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Albert Sokol still remembers the frustration he felt one Friday night back in 1984. Sokol had written some documents in longhand and given them to support staff to type up. Not knowing how to use a PC, he couldn’t call up and mail the documents, which a client in Australia needed right away for a deal. “I never wanted to be in that position again,” says Sokol, now 53 and a Boston-based partner in the venture capital practice at Providence, R.I.’s Edwards & Angell. These days, a tech-savvy Sokol is leading his firm and its clients toward new heights of electronic lawyering. Since January 2000, he has put together eight acquisitions for IT FACTORY Inc., relying heavily — in some cases, entirely — on digital means. The software company was buying companies with an eye to becoming a bigger IT presence. Those deals involved target companies in locations ranging from Ohio to the Netherlands and the U.K. “If you have participants all over the world, there is only one way to do this: turn everything electronic,” says Lars Johansen, CEO of the now-Boston-based IT FACTORY. Just think of the savings in airfare. Sokol used Lotus Notes and Microsoft Word’s revision feature, entering changes as they were negotiated over conference calls, and then shooting the new versions around via e-mail. The lawyers closed the deal by faxing signature pages and later conforming them with the originals. Many companies and law firms prepare documents online. But Sokol completed some of the deals with no face-to-face interaction. And going paperless “meant that another 24 hours was not lost in trying to finalize the documents,” says Scott Murray, a partner at Sydney, Australia’s Henry Davis York. He represents Credenza Pty., Ltd., a Sydney-based IT services company acquired by IT FACTORY in March. Still, Murray concedes, big changes may necessitate face-to-face meetings. He’s not the only one with qualms about going completely digital. Blake Bell, senior knowledge management counsel at New York-based Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, says that while many firms employ some high-tech means to complete deals, these tools can’t substitute for the in-person meetings that most clients still demand. Technology companies seem the most willing to give e-dealing a try. This spring, Sokol helped VIGILANTe.com Inc., a Melville, N.Y.-based network security firm, defend its merger proposal for Parisian target Networks Vigilance S.A. against a competing bid. Eric Fullerton, president and CEO of VIGILANTe.com, says that the electronic shuttling of merger documents “enabled us to do what would normally take a few weeks in three days.” That testament should soothe the scars left by Sokol’s long-ago Luddite fumblings.

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