Thursday, March 30, 2006

Intranet and Extranet Basics

Are terms like Groupware and Corporate Portal foreign to you? Do you have trouble defining the different between and intranet and extranet? Not sure what the phrase "Knowledge Management" really means from an IT management perspective.

If this describes you (and, if you care), there is a useful website dedicated to providing an "Executive Guide" to these and many other collaboration technology terms and concepts. You might find it to be useful. The site can be accessed by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Downloading Data From Extranets (or from any internet site)

Varios versions of Excel, beginning with Excel 2002, deliver a neat tool that allows one to download a HTML table directly into Excel. All one needs to do is to right click on the HTML table (within legal extranets this could be a master list of all documents, all tasks, all calendar items, etc...) and use the "Export to Microsoft Excel" option. It launches Excel and imports the data, including the headings, for the client.

This can be used to provide a client with access to data, which they can then further massage for their own reporting requirements, in areas such as litigation settlement lists, case listings by docket number or by state or by any other case management tracking field, trial calendars, litigation document lists, litigation costs incurred by law firm, or any other litigation case management information stored in a litigation tracking system.

For legal extranets, or any web application, this feature has the potential to lessen the need for complex reporting solutions to be deployed along with a web-based application. If clients have the ability to export lists of data from their application (assuming the software company is smart enough to provide clients with views of the data that include all the fields required for reporting purposes), they can then use and work with their data using applications such as Excel and preventing that they generally prefer to use for reporting purposes anyway.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Complaints and responses

Legal extranets don't need to be overly complex if this does not meet any client needs. It very well could be that you have a client that simply wishes to see the basic documents associated with a litigation: complaints, responses, case management orders, etc...

If this is the case, a law firm extranet can be created solely for this purpose. This helps clients see the basic documents they need to see during the course of managing several litigating.

Of course, once a client sees this functionality, it is not unreasonable to expect they might want to manage their tasks, meetings or case management information with similar law firm extranet technology in the near future!

The lesson to be learned here is that it is important your legal extranet software be designed in a component basis manner, that is, one can easily plug in one, many or all components to provide clients with exactly the type and scope system implementation which meets the unique needs of their organization.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Extranet - Selecting a database package to build your system

Building a legal extranet system - selecting technology?

One of the first considerations is probably which database platform to use. Hopefully those of you who have read this blog for a while can immediately rule out proprietary flatfile databases, leaving choices such as Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, and other open source options.

I, personally, like open source options but would be fearful of using them for legal applications. Law firms and their clients want bulletproof solutions and, for those reasons, I would recommend selecting a commercially available database package.

I think any of the three listed about could be good choices. DB2 is probably a bit too robust (and, this, not cost effective) for this type of relatively simple collaboration applications. Others may have different opinions, that is just mine, that this database is best used for very high volume, heavy transactional databases -- and that it does a wonderful job in those areas.

SQL Server is certainly a strong choice. Of course, one would probably program using ActiveServerPages (ASP) on top of that. Integration with Internet Explorer is obviously excellent. If you have concerns about IE from a security perspective (or if your clients do), I'd be careful in unit and system testing my functionality against other browsers (more notably, Firefox) before deploying a system using these technologies. But, generally speaking, this certainly is a strong set of technologies to consider using.

The Oracle database is also a strong choice. One could use a number of technologies to program against this (Java, PL/SQL to name a few). I think it is fair to say that, since databases are Oracle's core competency, it is probably a slightly stronger, scalable and bulletproof database package. That, however, is only an opinion and certainly others are entitled to their own opinions. But, whatever yours, it is clear that Oracle is also a very viable choice for a database engine for your legal extranet system.

Finally, although it is not the topic of this post, this database decision should made in conjunction with your operating system and hardware decisions. For example, if one really wants to run their system using UNIX, the complexities and costs of SQL Server vs. Oracle are very different than those running a Windows on LINUX platform. I have worked in all three platforms, but since operating systems are not my core competency I will refrain from making comments on the pros/cons of each within this blog. It is however safe to say that one certainly must factor this element into one's technology decision making.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Need to share internet links on a specific topic?

Legal extranets can help with this. A set of links can be added into a bulletin board section of a system. These links can then be used by any member of a work team. This allows a law firm practice group specialist or expert to instantly make available a virtual "internet library" of helpful sites to their clients, immediately adding value to their services and the services of a law firm to a client (without anyone having to deal with the complexity of exporting their Tnternet Explorer Favorites and sending them to others to import into their Internet Explorer Favorites lists).

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Client Visits

Do you ever have client visits scheduled but are not sure what additional services you can offer to them? If so, offering your client a law firm client workspace / extranet / portal with information of interest to them might be something you want to consider. This offer, especially when coupled with a system demonstration, is one way to really impress your client!!!!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Document Coding

Extranets can serve a very useful purpose as a mechanism to allow document coders who are located in different geographical locations to all access a document repository and work simultaneously on the coding process. Without the functionality of an extranet, the most common scenario to support this need might be to provide remote access to a document database via a common remote access tool. Sometime, there can be issues with response time and printing when remote access of this type is granted.

So, if you need to hook up several locations to a set of documents/images/PDF's, etc. to be coded, you might want to consider using a legal extranet system to perform this function.