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Law firms use technology for one main reason: to help their attorneys work more efficiently. Efficiency means lower bills for clients, which keeps them happy. And an efficient lawyer has more time to devote to other matters, which keeps the firm’s management happy. But Washington, D.C.-based McKenna & Cuneo has discovered that law firm technology isn’t just for lawyers any more. In October, the firm rolled out a new application geared for the more than 50 support personnel who work on the back office assembly line known as “new matter intake.” New matter intake refers to the process of making sure that new clients are on sound financial footing and don’t present any conflict-of-interest problems. The process can be tedious. It typically involves a mountain of forms that have to be shuttled back and forth between originating attorneys, department heads and staff members in the conflicts, and accounting and time-and-billing departments. At a lot of firms, it takes several days to produce a client or matter number, the golden egg that enables the collection of fees. McKenna thought technology could streamline the process. So it teamed up with a Severna Park, Md.-based technology company called Metastorm Inc. Since 1996, Metastorm has put out one product, a software package called e-work. E-work provides a company with the architecture for moving cumbersome and paper-intensive processes to the Web. McKenna licensed the e-work software and spent the better part of a year uploading its new matter intake process to the McKenna & Cuneo intranet. Here’s how it works. All of the new matter intake forms reside on the McKenna server. When an attorney (or, more likely, a secretary) wants to originate a matter or bring a new client on board, he or she simply fills out an online form and clicks an on-screen “submit” button. At that point, an e-mail is automatically sent to the next person on the assembly line, alerting them that the process can continue. (Forms that aren’t filled out correctly bounce back to their originators, much in the same way they do in online purchases. So recipients don’t have to waste time sending incomplete forms back and forth.) The new system isn’t perfect. There are bugs and other issues to iron out. But Bob Lamy, the firm’s intellectual technology director, says that when the process is followed correctly, it now only takes about one day to generate a client or matter number. “We’ve streamlined the most complicated workflow process that confronts a law firm,” he says. “And we’ve started measuring the process in terms of hours, not days.” Kellie Newton, a McKenna partner who helped spearhead the initiative, thinks the savings will add up quickly. “When lawyers get their matter numbers quickly, they capture more time,” she says. She also thinks e-work might cut down on the number of bodies the firm needs to devote to new matter intake. E-work doesn’t come cheap. The e-work server, licenses for 50 seats and various other fees cost the firm upwards of $30,000. “Already it’s helping,” says Newton. She says that one of the biggest beneficiaries is William Sayers, a products liability lawyer who recently jumped to McKenna’s Los Angeles office from the Los Angeles office of Santa Monica, Calif.’s Haight, Brown & Bonesteel. “He’s brought in literally thousands of asbestos matters,” Newton says. “And we’re able to get them up and running almost immediately.” Sayers, who has been with the firm for about seven months, says he doesn’t know about the e-work initiative. But that’s just fine with the firm. Sayers may benefit from the technology, but he doesn’t have to understand it.

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