MIS @Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
Going Beyond E-mail for Collaboration Tools
A large international firm outsources its Extranet development.
By Judith Flournoy
KELLEY DRYE & Warren LLP, headquartered in New York City, is an international firm with more than 300 lawyers. It has six U.S. offices (Los Angeles; Stamford, Conn.; Washington, D.C.; Parsippany, N.J.; and Chicago); two international offices (Brussels and Hong Kong); as well as affiliated offices in Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and Thailand.
The firm is organized into eight basic departments: litigation; corporate and banking; labor and employment; employee benefits; bankruptcy; tax; real estate; and personal services. The firm's telecommunications group is one of the largest telecommunications practices in the United States.
As director of information technology, my challenge is to accomplish with computer- based technology the same tasks we take for granted when using a telephone: communication, collaboration, responsiveness, reliability. In the past, e-mail served as the primary means of electronic communication among Kelley Drye attorneys, their clients and co-counsel. We use Outlook 98 with the Exchange 5.5 back end. It's a very solid e-mail system. But it's not a collaborative tool.
But even the best e-mail system has its challenges. "Did my e-mail get there?" "Could the recipient open the document I attached?" Too often, communications ran aground due to the technical glitches inherent in e-mail.We needed to improve upon e-mail as a communications tool.
I'd heard from some of our financial services clients that they'd used an Extranet system from New York-based IntraLinks with some success. I'd also read of the positive experiences that Davis Polk & Wardwell had working with Extranets. These success stories -- combined with our ongoing efforts to explore new ways to tighten the relationship with our clients -- convinced me that an Extranet would fit the bill.
For those unfamiliar with the technology, an Extranet is a private computer network that's accessed via a Web browser. It provides a means for communicating with people inside and outside the firm -- clients, co-counsel, opposing counsel, etc. First and foremost, an Extranet provides a secure platform for exchanging and managing documents. They usually are password-controlled, and users may be given various "authority" levels to access different types of information.
Extranets can provide private "virtual conference" areas for conducting discussions; can be used to collaborate on documents; and can offer improved and faster access to firm attorneys -- wherever the clients or attorneys happened to be.
In the spring of 1999, I began discussing options with firm management. Executive Director Tom Carty and I considered developing an Extranet in-house, but quickly ruled out that option, as we estimated it would take our staff six to 12 months to build even a basic system. We needed something much sooner.
We then explored several outsourcing options. IntraLinks presented its Extranet to us, but their system lacked some of the features that we considered important to our clients, such as the ability to access outside links and billing information.
We next asked some high end Web site developers to bid on the project, in conjunction with a revamp of our public Web site. But the cost, plus the headaches of hosting and maintaining the system, made this strategy untenable. Even with such a considerable investment, there was no guarantee that it would grow with us and support essential features.
The following August, I attended the annual LawNet conference in Palm Spring, which draws MIS directors from across the country for seminars and technology exhibits.
I attended the "Client Extranet Sites" program, co-sponsored by Legal Anywhere, Inc. and Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP. The discussion included a presentation on Legal Anywhere Collaborator, an "Extranet-in-a-box" system that provides a platform and communication tools designed to enhance collaboration between attorneys and their clients (as well as with associates in other locales, and with outside counsel). (NB: Legal Anywhere was recently acquired by Niku Corp., and the Legal Anywhere Collaborator is now marketed under the "Niku" brand.)
There were a number of features about Collaborator that made sense for Kelley Drye. These included:
* Ease of administration: Collaborator offers flexibility in assigning administrative rights. Any person can be given the ability to add documents to the site -- this includes attorneys, staff and clients. Attorneys can add documents with a few mouse clicks.
Attorneys can create a new Extranet for a client or case instantly. It's as simple as filling out a form in which you name the case, client, and a few other optional fields, and then select which individuals whom you would like to grant access to the given Extranet.
* Logical structure: Communications with clients and co-counsel can be organized around specific issues within each case/matter that you are working on. This differs from e-mail in that e-mail places everything within your in box, which can be an organizational headache if you are trying to transmit documents through this forum. Collaborator creates a single repository of all relevant information. Users can search through the full text of all the documents and other information on the site.
* Permission structure: Collaborator has finely tuned "permissions" throughout its site. This allows the lead attorney to grant/restrict access rights to any piece of information on the site down to particular individuals, including individuals participating within a given Extranet. For example, a user can assign someone access rights to a particular case or matter, but then restrict that same person from accessing other documents or information contained within that case or matter.
* Strict security measures: An Extranet of questionable security is utterly useless. Collaborator includes a strong firewall, access control lists and a secure gateway offering our clients protection from potential security threats. To guard against potential system abuses, Collaborator incorporates token sessions, expiring session IDs, access and authentication control, URL verification, prompted password changes and a log-in auditing and tracking system. All communications are 128-bit Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encrypted.
* Off-site hosting: Perhaps the most attractive aspect of Collaborator is that Niku provides hosting services. The Extranet application and all data reside on a remote server. This allows for security, and redundancy at a level my staff could not support. Niku backs up and otherwise maintains data on the Extranet, and automatically adds any updates to the system. All that's needed on our end -- and for that matter, our clients' or co-counsels' end -- is an Internet connection and a browser. Our Help Desk supports end users in terms of application "How To's."
Right now, we're in the early phases of rolling out the new Extranet. Our plan is to make it available to everyone within the firm and to link it to our in-house designed Intranet. We've begun the roll-out with demonstrations for our paralegals, who serve as the "gatekeepers" in each practice area. They are responsible for setting up user IDs, and inputting each client Extranet with relevant contact and calendar data. Associates assigned to a given matter will be responsible for maintaining documents that reside in their client's Extranet.
Half the Battle
Winning over my internal constituency was only half the battle. For our Extranet to succeed, our clients need to embrace the system as well. To this end, we have asked partners to select key clients for the initial roll-out. These clients cover the gamut in terms of the types of engagements -- mergers and acquisitions; litigation; bankruptcy; real estate, etc.
We predict that our clients will like the ability to obtain information without having to track someone down. We also suspect they will especially like the fact that they will have free access to their Kelley Drye Extranet site.
Like any new application launch, the Kelley Drye Extranet is a work in progress. We expect that the 24 hour availability, via browser, will be a driving force in how clients, co-counsel and Kelley Drye attorneys will use it. Likewise, the "discussion" area will be a boon. In this virtual office space, a discussion on any point can occur, with an easy-to-follow "thread" of previous dialogue, and without having to get someone on the phone.
Will the accessibility our Extranet affords win the hearts and minds of our clients? It's a little early to say. Will it ease some of the communication snafus associated with exchanging sensitive information via e-mail? We're counting on it.
Judith Flournoy is director of information technology at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, and is based in the firm's New York City office.