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As general counsel for the U.S. division of France’s Danone Groupe S.A., Michael Harrison had a plum job, dividing his time among an intriguing range of responsibilities in managing litigation and legal strategies for such famous products as Evian Waters, Dannon Yogurt and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. Harrison, 45, planned to stay with the Stamford, Conn.-based Dannon division indefinitely, he said. But as he put it, his eye for excellence and opportunity changed his course. It started when Dannon bid out a substantial document management project. The winner was Cunningham Group Inc., a 37-year-old Hartford, Conn., company best known for its court reporting services. “Their bid was below everyone else’s and the service was just tremendous,” Harrison recalled of his first encounter with the company he would later buy. “In the course of two-and-a-half months, they did what I thought would take a year.” Cunningham took records, documents and contract files that had been accumulating for years and assembled them on a password-protected Web site repository. “It’s perfect,” Harrison said. “Instead of thumbing through old files, the people at Dannon can just go to a Web site and get the data, searching by keyword or specific document.” HUGE POTENTIAL MARKET Harrison, a Harvard Law School graduate, learned from company founder Marge Cunningham that she was planning to retire. “We got to talking,” he said. The conversation led to him buying the company. The deal transpired Sept. 27, with Harrison suddenly becoming an entrepreneur in the digital revolution. “This was as much a surprise to me as to my peers at the bar,” he maintained. For many lawyers, the notion of placing confidential client documents on a remote computer’s storage drive is disturbing. But Harrison noted that with encryption-protected systems and rigid internal controls, the security of the data is at a state-of-the-art level. Cunningham clients have up to four backup copies of key data at secret locations, as insurance against natural or unnatural disasters. “One of the things that impressed me early on is that Cunningham has its own in-house, full-time IT department, and their chief information officer [Jonathan Steele] … has 20 years experience and is very sensitive to the issues around legal confidentiality,” Harrison said. Although the largest law firms in the state have been storing important legal documents on networked computer servers for years, most do so on a client-by-client basis. Harrison sees a huge potential market in organizing law firm and corporate legal department files on an organization-wide basis. As Steele explained, clients have more protection of electronic data than they would for paper documents. The clients have passwords known only to them. They must dial in through a firewall, with 128-bit secure socket layer protection. Once they reach their server, they have additional levels of protection. In fact, the most secure data isn’t even kept on the initial server, which contains a secure method for retrieving key files from an entirely separate source, Steele said. The expense of document management for a legal enterprise can be overwhelming, he noted, and not knowing when to upgrade hardware and software systems can lead to serious logistical and economic costs. HOLDING ON TO ITS ROOTS Not all customers are ready to “go digital,” or need instant access to their files via laptop on a 24-hour basis. Hence Cunningham Group’s traditional role of providing court-reporting service will remain its core business, Harrison said. Still he’s interested in expanding to serve banks, insurance companies and other paper-intensive outfits. At Dannon, he said, “We actually stopped using our real estate contracts and various [other] commercial contracts altogether. We don’t even have them on the premises. I didn’t want people to have access to them,” he said. Last month, Harrison was exploring business alliances in Chicago, Nevada and California, where clients have asked Cunningham to consider opening offices. He said he’s interested in handling complex claims and settlement projects, and could take on securities and class action administration. He, however, noted that expansion doesn’t imply a move from the Hartford area. “I like the idea of … growing our business base in Connecticut. Handling those kinds of claims, we could end up having to hire dozens of people. That’s exciting to me,” Harrison said.

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