Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Using extranets to facilitate electronic billing

Another interesting use for legal extranets is to facilitate electronic billing. How might this work?

One might, for example, deploy a series of extranets (one for each law firm a client selects to represent them in a case). These extranets can be linked to a main case management database and help to control and manage the billings for a large, mass-tort litigation. Using this technology, one can assist a company in being sure all billings are posted to active claims, that billings are attributed to the appropriate local firm, that billings are associated with specific plaintiffs (rather than to a general number) and that all submitted bills contain no plaintiff typographical errors or any basic arithmetic errors.

The implementation of these management techniques can help to ensure that all the billings received on a case are valid and are in support of open and active cases, all of which might, arguably, be helpful to a client ensuring that the funds allocated to the defense of a set of matters are spent in a wise and appropriate manner.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Best Practices For Legal Extranet Software Development Teams

Teams developing legal deal rooms or legal extranets should strongly consider adapting a set of software development best practices or application development methodologies.

One such example of this is the Rational Unified Process (RUP). While it is impossible to describe this entire process in a blog, it is comprised of four broad steps: Inception Phase, Elaboration Phase, Construction Phase, Transition Phase. The RUP also encourages development teams to gather business requirements, understand business needs and goals, develop a project budget and timeline, ask clients to review and approve business requirements documents, write functional specifications, prepare a project timeline, develop and use a testing plan to ensure quality within the application, use proper change management methodologies to deploy the application to a production environment, and to document the technical aspects of the system post deployment.

When teams follow these steps, quality and client satisfaction are sure to dramatically improve.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Building for different browsers

Just a quick reminder that it is very important when building web-based systems and legal extranets to be sure that they can be used by a broad cross-section of internet users.

Some basic tips are:


  • Test your application to confirm it operates within both Internet Explorer and Firefox (not to mention Google Chrome and Safari).

  • Be sure it works back a few browser revisions ago (e.g. not all users will have the latest versions of all browsers.

  • Try to avoid having your application require browser plug-ins (whenever possible).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Adjusting the extranet GUI

When building a legal extranet, one would be wise to develop functionality which allows the administrator to alter the user interface. Some clients want large text, some want small text. Some want headings over sections, others do not. You'll definitely want to ability to place a client logo on a law firm extranet. We even have clients who request specific fonts or other variations in layout which are not closely aligned with the basic functionality of the system.

And, most notably, these types of request are often more important to a client than some of the basic functionality of a system (adding/removing fields, etc.).

One can debate which of these two types of changes are more important to the business, but the moral of the story is to build a system with some elements of flexibility in the user interface and don't hard code or embed all of the GUI settings within the application code.  If you can do that, the likelihood for user acceptance of the system can increase dramatically.

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, January 13, 2015

CaseEnsemble FAQ

Q. Can CaseEnsemble be used to create a complex case management tracking system?
A. Yes. Our extranet is used regularly to manage large, nationwide litigations. We assist clients in the tracking of legal matters, settlement data, defense fees, trial calendars, insurance claim reports, the storage of litigation related documents such as complaints, medical reports, dismissals and settlement agreements, and many other types of data.
Q. Can CaseEnsemble support the creation of a repository of legal documents?
A. Yes. Our extranet is used regularly to host litigation repositories. We store information securely so other law firms, corporate law departments, experts and other authorized parties can work with the documents they need to access. Access is controlled pursuant to each client's requirements.
Q. Can the extranet be customized to be consistent with a law firm or company's public materials and website?
A. Yes. We have the ability to integrate a clients logo and text in our systems. We also have the ability to import full HTML into our main landing page to provide maximum flexibility in this area to our clients.
Q. Can I limit the view of extranet data, reports and functionality available for different classes of system users?
A. Yes. You can determine what extranet tools you wish to make available for your clients on a case by case basis. You may wish to make all features available to some clients; for others, only a few. You have complete control, and you have the flexibility to change feature availability as client needs change.
Q. What types of legal groups benefit from using CaseEnsemble?
A. Any group who wants to work online, organize their data and documents, and share work product in a collaborative manner to promote efficiency can benefit from legal extranet technologies.
Q. Can CaseEnsemble be used to support legal processes requiring workflow engines?
A. Absolutely. We often assist clients in projects where local counsel submit information into a centralized system and the system's workflow engine then shoots out email prompts to the next individual in the workflow process to alert them that their attention is required on a record. We also provide functionality to produce email reminders and ticklers to individuals to help avoid bottlenecks and assist in the project management of a business process.
Q. Can CaseEnsemble be used to track and manage the effectiveness of legal business partners such as expert witnesses and EDD vendors?
A. Yes. We have several systems deployments and templates to help practice groups with needs of this nature.
Q. How secure is data loaded into CaseEnsemble?
A. Very secure. We run our applications in a world class data center with state-of-the-art data center infrastructure including power generators, UPS, cooling system, multi-level security checks, and pre-action fire suppression system. Your servers will be protected from power outages, high temperatures, and fire. Services include locked cages, replication of data to multiple locations and intrusion detection. In addition, the extranet employs granular security within each site, enabling you to assign roles and privileges to users granting them access only to the information they need to see and work with. We also maintain audit logs to monitor the data updates and actions users take on your data. All communications between extranet users are encrypted.
Q. What is the turnaround time to create a legal extranet system?
A. A new collaboration area can be created very quickly. Same day service is the norm, not the exception.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

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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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Document Libraries

Client workspaces and legal extranets are ideal locations to post litigation support document libraries.

Why?

Data can be added by any party - authorized law firms or clients. Or, you can constrain entry to authorized individuals and prevent data manipulation by certain team members.

Data can be easily added - there no longer any reliance on IT professionals to post up information which is no longer timely by the time it is posted to the site. And this includes data or virtually any type of attached file.

And, assuming the legal extranet technology is a robust and modern relational database package, these systems can easily hold thousands of documents totaling many GB's of data.

Legal extranets also facilitate litigation support by allowing full text searching of exhibits and posted documents. And, of course, documents can be searched by assigned keywords or by the title of the document.

There really is no need in today's technology world to email CD's back and forth or to use cumbersome virtual private networks or other methods of sharing data. On-line, client workspaces containing case management data, trial exhibits, discovery documents, depositions, transcripts, manuals, memos, etc.. are far more effective and convenient methods of posting up contact for collaborative use between law firms and clients. It is wise to consider using robust litigation support systems such as these to host and publish large litigation document libraries.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

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, December 29, 2014

Using Extranets To Help Coordinate Local Counsel

What is the best way to be sure all local counsel to a litigation are sharing the same documents, exhibits, information and following the same case strategy.

One excellent way is to post sets of documents and instructions on a secure website. These litigation support sites are commonly known as legal extranets or law firm client workspaces. With this technology, multiple law firms can review common document sets so that everyone is 100% certain they are working with and reading the most up-to-date version of documents related to a client litigation.

Attorneys can also manage case calendars, task lists, trial calendars and other date based data using this same technology.

Of course, this also can be accomplished by emailing files around, or by periodic distribution of CD's (if the number of documents is very large). These methods of sharing documents however are prone to confusion, since we are never quite sure that everyone has the latest version of all documents (or have the documents at all). Loading documents sets into secure websites such as client workspaces where authorized attorneys and other individuals can access them is, many would contend, a superior business practice.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Extranet Case Management

Extranets can be a terrific way for corporate law departments to track case management information. They can, if desired, outsource some or all of the data maintenance with respect to their litigations to the outside counsel managing and litigating the matters. This way, when various individuals need to know the status of a case, since the data maintenance is done by those closest to the case and in a timely manner, the case management information is available to anyone who needs to access it.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

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.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Task Reminders and Management

Litigation extranets can provide attorneys responsible for litigations with a very helpful task management tool.

Upcoming tasks can be cataloged, assigned to individual(s), and given due dates.
When tasks are assigned the extranet can notify those assigned to complete the task of its' existance. Litigation support extranets can also distribute periodic email ticklers or reminders to those assigned to tasks to let them know a task is coming due (due tomorrow, in 3 days, 7 days, etc..).

Notifications can also be distributed when tasks lapse to either those assigned to complete the task or to the individual(s) managing the litigation.

These task management tools, properly deployed and maintained, can help ensure a litigation support group does not miss court mandated due dates nor tasks a client requested that they complete.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

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.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

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.