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One of the greatest revolutions in law office technology has been the advent of the Internet, enabling all practitioners, regardless of the size of their firms, to access information that previously was unavailable or too time-consuming or expensive to obtain. There are now numerous guides to legal sites on the Internet, and we’ve all collected our own “bookmarks” or “favorites.” It is very inefficient, however, for each lawyer to maintain his or her own list of Internet resources. Wouldn’t it be more efficient, and more effective, to identify the “best of breed” in each category of sites, and share them? At Day, Berry & Howard, our answer was to develop an Electronic Resource Library, which we affectionately call “Ask ERL.” In its simplest terms, Ask ERL is an ever-evolving database of electronic resources that everyone at Day Berry can access through our intranet. (By midyear, anyone visiting our new Web site will be able to take advantage of this resource.) Our first step in creating Ask ERL was to gather various links and resources that our colleagues throughout the firm already had collected and review them for utility, validity and availability. After selecting the best of breed in various categories that we thought would be useful, the database was extensively indexed. The indexing was crucial. Individuals can now Ask ERL in many different ways, depending on how he or she likes to work and how broad or narrow the search needs to be. “Prepackaged” searches are just a click away and can be accessed by topic, firm department, practice area or key word. A full-text search engine allows free-form searches. We’ve also used Ask ERL to leverage the articles, newsletters, manuals and other printed resources that Day Berry has created. We, like most firms, make a substantial investment in authoring these publications for our clients and friends, and we regularly circulate them throughout the firm as a way to share our expertise. It is difficult, however, to gain any continuing benefit from that investment unless there is an easy way to find the information. We’ve all made those calls to the library that begin, “Remember about six to nine months ago somebody wrote something about the new SEC electronic filing provisions? Could you find it for me? Oh, and I need it in the next 10 minutes!” The answer: Ask ERL. Ask ERL’s database infrastructure offers us tremendous flexibility and functionality. It simplifies updating and maintaining the site and allows cross-referencing without duplicating the underlying information. We use a “Web bot” to periodically test the links in Ask ERL to make sure they still work. (Since the Web changes so frequently, we want to avoid frustrating our users by linking to dead sites.) Since Ask ERL also has links to internal resources, such as our document management system, we needed a way to protect confidential information while still making it possible to allow our clients (and friends) to Ask ERL. Once again, the database structure of Ask ERL provided the answer. When a resource is added, we simply code it as to whether it is a confidential or non-confidential source. When Ask ERL receives a query, it determines whether the user can access “confidential” sources or only nonconfidential information, and selects its answers accordingly. Our goal in developing Ask ERL was to increase the value that we are able to provide to our clients by being able to locate the best information as quickly as possible. Our payoff already has far surpassed our expectations. Our users “hit” ERL more than 250 times per day. Assuming it takes someone an average of three minutes longer to go to a search engine and find a useful site than it does to Ask ERL, that savings in time alone adds up to 750 minutes, or 12 1/2 hours per day of additional productivity. In the course of the year, Ask ERL will save our clients 3,000 hours. Here’s an example: Recently, I needed to find the SIC code for an electric generating plant to determine if it would qualify for certain favorable tax treatment. In the “olden” days, I would have called our library, asked someone the question and then waited for the answer. Now, I just asked ERL by typing in “SIC,” and received a link maintained by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration that allows full-text searching of SIC codes (http://www.osha.gov/oshstats/sicser.html). I then typed in “electric generation” and had my answer in less time than it took you to read this paragraph. Yes, I could have gone to a search engine, such as Google (our favorite, by the way), and typed in “SIC,” but then I would have had to have tried various listings until I found one that had what I needed. Ask ERL already knew the “best” site to access. Although Ask ERL is the centerpiece of our knowledge-management strategy, the key to implementing that strategy has been our commitment to training. Our in-house DBH University continually offers courses in technology (complete with diplomas) geared to the legal practice. Offerings range from basic or overview courses, such as PowerPoint for Attorneys, to advanced training in litigation-management systems. We also offer general and specific training in the use of Ask ERL and the Web. Our ability to provide “practice specific” classes in electronic resources to lawyers practicing in a certain area gives the participant an immediate return on the time invested. As a result, our classes have been very well received by both lawyers and staff and are often SRO. (The fact that we usually serve lunch has nothing to do with the popularity of the classes!) We believe that our strategy is working — an innovative use of technology has paid off once again. In fact, we decided that ERL is so useful, it would be very selfish to keep it to ourselves. As a result, we are revising our Web site (targeted to roll out in May of this year), and the centerpiece will be Ask ERL. (Although Ask ERL will be free, we do ask that anyone who finds useful sites that they think should be added to Ask ERL let us know so that we can keep improving Ask ERL’s utility and value.) Yes, we have made a significant investment in building and maintaining Ask ERL. We are very pleased with the results and expect it to keep evolving for many years. Once our new Web site is up in May, please stop by and Ask ERL. Charles Lenore is administrative partner with Hartford, Conn.-based Day, Berry & Howard.

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