Saturday, February 17, 2007

Uses of legal extranet technology in the risk management and insurance fields

Recently, we have noted a uptick in the number of uses of web-based collaboration technologies to assist in the tracking and management of matters related to the insurance industry. These uses include using these technologies to track the status of a legal matter, to track documents related to the cases, to maintain case calendars, and to help oversee other data related to the litigations or claims. The various document sets tracked in systems like this range from small document sets (perhaps only the initial claim and pleadings and other work product associated with a matter) to very large (complete sets of documents relating to all aspects of claims related to natural disasters emcompassing the claims of hundreds of major clients). It will be interesting to see if this trend continues and if the insurance area continues to be one which is utilizing web-based collaboration systems.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Web-Based Applications

Recently, there have been many interesting articles about the proiferation of web-based hosted applications for common, everyday use. There are many players in the market of providing on-line spreadsheets, work processors and presentation software. It will be interesting to see how this trend plays out in the world of managing legal and litigation data -- in a world where we all do on-line banking, manage our portfolios on-line, send emails using services like YAHOO, GOOGLE and others and where we soon might be creating all of our documents online and watching television online -- how soon will it be before we move more and more legal case management and document management applications out of technologies which require local installations, powerful PC hardware and a robust law firm intranet network (which is often a huge constraint to providing cross-office access to litigation data in multioffice law firms) into technologies which are common, hosted solution accessing in a secure and encrypted manner using the same internet backbone we use (or will soon use) for these other common, day-to-day activities.

Labels: , , ,

CaseEnsemble PDF Reporting Capability

Xerdict recently developed a new reporting capability within the CaseEnsemble Collaboration System for use in all collaboration systems.

The new reporting capability allows CaseEnsemble to produce any report generated by the system " Query Builder" in a configurable PDF format. To help properly format the reports, CaseEnsemble allows the system users and clients to define the report characteristics such as the report font, font size, and page size and orientation in the PDF file (prior to printing/saving/emailing the PDF file). This new feature, which adds to the existing CaseEnsemble functionality allowing clients to either view the report on the screen or export report contents to an Excel file, greatly improves CaseEnsemble clients's ability to save Case Management and other types of system reports in a useful and attractive format appropriate for printing or emailing to clients. This capability is particularily useful for those case management applications that require periodic reports (weekly, monthly, quarterly) to be sent to clients.

Labels: , , ,

More information on online office suites

Computer World recently evaluated four of the options in this area, Ajax13, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, ThinkFree Online and Zoho Office Suite. Check out the article to see who won. This is another interesting development in the world of hosted, on-line applications and might help others realize some of the benefits of these types of applications (like Legal Extranets).

Monday, February 12, 2007

On-line office suites

The NY Times had an interesting article about ThinkFree, which is a Web-based word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software (replicating a great deal of Microsoft’s comparable applications) over the weekend.

This model, empowered by the expansion in broadband capability and other factors, ztakes the concept of moving applications to the web to another level and could, potentially, represent a very significant platform shift in the manner in which the vast majority of the general population works on the computer.

Compared to managing some legal cases or documents on the web which legal extranet systems obviously do, this model actually promotes the development and construction of spreadsheets, documents and presentations on the web. This is an exciting development and bodes well for the continued potential expansion of managing the data associated with legal matters in legal web-based collaboration systems.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The making of an e-discovery practice

The new Federal Rules on Electronic Discovery, which went into effect December 1, 2006, were considered by some to be an administrative compliance burden for companies, organizations and law firms alike. However, at Sedgwick, a small team of attorneys saw these new regulations as an opportunity to develop a unique set of legal services for the firm. This new practice expanded, beyond the practice of compliance counseling, into new frontiers that include technology-based capabilities assisting companies in the implementation of the policies, procedures and best practices often recommended to corporate and institutional clients.

So, how did this all begin? In early 2006, two Sedgwick partners, Keith Casto and Kenneth Rashbaum, identified the need to counsel companies with respect to changes in business practices driven by the new Federal Rules. These needs included the requirements that organizations track and manage electronic information, implement appropriate and reasonable records retention policies for electronic records, execute litigation holds on electronic information as needed, and comply with new regulations, timing and benchmarks related to the identification and exchange of such data during the litigation discovery process.

Further complicating these issues was the fact that case law varies in federal and state courts, and also differs considerably from state to state. For example, some states have many regulations, statutes and precedents in this area, while other states have incomplete and limited prior materials in this area.

Mr. Casto and Mr. Rashbaum quickly developed the concept of gathering materials (e.g., statutes, rules, prior case law and articles) as collateral to assist them in counseling clients in this changing area of law. They developed a vision of storing this set of collected works and data in a secure, Web-based collaboration system. Using this type of technology, the work product could not only be shared within their own law firm, but also could, after appropriate review and refinement of the information, be shared with existing and prospective clients as a representation of their knowledge of e-discovery.

Transforming this vision into reality became Mr. Rashbaum and Mr. Casto’s next aspiration. First, they approached Sedgwick’s Management Committee with a thumbnail sketch of their business plan and vision. Upon learning about the new Federal Rules and the potential business opportunities they presented, Sedgwick’s Management Committee decided to establish a new practice group focusing on electronic discovery, and appointed Mr. Rashbaum and Casto co-chairs of this new unit.

With the support and backing of the firm in place, Mr. Casto and Rashbaum began assembling the key components of the practice. First, they recruited and assigned specific resources within the firm, both attorneys and paralegals, to collect, vet, organize and summarize e-discovery material. This included case law, rules, statutes, articles, forms, templates and other types of information. Sedgwick quickly compiled and assembled an impressive set of materials in this area spanning many jurisdictions, states and points of view.

Next, the e-discovery team sought to identify a method of storing this material. Somehow, in today’s electronic age, storing the material on a shared network directory or in email folders did not seem adequate. So the team called upon Sedgwick’s technology-based subsidiary, Xerdict Group LLC, which is led by Michael Tanenbaum, the managing general partner of Sedgwick’s Newark, N.J., office, to construct a secure, Web-based depository for these materials. Xerdict, using its collaboration technology that in the past primarily was used for legal case management and document management purposes, added features to the system and then constructed a customized portal in about six weeks. This newly constructed collaboration system provided the ability to store all the aforementioned types of data, with an entity screen allowing the team to specifically code and organization each type of data in the precise manner dictated by the team, and also delivered a search engine allowing authorized system users to search for specific types of data (by court, jurisdiction, type of rule, state and many other searches).

The new system, named the “Sedgwick E-Discovery Portal,” also provided some additional features that were part of the Sedgwick’s standard client extranet. One such example was the litigation bulletin board feature, which was seen as a way for Sedgwick to provide clients with communication in a secure and privileged manner on sensitive issues (such as internal investigations).

With the building blocks of the information repository and the technology delivery mechanism in place, Sedgwick began promoting the new practice. The first step was to share this information with all other Sedgwick attorneys. This was done for many reasons. One was to share all this new e-discovery information within the firm so that each lawyer within the firm gained solid footing in the new Federal Rules and could counsel their clients accordingly. Furthermore, the sharing of this information within the firm served the valuable purpose of levering the collective wisdom of the Firm in addressing any questions, concerns or gaps in the collected data prior to sharing the information with clients.

Mr. Rashbaum and Mr. Casto then made the e-discovery portal available to selected clients. The feedback on this resource was that it was very helpful but the taste of this electronic discovery information resulted in clients asking for more assistance. Some clients wanted full service models, including not only the knowledge in the e-discovery portal but also the products needed to implement the recommendations of the e-discovery practice (e.g., how to identify and collect electronic data, the process of implementing litigation holds, the production of documents, the implementation of records retention policies, etc.).

In response to these needs, Mr. Rashbaum and Mr. Casto, working with members of the Sedgwick IT Department, assessed the capabilities of many of the leading technology providers in these areas. While Sedgwick maintains a vendor-agnostic outlook on technology vendors, the Electronic Discovery Team and IT Department strived to learn enough about each of the leading players to provide clients with ideas and information on companies providing services such as e-mail and electronic media collection, enterprise search engines, document review/assessment/production, and other areas.

Given that the Federal Rules on e-discovery were only recently adopted, Sedgwick believes this to be only the beginning of its journey assisting clients in this area. It is anticipated, by all the members of the e-discovery team and practice, that further innovation and creativity will be necessary in the coming months and years for firms wishing to be thought leaders in this new area of the law.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Business Issues Related To Legal Extranets

Here are a few quick items to consider if you are a law firm and considering putting up a legal extranet system for your clients and if you, for some reason, would not want to contract with the Xerdict Group for your extranet needs ! :)
  • Have you considered the need for business insurance.
  • Do you have a standard contact you wish to have clients enter into so that issues such as software warranties, data security, indemnification, etc.. are clearly defined.
  • Is your legal extranet system name trademarked and source code copyrighted?
  • Do you have a privacy policy to govern the data which will be stored on your system?
  • Do you have a service level agreement with your clients?
  • Do you feel confident that you have the appropriate support structure in place with respect to client support, technical support, customer service.
  • Do you have appropriate change management system in place to help you govern the various changes in the various different implementations you will ultimately be delivering to your clients.
  • Do you have a structure and technology in place which will allow you to do sales demonstrations and other pre-sales work?
  • Do you have a sense of how (or if) you will be recapturing the costs of the system (billing your clients).
  • Do you have a methodology for storing and managing your application source code?
  • Do you have appropriate backup mechanisms and failover procedures and processes put into place?

These are all items to consider, perhaps some are not applicable to you but I would expect most should be application for most firms.

Labels: , , , ,