MIS: Holland & Knight L.L.P.
Standardizing a Firm's Litigation Support
The target: Consistent support and economies of scale.
By Ralph Barber
OVER THE LAST four years, Holland & Knight L.L.P. has experienced significant growth, though both expansion and acquisitions -- from approximately 500 lawyers in 1996, to our current roster of more than 1,200 attorneys, who practice in more than 100 areas of law. We operate in 24 locations: Our United States offices are in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and Washington, D.C. Our international offices are in Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Tel Aviv.
Though our attorneys are located around the world, we operate with a "multi-office, one-firm" structure. If a client in New York has a matter that demands the attention of attorneys who happen to work in Florida and California, they will get that expertise, immediately. Our technology infrastructure must support such collaboration.
Developing an infrastructure that supports growth, while maintaining day-to-day operations, has required a considerable level of standardization of our tools. But by standardizing applications among our offices, we can offer consistent support to our staff; can expect better service from our vendors, and can realize better economies of scale.
We standardized our hardware with Compaq servers, desktop and notebook PCs; and Hewlett-Packard printers. With some of our recent acquisitions, we've replaced nearly new hardware with the Compaq systems, as this enables our technicians to see the same thing everywhere they go. While this approach increases up-front costs, we've found that it saves a great deal of money in support time down the line. (Incidentally, many of the non-Compaq PCs were donated to charity.)
We currently operate with Windows NT as our operating/networking system in 90 percent of our offices, with Office 97 Pro acting as our office suite, and Outlook 98 serving as our e-mail program. We're in the final stages of upgrading to Microsoft 2000. This should be complete by late January (we'll move to Outlook 2000 and Office 2000 when the roll-out is finished).
Other applications that we've standardized in the firm include PC DOCS (version 3.83) for document management; Infracenter (version 2.06) from Peregrine Systems as our help desk system; SMS (version 2) from Microsoft for remotely managing desktops; and Robomon (version 7.06) from Heroix Corporation for remotely managing servers.
Five years ago we developed our own Intranet, which helps us standardize processes and insures our clients of a consistent product.
In early 1999, it was time to standardize the litigation support tools for the roughly 500 litigators in the firm. At the time, Holland & Knight used a variety of products in the litigation support category -- some for documents, some for "real time," transcript management; some for full-text search and retrieval. These included JFS Litigators Notebook (from Bowne & Co. Inc.); Dataflight Software Inc.'s Concordance 6.0 for Windows 95/98; DocuFind (a product from Arthur Andersen, now discontinued) and Summation Blaze 5.2 with Full Text Imaging, from Summation Legal Technologies, Inc. Some offices relied heavily on one application; others used a mix.
While each of these systems were working well enough, it was our goal to find a product that would integrate as many of the functionality areas as possible. We accepted that there might be a stronger product for each sub area -- say image viewing or trial presentation -- but felt it was a high priority that we have a core product that would allow us to easily take case information into the war room on a moment's notice.
A core litigation support application would facilitate this process, as challenges of data incompatibility would be largely obviated, and would help us standardize a process for automating a case.
This did not mean that we wouldn't offer other litigation support applications when a situation merited their use; after all, it's our mandate to give our litigators the best technology available, not shackle them to one "standardized application if that application doesn't satisfy their needs. But we wanted a hub lit support application -- sub-specialty apps could branch out like spokes from the hub and be utilized when necessary.
In March, we selected Summation Blaze, Gold Edition.Three key factors influenced our decision. First, it included components we considered to be core functionalities -- interactive "real time" transcript tools; transcript management; evidentiary document database management; document imaging; and flexible reporting -- in an integrated program, with a common interface.
For example, users can search the entire body of case information with one command, and view search results sorted by source. Results appear in outline and context form, so users can quickly judge their relevance, then link to the result in its native format (e.g., the transcript or the document in question). Summation also makes data easily portable, which facilitates the use of notebook PCs, as well as collaboration between different offices, or with co-counsel.
A second factor in our decision was the availability of a nationwide network of trainers, who have passed exams certifying their proficiency, and generally, are litigation consultants. Having a network of trainers with a similar knowledge base simplifies the standardization process.
Finally, the Summation staff seemed to share our vision for the future. The company displayed a willingness to work with us to expand the product over time to suit our evolving needs -- such as the addition of Internet integration to the product.
Each year, we have two meetings of our lawyers, where technology developments are a key component of the agenda. At our March 2000 meeting, technology partner Bill Hamilton announced that we had selected Summation as our core litigation support package.
Following the introduction, the I.T. department rolled out the technology on an office-by-office basis, working with the local I.T. staff to establish procedures for administrating the software. If no one in a given office has significant Summation experience, we bring in outside trainers recommended by Summation. We also have six in-house trainers who we can send out to provide support; these individuals are in the process of receiving training from Summation trainers.
Our "help desk" personnel (housed in our Lakeland, Florida office) have been extensively trained in Sum-mation, and provide support from 7 a.m. to 12 midnight E.S.T.
We began the roll-out with those offices that had the largest concentration of litigators -- Miami and New York, for example -- and then moved on to other offices on a needs basis. If a given office had an urgent need to use Summation, we were able to access it remotely and provide telephone training and support. We completed the firm-wide roll-out with our San Francisco office in the early fall, 2000.
Creating a Process
Installing common applications is the first step in standardization. The second, and equally important step, is the creation of common practices. We've established a task team comprised of litigators from various offices and members of the I.T. department. This team is developing a list of document production best practices.
While the processes allow a level of flexibility to suit the nuances of each case, they are built around some core procedures. The knowledge base we're creating will be available on the firm's Intranet, and will allow our people to mine for information on a firm wide basis, and make the most of our intellectual capital. Subsets of case-specific documents will be made available to clients and co-counsel via an Extranet.
Our ongoing plan is to maintain our philosophy of commonality with flexibility. We will sometimes supplement our use of Summation with other products that are better-suited to a task at hand.
For especially large cases that require significant collaboration, we will use internal development resources to create customized systems. We expect to use the Web to manage large cases.
Ralph Barber is chief information officer at Holland & Knight L.L.P., based in the firm's Lakeland, Fla. office.