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Legal applications of KM trend toward flexibility, simplicity

Author: Judith Lamont, Ph. D

Knowledge management software solutions tailored to the legal profession are becoming more common and lawyers more receptive to them. In addition, e-discovery capabilities are moving out of the IT department and into the user domain, as they become simpler to use and more collaborative.

Partners at Deeth Williams Wall, a Toronto-based law firm specializing in intellectual property and technology, had been on the lookout for a knowledge management solution for some time but had not found any candidates that met its needs. “Many of the first-generation KM tools were designed for large companies and were very expensive,” says James Kosa, partner at the firm. “But our main objection was that they were difficult to use and placed too much of a burden on the users.”

Even though the legal field is a knowledge-based business, lawyers have not been early adopters of KM technology. Like many other groups of users, only more so, they have little patience with systems that do not match their way of working. The requirement to enter metadata, profile documents or adapt to a new way of classifying and storing documents generally results in non-compliance and a wasted investment. What Deeth Williams Wall wanted was a way to improve access to its information without interfering with the established workflow.

One of the partners came across a reference to MetaJure in a blog about technology for lawyers. Described as a smart document management system, MetaJure was developed by lawyers who wanted a document management system that would be compatible with the way lawyers work. Kosa checked it out and decided, after consulting with the other partners, to move ahead with implementing it.

Because the system was non-intrusive, little advance preparation was required for the users. “MetaJure integrated very well with our existing practices,” Kosa says. Installed on premise at the firm, MetaJure searches and indexes 100 percent of the documents and e-mail on local drives and the office’s network. “All of our client-related material is stored in a centralized file structure, but prior to using MetaJure, it could be difficult to find documents,” Kosa adds. “Our lawyers did not necessarily know where their colleagues had stored the files, yet many of these could be very useful as precedents, and we wanted them to be accessible.”

MetaJure also indexes local drives and automatically copies all files, including e-mail and attachments, to the central file storage area, though users can limit access by others to their personal e-mail and other PC-based files. Additionally, it indexes accounting data, e-mail servers and numerous other repositories so the information is readily available. “Sometimes our lawyers want to look at an invoice or some other type of document,” Kosa explains, “and with MetaJure they do not have to go into the application, but can view it by searching.”

Works well for users

The retrieval algorithms in MetaJure are finely tuned to the needs of lawyers. “Having tested other search tools, we found that MetaJure returned the most relevant results,” Kosa says. “For example, if we are searching for a nondisclosure agreement or NDA, MetaJure will also retrieve confidentiality agreements and other related documents. It does not just find literal matches to an input string.”

Not everyone in the firm is using MetaJure. “Using the application is not mandatory,” Kosa says. “If someone doesn’t want to use it, that’s fine. But for those who choose to use it—and most of our lawyers do—MetaJure has been very effective. It has saved time and improved productivity without disrupting our existing processes.”

MetaJure co-founders Marty Smith and Kevin Harrang are lawyers who discovered from their own experience that document management systems in law firms were rarely capturing a large percent of the total work product. Not only were lawyers unwilling to use formal document management systems, but those systems did not accommodate the diversity of enterprise content. “A lot of information was not usable because it was in image form,” says Harrang. “Our software OCRs these documents and then indexes them. In addition, MetaJure retrieves information such as accounting data that is not normally contained in document management systems.”

Although the search interface was designed to have the same simplicity as popular Internet search engines, users also have options such as filtering by file type, date range and other parameters. “We liked the way the Internet helps people find documents,” Harrang says, “as well as its automatic indexing. We wanted to incorporate that ease of use into our product.” Having observed document management systems that had to be abandoned because their structure mirrored an organizational structure that later changed, Harrang and Smith wanted to create a very flexible and adaptive system that could have multiple uses.

“Lawyers have not typically used their repositories for anything but retrieving specific documents,” says Harrang, “but with a product like MetaJure, which works both behind a firm’s firewall or in the cloud, those files can become a research source.” Search results can be used for anything from improving work quality to the basis for marketing campaigns. Considering electronic files as a competitive asset may be a new way of looking at them for many firms, but the practice is likely to become more common in the future, particularly as a generation of digital natives moves into the legal profession.

E-discovery gets friendlier

Founded 15 years ago as an information management software producer, Sherpa Software now has its biggest market in e-discovery and information governance. Its newest product, Altitude IG, is designed to facilitate collaboration between IT and the legal department. “The genesis of Altitude IG was to provide enterprise level processing for e-discovery and policy enforcement,” says Marta Farensbach, director of product services at Sherpa. “When one team performs e-discovery tasks like searching or analytics, the results can be shared with other stakeholders.”

The results can also be shared by inside and outside counsel. Although IT generally sets up the e-discovery process, the legal department can now run searches without intervention from IT. “Collaboration is very important, because the legal team does not understand the technical minutia of IT systems, and IT does not know the parameters of the search or details of the matter,” Farensbach says. “The two need to work together.”

Sherpa uses search technology from dtSearch, which has the capability to scan nearly every file type. Using dtSearch abilities in conjunction with proprietary search technology and having access to a variety of data stores give Altitude IG a federated capability that is important not only for e-discovery but also for companies that want to take a proactive role in information governance, checking for problems before they become legal issues. “We have customers who are using Altitude for investigations in HR, compliance or security,” Farensbach explains, “even though they are not in an e-discovery situation.”

The legal industry has been cautious about using the cloud, viewing the lower cost as less of a factor than the concerns about security. However, many of Sherpa’s customers have migrated essential services such as e-mail to the cloud and are now attracted to cloud-based e-discovery. “Many of our customers became interested in our product because it was cloud-based and complemented our on-premises offerings,” says Farensbach. “Some went directly to that delivery model, while others started on premise and then migrated.”

E-discovery simplified

CloudNine is a cloud-based product used for e-discovery and investigation. The company also provides professional services to organizations that want to delegate some or all of their discovery tasks to a third party. CloudNine is designed to be simple to use, with a straightforward online process for uploading, reviewing and producing electronically stored information for litigation and investigations.

“Although we are CloudNine, we are not cloud-based the way most people think of it,” says Brad Jenkins, president and CEO of CloudNine. “We use a private infrastructure, and the data is highly secure, residing on dedicated servers on a dedicated network in a Tier 4 data center. We don’t use the public cloud at all.” Two pricing models are available; pay-as-you-go plans start at $25/GB per month, which includes 30 days of hosting but does not include processing (normally $100/GB for self-service processing). Subscription plans start at $1,000 per month, which includes unlimited self-service processing and up to 50GB of hosting.

The customers for CloudNine have typically been companies that provided litigation support as well as small to medium-sized law firms. Recently, larger law firms have started to use it to manage e-discovery for their clients, and that group of customers now includes dozens of firms, including more than 50 of the top 250 law firms. In addition, large (Fortune 100) corporations are using CloudNine for internal investigations and compliance.

CloudNine uses dtSearch as its search software. “It indexes very quickly,” says Doug Austin, VP of professional services, “and handles a range of file types from e-mail to documents and database information.” As for processing, CloudNine automatically unpacks the data, pulls out metadata and text and uses OCR to convert image files to searchable text.

“One thing that customers are very interested in is analytical capabilities,” Austin adds. “They want to be able to get an idea early on about whether they should settle or litigate. If they can analyze their data quickly, they can decide what their exposure is and then choose the best course of action. The simplified e-discovery automation that CloudNine provides enables our clients to perform that analysis and make those decisions quickly and effectively.”