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Using ASPs for Cost-Effective Management of Litigation Documents

By: IKON Office Solutions

As many firms have noticed since the advent of the digital age, clients today are demanding more. Information, that is. With virtually instantaneous access to information available in every aspect of their personal and work lives, thanks to the Internet, clients have come to expect the same level of information-when and where they need it-from their legal services providers. In fact, in a survey by The Legal Technology Institute of the University of Florida, 20 percent of respondents reported an increase within the past year in client requests for real-time access to case-related documents-a figure that jumps to 43 percent for large firms.

It's also true that the legal profession has become more techno-savvy, and more firms are turning to technology to give clients what they're looking for, while in turn improving the firm's own productivity and cost-effectiveness in managing litigation. However, the same study shows that only 8 percent of firms currently offer clients access to case-related documents via an extranet. Clearly, for a multitude of reasons, the legal profession has a long way to go in terms of satisfying emerging client needs for real-time access to case-related documents.

Why? Many firms just haven't found a cost-effective solution or the time and capital to invest in the right technology.

Enter ASPs (Application Service Providers) for document management, and you have the potentially perfect solution for many law firms. ASPs, through which users rent software applications over the Internet on a subscription basis, are hosted, deployed and supported by the service provider. Via the Web, document management ASPs provide anytime/anywhere secure access to case-related documents, solving the information access issue-not only for clients, but also for geographically dispersed attorneys, co-counsel, expert witnesses and others. They also reduce the costs of communication and improve productivity in the information sharing process by providing a secure, real-time collaborative, online workspace.

The ASP "software rental" model offers benefits to law firms of every size. It allows firms to implement new technologies with unprecedented speed. It provides the freedom to focus on the practice of law, rather than on technology support. And it replaces large capital expenditures for hardware and software with manageable monthly payments, which can then be billed to clients.

But as with any new technology, no matter how powerful its benefits, it's no surprise that the legal profession has taken a cautious approach toward ASPs; only 9 percent of law firms today use ASP services according to The Legal Technology Institute.

It's also no surprise, given the nature of the legal profession, that lawyers in the recent LegalTech and DocumentForum.com Technology Leadership Survey cited the following factors as the greatest drains on their ability to generate work product effectively: travel, coordinating meetings, collecting input from multiple parties and searching for files or materials. Oddly enough, these are the exact challenges that a document-related ASP can help law firms resolve.

Industry experts predict that ASP adoption rates will continue to grow, as they develop a stronghold on the legal profession by proving their security, reliability and benefits. In fact, 26 percent of firms in the Technology Leadership Survey cited ASPs as their preferred deployment model for new software solutions in the next 12 months.

With that in mind, it's time to consider how a document management ASP can benefit your firm. You also should think about which ASP is right for you, as well as what features and functionality are required to satisfy clients and ensure the maximum cost control benefits for your firm.

ASP Benefits

Document management ASPs are a low cost of entry solution that can facilitate collaboration through anytime/anywhere access to case-related documents via the Internet. This functionality enables firms to not only handle cases more efficiently, but also to handle larger cases than they otherwise might have the capacity to. In addition, the technology allows for workload balancing among offices and attorneys, who can easily access the appropriate documents from multiple locations. Going a step further, a document management ASP can actually enhance the firm's relationships with its clients. Not only is the firm providing clients with the information access they want, the ASP solution also enables closer collaboration that can lead to an even better understanding of your clients' needs and goals.

On the technology side, another benefit of document management ASPs is that, as technology changes, the application service provider automatically upgrades the offering, ensuring that the firm is not saddled with a capital investment in an obsolete in-house system. And, as competition among ASP market players intensifies, the price of subscriptions should remain low.

What to Look For

The ASP you choose will depend, of course, on the specific needs of your firm. But there are a few general guidelines to follow in evaluating service providers and the systems they offer.

Service Provider Requirements

First of all, examine the service provider very carefully. As you are well aware, your confidential case documents are the most precious assets you have to work with, so choose wisely. Whether the ASP is a public or private company, find out if it is financially stable and will be in business for the future. When evaluating an ASP, here are the other key issues to consider:

- ASP physical infrastructure: Find out where the hosting provider's servers are located. Are they in a secure, limited-access environment? Do they have redundant Internet connections? Are the connections expanded based on heavy user demand to avoid information bottlenecks?

- ASP data treatment: How frequently is the data backed up? Get details. The longer the time between backups, the more data could be lost in the event of system failures. Does the ASP have sufficient and qualified staff to competently convert your data to the ASP system and then back to other standard management systems? What is the timeframe for loading new data? The sooner your data is available in the system, the sooner your firm can work on the case documents.

- Security: Compare security measures among providers. Standard industry practices include 128 bit SSL encryption and SecureID tokens for each user. Is the ASP using the latest firewall technology? Do they engage active monitoring software to detect unusual behavior? Are they prepared for denial-of-service DNS attacks? Does the ASP conduct routine employee background and drug tests?

- A full-service provider: Before an ASP can host your documents online, a detailed technical effort is necessary with regard to document imaging, document coding and digital conversion. You'll find that some service providers offer a full range of these litigation document services, while others just host documents. A full-service provider with a specific legal focus offers you the advantages of overall legal document expertise, a single party continuously responsible for your critical documents and a better understanding of your business objectives.

- The true cost: You need to ask whether there are hidden costs for support, upgrades or any other ASP services. Before adopting an ASP, you'll want to conduct a detailed "apples-to-apples" cost comparison among your alternatives. Determine your needs first and then discuss pricing. If there are variable costs, such as hourly support costs, you may be able to negotiate a monthly fixed rate or maximum cost. In any event, don't be shy about asking how much typical clients pay over the course of a year.

System Functionality

In addition to evaluating the service provider, you also need to determine up front what system functionality you need and find a solution that meets your requirements.

- Ease of use: Select a system that allows your attorneys-some of whom may be less techno-savvy than others-to be up and running in little time. A Windows-intuitive "drag and drop" interface offers ease of use and can become productive very quickly.

- Multimedia capability: Some ASPs offer the ability to manage documents in any electronic format-from Word and Excel files to graphic images, audio files and electronic transcripts. This functionality allows for greater efficiency in areas like managing evidence and assembling witness kits. Other ASP systems have limited capabilities and can only manage TIFF images.

- Full training and support: An ASP that provides full support, both live and online, can help ensure maximum uptime and system usage. The more comfortable attorneys and staff are using the ASP, the greater the efficiencies you will achieve.

- Multi-tiered access with self-administration capability: Not all eyes should have access to all documents and data. The system should allow an in-house administrator to set document and collection access permissions for firm users, which is a more cost-effective and responsive option than having the ASP manage this task.

- Robust reporting capabilities: The ASP should offer both document and administrative reporting. Document reporting enables full search capabilities by any criteria and allows for efficiency in tracking communications and revisions. Detailed administrative reports can improve billing efficiencies, allow for attorney and/or staff performance management and enable the firm to assess system usage and maximize ROI.

- Robust document production capabilities: When managing large volumes of litigation documents, robust document production and high-speed printing capabilities are essential. But printing thousands of pages locally from the Internet can be slow to virtually impossible. As part of a full-service document management solution, some providers offer document production and other related services that can help support your needs.

Considering these issues before selecting an ASP will help ensure that your document management solution adds the maximum in efficiency and cost savings to your firm. Not to mention giving your clients the real-time information access they're craving.

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