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See Table of Contents or Main Article Page for more articles. LAW OFFICE TECHNOLOGY: WHAT LEVEL ARE YOU?

Our company works with law firms at all levels of technology utilization, from simple to sophisticated. Over the years we've developed a five-point scale, outlined below, which you can use to compare your firm to others… or have a look at what could lie in your future.

At the end of the article you’ll find a useful TABLE showing 28 technology uses in the law office, laid out according to level. You can go down the list and mark the table according to your firm’s technology.

Of course, these levels are totally subjective. Attorneys in Level 1 offices may do research on the Internet, and Level 5 firms may be filling out billing slips manually for batch data entry. And the scale is by no means all-inclusive… we apologize if we've left your particular favorite technology out!

LEVEL 1 "Technology-challenged"

Attorneys dictate documents to staff or into tape recorders. Documents are transcribed by secretaries and support staff using PCs for word processing, probably with WordPerfect version 5 or earlier. The PCs may be 4+ years old with 286, 386 or 486 processors and use the DOS operating system, or they may be Windows 95 with WordPerfect for Windows. The computers are not linked together or networked, and files are passed from one to another by "sneaker-net". Data files are occasionally backed up on floppy disks. No one has checked for viruses, but you've had no problems so far, thank goodness!

The fax machine stands alone with its own phone line, and you probably have a multi-line phone system, perhaps with voicemail. Legal research is conducted in the law library. Billing is accomplished by means of paper time slips, manual data entry and a "billing system" that only the bookkeeper understands. The accounting system may be on a PC or on an older system such as a Data General mini-computer in larger firms.

LEVEL 2 "Welcome to the 90's"

At level 2, some or all of the office computers are networked- linked together in a simple peer-to-peer configuration using LANtastic, Windows for Workgroups or Windows95. In larger offices, an older Novell network may be in place.

Attorneys who choose to do so can create and/or edit documents using PCs on their desks. The network allows files to be shared electronically by support staff. The firm has standardized on one word processor, most likely WordPerfect for DOS or Windows. The firm may be using one or more Windows applications with Windows version 3.x or Windows for Workgroups. Data files are backed up using tape backup but may not be automatic. Virus scanning is practiced but is not a scheduled, automatic activity.

Some attorneys have individual modems and telephone lines, enabling them to do simple dial-up remote control of their computers for working at home. Desktop faxing, on-line research and personal Internet access may also be practiced on an individual basis.

LEVEL 3 "Proven Technology, Nothing Fancy"

Level 3 firms have linked their computers together in a client-server network using Novell IntraNetWare or Windows NT. All computers are Windows 3.1 or Windows 95. Word processing is handled with WordPerfect for Windows, version 7 or 8, or with Microsoft Word. Time & billing is managed with PC-based networked software, although data entry may still be done by staff rather than the timekeepers themselves. Simple calendars may be kept on the network, but most scheduling and conflict checking is handled manually.

Occasional dial-in remote access is allowed for the more technical attorneys, using remote control software like PCAnywhere, but performance is slow and some applications won't work. Legal-specific software applications for case management, document assembly and litigation support are being considered. Virus checking and file/data backup is regularly scheduled and administered through the network.

A stand-alone research PC is located in the library with one or more CD-ROM drives, allowing Westlaw, Michie, etc. to be used. This PC can also dial Lexis and Nexis via modem.

LEVEL 4 "Leading Edge"

Level 4 firms have typically upgraded all computers to Windows 95 to take advantage of the newer 32-bit applications. Software suites such as Microsoft Office 97 and Corel WordPerfect Suite 8 are in use, offering superior ease of use, information transfer and integration between applications. Calendars and schedules are managed and coordinated on-line using groupware programs such as Novell GroupWise. Legal-specific software applications for case management, document assembly or litigation support are in use. Timekeepers or their secretaries enter time into their workstations into a networked time & billing system feeding an integrated accounting application. Virus checking and file/data backup is automatic through the network.

High performance, secure remote access to the office network allows partners and staff to work from home or remote locations. The "thin client" technology allows the older, "retired" office PCs to be sent home for staff to use when dialing in to the network. This allows the firm to offer flexible staffing arrangements to accommodate varying schedules, sick children, etc.

On-line and CD-ROM research is accomplished by means of CD-ROM towers on the network. Full time, high capacity Internet connections allow attorneys to jump onto the Internet quickly to research a topic. The firm has its own Internet address: Internet email is integrated seamlessly into the office email system; attorneys and staff can be reached at Secretaries commonly transfer documents to other firms via email, reducing courier expenses.

LEVEL 5 "Lawfirm of the Future"

When the telephone rings, computer software using Caller ID from the phone company recognizes the caller as a client and routes the call to the appropriate attorney or the attorney's secretary automatically. The client's record including case information is automatically called up and displayed on screen. The attorney takes the call, and, if appropriate, clicks a timer on the computer screen. When the call is completed, the attorney makes some notes using the keyboard or by speaking directly into his headset microphone. The time billed immediately and automatically passes into the client's record in the time and billing system, and the case record is updated with his notes. The attorney sends an e-mail to his secretary concerning the call, schedules an appointment with the client on-screen, sends a quick Internet e-mail to the client to confirm the appointment (copying the secretary), and switches by voice back to the document he/she was creating.

Later that afternoon, our high-tech attorney prepares for an upcoming case by reviewing a few thousand pages of documents and selecting exhibits. This is possible because the documents have been scanned, converted into text where possible (OCR-Optical Character Recognition), logged in a database and stored on a CD-ROM.

On Saturday, our attorney has some follow-up work that can't wait, and so uses his/her daughter's computer to quickly check e-mail by logging onto the World Wide Web. He/she then logs into the office network through a secure, high performance connection to review documents and prepare for court with the CD-ROM research tools at the office. While "at work", he/she uses the firm's high-speed ISDN Internet connection to the Internet for research.


Sound far-fetched? It's not. Some firms in Atlanta will be at level 5 in 1998. The technology is available, and systems integrators like LAN-TECH are putting it together right now. Of course, not every attorney or firm needs or wants more sophisticated (and expensive) technology. The bottom line question is usually the same- can the new technology pay for itself by helping to:

(1) Bill more hours by being able to handle more work with the same (or less) effort?

(2) Improve the quality or timeliness of our work?

(3) Reduce the drudgery involved?

(4) Compete with other firms in terms of job opportunities and services provided to clients?

If you can answer yes after evaluating new technology, then it may be time for you to move your firm to the next level. Table 1

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