August 24, 2004

Live From LawNet 2004

I'm out at LawNet 2004 this week, and thus far it's been a very worthwhile trip. The weather has been relatively cool for Phoenix (in the low 100's for the week), so we haven't melted. LawNet is to be commended for keeping us connected: In addition to dedicated Ethernet access in the Laptop Oasis, there's Wi-Fi access throughout the conference rooms and exhibit hall, which is really the way to go nowadays for any large conference or meeting. It's truly an enabler.

There's already been a number of useful sessions. I'm glad to see the legal market has been "getting it" regarding workflow, collaboration, and integration. As various systems become even more complex (document and matter management, etc.), these systems have to become even more usable to the end users -- a daunting task indeed. Thus it's encouraging to see the sneak peeks and upcoming product announcements, many of which are focusing on tying discrete systems together, addressing workflow issues, and coming closer to delivering on the "seamless" promises we've heard for so many years.

Having said that, it's vitally important to recognize there are no silver bullets. Many xMS solutions (DMS, CMS, KM, etc.) require an insightful game plan: identifying and setting overall goals and scope, savvy needs assessment, customization, training, and the like (none of which is easy, I might add). However, I feel a sense of optimism that the legal market is once again moving forward after the entrenchment spawned by the recession over the past few years. While it's not a tidal wave, I'm hearing more about firms who are implementing more extranet and web-based solutions, and upgrading to newer versions rather than staying pat.

Perhaps the largest theme I've observed is that the lines are once again blurring regarding definitions. For example, document management and third party developers have expanded their offerings to include records management, content management, workflow, collaboration, approvals, e-mail integration, metadata cleaning, webified interfaces and platforms, and more. Thus the concept/definition of "What is a document?" is dramatically broader than ever before. In one of the DMS presentations, one source indicated that 90% of new documents being created today are electronic. This doesn't surprise me in the least.

Thus one of the many challenges for law firms, corporate legal departments, clients, and the legal system itself will lie in making the quantum shift in thinking away from paper and into the electronic realm. Some have already gotten their feet wet. With the advent of document tagging, tracking, digital rights management (DRM), metadata, electronic discovery, and compliance with new regulatory requirements, we collectively need to understand the new "laws of physics" such a paradigm shift entails. I'll agree with one of the Microsoft presenters, who said we need "Solutions, solutions, solutions, and not just technology, technology, technology."

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard