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March 2000
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Web Watch

ASPs Zero In On the Legal Market

What was the biggest buzz at Legal Tech New York? Without a doubt: Legal application service providers!

By Robert J. Ambrogi

BUZZWORD bulletin: Beware the ASP. Application service providers are positioning themselves as The Next Big Thing in law office technology. And at January's Legal Tech show in New York, they were out in force.

As a GartnerGroup analyst put it to PC Week magazine, "Everybody's an ASP." If the acronym is unfamiliar, you are not alone. Webopedia, a technology encyclopedia, defines ASPs as "third-party entities that manage and distribute software-based services and solutions to customers across a wide area network from a central data center." www.webopedia.com.

Most commonly, ASPs are Internet-based services that allow you to rent software or services on a per-use or subscription basis. The software sits on the ASP's server, you tap into it via a simple Web connection, and your data remains stored with the ASP, available for you or anybody else in your firm.

ASPs began to emerge in 1998, but came on strong to the legal market only recently. For lawyers, ASPs are focusing on integrated suites of applications for the law office, covering time-and-billing, case management, document management, legal research and more.

ASPs are attractive to smaller firms. They provide a range of applications without substantial capital outlays or the need for in-house technology expertise. No special hardware is required save for a computer and an Internet connection, and there is no software to purchase, install and update, since the only software required is usually a standard Web browser. Being Internet-based, the applications can be used from anywhere: office, home or on the road.

ASPs also promise integration, meaning that disparate office applications work together using a common interface.

But there are downsides. Applications provided through an ASP allow only a limited degree of customization and demand a high-speed Internet connection. Of greater concern is the security of your data. Can others gain access to it? What if the ASP loses it? Worse yet, what if the here-today ASP is gone tomorrow?

Fat Primate

Of the various ASPs exhibiting at Legal Tech, the 1,000-pound gorilla was West Group, which announced its partnership with Microsoft, IBM and Elite.com to create a Web-based suite that will integrate legal research, document assembly, document management, case management, time and billing, client management, calendars and dockets.Called WestWorks and not slated for release until the end of the year, it will target smaller law firms, and West promises affordable pricing appropriate for that market.

It will be built using Microsoft's Office 2000 and Microsoft Exchange, and will integrate Timesolv, Elite.com's time and billing software. It will use server technology and services from IBM.

The result, West said, will be a unique level of integration. "A client's data will only need to be entered once," explained Loren Jones, director of the WestWorks project, "and will be automatically exported to all appropriate fields in all applications." www.westgroup.com

Serengeti

Another strong-looking ASP at Legal Tech was Serengeti, created by ELF, a Mercer Island, Wash., legal technology company, through an alliance with Elite Information Systems, MeltingPoint, Punch Networks and IBM.

Similar to WestWorks, Serengeti uses the Internet to allow access to a broad range of applications from leading providers of legal software and services. It plans to offer applications in nearly 30 categories, including case management, time and billing, electronic invoicing, deposition storage, video conferencing, litigation support, legal document construction and business intelligence.With more features in the works, Serengeti already includes:

  • ELF's eInvoice, which allows law firms to submit invoices electronically to corporate clients, and facilitates the corporation's review and payment.

  • Elite, a time and billing, accounts receivable, general ledger and conflict-management system.

  • MeltingPoint's tool for navigating and performing legal research on the Web.

  • Punch Networks document storage, management and collaboration system.

  • Sorenson Vision's video technologies, allowing audio and video conferencing over the Web. www.SerengetiUS.com

JurisDictionUSA.net

Also entering the ASP arena was JurisDictionUSA.net, a Phoenix company offering document management; calendaring and time entry; real-time e-mail; conflicts checking; an electronic law library; checking, billing and fulfillment; case management; work- in-progress reports; and other features.

Its law library is based on technology licensed from the Web-based research service VersusLaw, of Redmond, Wash., while its communication and productivity tools were developed with Rhino Productions, Tempe, Ariz., and Michigan-based L.A.W.S. Corp. It developed its own case and document management, time and billing and conflicts checking, and online communications programs.

Run by two former lawyers, it boasts an advisory board that includes the former dean of Arizona State University Law School, the former president of the Arizona State Bar, a former Arizona attorney general, and a former Phoenix Suns basketball star. www.jdusa.net

Also debuting at Legal Tech was realLegal.com, a litigation-focused ASP providing applications for the creation, dissemination and management of trial and deposition transcripts. It features exclusive access to the PubNETics line of software, including e-transcript, a transcript-delivery program for court reporters; e-transcript binder, transcript management software for litigators; and e-brief, a brief publishing service for litigators and courts. www.reallegal.com.

Cost?

So what do these services cost? West has not announced pricing for WestWorks, but maintains it will be affordable for smaller firms. It will offer a Chinese menu of the different components, allowing firms to subscribe only to those they choose. West will offer special pricing packages tailored to practice types.

Serengeti has no information on its Web site or in its literature about pricing. An e-mail to a company spokesperson requesting the information had not been answered as of press time. JurisDictionUSA offers free use of its applications through June 30 if you sign on as part of its Developers Alliance.

This means that you agree to provide feedback, once a week via e-mail, evaluating the service, which the company will use in its development of a version 2.0. The regular subscription is $99 a month per attorney.

RealLegal says pricing is relative to size and complexity. Its sales department will provide an estimate. Visitors to the Web site can download free demonstration versions of its e-transcript and e-transcript binder software.

Robert J. Ambrogi is director of American Lawyer Media News Service. E-mail: .

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