Setting IM standards into law

Setting IM standards into law

One WA law firm is transforming its information management approach, to integrate myriad databases into one new standard system.

By Alicia Camphuisen

Western Australian law firm Jackson McDonald is beginning a major Web-based initiative to overhaul its information management and standards, in a move to better meet the needs of its staff and clients.

In a gradual rollout that began last August, Jackson McDonald has embarked on an ambitious project to integrate all its internal data from existing repositories into a single system. Concurrently it is migrating its messaging platform to a Microsoft Outlook- and Exchange-based network from Novell's Groupwise.

By his own admission, the project is "certainly ambitious, but it needed to be done", according to Jackson McDonald information technology manager Roger Savill. With 28 partners and more than 150 professional and support staff, the firm had developed a number of systems and databases that varied across departments, and slowed its ability to process information internally, organise documents into an effective workflow, and quickly resolve client inquiries.

The key to this "push to consolidate and integrate a number of initiatives into one open, concise and standard information management system" according to Mr Savill, is the firm-wide implementation of its client contact and matter management system (CCMM).

This system is intended to manage all documents associated with the legal matters in which the firm specialises, that include commercial law, native title, settlements, taxation and insurance.

"The project is certainly ambitious, but it needed to be done"

In November 1998, Jackson McDonald investigated its existing use of information and document management systems, that included Lotus Notes, Microsoft Access, ISYS, and specialised litigation support databases. "Contracts, precedents and other documents were spread across databases in the organisation," said Mr Savill. "We couldn't leverage the information to benefit our clients or ourselves."

Although Jackson McDonald realised this diversity of systems impeded information sharing across departments, Mr Savill said it "required a bit of selling" to convince management to move the them into one standard.


After resolving to implement a new document management system, the firm ran internal tests with PC DOCS/Fulcrum's DOCSOpen solution. It has been progressively implemented across the firm, first with legal support staff, and now with the commercial litigation and taxation departments. The motor vehicles department is next.

The firm is implementing the system one department at a time, customising its features to suit each group's requirements. PCDOCS/Fulcrum distributor Educom/MDY and contracted database designers are helping the organisation complete this task.

"It's been a challenge to bring the data together," said Mr Savill. "All of the databases do the same thing but do it differently."

The firm is using Citrix Metaframe server software with its NT-based servers to allow documents to be shared across the network. This has also provided remote direct dial up and Internet access for partners, allowing them to work from home or at removed locations.

Staff can interface with the document management system through the company's self-hosted Web site. This aspect of the system was recently tested during a bush-based native title case, with solicitors using connected laptops to communicate with the firm's server and retrieve pertinent documents.


The document management side of Jackson McDonald's solution was complemented by PC DOCS/Fulcrum's Knowledge Base 32 Legal Precedent Management System.

This case management system is being used to maintain a formal process with the communication of contracts, precedents and similar documents. "It was very difficult beforehand. We had 28 partners that had a tendency to operate as self-contained business units," said Mr Savill. "Each partner has a pool of legal contracts and precedent templates that are kept in a variety of ways - Word documents, spreadsheets and other formats."

"We needed to rationalise this approach. With this tool people can publish documents to the firm to be sanctioned."

By providing ready access to this information from one source, the firm intends to "empower our client service teams to operate more effectively," said Mr Savill.

The organisation has also recently started imaging large numbers of litigation support documents such as discovery documents into the system. DOCSImaging is used to automate the scanning process, by OCRing and storing images to the server.

In the first few months of its rollout, Mr Savill said that CCMM is already delivering benefits to the firm particularly in IT, by speeding document delivery. The rollout is scheduled for completion by the end of this financial year.

Jackson McDonald is also planning to extend its online services by allowing clients to query online matters in progress, and Mr Savill said that the firm is investigating using PC DOCS/Fulcrum's CyberDOCS to provide these services through the Web site.