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There’s nothing like a hard winter to turn a company’s head to spring-cleaning. Early in 1999, Houston’s Compaq Computer Corporation had bleak news: Profits were slipping, and the company was in disarray. By April, chief executive officer Eckhard Pfeiffer was out the door. So Compaq decided to get its house in order. Michael Capellas, the eager new CEO, demanded the company’s reorganization. He decreed that Compaq get more technologically sophisticated, and launched an “everything to the Internet” strategy. He decreed that outside firms that get with the program would get more work, too. E-Compaq, in real time. Hence, general counsel Thomas Siekman’s e-law strategy. Siekman, who had become senior vice president and GC in April 1998, had to align his department with the cutting-edge technology of the computer world. He also was looking for internal efficiencies and better ways to share knowledge with his corporate clients. And he needed to smooth over wrinkles in his department — a merger and divestitures had hit the department hard. There were 80 in-house attorneys, down from 120 a few years back. Siekman called a companywide lawyer conference and instituted e-agenda, an eight-pronged effort to consolidate the department’s far-flung knowledge into more centralized spots, including a Web portal. As a tickler, the company gave attorneys wireless e-mail units and handheld computers so they could access their knowledge, and each other, on the road. The law department also hired four full-time IT staffers to develop their technology. One of Siekman’s main goals was to improve communication with his internal clients. He knew he wanted to share knowledge with them; the question was, how much? He faced those perennial security and confidentiality issues that keep lawyers up at night. “We had a debate as to how much content is for lawyers and how much is for clients,” Siekman said at a presentation at Legal Tech in New York in January (a technology show owned by American Lawyer Media, Corporate Counsel‘s parent company). “We were biased toward putting up more content rather than less, because there is a significant risk if you don’t educate your clients.” So last November, as part of the launch of the department’s intranet, Compaq put online routine nondisclosure agreements, standard customer agreements, and standard patent forms. They’re up for grabs by designated nonlegal employees. All told, there are 300 documents on the site. Most of the information is arranged along practice areas. The site also has a lawyers-only section — a place that not only houses sensitive information, but also has a message board for legal gab. Declining to say how much the site cost to set up, Siekman does say that it frees time and energy so his lawyers can tend to more important and sophisticated issues. “They can’t do a lot of counseling if they’re going to fill time doing routine matters,” he says. Siekman, who has added 10 lawyers to his department in the last year, also wants technology to be a recruiting tool. He hopes to persuade potential employees that Compaq’s technology will let them do less grunt and more high-end work. He says he doesn’t have hard numbers on who is using what, and how often. He plans to track “hits” on a monthly basis, starting soon. As for upkeep, an internal review board, comprised of four lawyers, will monitor the site, make changes, and take suggestions. They also are charged with marketing the site to their peers, so the thing actually gets used. “We’re trying to help encourage people to use it in the normal fabric of their work,” says Paul Henrion, an associate general counsel on the board. Compaq employees aren’t the only ones sharing knowledge. Compaq counsel also are beginning to link with outside lawyers and trade documents, such as standard agreements. Not all outside firms participate in all of the sharing techniques, Siekman says, but many of his firms do. Some firms have even won work by playing along. Stephen Fink of Dallas-based Thompson & Knight says Compaq approached his firm about more legal work and that “the tech connect was a very important component.” Siekman says other firms are warming to the idea of sharing — especially if it generates more work. Back to “The Power of Knowledge Management.”

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