San Francisco: Wet, Wired, Wavering Power
By Monica Bay
Hmmmm ... New York City got an earthquake, and California had power outages. Something is definitely wrong with this picture! The epicenter of the massive January quake (2.4 on the Richter scale) was across the street from my apartment, right under Rudy's Gracie Mansion.
I have to confess, my dog didn't even wimper. However, Chuck Scarborough, our local NBC anchor, got all breathy on the news, but that's because he's convinced N.Y.C. is gonna collapse one day from The Big One.
Oh well, he's not from California, where a 2.4 wouldn't even make the noon news. That's O.K. We'll humor him.
But anyway... all this is just a segue to my latest tales of the City.
The trigger for the January trip was my annual expedition to hear Steve Jobs at Macworld SF 2001, but you can read all about that in this month's Mac Corner.
Instead, let's first talk about the hot rumors flying about S.F.'s high profile casecentral.com.
In light of the current Bay Area dot.com death watch, it's not surprising that legal tech circuit denizens were shopping for black funeral suits when word hit the street that casecentral.com had laid off a bunch of employees -- including its highly visible vice president of marketing, Jeff Blanc.
But president Christopher Kruse says his colleagues can put away the dirges.
"Relax. We are not going anywhere. We are stronger than ever, and people should be scared of us," Kruse joked.
Eleven folks got pink slips, out of a staff of 78, Kruse confirmed. Three or four management level people also left over the last six months due to "standard turnover," says Kruse. Those departees include Jorge Montanez, who defected to Portland-based Fios (although he will stay in L.A.).
But don't go search for the company on fuckedcompany.com. It's not listed (at least not at press time.) Kruse insists that the layoffs are normal and routine.
"This is a seven-year-old business, and as part of our annual planning process, we look at what we are and what we aren't," he says. The company, which began with a basic document search and retrieval product, is now building technology applications (such as online document repositories), he continued.
"We still have a pile of cash in the bank and really happy investors," says Kruse, who declines to disclose exactly how much cash is tucked away. "That's proprietary."
In fact, casecentral.com is hiring, he says. Terry Wynn has been added as veep of finance, and Tony Caputo has replaced Blanc in the head marketing position. And 15 spots are open in sales and engineering, says Kruse.
However, casecentral's highly-touted partnership with Seattle's ELF Technologies seems to have evaporated, he concedes.
Since ELF announced its new partnership with IKON Office Solutions, "I haven't spoken to them. I've never really heard from Don" (Murray)," says Kruse. (IKON has received a non-controlling equity interest in ELF, and IKON will transfer its Web-based Virtual File Room and other assets to ELF.)
So we called Murray, who insists that all is well but acknowledges that the channels of communication haven't exactly been buzzing between Seattle and San Francisco.
"That's probably true. He hasn't talked to me, either," says Murray, who blamed it not on a freeze-out, but simply on being swamped with last minute details of ELF's agreement with IKON Office Solutions.
"Our intent is to have multiple services in every category; to have services like casecentral and IKON," says Murray. "The door is still open. The reason for the silence is that things always take longer than you think they will, when people are involved."
Back to Kruse. He says casecentral.com has landed three new deals: with Seattle-based Electronic Evidence Discovery Inc.; DecisionQuest, of Torrance, Calif., and a "re-launch" of the company's partnership with Boston's LegaLink, he says.
Nor should anybody read anything into his decision to pass on hosting his usual huge bash at January's LegalTech New York (his lavish LegalTech parties have been a signature of the company).
"Not this year," Kruse declares. "They sent the wrong message. If we do it this year, then everybody would expect we would do it every year," he says. Besides, "the thing that burst the bubble on the Internet economy was discretionary marketing expenditures. We think we can be more effective and get better marketing return on investment dollars by doing more direct marketing."
Meanwhile, Murray says ELF is in the final stages of competing its new partnership with IKON, and is about to go live with an installation of its Matter Vault product at the American Corporate Counsel Association. ACCA will be using the collaborative case manage product, hey says, to help organize its operations. ELF, he says, has "decided to focus on four key areas: documents, transcripts, electronic invoicing and auditing, and then basically our Matter Vault product;" all under the umbrella of its Serengeti application.
"We are all ahead full speed with IKON. The first contract with IKON is signed, the second one will be signed within a week, and I don't really want to say more," says Murray, (at late Jan. press time) promising (as always) more news in the near future.
Pro2Net Dumping Legal?
Seattle's Pro2Net joins the list of vendors feeling the dot.com pinch. Late last year, it laid off about 30 folks, including feisty Gayle O'Connor (who has just taken a marketing post at ABC Legal Services Inc.)
Stephen Burnett, who was general manager of Pro2Net's legal business unit is gone, as is president and CEO John Fitzpatrick. Also departed: our former Am Law colleagues Wendy Leibowitz and Adam Klein.
The site still shows a legal section, but Leibowitz confirms that it is changing focus. "Yep, Pro2Net is going back to being primarily an accounting site, where it was long profitable," says Leibowitz. "There's still a skeletal legal staff, which doesn't include me or Adam, she said. "It was a wild ride," says Leibowitz, who said she loved the place and people. "I have no regrets."
We tried repeatedly to contact the company, but other than voicemail from co-founder Shane Gillispie, who said he is now handling marketing, we couldn't get a response.
West Gobbles FindLaw?
Back to the S.F. Bay Area: Mountain View's FindLaw has signed an agreement to be purchased by West Group, for a tasty $37 million, reports our sister publication, The National Law Journal, citing "a source close to Findlaw who asked not to be named."
We tried to check it out, but were unable to get through on the phones or access the phone directory or get an operator. But FindLaw's Jill Goetz, who got back to us via trusty e-mail, assured us that it was nothing sinister, just the"lovely rolling blackouts (that) knocked out part of our phone system."
Goetz and West's (actually, Thomson Legal & Regulatory) corporate communications director John Shaughnessy, both performed the de rigeur spin dance when asked to confirm the story. "Findlaw has a policy of not commenting on rumors," e-mailed Goetz. Funny, Shaughnessy repeated the exact same phrase. (Subbing West for Findlaw.) I just smiled. I suspect you can go to the bank on this one. According to the grapevine, everybody's operating under a severe gag order, with threats of being fired if they squawk.
Back to our Bay Area adventure: We lucked out on both weather and traffic (the Bay Area's notorious 101 was surprisingly uncrowded -- maybe there are some advantages to the dot.com recession -- and traveled south to San Jose to meet with Mark Chandler, senior director of worldwide legal services at Cisco Systems Inc., and with Joseph Diodata, director of field marketing.
They gave us a quick orientation to Cisco's law department operations, and its corporate efforts targeting the legal market. Chandler told us that the law department staff decided it wanted to practice what it preaches, and explored how they could automate their own law department. The results are pretty impressive.
He gave us a tour of the company's Intranet, and showed us some of its tools, which range from the pragmatic to the complex. On the practical side, staff expense reports are filed electronically, using standardized guidelines, and reimbursement checks are deposited automatically into the employee's checking account within 48 hours of submission.
On the more substantive legal arena, Cisco has automated many aspects of its law department operations, including the production of routine contracts, explained Chandler. The automation assistance is especially helpful when dealing in non-U.S. jurisdictions, a common occurrence with Cisco's multi-national operations.
Chandler demonstrated how a Cisco lawyer could speed up the process of hiring a new employee. Some jurisdictions, he prefaced, require contracts in multiple languages. So he pulled up a model contract, showed how it could be adjusted to meet the specifics of the hire; and then, with a click, translated instantaneously into three languages.
Another few clicks and he pulled up an online chart detailing which Cisco staff, in that jurisdiction, would be required to sign off on the document -- as well as who was "above" them in the food chain, should they be unavailable to sign.
We next had a stimulating meeting with Joe Diodati about the future of technology (and technophobia) in the legal profession. I suspect it's a topic you'll hear more about in these pages!
And BTW: They say you don't have to be a rocket scientist to play in cyberspace. But Diodati's resume includes a B.S. in Nuclear Engineering.
Now that I've been a New Yorker for three years, I'm beginning to understand why East coasters go so nuts about the Bay Area's restaurants.
Mal Mead, I.T. director of S.F.'s McCutchen, Doyle, Brown and Enersen L.L.P. (and a member of the LTN Edit Advisory Board) and I survived drenching rains to get to Kokkari Estiatorio, and enjoyed an amazing lunch. The owners have gutted the former Ciao, as well as an adjoining office building, to create the wonderful Greek bistro.
Also on the menu: Palio d'Asti, and the good company of Summation Legal Technologies Inc.'s John Sigerman and Paul Thompson.
In Burlingame, with the ever-charming Martha Sullivan, of LegalVoice, we did another Italian episode at Il Fornaio.
For all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never made it to Boulevard until the gang at Workshare Technology (Brent Hensley and Mark Hadfield) suggested we brave even more downpours and give it a try. By now, the huge San Francisco storm was so rough that the Embarcadero (the road, not the area) was closed as dramatic waves crashed 20+ feet onto the roadway. But we weathered the storm and enjoyed Boulevard's sumptuous food and ambience.
Side trips: Maya in S.F.; Wild Thyme in Sonoma; the Smokehouse Cafe in Calistoga; and Gail's Cafe in Healdsburg. Next on my agenda: Lean Cuisine!
Musical Chairs Cont'd.
Kevin O'Connor, formerly of SRA International, has landed a new gig at Flywheel Communications, where he's now vice president of customer service. He'll help build and support the client base. The company's team also includes Roberta Katz, former general counsel of Netscape, and Joe Grundfest (Stanford law prof and former SEC Commissioner.)
ELF's Don Murray has been raving about his BOSE noise reduction headphones, but the $300 price tag was
bit too pricey for me. But while bored at Dulles Airport, I found a cheaper pair at the Brookstone
shop, for $79. They may not be BOSE quality, but Brookstone says they reduce cabin din by 7 to 16
decibels within a 25 to 1,600 Hz range. And you can plug them right into the plane's audio channel or
your CD player. They're great! It proved a timely buy, as my connecting flight had four babies
within four rows of me. Was that money well spent or what!