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November 1999
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Practice Management

Internet Depositories: More than Just Jargon

How the Big Three -- IBM, Xerox and Microsoft -- are radically transforming the practice of law.

By F. X. Kroncke

WILL THE Internet radically transform how you practice law? Not just communicate with colleagues (e-mail)? Not just store and retrieve electronic documents (depositories)? Not just e-file? But practice? How you think? How you relate to your client? How you are valued?

Recent legal tradeshows have introduced the term, "Internet depository." It's a wooden phrase which references a product/service variously and vaguely defined by vendors -- but which stands as the one technological, Internet entity that will revolutionize how lawyers, especially litigators, practice.

At a minimum, an Internet depository is a Web site that holds your electronic documents, in every format (images, videos, text, databases, Web sites, etc.). With a password anyone can share (access and/or deposit and/or revise) files. Functionally, this is a "virtual file cabinet" or simply the re-allocation to cyber-space of your Newtonian-space metal and paper based filing system.

At its optimum, it is your real time cyber-office. A Web site that houses all your professional practice tools, enabling immediate and instant collaborative practice with and among your clients, colleagues, support team and judicial administration, including trial management.

Real-time Practices

The Internet depository will force lawyers to practice real-time because their clients in corporate America are standardizing to collaborative Internet depositories as their primary work areas. Microsoft, IBM and Xerox are transforming the corporate workplace. Workers are redefined as "knowledge managers." Corporations are defined as "digital nervous systems." The standards of efficiency, effectiveness and productivity are now measured by collaborative values ("information dumping" and "mind share").

Simply, an Internet depository will become your primary place for all collaboration practice because of its inherent efficiency and impact on productivity, effected by its being accessible globally and securely at any time. Lawyers/firms no longer need to build firewalls to control remote access and/or restrict collaboration. With Internet depositories, all global collaborators are instantly in touch - and all case participants become global collaborators.

In a sense, it's just repackaging the way lawyers already work. Lawyers collaborate. Their internal firm-based network encompasses legal assistants to paralegals to research assistants to colleagues and peers. Their external practice network encompasses court reporters, service providers, witnesses, experts, adversaries, colleagues, peers and the host which comprises the vast criminal justice and judicial system.

Lawyers collaborate, dynamically. A trial or negotiation is an orchestration. Internal and external networks pass information back and forth. Yet it is a dynamic slowed (sometimes strategically) by its limiting core characteristic, namely, that the dynamic occurs primarily between and inside private spaces. The firm, the war room, the attorney's office, conferencing on neutral ground, corporate counsel's office, the client's boardroom, judicial chambers . . . the list goes on.

Until the Internet, legal technologies had not essentially impacted this private space dynamic. Technology had not taken lawyers onto the Internet. True, lawyers and firms market, research, and communicate through the 'Net but they did not practice on the 'Net -- they had not relocated to cyber-space. Until now, until the coming of the Internet depository.

The revolution in practice is that it will be conducted in the still inexplicably named cyberspace a curious space both more public than physical space and most private in that it is also a mental place -- a thinking space. Though secured, legal practice will be "on the 'Net," and in that eerie spatial dimension connoted by the phrase "World Wide Web."

As the primary place for all "private space" collaborators to dynamically interact, the core characteristic which will transform practice is the Net/Web dynamic timelessness. Its inherent lack of boundaries, physical and temporal. Collaboration and practice, in every aspect, becomes "real-time."

Though the Internet depository provides access to all collaborative data and files, what is significant is that this is shared access. Every collaborator becomes part of your real-time practice. Corporate clients -- for whom cyberspace is work-space -- expect to conference and "chat" about the documents you are both simultaneously reviewing.

Editorial changes or filings are e-mailed immediately. Conferencing with expert witnesses, or colleagues or your team is "live" as you observe and instantly message comments about a real-time deposition, trial or negotiation. In sum, your documents and data stored in your Internet depository is "live" and it is your collaborator's Internet depository as well.

No Quick Embraces

Not everyone will immediately embrace this new operating space. As a group, lawyers tend to resist this revolution. We are trained to see ourselves as gifted individuals with a precious store of professional knowledge enhanced by a special set of analytic, synthetic and/or persuasive skills - in short, "talent." Much like a theatrical star or a professional athlete rather than an executive or manager or worker.

However, the "star" system is doomed. It is a dramatic change which will be driven by the corporate client. The Big Three: IBM, Xerox and Microsoft are transforming not only technology, but the definition of the workplace and work.

The central tenet of this new vision is that knowledge exists only when shared. Otherwise it is meaningless. Knowledge, then, is not private, but public. Knowledge is, principally, created and shared in cyberspace. The worker "works" when sharing online. Off-line thinking is idiosyncratic and anachronistic. Each knowledge worker is akin to a neural synapse -- a discharger, exchanger of information which by that transfer becomes knowledge. The workplace is organizationally flat, not hierarchical. Its management is democratic.

There is only the Web. Work is Internet-ed. There is no place for "talent." Individual, private, inside-my-brain, unique, special, personal knowledge is dumb. Smart workers "dump" their knowledge, and become smart as others download and dump: i.e., Become Web.

Heady stuff! But everyday this new language, this 'Net and Web imagery, this transformation of worker and workplace is broadcast and narrow-casted by the Big Three.

Legal vendors are less clear than the Big Three about the impact an Internet depository can and will make in terms of legal practice. Most have simply added Internet depository to their document management or litigation support menus. Evaluation, then, requires assessing the impact of this new technology, not only as technology but, as an agent of change.

Vendors describe an "Internet depository" with many labels, including Internet repository, document repository, digital document depository, digital library, document vault, data warehouse, virtual private network, virtual file room, virtual depository, Internet document hosting, and Web hosting.

The common thread is a statement that all documents and data can be accessed through the Internet. The major difference is that only a few actually emphasize not just access but that the data and all files reside on the Web. Electronic files, paper documents, Web site pages, e-mails, graphic images, videos, etc., all can be stored in a Web space. Archived paper or standalone media, e.g., CD-ROM, microfiche, video cassettes, if not electronically duplicated (scanned or copied) are "on" the 'Net resident in bar-code tracking format and databases.

The Big Three have not directly targeted legal. Microsoft forwards the "digital nervous system" vision, offering any worker "Public Folders" using an Exchange Server. IBM's Digital Library hosts collections from the Library of Congress and the Vatican Library. Standards for speed and costs are set by Xerox's The Digital Repository -- a network of 50 "Document Technology Centers," which, as observed by Michael Arkfeld, Assistant U.S. Attorney (Arizona) effects "retrieval of documents requested from computers in Brussels from a server in Toledo (Ohio) for digital delivery to Brussels in two to four seconds" at a cost of "approximately two to four cents per page per year."

Caveat Emptor

Warning for Lawyers: Anyone can say, "I can set up an Internet depository," because, as one vendor states, "All that's required is a PC, a modem and an inexpensive desktop scanner."

This is not sufficient for legal practice. For some vendors, Internet depositories are only file rooms on the Web where self-contained documents are held.

Lawyers, however, need a dynamic site where collaboration can occur. Collaboration requires access to and use of legal practice software. Distinctively, lawyers manage an interpretive process, not just the filing and storage of data and documents. An Internet depository has to have all the tools used in the case management process (encompassing data and document management).

There's a lot of activity from the vendors. Casecentral.com (from DRI) has pioneered a Web site that allows for all case management functions. ELF Technologies Inc. has just launched Serengeti, an application service provider. All document management vendors, systems integrators, litigation support providers and online service providers can promise you an Internet depository. West Group, Ikon, PC DOCS (CyberDOCS), Ringtail, Lason, SmartDiscovery.com and Daticon, DRI, Global-IS, and Cylex Systems Inc. and DATech are all offering products.

Don't be left behind. It's time to explore how these Internet products will revolutionize your law practice.

F.X. Kroncke is a consultant and senior manager with Network Development Associates, of Ramona, Calif.

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