work at a hotel or a client’s office; it needs to be connected to the mothership server in Boston. All Hale and Dorr lawyers now have laptops and can access the firm’s network from anywhere, especially from home. The firm has given lawyers all the tools to turn their laptops into quasi-desktops: a docking station, keyboard, mouse, and a combination printer/fax/copier/scanner device. “I’m old enough to have started practicing when after you left [for the day] nothing could happen before the next morning, and most people wouldn’t bother you at home,” says managing partner William Lee, a 25-year firm veteran. “Genesis and other changes are efforts to deal with the fact that communications are occurring 24 hours a day.” The decision to go to PCs across the firm was made in early 1998. Most of the work ripping out Unix and handing out the PCs occurred between September and December of last year. But many of the most important decisions were made long before lawyers were tapping away on their laptops. Hale and Dorr went casual full time last November. Robert Mack, who is wearing khakis and a light sweater, never really recovered from the change. A soft-spoken, formal, professorial type, he looks as though he misses his suit and tie. Sitting in his office, Mack sums up the process that took months to fine-tune. Hale and Dorr hired Wang Global, the post-Chapter 11 Wang, to help with the project. (Wang has since been bought by Getronics NV, a Dutch computer company.) Wang and Hale and Dorr began by designing a “standard” build for the PCs. “It was a total cookie-cutter system,” Mack recalls. With the exception of a few departments with special needs, every computer was equipped with 128 megabytes of memory, Microsoft’s Access, Power Point, and Word, Corel WordPerfect as a safety belt, and a custom-built contact manager. This configuration was then “baked” into 1,000 Dell Latitude laptops. The firm’s technology staff envisioned a system in which a lawyer with a broken laptop could be working on a new one within 15 minutes. To ease the staff into the new environment, Sean Roche, the firm’s legal technology analyst, replaced the startup Windows logo with a custom splash screen: a jaunty cartoon of a red lighthouse superimposed on the Earth over the firm’s logo. Says Roche: “We tried to minimize the anxiety about switching from some different system to Windows. It seems like a trivial thing, but it assures the user that they are on a Hale and Dorr computer.” While making the switch from Unix to Windows, Hale and Dorr had to walk a delicate tightrope. One day someone would be working on Unix; the next day, Windows. During this transition users on the old system had to be able to interact with their counterparts on the new one. To support the blend, the firm used a server that could support both Unix and NT. Swapping computers turned out to be easier than modifying users’ habits. Under Unix, it was not possible for a lawyer to accidentally erase software. Even memos, drafts, and other documents were safe so long as they had been saved at least once. Everything was stored on network. The PCs, on the other hand, were chockfull of applications and documents, each of them just an errant keystroke away from deletion. This was not a trivial matter for lawyers unschooled in managing the contents of their hard drives. “The goal in engineering the desktop was basically to make it simple to protect users from themselves because they were now going to have a lot more access and power than they’d had in the Unix environment,” says Connie Zimmerman, the Wang project manager. Hale and Dorr and Wang had to train the staff on the basics that Windows users mastered long ago: how to save to the network; how to dial in from outside; how to use Word. According to Arnold & Porter’s McManamon, this is the hardest part of changing operating systems. “It definitely was the training. … Change is difficult for anybody.” Hale and Dorr decorated the cafeteria with colorful Project Genesis posters. The “Take It With You” poster shows a swivel chair that looks like a laptop computer with arrows pointing to “home,” “beach,” “client,” and “metro.” The ultimate carrot, however, was that lawyers wouldn’t get their new laptops until they finished training — two half-day sessions. According to Donald Steinberg, a computer savvy partner in the intellectual property department, the training wasn’t just a joke. He learned that he didn’t always know the best way to accomplish certain tasks. “I think you start learning with whatever system you have and you learn certain ways. Then new things occur, and you never learn those,” Steinberg says. Despite the inconvenience of having to endure training, the attorneys were grateful to leave Unix behind. During the pilot phase, Steinberg was in trial. He received transcripts, via e-mail, from a court reporter just a few hours after that day’s session. As routine as the e-mailing of court transcripts has become, this was not possible under the old system. “Anyone with a PC could do this. But that was just really great,” Steinberg says. “I could e-mail it to the client, or whoever needed to see it, really easy.” Meanwhile, the technology mavens at the firm aren’t yet done buying their toys. They are especially excited about picking a document management system — an option that was unavailable under Unix. For litigation support, the firm is moving to IntroSpect. And in August, Hale and Dorr installed InterAction, a piece of software meant to take advantage of a firm’s biggest resource — its staff. This relationship management tool combines all the individual contact lists of lawyers and staff into a master database accessible to all the lawyers. (Lawyers can choose to shield certain contacts or certain information from public view.) “We have made very major efforts to not just roll this out as a piece of technology,” says Mack, “but to make sure it is built into firm culture” — in other words, that lawyers stop using their Rolodexes. Like most of the rest of the software on the lawyers’ new laptops, InterAction doesn’t run under Unix. It’s a Windows world, after all.

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