MIS@Blank Rome Comisky & Mccauley
Rethinking How to Process Documents
A Philadelphia-based firm asks Xerox to update its document management systems.
By Laurence Liss
WE HAVE all witnessed attorneys transporting cumbersome files to meetings or trials and awkwardly searching through folders for documents. Paper documents are often stacked on floors in offices and become misplaced or lost in the shuffle. Important forms and files are inefficiently transported back and forth between parties and offices, and it is difficult to share documents with colleagues.
Wasted time equals lost profitability; to avoid this, legal professionals must be able to collaborate quickly and effectively. This is a lesson my firm, Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley L.L.P., learned firsthand.
Blank Rome employs more than 900 people, including 400 attorneys. Based in Philadelphia, we practice all types of business-related law from 10 locations on the East Coast.
When I was hired in 1998, Blank Rome was experiencing many of the same problems as most firms across the country. The Novell shared directories we were using did not offer us the kind of access we needed internally, and didn't allow us to share information outside of the office at all. We were using multiple servers and operating systems, which didn't allow for easy collaboration. In short, there was no system in place for managing and sharing documents.
Our lawyers and paralegals were wasting valuable time searching for documents, and this was affecting our bottom line. We needed to break down the barriers that blocked information flow among team members who worked on different computer platforms in various locations and organizations.
Documents needed to be harnessed and unified under a firm-wise system. Improving collaboration and creating an information sharing system for clients jumped to the top of the firm's technology priority list.
The problems were obvious. The answers were more difficult to pinpoint. We had been searching for the right document management system for more than two years, contacting established companies such as PC DOCS GroupInternational Inc. (recently purchased by Hummingbird Communications Ltd.) and SoftSolutions (purchased and absorbed by Novell Inc.)
For more than two years, we had been outsourcing our production requirements (mailroom, faxing and copying functions) to Xerox Corp.
Xerox created an on-site central reprographics and mailroom facility for our headquarters in Philadelphia, as well as managed the equipment on the different floors of our offices. In fact, Xerox still manages these functions for us.
Currently, we have more than 30 Xerox fax machines (most are the Xerox 7042 Laser Facsimile) and Xerox copiers are on every floor. Most of our walk-up copiers are Xerox 5837 units, which are used for low-volume jobs, while the copy centers on floors three through 12 predominantly use Xerox 5855 copiers.
Based on the success we had outsourcing to Xerox, in 1998 we approached the company and asked it to present recommendations to our technology committee.
Along with the proposal, we received two demonstrations to show us Xerox technology and how it would address our firm's concerns.
Xerox proposed a combination of products that would facilitate information sharing within our firm. The company's representatives suggested that we select DocuShare, a Xerox software suite that would enable our staff to access documents from wherever they are via a Web interface.
It would include a DigiPath scanning workstation consisting of a DigiPath scanner and DigiPath production software - which allows for hardcopy scanning, file storage and retrieval, electronic distribution and remote printing.
The DocuShare system and Digipath equipment would integrate with our existing network and with our DocuTech printer.
We gave Xerox the green light. I was hopeful that, if this new tool delivered what it promised, our attorneys would be able to easily search both digital and hard copy documents.
Stored objects and documents would be able to be viewed at an attorney's desktop or printed to either the local desktop printer or, for large print volumes, to the 135 page-per-minute DocuTech printer.
The DocuShare suite runs on any Pentium-based Microsoft NT 4 server with
Microsoft IIS, or on a Sun Sparc UNIX workstation. We use Windows 95 & Windows 98 on our desktop PCs, running on a Novell 4.11 network, and accessing numerous Microsoft NT application servers.
The system also includes many security features not available in the PC DOCS and SoftSolutions systems we reviewed. For example, the DocuShare software allows our document repository to be password-protected and lets us establish views for each employee, so they can only access the information they have permission to view. Additionally, all communications within the DocuShare system, use secure socket layer (SSL) 128-bit encryption.
The DocuShare system was up and running in about four months with the help of our firm's training staff and Xerox employees on-site. The DocuShare installation now serves about 1,000 users on a 1,100-node wide-area network in 10 East Coast locations.
Although DocuShare has been in place only about 18 months, its use is growing rapidly throughout the firm. While it was initially difficult to persuade our attorneys to attend the one-hour training session, most became enthusiastic once they saw the potential of the system.
For example, using DigiPath, we are able to convert hard copy into searchable documents. Alex Stein, a senior partner and a member of our technology committee, immediately started loading his department's forms into DocuShare and within a month had more than 700 documents in the repository.
Another senior partner, Larry Beaser, has scanned in numerous binders worth of documents for collaboration with his clients. They are scanned and saved in Adobe Acrobat PDF format, making it easy to perform a full-text search for key words. This has eliminated several file drawers of paper and has enabled him to work more closely with his client, who also has access to key documents.
Attorneys who work from remote sites can now use the DocuShare system to access forms and documents, rather than dialing in to their PCs at the office.
The system also has been integrated with the firm's Intranet, and it has provided other benefits. For example, the firm's Bulletin, published three times a week, now gets posted to the 'firm communications' area in DocuShare.
Employees access and read the Bulletin at their convenience, from any location. This has eliminated the copying and distribution of this former paper-based document, reducing time, cost and labor.
Back issues are also available online, archived in DocuShare and searchable, should anyone need to find specific information contained in an older edition. DocuShare is also used to advertise items for sale, birth/death announcements, sporting activities and other social events that previously resulted in numerous e-mails.
Consequently, DocuShare also contributes to enhanced communication between the different groups at Blank Rome, creating an environment of improved community spirit.
Overall, the DocuShare implementation has changed the way our firm does business. We have added value to our client interactions and have improved our work efficiencies, and even enhanced our intra-company communications.
Our next steps include upgrading to the Docushare 2.2 version and making it the sole repository for all documents at Blank Rome.
Laurence Liss is chief technology officer of Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley L.L.P.