Tuesday, August 13, 2013

To view Kenneth Jones' quote in the recent article "12 on 12: In Case of Emergency", please click here.

To view this article on "How to Build Versatile and Reusable Software", please click here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ease of use

When designing (or selecting) a legal extranet, be sure it is easy to use. If it is not easy to use, it will not be used.

How is that statement "make it easy to use" defined?

Make all of the screens consistent in their presentation. Be sure all the system navigation menus are deployed and displayed in a consistent manner. Make the text readable -- no 6 point fonts or crazy colors. Display only a reasonable amount of information on each screen - too much information can be overwhelming for people to process -- especially those who might be accessing your system on an iPad or smart phone.

From a technology standpoint, use technologies that will work on everybody's internet browser (there is nothing system clients hate more than to have to download internet plug-ins) just to get something to work. Consider cool toolsets like jQuery to provide advanced functionality to users on a thin client.

And, select technologies that will allow your clients to load large volumes of information (no flat file databases, no other obvious size constraints) so large litigation support projects can be handled by the legal extranet.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Legal Extranet Security

When building a legal extranet system, be sure to keep the following security considerations in mind:

  • Be sure the site is protected by a strong SSL certificate.

  • Be sure you can control who can access different sets of data.

  • Be sure you can control the type of access (enter, edit, delete) you can grant.

  • Be sure grants can be role based or individual based.

  • Be sure grants can vary by data type (case data, calendar data, documents, tasks, etc.)

  • Be sure you enforce an ID and password.

  • Be sure you delete the session cookie when one logs off the system.

  • Be sure you scan all the documents added to the system for virus contamination and/or spyware.

  • Be sure your services are in a hardened data center.

  • Be sure your servers are appropriately patched with the latest security O.S. and database patches.

  • Be sure you have an audit log in place so clients can confirm who is updated what types of data.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Extranet - Build vs. Buy

A number of questions are often asked about the financial returns of extranets and client workspaces, how to decide on building vs. buying a system, etc. This posting and future postings will attempt to answer some of those questions

Should one build or buy an extranet system?

Assess your law firm's internal expertise.

It is critical to access the expertise level of your law firm in building applications from the ground-up, if you are considering doing so. The skill sets required to implement packaged software vs. programming new systems are fundamentally different. To build new software, you need, among other things, a software development lifecycle methodology, strong project managers to develop requirements and translate them into functional specifications programmers can work from, strong programmers obviously, and a strong database analyst to assist in both data structure design and supporting a production application.

For extranets, one also needs experts in obtaining SSL certificates, setting up an extranet zone, and web-server management.

In my experience working with law firms and their technical departments, the trend I observe is a very strong competency in supporting networks, telecom, implementing litigation support and office productivity software, and security.... but less so in applications development. So, in my opinion, I think for the most part law firms are better served, if they are starting from scratch, looking at external alternatives.

This opinion is somewhat dependent on expected system usage and how high usage might tilt the analysis (when looking at this topic from a ROI or cost/benefit perspective), and that will be the topic of a future posting on this blog.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reporting Flexibility

Be sure, when developing a legal extranet, to provide clients various options in terms of the type of reports that they will need. Some clients will want "pretty" PDF reports which are simple "push-button" reports which they can either print or save to their hard drive for quick and simply electronic distribution (be sure for these report that you place the appropriate confidentiality and disclaimer language as well as the date/time the reports are generated on each report during the programming phase of the project since this information can not be added in an ad-hoc manner when reports are constructed) .

Others will want the ability to print simple reports (in HTML) directly from the browser with no plug ins because they prefer the simplicty of basic reporting. Others will want to export the contents of a report they run to Excel so that they have the flexibility to modify the report themselves, changing formats, headings, footings, etc. Finally, those with true IT skills may want to try and develop their own reports using a query engine/report builder.which provides the users with an interface by which they can seemlessly construct and save SQL statements to generate report output. Report builders are very valuable, they all clients to construct their own reports ASAP with no additional incremental cost since they can hop on the system and extract the data they need without asking for external programming assistance.

To the extent that a development organization can meet these needs during the process of building their legal extranet application, the higher client satisfaction will be once all their data is loaded and they need to begin to get information out of the systems. It is, of course, wonderful that an extranet allows one to look up the status of information on-line anytime, anywhere, but there are still many businesspeople in the world who need and rely upon printed or electronically saved reports, and when building a system like this we need to be sure that we develop the reports that are needed in the formats which are most useful to the user community for that particular project.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Using object oriented approaches to building legal extranet systems

The use of object oriented technology in the construction of legal extranet systems has recently come to light in many circles. Specifically, as these web-based collaboration systems are considered for use in additional functions within a law firm (e.g. using them to manage various workflow functions within a law firm with multiple offices, using them to construct business development portals), it is increasing important that the technology specialists building the systems do so with the end-goal of using the systems for a variety of business purposes. These systems should be coded under the assumption that businesspeople will want to track and manage a wide variety of type of information (not just cases, calendars and documents -- but also other business functions commonly done in law firms like conflict management, new business intake and other functions which one might imagine overseeing with intranet web-based technology within a law firm).

Hopefully, those charged with overseeing such systems, be they vendors building and hostsing this technology or IT Departments with law firms, will keep these considerations in mind and construct flexible and adaptable systems which can indeed be used for the wide variety of potential applications which might be helped with these types of technology in the future.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Legal Extranet Security Considerations

Security settings and methods are critically important in the area of deploying client extranets. Here are some of the "basics".

Firstly, we expose extranets both on the internet and intranet. Therefore, it is necessary to protect the data with an SSL certificate so that any data flowing over the internet is appropriately encrypted.

Within your application itself, there are several dimensions to consider. Some of the more important areas are:

- The type of access you will grant to various types of data (submit, modify, delete). Ideally, the access levels can vary by entity type (cases, documents, calendar events, etc.).

- The creation of a set of system privileges (to grant access to see various types of functionality) and a set of corresponding roles granting different sets of privileges. The system roles should correlate to functional roles within a law firm and clients of the law firm. To cite a primitive example, one might consider creating roles for Administrators, Staff Members, Staff Attorneys, Partners and Clients, each with a different set of system privileges (depending on the nature of work they need to do in the extranet).

- Visibility to collections of data must also be protected. For example, to cite another primitive example, some workers in a law firm need access to data from Client A, others to date from Client B, and others still require access to both Client A and Client B's data. Clients A and B obviously may not be granted access to each other's data.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Building Portals For All Browsers And Office Suites

Just a quick thought that it is important to be sure that functionality one deploys will work on all commonly used browser platforms. And, if one has functionality which allows users to move data into Office programs like Excel, Access or Word, it is important to validate that the functions work in all versions.

And, although this is less of a concern, one also needs to be mindful of some of the "integration pitfalls" between browsers and office platforms. We are, at times, asked to try and figure out why such integration does not work. This often results in our scouring Microsoft, Google Chrome or Firefox support areas to try and determine why downloads don't always start when they should or halt unexpectedly, etc. It often also results in our relying less on this "built-in" functionality and more on interfaces we develop which are browser or office suite independent.

The moral of the story is that, in order to provide excellent client service, one in the legal extranet field needs to be aware of all the issues relating to all the interfaces which are in place when clients attempt to move data from the collaboration platform to their desktop.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Configuring a case management area for a client

When working with new clients, it is critical that one conducts an initial business requirements gathering session. This session should attempt to identify many things such as.

  • The data points which need to be tracked.
  • The reports a client will need.
  • Security requirements of the client -- who should see what cases and documents, who is authorized to enter/review/update/delete data, who should have access to certain system functions, and who is the system administrator.
  • Discussion of the system administrative data (lists of required law firms, courts, defendants, case types, etc..) so the extranet dropdown boxes shall contain this data.
Once these items are defined, the implementation project manager should document these (in writing) and gain client signoff on the requirements. He/she can then take the requirements back to the technical implementation staff to develop, if needed, a set of functional specifications and project plan to implement the requirements.
Once these items are a available, a project manager needs to convey the cost and timing associated with the implementation activities to a client, and to keep the client updated and seek the client's feedback during the course of the implementation.
Finally, another excellent practice is to seek feedback from your clients on a periodic basis. This helps to be sure they are satisfied with your system implementation as well as helps to serve as a catalyst to further discussions about how technology can help an attorney in their practice.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Demo Site

It is very important to have a fully functioning demo site for your prospective clients to see. This should include elements of core functionality as well as several graphically pleasing areas (bar and pie charts, slick javascript elements of functionality, exports to high quality printing formats, etc.).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Using the internet in the practice of law

Here are some examples of how a well constructed collaboration tool and technology which can be rapidly deployed via the internet can help improve the efficiency of case and litigation management while also helping a law firm foster a closer relationship with clients and improve client service and productivity.

- Setting up a case calendar (trials, depositions, conferences, etc) up for a client and partner law firms to access and contribute to, making the information live and current and more useable.

- Setting up a case management are to track and manage the status of all the cases/plaintiffs in a litigation, making this information available to clients in a live, interactive manner, rendering obsolete the monthly status report and improving client service by providing live and current information 7 x 24.

- Setting up a cost tracking mechanism to track costs (settlement, legal fees& expenses, etc.) for the purpose of litigation management as well as for the purpose of assisting clients recover litigation costs from their insurers when possible.

- Development of litigation-related databases and document depositories for clients, in areas such as the following (the storage of company contracts, the storage of images, the storage of discovery documentation/locations), and providing client access or remote office access to these databases.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ten Great Reasons To Use Legal Extranets

1) For corporate law departments, this is a great way to have on-line access to the status of your cases, legal documents or case/trial calendars.

2) Legal collaboration systems provide anytime, anywhere access to case information and documents, wherever an Internet connection is available.

3) This is a turnkey (Application Service Provider or ASP) solution, there are no servers to set up and there is virtually no technical assistance required to set up a new collaboration system.

4) Collaboration systems can track many things -- cases, litigations, practice support projects, vendors, budgets, etc....

5) Easy tracking and documentation of system updates and other data activity.

6) For law firms, this is a great way to provide incremental services to clients.

7) Sophisticated security and data permission modules, so you can specifically control who has access to various types of data.

8) Every collaboration system is highly customizable and can be individually updated so that the feature set and graphics are set up in a manner consistent with the law firms and clients using this system.

9) These systems are delivered with user-configurable reporting modules providing reports which can be output on the screen, in spreadsheet format or in PDF format, providing many ways to report on and distribute your data.

10) Collaboration systems help you work more productively with your business partners !!

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Litigation task management

One useful application of internet-based legal technology is to deliver a tool allowing many law firms working on a case to manage the tasks associated with a case. If a complaint needs to be answered, depositions need to be taken, interview need to be conducted, analysis needs to be completed -- all related to tens or hundreds of cases -- tracking who is supposed to do what (and when it needs to be done and if it is done) can be a daunting task.

However, that being said, it is an important task. During the management of a large, nationwide litigation, it is vitally important that cases and litigations are properly managed, that the initial demand is tracked, the settlement negotiations are properly overseen, that any requests or movement towards arbitrition is watched over, that the discovery process proceeds as it should, that all appropriate motions are managed and tracked, that one properly prepares for a pre-trial conference, and that all pre-trial tasks are properly planned for and executed.

Legal extranets or law firm extranets commonly deliver a function which allows tasks to be tracked, assigned to individuals, assigned a status (like complete, in process, or incomplete), and be given a priority. For large litigations where many firms are involved, legal extranets can be a useful way to oversee the completion of all requisite task associated with a block of related litigations.

Friday, March 01, 2013


http://jquery.com is a great open source JavaScript Library for code to help improve your GUI.

It can be used for functionality such as auto-completion of fields, drop-down menus, and many other snazzy, innovative methods of showing data and menu options.