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Chapter 3 - Networking and Group Computing

Web Based Networking – Internet, Intranets & Extranets
“Suddenly, we had a solution for EasyDocket. Using a product called ColdFusion, we linked a Microsoft Access database to our Intranet. The resulting program, EasyDocket 2000, works like the original, only you access it through a browser. Users can set up their own cases, add or edit docket items and mark tasks as done. We even linked our e-mail program so all team members got a reminder message before the due date. Since it’s a Web program, we could roll it out to all 10 offices overnight-with almost no training. Because its database - driven, the program supports itself and our computer folks have gone on to other projects. - John C. Tredennick, Jr. Law, Chief Technology Officer, Holland & Hart.

The Internet has fueled new internal networking phenomena called Intranets and Extranets. They are based on “open” Internet standards and have seen exceptional growth over the past year. Intranet.

Intranets are your own personal Internet within your organization. An Intranet can be walled off and not be part of the Internet for total security from users of the Internet. It generally is located on your networked computer system within your organization. Extranets are a private “Internet” for two or more clients, firms or organizations. The same reasons that the Internet had phenomenal growth are reasons why Intranets and Extranets are the most talked about new infrastructures for an organization. Technically speaking, an Intranet or Extranet is an internal network that operates on “open standards”. The “open standards” consist of the key standard TCP/IP (the network protocol), HTML (WWW programming language), POP3 and SMTP (Email standards), HTTP (web server language), and FTP (file transfer protocol), among others. Open standards generally result in lower cost since there are no propriety extensions to these generally simple and straightforward standards. Since they are open, low cost, and not tied to proprietary vendors, monopolies are not created.

Web Server (Thin/Thick Client). Many application software vendors are now offering a Windows based and a Web based interface for their clients. They are generally referred to as a thick client (Windows based) and a thin client (web based). The Windows based client is referred to as thick because network and application software must be on the client computer for the system to work. It requires more disk space, administration, and computer files. The (thick) client must be loaded with network and application software to interact with a network application, such as a database like Microsoft Access. The thin client, or web-based client, is a web browser. The web browser can be used on a variety of hardware platforms – 386, 486, Pentiums™, Windows 3.1™, Windows 95/98/00/XP/Vista™, Macintosh™, Unix or NT™. The simplistic browser interface is one of the main attractions of an Intranet. Besides being universal, it is easy to learn to use. The browser focuses on content and not a specific software package.

Intranet and Extranet costs are low compared to cost of purchasing proprietary document distribution software or other group computing software. Web sites can be configured to the group’s needs – whether department wide policy matters or specific cases. They can be built and implemented quickly on a single machine, a LAN (Local Area Network), or on a WAN (Wide Area Network), which makes them easily scalable for growth of your legal organization. It can co-exist alongside other networked protocols and applications. Each person or department can update, control and publish information for his or her own area of responsibility. HTML documents can hyperlink to other documents within your organization or to outside Internet sites. It is a stable, secure environment.

The web-based interface is being used in all industries as businesses try to lower their total cost of ownership for computers and software. Indeed, businesses rely more and more on Intranets and Extranets to get the job done. Two of three Internet decision-makers surveyed by InformationWeek feel comfortable placing key applications on an intranet. Half say they're hooking host database and financial systems to their internal Internets. (InformationWeek, November 17, 1997).

Applications are already developed to manage law firm and case information using the Internet, Extranet or Intranets. Applications such as calendars, document databases with attached images, discussion groups, full text searching of depositions or other case full text information, client information and conflict checking among others, are already in use. Imagine the possibilities! Using a word processor, spreadsheet or database you can publish, and then using an Internet browser you can have access to:

  • Client databases;
  • Training materials;
  • Pleadings;
  • Clients - new and old;
  • Depositions;
  • Judges backgrounds;
  • Calendars;
  • Brief bank;
  • Office and case discussions;
  • Your firm’s policy and procedure manual;
  • Past work product;
  • Office and case memos;
  • Frequently asked questions and answers;
  • New case opinions;
  • Conflict checking;
  • Forms database;
  • Contacts;
  • Outlines of key work product;
  • Commendations;
  • Bulletins;
  • Firm list of Internet links
  • Specific practice area pages; and
  • Announcements;
  • Any other material important to your firm.

A word to the wise. The initial investment if setting up practice support tools in the form of Intranets may not be expensive, but keep a close eye on the costs as case management, work product retrieval, document assembly and expert systems start to push the costs higher.

Extranet. Once you have an Intranet, an Extranet is a step away. Yes, an Extranet – which is the capability to provide access of selected information to external clients. For example, a client may dial in and have access to case plans, workproduct and time and billing data on their cases. It will provide the platform for collaboration among clients and co-counsel on a case. If security is in place, one can be anywhere in the world and participate in case management decisions using an Extranet. For example, Sun Microsystems’s legal department uses an Intranet and Extranet to share contract forms, policies, and status reports on cases, etc. The main interface is a web browser that can be used to access information sources such as video or databases. It provides timely access to the latest form contracts, etc., and is available 24 hours a day. The major software companies have awakened and reacted quickly to the immense growth of the Internet and the coming explosive growth of Intranets and Extranets. They have provided simple, easy to use features for converting word processing documents, spreadsheets, slideshow presentations, and databases into HTML files. The HTML files can be moved to your Intranet web site with a few keystrokes and your information is readily available to all users using the standard Internet browser. Driven by open standards, low cost, hardware independence, quick set up and low administration costs, we will see this group computing protocol grow in popularity. Below is an example of a firm Intranet and Extranet. The critical components of these systems are the security and sharing of data with clients, members of firms, etc.


Intranet and Extranet search engines. An Intranet search engine is able to search for the information located on your private Intranet network. These tools are needed to locate valuable information published on your Intranet site. A quality search engine must be able to search and read data from internal and external Intranets, legacy databases, word-processing files, or on any file where data is stored. Once read, it must index the information and then with a user-friendly interface, retrieve the requested data with accuracy. These search engines are not all created equally. Depending on your specific needs, such as speed, index capability, file size, amount of data, and other factors specific search engines are available. Some Intranet search engines to consider:

  • Verity Knowledge Base Networks™ – www.verity.com
  • RetrievalWare™ – www.excalib.com
  • Lycos™ – www.lycos.com
  • Opentext™– www.opentext.com
  • Infoseek™ – www.infoseek.com
  • Alta Vista™ – www.dec.com
  • ISYS™ – www.isysdev.com

Driven by open standards, low cost, independent hardware quick to set up, and low administration costs, we will see this rapidly growing group computing mechanism grow in popularity.

Extranets have proven to be extremely useful in litigation. The tobacco litigation has spawned collaborative litigation environment. The legal team is using internet protocols (Web Browsers, HTML, etc.) to access and process all transcripts, documents produced, work product, calendar, and court docket, with an integrated database, full text and document image and messaging system. Other collaborative tools are used by the lawyers for messaging, linking threaded discussions to documents, and for enhanced subjective coding by attorneys and legal staff. Hypertext (HTML) combined with databases & full text retrieval enhances the access to and viewing of all case information. To access The Tobacco Litigation Extranet Demo and for further information on litigation extranets contact Merrill (www.lextranet.com).

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