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For most big-firm lawyers, the antidote to a messy desk is an assistant who knows where to file the week-old timesheets and deposition transcripts. But what’s a lawyer to do with a messy computer desktop, one cluttered with icons for documents, folders and applications? San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe hopes its portal will provide the solution. The term “portal” isn’t new to the new economy dictionary. The term most commonly refers to Web sites that collect and organize links to other sites. Yahoo is a portal. So is Findlaw. But at law firms and big companies, the word “portal” increasingly refers to something slightly different — a template that sits on top of the desktop and links to any application a lawyer or employee might use during the day. In the last two years, portals have taken off. Plumtree Software Inc. and Sequoia Software Corp. (which was recently bought by Citrix Systems Inc.) make popular portals. And SV Technology Inc. makes portals exclusively for the legal market. But Orrick’s portal is one of the more ambitious big firm models to come along. It doesn’t follow the busy and more common Yahoo design, but basically consists of three clean, customized Web pages that sit on top of Microsoft’s icon-filled Windows desktop. The portal doesn’t eliminate Windows, just clears it from view. “We deliberately made it clean,” says Patrick Tisdale, Orrick’s chief information officer. “We didn’t want the lawyers to have to think about what all those links and buttons are for.” Here’s how it works: When a computer is turned on, a customized “user page” greets each lawyer. Like other portals, the user page offers links to just about everything lawyers use during the day — e-mail, Microsoft Word documents, calendars, internal news about the firm, Lexis and Westlaw. But Orrick’s user page is all about cutting the clutter and making shortcuts. For instance, lawyers create a new Word document not by clicking on a Word icon, but by clicking on “create document” from the pull-down menu in the portal itself, much the way documents are created within Word. Lawyers can also enter billing information directly through the portal. And lawyers don’t need to open Westlaw or Lexis to run searches; they simply type search terms directly into a query box in the portal. So there’s not a lot of clicking and waiting on the page. And, of course, there’s no more need to use the Windows desktop. From the user page, lawyers can click directly to client pages and matter pages. Client pages are Web pages dedicated to specific clients. They list the client contacts, other Orrick attorneys who work for the client and the names of experts, consultants, and accountants whom the client prefers to use. But matter pages form the heart of the Orrick portal. They list information about the lawyers and client contacts for each case or deal. And because they’re tightly integrated with the firm’s PC DOCS document management system, they link to all the documents in a case or transaction, which are arranged and categorized within the portal. As a result, depositions, interrogatories and all dispositive motions, for example, can be grouped chronologically and opened with the click of a mouse. “Lawyers think about their work in terms of matters,” says Josh Rosenfeld, Orrick’s corporate practices manager, “so we think the matter page feature is really going to take off with the attorneys.” The system doesn’t have the capability to “upload” documents made outside the firm. But Rosenfeld suspects that one day e-mails and “every piece of paper” concerning a matter will tie into the Orrick portal. “Then we might be able to clear out some of those binders,” Rosenfeld says, not entirely in jest. The idea for the portal didn’t come from the IT staff, but from Ralph Baxter Jr., the firm’s chairman. “Ralph wants any lawyer in any office to be able to work on any matter at any time of the day,” says Tisdale. “The portal is definitely a huge step toward that vision.” The firm won’t say how much it spent on the project. But word is that the initiative sailed through the firm’s executive committee. “I never heard an inkling of complaint about the project,” Rosenfeld says. “Ralph did a nice job of getting everyone on the same page.” In designing the portal, the firm worked closely with Houston-based legal technology consultant Baker Robbins & Co. And the firm is currently building the portal on top of an infrastructure provided by Sequoia. The firm has almost finished its work on the portal, and hopes to have it up and running on every lawyer’s computer in all its offices by the end of the year. By that time, “windows” at Orrick might once again refer only to those things that assistants refuse to clean.

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