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Chapter 3 - Networking and Group Computing

E-mail – Killer Application for the Nineties

Word processing and spreadsheets were the “killer applications of the eighties”. E-mail is the “killer application of the nineties”. It is one of the best-received workgroup computing applications. It is the single most compelling reason that organizations are networking internally and externally through the Internet. E-mail has become a key part of the communications networks in most modern offices. Data and messages can be transmitted from one computer to another using telephone lines, microwave links, communications satellites, or other telecommunication channels. The same message can be sent to multiple parties at different addresses simultaneously. E-mail has always been popular, but now anyone can generally connect with just about anyone else. It is low cost, fast and accurate, and prevents phone tag.


An e-mail connection can support many attorney-client functions and solidify an existing relationship. E-mail can assist with:

  • Joint document drafting;
  • Legal discussion groups;
  • Exchanging documents;
  • Accessing billing tasks and costs;
  • Avoiding telephone tag and other inefficiencies;
  • Shared work product retrieval;
  • Distributing information of importance to clients;
  • Exchanging messages;
  • Shared case management plans and timetables.


Electronic mail systems have evolved over the past several years and are more sophisticated then just sending and receiving messages. The first generation supported simple interpersonal communication. Messages were usually short, did not support text enrichment, and were not intended to be saved. They were intended to convey short, timely information. Reports, graphics, and other business information were not intended to be captured in e-mail messages.

The second generation of e-mail included the ability to attach binary or textual files. This enabled users to send along documents and other computer files containing law firm work product and other law practice materials.

The third generation of e-mail focused upon the capability of enabling the user to enhance the e-mail message itself.  Now, rich text format and embedded objects could be part of the message. More important was the capability of the e-mail software to store and organize e-mail materials. Now folders or other systems could be set up to save e-mail for particular projects or cases. The storage module became the law firm’s storage of case and firm business. This, along with the capability to broadcast e-mail to casual users, increased e-mail use.

The next generation of e-mail will see a convergence of e-mail with other workgroup computing applications. E-mail will be part and parcel of workgroup computing applications such as database linking, Internet links to World Wide Web pages, and a host of other integrated applications. A key feature of this 4th generation e-mail growth will be compatibility and accessibility by remote users. This will enable legal professionals to contact and interact with the firm’s e-mail workgroup computing environment whether in the office or not. Microsoft Exchange™ (www.microsoft.com), Lotus™ (www.lotus.com), and GroupWise™ (www.novell.com) have all developed workgroup-computing platforms primarily based on messaging between members.  These e-mail software solutions have both the client and server software packages included and provide a “gateway” to enable your LAN to receive and send mail to other messaging LANs, Internet and others through public telephone lines or other communication services. Electronic messaging features can include the capability to embed sound, graphics, video and text.

Other e-mail software include Eudora™ (www.eudora.com) and Internet Explorer™ (www.microsoft.com).

E-mail Connection. The simplest e-mail connection setup would be through an Internet service provider, (ISP) but this poses some confidentiality problems as your mail is sitting on different computers waiting to be retrieved and then deleted. Two suggested options are to use encryption software or, though more costly, to set up a direct e-mail link with your client. This link would be through a dedicated telephone or leased line between the two parties. There would be no intermediate computer that your mail would reside on. A gateway computer may need to be installed if the parties are not using the same e-mail software.


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