Chapter 3 - Networking and Group Computing

Legal Groupware Computer Applications

The value of workgroup computing lies in different applications to the practice of law. Anything we do manually and with paper should be considered an opportunity to transition the manual process onto a computer. Sometimes it is easier to define and understand workgroup computing in terms of what it does, and what computer software applications make up a workgroup-computing environment. The following computer applications concepts support a workgroup-computing environment.

"Group Computing extends not only to members of your firms but to your clients or potential clients. The firm of Berding & Weil, in Alamo, California, adopted one innovative approach in January 1993. With over 800 homeowners’ associations as clients, they developed their own group-computing platform using off the shelf group computing system. All members of the association can send private e-mail messages to each other and also access numerous legal materials that affect their associations. For example, summaries of active bills affecting associations are on-line, as are case law abstracts regarding legal issues that affect associations and other useful information. More importantly, the firm will phase in a fee structure to respond to member associations’ legal questions submitted on-line. Needless to say they were ahead of the Internet rush and realized the value of the “virtual law firm”. - David Vandagriff, Opening the Computer Door, ABA Journal, August 1994.

Electronic Mail - Provides all members of a workgroup - lawyers, clients, associates, paralegals, secretaries, etc - with the capability of sending electronic messages and computer files to each other or to broadcast the message to all or selected members of the workgroup. Additional features include the capability to file messages into ‘file cabinets” for later retrieval, faxing the message or forwarding on the message, and replying to it. Some packages enable one to attach an audio message, graphics, video, or other digitized information.

File Libraries - Computer files for pleadings, forms and any other legal material can be stored, accessed, and shared by different members of the workgroup. This provides workgroup members access to past or current documents.

Document Sharing - Contracts, legal pleadings, and other legal materials can be worked on at the same time or can be reviewed individually for comments from all members of the group.

Task Management - Different case management plans and assigned tasks can be monitored to ensure timely completion of the different stages of a client’s case. This provides the workgroup members with the capability to see that the case or litigation plan is being timely followed by different law firm members.

Scheduling & Docketing - It is easy to schedule group meetings and ensure docketing dates are met when all the law firm members keep their schedules on a group computer-scheduling program like Microsoft Outlook or GroupWise.

File Transfer - Correspondence, pleadings, and any text, graphic, sound, or video files can be transferred or viewed by another person. Databases or files can be accessed for downloading by other workgroup members.

Shared Databases - If the firm has a conflict of interest database, a practitioner can immediately check to determine if there is a conflict with accepting a new client. Exhibit, depositions, witness or chronological databases can be accessed or shared by different members of the workgroup.

Image Databases - Users can share remote or in-house case documents that have been imaged. Also, clients and co-counsel in cases can share the combined image and database analysis of the documents.

Case Management or Project Management Systems - Cases can be discussed and plans of action developed for members of the law firm. These case management systems can be on a timeline and task oriented to ensure the case is being worked on in a timely fashion.

Data and Video Conferencing - Members of the firm, opposing counsel, or others can meet real-time with their computers to draft pleadings, work on settlement papers or coordinate schedules. The video component gives one the capability to assess the impact of the discussion upon the other party real-time.

Electronic Forms - Law firm members or others can share uniform interrogatories, notices of depositions, and other law firm work product and materials.

Workgroup Decision Making - Electronic Meeting Software (EMS) software supports basic meeting problem solving techniques, such as brainstorming, idea organization, voting, issue analyzing, policy formulation, prioritizing, and stakeholder identification.

Resources:  List of group computing applications shared with clients. Ron Friedmann's Blog - Prism Legal (available as of December 1 , 2008).