Legal Technology 101

Part I: Making the case for the practice of management

By Adrianna C. Rodriguez

For those attorneys who have trouble programming their VCRs — and you know who you are — mastering technology to install case and practice management systems in
their law practices might seem like the impossible dream. The good news is that case and practice management systems result in more effi cient use of attorney and staff time and a boost in productivity, resulting in significant savings to the firm that is a dream come true.

The right case and practice management systems can help a firm’s attorneys and staff streamline both administrative, or “back office,” and professional, or “front office” operations, such as case management, software for substantive areas of law, docketing and calendaring, document assembly, litigation support and research.

“With a case management system, this is really putting technology in the hands of the lawyers,” said Andrew Z. Adkins III, director of the Legal Technology Institute. Adkins has been working with case and practice management systems for more than 20 years.

Practice management combines case management and other front office tasks, and back office tasks into one system. Firms conduct back office and front office tasks every day, but there is usually an overlap in record keeping which results in duplication of effort. Practice management systems allow for all those individual tasks to be stored in a central database, resulting in one-time data entry.

Once data is entered, the central database allows for increased efficiency, productivity and effectiveness within a firm’s staff and attorneys, in part because multiple users can access the data simultaneously to quickly find information through search functions.

One of the challenges for firms establishing case and practice management systems is in identifying which of the multiple practice management systems will work for the entire firm and its individual attorneys.

“The ways in which lawyers practice law are different. Even lawyers who practice the same type of law, or lawyers in the same firm, don’t do it the same way,” Adkins said. “Technology tends to standardize the way we do things; for instance time and billing is cut and dry, but you can’t really standardize the way that you practice law and I think that’s one of the things holding people back.”

Through the Legal Technology Institute, Adkins travels to firms around the country as a consultant. To date, the institute has worked with more than 300 law firms, law departments, courts and law schools.

As a consultant, Adkins recommends firms implement case and practice management systems in three phases. First, the interview phase where the firm’s needs are identified and compiled into a report. This is followed by the implementation phase where the software and hardware necessary to establish the systems are put in place. Finally, the follow-up phase consisting of training and testing is completed.

“Part of my job as a consultant is to educate them as to what’s available,” Adkins said. “[The practice management systems] all basically do the same thing… . It’s the really nitpicky stuff that has to be discussed.”

While the set-up and implementation might be time consuming, the benefits of installing a system that addresses the specific needs of the firm, its attorneys and support staff pays off in the form of “operating efficiency,” increased efficiency and productivity.

In a presentation, “Turning CHAOS into Cases,” Adkins estimated that implementing practice management systems could save each attorney in a firm 15 minutes per day. At $300 per hour, an additional 15 minutes per day could translate into $375 per week, or $1,500 per month for a total of $18,000 per year in increased billable time.

While case and practice management systems have come a long way, they still have a ways to go, according to Adkins.

He estimates between 35 to 40 percent of law firms around the country use a case or practice management system. He expects adoption of case and practice management systems to peak at about 60 percent within the next five to seven years.

Adkins has dubbed the latest in case and practice management systems as the “fourth generation.” This newest technology has the added capability of managing workflow by creating a sort of checklist that automatically routes items, tasks, documents, events and alerts to people based on their role in case or matter. This is especially helpful in streamlining operations such as opening new matters and conflict checking.

“If you think of this process as a lot of paper, that’s a lot of time in trying to track that information,” Adkins said. “If you can do everything on a computer, then you get rid of the paper, and the workflow system creates a checklist for the software to automatically route necessary information to the appropriate departments.”

Another challenge in the adoption of case and practice management technology is lack of experience with the software. The key, Adkins said, is to reach law students early.

To this end, the University of Florida is one of fewer than a dozen law schools around the country that teaches a class on law practice management, which includes lessons on case and practice management systems.

The class focuses on teaching students both the technological and logistical aspects of practice management. It has been co-taught by Adkins and Gainesville-area attorney Lawrence J. Marraffi no (JD 84) since the early 2000s.

“It gets the students ready for the real practice of law coming out of school,” said Marraffi no, who volunteers his time to teach the class. “I do it because I think it’s important for the students.”

The class doesn’t teach students how to litigate, but rather prepares them for the transition from the academic to the professional world. It blends practice management,the daily ins and outs of billing and case management, as well as record keeping, time management and marketing.

Adkins teaches the technological side of practice and case management while Marraffi no instructs students on handling different types of clients and litigation, as well as accessing resources, joining professional organizations and getting a practice started.

By the end, students develop a practice management business plan as well as the first part of fi lings in a practical problem in areas anywhere from estates and trust to bankruptcy. “This is one of the joys of teaching this class,” Adkins said. “It’s just so cool.”

Most importantly, the students present Adkins and Marraffi no with an invoice at the end of the semester. The invoice must be formatted to include date, client matter, description, and bills the professors for the amount of time spent in class, sending e-mails, attending meetings, working on the project and studying. While the students set their own rates, the mock bills remain outstanding.

“It’s really an eye opener for them,” said Adkins of the students who have never billed attorney fees before. “Most of these kids have worked for $10 an hour and here they are charging $200, $300, $400 an hour.”

Marraffi no is no stranger to technology.The solo practitioner has built his Gainesville personal injury and civil litigation practice around technology.

“The whole reason I started my own practice was an excuse to buy a computer,” said Marraffi no jokingly remembering the monochromatic monitor and daisywheel printer he purchased when opening his fi rst practice over 22 years ago. “I love technology.”

The computer and printer was his largest start-up investment, he said.

In his practice, Marraffi no uses AbacusLaw for practice management and Best Case bankruptcy software. Among the advantages of the software, Marraffi no cites its ability to automate his research and filings.

In addition, Marraffi no has installed remote log-on technology so he can access his office computer and network from anywhere. Such technology even allowed him to complete an emergency filing for a bankruptcy case from an Italian Internet café while on vacation.

He has also automated his messaging service and Dictaphone and is also looking into adding Voice Over Internet Protocol.

Marraffi no’s goal is to have a near-paperless office within the next year. Among the advantages of a paperless office, he cites ease of document management and access. Marraffi no’s personal injury practice produces volumes of paper records, such as medical records, which he currently has to haul to the court for trial.

“If I were paperless all I’d have to do is bring my PC to court,” he said.

Florida-based company InTouch Legal specializes in legal office technology. When identifying the needs of her clients, InTouch Legal President Debbie Foster said she often encounters lawyers with the misconception that the management system is only for the use of their assistants.

She makes it clear that for management software to be effective, all members of a firm must be committed to dedicating the time and resources to making
it work for their firm, Foster said. In addition, because of the time investment required up front to learn the new system, many don’t take full advantage of systems they have implemented.

“We are just all busy and the thought of putting the brakes on to think about change and implementing new software is just not an easy place to get to,” Foster said.

Foster has seen an increase in small and mid-sized firms implementing case and practice management systems and thinks it will continue. She estimated the cost for a firm of implementing management software ranges between $800 and $1,500 per person.

For small and mid-sized firms, Foster said the leading practice management software her company installed was Amicus Attorney and Time Matters by LexisNexis.

“A small firm has got to find a way to do more with less and be more productive and efficient and there is no other single investment that they can make that will help them achieve that,” Foster said. “It’s the most bang for your buck when you’re looking for a way to streamline.”

Both Foster and Adkins agree it’s the new generation of lawyers just coming out of school, those who have lived life in Outlook, that will make the biggest push towards adopting practice management systems.

“Technology is always changing and the new generations of lawyers that are coming who grew up with technology are starting to demand the use of technology,” Adkins said. “They are the ones that are pushing buttons in law firms today. The newer crop coming in who grew up with multitasking, cell phone and laptops. They are not the traditional lawyers.”

Part II: Discovering e-discovery

By Ian Fisher

If Abraham Lincoln were to step into the offices of a modern law firm, chances are good he’d encounter a familiar sight — young associates poring over reams of legal papers.

“We’ve been graduating people out of law school who are prepared to practice law in the 19th century,” said noted e-discovery writer Ralph Losey, a shareholder at Akerman Senterfitt. “They’re prepared to work with Abe Lincoln, who had a partner and an associate. They went through papers, and they went to a trial courtroom.”

Losey said technology is driving electronic discovery into the most rapidly evolving field in the legal profession, but law schools and lawyers are behind the curve in adapting. In general, law students are still trained to review a limited number of documents and build a case around what is given to them. That doesn’t bode well for efficient management of today’s cases, which can have millions of electronic documents in a variety of formats that must be reviewed, Losey said.

“You’re not trained to deal with 5 million documents. Cases now — with just 10 witnesses in a corporation — they’re going to have millions of documents,” Losey said. “You cannot look at each document. That’s the real world; it’s not the Abe Lincoln world of just having a few paper documents.”

Losey was one of a distinguished panel of experts who addressed the emerging importance of electronic discovery during an “E-Discovery Evening” held Oct. 28 at UF which was co-sponsored by The Sedona Conference® and the Levin College of Law.

“The Levin College of Law is one of the first law schools in the nation to offer a course in what is being called ‘e-discovery,’” said Robert Jerry, dean and Levin Mabie and Levin professor of law. “We’re very pleased that, thanks to Adjunct Professor Bill Hamilton, we are also now the first to co-sponsor a conference on the topic with the very well respected Sedona Conference.”

Hamilton, a Holland & Knight e-discovery expert who organized the event, teaches an e-discovery class — one of the first in the country — at the Levin College of Law.

“The University of Florida should be very excited about its leadership in this area,” said Hamilton, who serves as cochair of Holland & Knight’s e-discovery
team. “Other law schools have got to step up to the plate and teach electronic discovery because it’s a critical skill out there that judges are looking for. It’s almost a survival skill at this point. That’s why The Sedona Conference® has come here in recognition of Florida’s leadership in the e-discovery education world for students.”

E-Discovery Evening panelist Patrick Oot, Verizon’s director of electronic discovery and senior counsel, gave the example of Verizon buying out MCI to illustrate how complicated and expensive e-discovery issues can be. During the legal preparation for the buy-out, more than 2.4 million documents — 1.3 terabytes of data — were reviewed. This required 115 attorneys at one fi rm doing privilege review and 110 attorneys at another firm doing timeline review. It took four months with attorneys working every day for 16 hours a day to finish the review, Oot said, resulting in legal billings of $13.5 million for outside counsel alone.

Oot recently read an article indicating only about 200 lawyers nationwide handle e-discovery issues well. Oot said that number needs to grow quickly and that advances in technology will streamline electronic discovery in the future.

“As our general counsel put it when we first started this [e-discovery] group, he said, ‘This is the only practice within the company that I actually see growing,’” Oot said. “Federal regulatory, litigation, antitrust, intellectual property — he sees those groups shrinking where we’re hiring people all the time.”

With the e-discovery field growing so rapidly, The Sedona Conference® has been at the forefront of establishing best practices in the field. One aspect of e-discovery The Sedona Conference® emphasizes is cooperation with opposing counsel on discovery issues.

“You want to be adversarial, obviously, but at the same time, I don’t think you want to be adversarial on the issues pertaining to what information is available,” said Joseph P. Guglielmo, a plaintiff e-discovery expert for Whaley, Drake & Kallas.

Ken Withers, a distinguished e-discovery writer with The Sedona Conference®, moderated the event. Withers said two events have heightened the importance of e-discovery. The first of these were the amendments in 1983 and 1993 to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to facilitate greater discovery.

The other driving factor in growing influence of e-discovery is the desktop PC and the exponential increase and ease in accessing information the PC makes possible.

“Discovery went from being a means to an end — getting to trial — to being the end in and of itself,” he said. “The number of cases that actually go to trial decreased, and it’s now less than 3 percent of all cases filed… . The stakes of discovery were thereby raised.”

All E-Discovery Evening speakers agreed that this is the future of discovery and students should try to learn about it.

“Be smart, look at where the future is, look at the trend,” Losey said. “This is where the opportunity lies. Take these courses on e-discovery; learn about it. Nobody else in the fi rms you go to is going to know anything about it, trust me… There are a few firms, but there are very few, so this is a time of opportunity. You’ve got to study this stuff.”

For more information about e-discovery and The Sedona Conference®, visit www.law.ufl .edu/news/events/ediscovery/.