Lantern lights the way for law firms

Lantern lights the way for law firms

By Alicia Camphuisen

With the onset of the Internet as a resource and communication tool that spans continents, law firms have been quick to adopt knowledge management tools for improved handling and integration of their vast information resources.

For the past 18 months Freehill Hollingdale & Page (FHP), one of the country's largest law firms, has partnered with Ringtail Solutions, a software development company, to deliver online knowledge management that would conform to the existing system architecture.

According to FHP legal information services manager Elizabeth Miller, the Internet proved to be an obvious alternative as it is a relatively basic interface with which most staff are in some way familiar.

Both inbound and outbound information is scanned and managed under this latest partnership, which uses an application called Lantern, which has been designed by lawyers for Internet-based document management. Lantern software is distributed by Diskcovery, a legal services bureau, in Australia.

Lantern provides a mechanism for scanned images and documents to be entered by FHP's legal staff. This information forms a resource database which FHP legal teams access through a Netscape browser to provide advice to their clients. When documents are scanned into the system staff are able to add information about these transactions and can search over entries that were previously made.

In an effort to develop a database that "facilitates knowledge", Ms Miller said the legal teams are able to work more easily with each other and with clients, while time zones are not as prohibitive as they once were.

For FHP there have been significant changes since the introduction of Lantern. Legal staff are spending less time trying to communicate across the firm or farther afield, so their time is more constructively used to provide advice for clients.

With more time to devote to providing informed advice to clients, legal staff are able to bill their clients for less time, and are then able to take on other clients or assume other duties.

"We need systems like this to maintain our competitive advantage," she said.


Another firm to adopt Lantern is Clayton Utz Solicitors. For due diligence work associated with corporate mergers, the firm needed to manage documents so that they could be accessed by its offices around the country and in the UK and USA.

The firm's legal technical support department soon felt the strain of transmitting documents and keeping them up to date. Manager of legal technical support Phil Farrelly said that Clayton Utz explored secure ways of sharing legal documents internationally to help the service move toward digital storage.

Mr Farrelly said Lantern's online document management feature appealed to the firm as it meant legal staff could interact with foreign offices via a modem from their desktop, and could update documents at one point rather than at many.

Since the implementation of Lantern, Clayton Utz has devloped a successful beta site of the software with around 30,000 documents which comprise more than 300,000 pages, and some 100,000 legal annotations tracked by the Lantern-managed database. More than 35 staff and 10 modems can use the database simultaneously.

Mr Farrelly conceded that for large documents the firm was still required to keep hard copy records; however as he was quick to add, "if you can reduce the workload even to 80 per cent, it's still an improvement."

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