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It all started back in 1998. At that time I was CIO of Holland & Hart, as well as a litigation partner. The general counsel of a large corporate client called my colleague, Tim Rastello, and told him the company had been sued, along with numerous other defendants, in a huge case. “We’ve got to coordinate our defense. What would you charge to dedicate a secretary full time to making 340 copies of every document that comes in and mailing it to all defendants and their counsel?” he asked. Tim said we’d be happy to help and contemplated what to charge. So he sent an e-mail to our managing partner and me. I decided to lob a grenade into the process. “Why don’t we create an extranet? If we set it up right, only the people on the defense team can get in. We can put all documents on the Web site and everyone on the team will have instant access. All they need is a Web browser and a ‘Net connection.” Back in 1998, that was pretty radical thinking. Soon I was filling out an RFP, and we won the bid. Our site was “data-driven” — which means the Web pages were derived from a database rather than static HTML pages. The advantage: We could administer the thing without knowing any code. Anyone with administration rights could add documents and text, and create new pages. We set it up so that a savvy legal assistant from the defense team could handle almost all of the administration. We merely provided the infrastructure and the hosting. As a document center, it was an instant hit. Each day we uploaded more and more documents in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. What I hadn’t expected is that the site became useful for other purposes. The defense team began using the bulletin board section to discuss joint work product and other projects. They set up a private area where they posted Word documents that involved less than the whole team. They used the calendar module to keep track of deadlines and tasks. People found useful the ability to access documents and other case information at any time from anywhere. Five years later, the site is still running (big cases move slowly), and we started putting up sites for other cases as well. Sometimes the concept was hard to explain, but little by little people began to see its utility. We learned quickly that extranets were not a passing phase, and that there was tremendous potential to do something useful for clients and their lawyers. In 1999, we spun off Holland & Hart’s technology efforts in to a separate business, CaseShare Systems Inc. LESSONS LEARNED Here’s what we’ve learned in the last five years about extranets: 1. Extranets are a good thing Once lawyers realize the paper is available with a mouse click, clients, they love extranets. They like being told that they will no longer be charged for fax, courier and photocopy costs for routine documents. 2. In for a penny … You can’t do extranets half way. If you are going to set one up, you might as well set them up for most of your major cases. The cost of organizing for one extranet is almost the same. You have to set up the server, software, security, etc. and you have to staff for 24/7 support. Likewise, you will have to make scanners available to your secretaries and teach them how to use them. 3. Lots of extranets get confusing The only thing worse than having to log into one extranet is having to log into a bunch of them. With our system, users go to a single location to access all of their extranets. We built an integrated home page that pulls data for every matter in which the user is involved. Users are presented with an opening screen that shows all their matters. It lists tasks, upcoming calendar events, and new documents recently added to cases. Users can click on links, or navigate via folders, to cases, calendars, documents or contacts. The single log-in benefits clients as much as the lawyers. 4. Make the interface familiar We figured the best approach is to design around familiar concepts. That’s why our systems look and run like Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook. Our primary navigation uses a folder hierarchy that also evokes both the Explorer view from the Windows operating system and Outlook. As you drill down through matters, you can trace your progress through the folders. We have seen sighs of relief when we tell otherwise tech-unfriendly users that the new system looks and works like Outlook. We also find that training time is greatly reduced. 5. Security Don’t skimp on security. Your clients have stringent security requirements for their data and they expect you to provide an equally secure environment if you are going to make confidential information accessible on the Web. Most chief security officers at large corporations expect intrusion monitoring, a demilitarized zone, locked-down boxes, daily virus updates and a host of other protective measures. Talk to your client before you get up in running. 6. Use a Data Center One way to solve some of the physical security problems and to provide redundant connectivity is to place your servers at a co-location facility. You can locate just about anywhere so long as you can have someone at the facility do a hard reboot when you need it. A good facility nearby is helpful because you have quick access for upgrades, backup and general maintenance/troubleshooting. But caveat: after Sept. 11, 2001, we don’t need to explain why it’s essential to have backups in a different region. A data center will rent locker or cage space to house your servers. They provide bandwidth to the Internet, redundant power, physical security and climate control. Most facilities offer a range of management services, from backup to server monitoring, to complete management. 7. Equipment Consider industrial-grade servers for your applications and storage, especially if the data in question is essential to your organization’s operation. For example, we store all files on a NetworkAppliance device, www.netapp.com. The sole function of this Unix box is storage and retrieval of files. It will hold terabytes of hard drive storage (Raid 5, hot swappable) and it makes a snapshot of its data files four times a day with a nightly backup. Figure on spending about $250,000. We buy Dell Computer Corp. rack-mounted servers for our general servers, typically with (at least) dual-Pentium processors. Rack-mounted servers are very thin and are designed to fit in data-center cabinets. This is a must because space at a data-center is at a premium. 8. Technical staff To make all of this work, you need very talented programmers, network, and Web gurus. Despite the dot-com crash, good people are still in high demand and command associate-size salaries. You need applications programmers, not simple Web site developers. These applications are far more complicated than the typical Web site; they need scalability, security and a whole lot more work on the user interface than you might imagine. Consider outside help but make sure they have the knowledge you need. 9. Outsourcing Right now there isn’t much in the way of extranet software on the market. Your choice is to use some variant of Lotus Notes or build your own system. That is not an easy task. The software is complex and mistakes can be deadly. Take this route only if you have the budget and people to make it happen. Outsourcing to a reputable provider makes tremendous sense (recognizing my own bias). This is one case where economies of scale can be exponential. Once you have the facilities, equipment, software and support team in place, the marginal cost of an additional site becomes negligible. Having one team managing security and updating the system beats doing it firm by firm. Prices and pricing schemes are all over the map, with each vendor emphasizing its own approach and bundle of services. Figure on some form of setup fee, a monthly base fee and some variable fee based either on the number of users or the volume of documents stored. There are a number of extranet providers on the market and each has differing offerings and philosophy. Most will provide an online demo of their software offerings. Once you have the choices narrowed down, the next step is to call references. If the references are happy and the software does what you need, then move to pricing. While the fees can seem steep, consider carefully the price of doing it yourself. It will cost a lot more than you might expect and the results may not be satisfactory. CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS Back in 1998, I thought my extranet proposal was a cool idea, but I didn’t think it would have such profound implications for document management and counsel/client relations. Today, I see a clear path for a few firms to take the lead on Web-based collaboration with their clients and to provide new kinds of information services. Eventually every firm will jump on board, but today few have. Opportunities exist for firms in different regions or with different specialties to gain marketing advantage by offering extranets today rather than waiting to play catch-up later. John Tredennick Jr., a member of the Law Technology News Editorial Advisory Board, is a partner at Denver’s Holland & Hart and CEO of CaseShare Systems Inc. He is chair of the ABA’s Law Practice Management section. E-mail: [email protected]. Web: www.caseshare.com.

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