Home Ch: 3 - Networking and Group Computing Network Applications for the Practice of Law
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Chapter 3 - Networking and Group Computing

Network Applications for the Practice of Law

The value of networking lies in the capability of sharing up-to-date information and software and hardware resources with the community of other users on the system.

The primary programs used in the legal field on a network are word processing, time & billing, calendar/docket/address book, E-mail, document management, conflict management, litigation support, office administrative functions, and peripheral sharing, such as printers, CD-ROM, PC fax systems, modems, and any other hardware.

Word Processing. The most used network program in the law profession is word processing. The preparation and sharing of work product information, such as pleadings between law firm members, is critical to its operation. Special attention should be given to form letters and other standard pleadings that can be rapidly assembled using document assembly on a network.

Time & Billing. The billable hour is still the primary measure of an attorney’s time, and the use of network time and billing programs makes it easy track and bill the time. Programs, such as TimeMatters™ and others, keep time when working on a specific case and log the time into your client’s account to be billed at a specified rate. It enables invoices to be sent and consolidates the billable efforts of staff, paralegals, associates and so on, into a central billing area.

Calendar/Docket/Address Book. A legal practitioner’s practice centers on client matters that oftentimes require complex calendaring and docketing timeframes. In a litigation matter, rules of procedure may dictate a host of discovery and motion deadlines that are mandated by the courts. These deadlines should be captured and shared by all members of the firm in a common and personal calendaring or docketing program. Shared calendaring is a must for the members of a firm. All firm members must use it for it to be effective. The firm’s resources then are allocated, depending on the scheduled events.

E-mail. Electronic messaging is the capability to send data (a message) to another user. It has become a mission critical application in the practice of law. The receiver of the message does not have to be located at his or her computer to receive the message, but can retrieve it later from any location. Electronic messaging is one of the first and most productive uses of a network system. One can “broadcast” a message to several or thousands of people by the press of a button. This results in significant secretarial timesaving and keeps communication flowing. Communication can be with clients, fellow lawyers, staff, court personnel, experts, and witnesses. It is becoming as commonplace as the phone system.

Document Management. For decades, one of the major problems with law firms has been the inability to store, locate and retrieve the past work or even present work product of a firm. Pleadings, memos, motions, briefs, and so on, should be readily accessible to any member of the firm anytime and anywhere. This accessibility to past work product can solve the problem of re-inventing the wheel each time one has a similar case. This will provide better and less costly services to your clients.

Conflict Management. With a shared network database of clients, new cases can be immediately searched to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. Client names can be stored under corporate names, individuals or other identifications, and can be searched in seconds for any connections.

Litigation Support. There are a number of useful network applications for litigation. Depositions of witnesses, case plans, interrogatories, image databases, graphics, and other electronic trial notebook materials can be accessible to members of your litigation team.

Office Administrative Functions. Networks can provide office staff access real-time to office policies, procedures, benefit programs, upcoming administrative matters, notices to staff, and a variety of other office administrative matters.

Peripheral Sharing. One of the main purposes of installing a network is to share hardware resources among a group of users, thus lowering the overall cost of separate components. Printers, CD-ROMs, fax modems to send and receive faxes, tape backup, and modems to access the Internet can all be shared. For example, the CD-ROM caselaw and statutes for your jurisdiction can be on a network for easy access by all members of your firm.

Electronic Decision Making (EDMS) Software. EDMS software supports basic meeting problem-solving techniques, such as brainstorming, idea organization, voting, issue analyzing, policy formulation, prioritizing, and stakeholder identification. The most striking feature of EDMS software is that it enables all the participants to “speak” at once and share their ideas. An individual or individuals that have a preset agenda can no longer control meetings. All members of the team share critical information, especially in a non-threatening manner if the participants are logged in anonymously. The actual workgroup decision-making process is enhanced for the substantive strategic plan. However, a number of “people” issues have to be considered to ensure that the team members have not only bought in on an objective level, but also on an emotional level.

One of the foremost writers on the conceptual process of holding electronic meetings is Doctor Jay F. Nunamaker, Jr. from the University of Arizona Center for the Management of Information. In Dr. Nunamaker’s articles on electronic meeting systems, he discusses the many ramifications of holding electronic meetings. Electronic Meeting Systems: Ten Years of Lessons Learned with Workgroup Systems, Oct. 1994.

EDMS software will become increasingly important over the next decade as we all become “connected” through the Internet. It has the potential of greatly increasing the effectiveness of meetings, whether conducted together using EDMS software or remotely using modems, video, and other virtual tools. Two products to consider are GroupSystems™ (www.ventana.com) and Aliah Inc.’s AliahTHINK! (www.aliah.com).


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