You Be the Judge

Law firms are becoming technology consultants. Any objections?

You probably dont think of your lawyer in his three-piece suit and Harvard tie chasing technology contracts. Think again.

Attorneys arent going to be the ones installing extranets, document management systems or dragging coaxial cable—but their IT staffers already are doing exactly that. Your law firm may be well on its way to becoming either your next competitor—or your partner.

Of course, not all law firms are pushing technology services aggressively. Only about 2 percent of the top law firms are setting up separate IT service divisions or child companies, estimates Jay Nogle, director of legal systems for Greenberg Traurig (GT), an early player in this arena. But that lowball estimate is a bit misleading, because hundreds of law firms will "dabble" in IT consulting work in order to cement their existing business relationships.

That movement offers both challenges and opportunities for pure technology players. Partner with the right law firm and you could step into a new vertical market. Ignore the lawyers and you wont be able to keep tabs on potential allies—and emerging rivals.

Extranets are by far the most popular legal technology service, according to Neil Aresty, a principal consultant at Legal Computer Solutions, an established legal boutique.

"Almost all big law firms are scrambling to figure out how to build extranets or outsource their extranet needs," says Aresty.

For a law firm, an extranet always comes with a back-end database management system. Whether its a simple collection of legal documents in a database or an elaborate knowledge-management system, the fundamental idea is always the same: to give both the firm and client quick access to a case or legal matters paperwork.

Most current extranets in this market foster a one-on-one relationship between a law firm and a single client, but thats changing. ComplianceNet, a product of Latham & Watkins (L&W), one of the nations largest firms, has shown that a well-designed, database-driven extranet allows clients to handle dull-as-dirt Medicare and Medicaid compliance filings largely on their own. The result? Clients are happier and the attorneys are making their intellectual capital work for them 24 hours a day seven days a week.

Taking the legal extranet concept in another direction, GTs Environmental Law Net ( provides interactive legal and regulatory advice. It also offers resources for corporate counsel or anyone who needs to stay on top of environmental legal issues. GT and other firms, like L&W and Akin Gump, a major national firm with a strong technology practice, soon will be turning out other such industry law and regulation, one-stop legal extranets.