Wednesday, October 14, 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.

Wednesday, September 23, 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.

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.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Legal Extranets as basic case management systems

We are seeing a trend where smaller firms see Legal Extranet systems as a way to track the status of their cases and calendars in a manner which allows them to view this information from the office, from home or while traveling (providing some basic remote connectivity to their data).
It is an interesting use of the technology -- more for remote access than for collaboration. And, it eliminates the need for these smaller firms to have to maintain IT staff with expertise in such systems, the entire function can be outsourced rather than having attorneys having to struggle with maintaining and supporting computer systems, which is clearly not their core compentency.

Thursday, September 03, 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).

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

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.

Friday, August 28, 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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Saturday, August 15, 2015

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.

Friday, July 31, 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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

User-Focused Query Reporting Engines For User Within Legal Case Management Systems

High quality legal extranet systems provide their clients with user-friendly reporting tools which allow them to develop ad hoc reports. These reporting engines allow clients to develop reports (including things like selecting the field to show, defining the sorting criteria, defining the filtering logic, and formatting the data selected by the report logic) on their own without having to wait (or pay for) customized reports to be created by programmers.

A strong query engine should also let one decide who can run which reports, and control the ability to download or view data contained in the reports. In other words, the delivery of a strong security module is also vital to the success of such a product.

Reporting engines of this nature should support the output of case reports both to printable formats (like PDF files) as well as to common program formats such as spreadsheet files.

It is advisable when selecting a legal extranet system to be sure you select a system which will allow you to run the reports you need, when you need them. It makes the data and information in a legal extanet or case management system far more useful.

Thursday, July 16, 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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

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.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

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, July 02, 2015

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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Legal Extranets - they are not just for large firms

We at times receive inquiries from small firms, sometimes very small firms with 1-3 attorneys, regarding legal technology and litigation support extranets.

From these types of firms, the interest is generally a bit different from that of large nationwide law firms or Fortune 500 companies. Unlike the larger entities, who typically are interested in connecting large workteams spanning multiple locations and organizations, these firms are often interested in an ASP type law firm extranet solution which will allow them to outsource some of their key functions (sometimes case management, sometimes task management, sometimes document management, sometimes all of the above).

The general message we typically receive from the firms is that there is an interest in allowing an expert (such as an ASP) manage functions like servers and software, which allows the attorneys at the firm to practice law, not to attempt to practice applications support, which they generally have attempted to do for a while and have tired of doing so. Who can blame them?

These types of implementation often help with another issue -- that being smaller firms struggling to put up properly secured remote access solutions, because if they are able to locate key documents or data at an ASP, the remote access needs related to case management or document management are lessened (or eliminated).