Teaming Up with
Groupware was the buzzword a few years ago. The term seemed to include all technologies that would foster collaboration, teamwork and information-sharing among lawyers, clients and co-counsel, and perhaps even among those partners at the same firm who don't like each other.
The term seems to have been replaced today in buzzing circles by "knowledge management." "No one really knows what that means, either," says Eric Goldreich, director of technology at Los Angeles' Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton L.L.P.
One major legal product universally regarded as groupware is JFS Litigator's Notebook, whose Web site is at www.jfsnet.com. It functions as an electronic "ring binder," or casebook, holding all litigation documents. Because it uses Lotus Notes software, documents can be "replicated" to all attorneys, clients and experts on a case, facilitating collaboration.
The founder and chief technology officer of Litigator's Notebook is James Feuerstein, a former litigation assistant who defines groupware as "tools for workflow, organization, prioritization, idea-sharing and communication--all within a secure and easy-to-use environment. And it handles information in a wide variety of formats--ranging, for example, from text and spreadsheets to graphics, images and video."
Kimball Anderson, a partner at Chicago's Winston & Strawn, is a heavy user of Litigator's Notebook. "Groupware--meaning anything that allows data sharing--can improve efficiency enormously," he says. "But it hasn't taken off the way I expected."
Mr. Anderson hopes that the latest version of Litigator's Notebook, which Winston & Strawn is rolling out, will allow the technology to spread. It can take "several weeks" to train a new user on Lotus Notes, says Mr. Anderson. The new notebook is Internet-based: All the client needs is a Web browser. Anderson uses another groupware product, Casemap, at www.casemap.com. But it has limitations. Files, for example, can't be shared on a network, says Mr. Anderson.
David Hambourger, director of practice support at Winston & Strawn, notes that the firm has used Litigator's Notebook for years. But he's a believer in simplicity, too. "E-mail is groupware," he says.
Mr. Hambourger is not alone in his view. A recent survey of the nation's largest 100 law lirms in AmLaw Tech, a sister publication of The National Law Journal, asked about groupware. More than half of the firms listed their e-mail programs, Exchange and Outlook, as groupware.
While Outlook has groupware features, it is not nearly as robust as other products. "The legal profession's concept of groupware is different from the general public's," says Richard P. Klau, director of marketing for legal markets at iManage Inc., a document management company.
Sheppard Mullin's Mr. Goldreich notes that lawyers don't want to work simultaneously: Serial editing of a document, via e-mail, is close enough for comfort for most attorneys.
iManage, accordingly, is launching a new version to enhance Outlook's groupwarelike abilities. Version 5.0 will allow users to delineate rules for the routing and storage of e-mail. It also will allow users to be alerted (by e-mail, of course) whenever new content is added to a common document repository.
But Hadrian Katz, a litigator who heads the technology committee at Washington, D.C.'s Arnold & Porter, is trying to get the firm away from e-mail. If one person e-mails a document to 80 others, says Mr. Katz, each person's changes must be incorporated separately. E-mail doesn't allow people to view the comments of others in an orderly manner. E-mail security--the "forward" button--is notoriously poor. Finally, e-mail eats up a lot of room on a server. "People should not save large documents in e-mail boxes...but busy professionals use what they know," Mr. Katz says. "The big gain for Notes will be to get people off e-mail and into the database," he says. With Lotus Notes, messages are stored in a database, allowing newcomers to review past discussions and drafts of documents. But Notes is a proprietary piece of software: Everyone must have a copy to play.
Mr. Goldreich believes that the Internet will eventually become the lawyer's true groupware product. "Anything Internet-based will be successful because it's possible to get access to the Internet anywhere: hotels, airports."
His firm uses secure extranets extensively. "In a big loan deal, we post the document, encrypted, to a secure Web site," he says. Bankers and lawyers post their comments, but the author has sole control over the document and can see who has logged in and who has not. "This is clearly the way to do loan deals," says Mr. Goldreich.
This article is reprinted with permission from the September 6, 1999 edition of The National Law Journal. © 1999 NLP IP Company.