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More than a handful of the in-house law departments we surveyed are doing innovative things with technology: handing out BlackBerrys, tracking outside counsel costs with souped-up electronic invoicing platforms, and creating databases for legal documents. But few in-house departments are doing as much as Cisco Systems Inc. The 55 lawyers at the San Jose, Calif.-based network equipment supplier are using technology to handle discovery, track costs, create contracts — practically everything short of argue cases. “Cisco has been pushing technology for quite a while,” says Huron Consulting Group’s Curt Canfield. “And they’ve gotten to the absolute bleeding edge.” Necessity drove Cisco to start pushing technology companywide in the late 1990s. According to Michael Stevens, Cisco’s legal operations program manager (and one of 15 tech staffers devoted solely to the law department), several departments within the company couldn’t hire employees fast enough to keep up with Cisco’s meteoric growth. So the company’s brass encouraged departments to develop technology to compensate for workforce shortages. “The law department actually got on board relatively late, in 2000,” says Stevens. But, he adds, former GC Daniel Scheinmann and his successor, Mark Chandler, brought it “up to speed.” Cisco likes to boast that it built the Internet. So it’s not surprising that the law department relied upon its own team of developers to create and customize a huge chunk of its technology. Stevens says that the current in-house tech setup is comprised of two dozen applications, most of which are homegrown. The entire company is tied together by a huge, Oracle-based intranet, which hosts all of the law department’s applications. One application, for example, tracks vital information about cases; another charts patent applications; and yet another walks lawyers through the company’s process for getting contracts approved. The company’s intranet also links to a trove of knowledge. Cisco lawyers can view model documents and, through a sophisticated search engine, find examples of Cisco work product. Many documents have hyperlinks embedded within them. The links connect lawyers to electronic bulletin boards, where the attorneys can post questions or read comments posted by other Cisco lawyers on a range of legal topics. “It’s enormously useful,” says GC Chandler. “It saves our lawyers quite a bit of time.” (Note: Chandler serves on Corporate Counsel‘s advisory board.) The knowledge-sharing does not end there. Cisco also creates huge databases of information, in conjunction with some of its larger outside law firms. The company’s internal knowledge repository contains mostly transaction-related material, while the jointly built databases contain a lot of case law and case law interpretations. “I really think more law firms should be doing this,” says Chandler. “We’re more than willing to pay for it.” That’s not all Chandler is willing to pay for. The department has developed online training programs for company employees as well as its own electronic discovery tool. Currently the department is developing an automated contract assembly program and installing a state-of-the-art document management system. So how does the department fund all this? Chandler says it sets aside around 10 percent of the annual legal budget, which, last year, was approximately $5.5 million. “Ten percent of that is a lot of money to spend on technology,” says Scott Rosenberg of technology consultant Baker Robbins & Company. But Chandler insists that the technology actually saves the department money by allowing him to re-allocate “heads” to other tasks. Chandler can’t quantify the savings attributable to technology, but he says he’s perfectly comfortable with the amount the department spends. “Last year [the legal department] spent 0.3 percent of our company’s revenue,” he says. “And that’s a number that suits me just fine. For now.”

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