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 youll 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 firms 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
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
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
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:
www.firmname.com. Internet email is integrated seamlessly into the office email system;
attorneys and staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
(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