The Legal Extranet

When we talk extranet, we typically mean any TCP/IP network between two or more companies with secure communications.

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When we talk extranet, we typically mean any TCP/IP network between two or more companies with secure communications. Law firms start there and typically narrow it down to knowledge-based extranets with a database at its heart.

In its most basic form, legal extranets are made up of a legal document collection. That is maintained on either the firms servers or at a data center. Historically, those documents were kept in the TIFF graphics format. Because TIFF is essentially useless for searching, the materials were made available by using OCRed Word or WordPerfect documents and/or keywords. And because legal documents can expand quickly into the tens of thousands, a database management system is an essential part of any legal extranet.

An advanced law firms extranet goes far beyond those basics. Steve Agnoli, CIO of Kirkpatrick and Lockhart (K&L), a national corporate law firm, describes K&Ls legal extranet as a modular architecture with a Web-based front end, with server-based middle tiers handling business logic, data access, and data repository functions.

On the front end, content is dished out by HTML, DHTML, JavaScript and Active Server Pages technology. Underneath the interface, K&L uses Visual Basic COM+ components to encapsulate business rules and provide data access. The information itself is primarily kept in Office files formats and Adobe Portable Document Format.

Keeping the entire system running is Windows 2000 Server, SQL Server 2000, Site Server 3.0 and Internet Information Server 5.0. Of course, K&L couldnt do it all by itself. Microsoft solutions providers assisted K&L in creating its extranet.

Keeping the entire extranet safe from hackers, K&L uses firewalls, its own authentication modules and Secure Sockets Layer 128-bit encryption on the Web-server side. From that foundation, K&L builds separate extranets for each of its clients.

While other firms use other technologies—Domino/Notes and Novells GroupWise also are popular—K&Ls approach is an excellent example of how major law firms are delivering extranet services. If you have expertise in those areas, the next time you visit your own lawyers, after asking for their help, you might be well served to ask them how you can help them.