Chapter 3 - Networking and Group Computing

Remote Access to the Network

Staff working in the courtroom, at home, or anywhere can remotely access resources on an office network. They can have complete access to document management systems, litigation support databases, timekeeping entries, calendars, CD-ROM caselaw, e-mail, and so on. As legal professionals increase their laptop use, telecommuting, and use of home computer systems, the need for remote computer access to a firm’s calendar, legal research materials, and work products will grow in importance. Remote access software permits a remote PC to connect to a LAN based host PC and take control of it. Key commands and mouse movements are sent from the remote PC to the host PC that are then processed as if you were physically there. In return, the host computer executes the commands and sends the screen changes to your remote computer. You are effectively running the host PC computer from your remote location. Remote access is not just a phone connection into your server system; it is more complex and involves consideration of a number of factors.

  • From what location will legal professionals be dialing?
  • Do they have a need for wireless as well as wired telephone line access?
  • What type of networked system will they be accessing?
  • How many employees will be dialing in at once?
  • What programs do they need to access?
  • What security precautions are necessary to protect client confidentiality materials?

There are primarily three different types of remote access.

  • Remote Node Access – With remote node access, one is actually logging into an office network as a separate user. This can be slow unless you have a large bandwidth connection. Its primary use is to download or upload files, such as documents, e-mail, and other data specific applications, .for working on your laptop.
  • Remote Control Access – Remote control access essentially treats your remote access computer as a dumb terminal. Using a dialup modem, Internet connection, or a wireless connection your keyboard, mouse and screen images are transferred between the remote computer and the firm’s LAN (local area network), which makes for a faster connection. You control the office application programs from your laptop. In other words, it acts as a keyboard extension from your office system. It is generally used to access all office programs such as a document management system, legal research (like CD-ROM), litigation support systems, case management, and other firm software applications. You can also print to a remote printer; it insulates office system from viruses and no training is needed. Problems may occur with connection hassles and slow performance; special software is needed at the remote end. Products:
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) – A VPN is a significant remote access improvement that essentially uses the Internet as a “private network” into your office’s computer system. The reason for the sudden popularity in VPN’s is that users only need a web browser and an Internet connection to access your LAN. However, only web-enabled material can be accessed through this system. VPN’s employ encryption, authentication, and access control. With VPN, every packet of data that goes back and forth is encrypted and only users that who can prove their identity can successfully access servers and decrypt data. Your ISP can provide the service to your firm. The VPN protocol over the Internet is PPTP – Point to Point Tunneling.

The undisputed trend is to be able to access all the material on your office computer using a web browser and an ordinary Internet connection. Software companies are converting their software to web based systems to have this capability. Most of the leading software companies will be developing their software for remote access over regular dial-in access and/or for VPN’s. Caution: One of the downsides to remote access is the slow computer speed that may frustrate legal professionals and cause computers to freeze or crash with impatient keystroke activity. The speed of remote access is generally very slow unless your legal professional has a high speed remote access, which is becoming more commonplace with cable modems, DSL, ISDN, etc. See Chapter 4, Telecommunications and the Internet. Communication software is needed to instruct your computer’s hardware component, such as a modem, to interact with another computer or perform a variety of other communication tasks, such as sending faxes, files, etc. over a telephone line. Windows XP and Vista™ provide many of the capabilities needed for on-line communication, such as sending and receiving faxes, connection to remote computers, and so on.

With communication and remote access software, some of the features to consider are:

  • File transfer;
  • Dial up connection;
  • Network shared modem connection;
  • Host and terminal support;
  • Chat sessions;
  • Virus checking during file transfer;
  • Data encryption services;
  • Fax sending and receiving capability;
  • Internet telephone software;
  • Image manager;
  • Modem support;
  • Compression manager;
  • OCR capability;
  • Paging notification;
  • Control one PC from the other;
  • Voice messaging; and
  • Internet faxing (saves long distance charges).

Some products to consider include: