Alan Gahtan's Canadian Legal Resources

AUTOMATING A CORPORATE LAW DEPARTMENT

By Alan Gahtan - November 18, 1994


AUTOMATING A CORPORATE LAW DEPARTMENT
Alan Gahtan

Presented to:
The Conference Board of Canada's
Council of Senior Legal Executives
November 18, 1994

Size and Composition of the Bank of Montreal's Legal Affairs Area

The Bank of Montreal's Law Department is composed of approximately 30 lawyers and 4 legal analysts. These are supported by approximately 15 secretaries, 2 administrative officers, 1 librarian and 2 file room clerks.

The Corporate Compliance and Corporate Secretary's Departments also report to the General Counsel and these areas were also included as part of the automation strategy for the Law Department. The Toronto staff from these two areas include another 13 managers and support staff.

Support Group Structure

One technology issue which must be addressed by Corporate Counsel is whether the hardware and software support should be maintained within the Department or handled by a specialized corporate unit. In our case it was decided that the support function be retained within the Department.

We established an internal Automation Support Group (ASG) to provide computer support and application development services to the approximately 68 users who are serviced by the Law Department Local Area Network (LAN). The ASG is composed of two System Analysts, one of which specializes in LAN administration and support while the other concentrates on software development and training. However, each has enough knowledge in the other's area to provide coverage during vacations and other absences. Aside from practising law in the technology law area, one of my responsibilities is also to manage the Department's automation strategy and the activities of this group.

Our ability to retain control of computer support has provided us with greater flexibility and improved response time. However, retaining responsibility for support within the legal unit isn't always possible or preferable in a large organization which has an operational unit with direct responsibility for providing computer support.

Current System

PC Platform

Our automation strategy is based on 486-based personal computers which are networked together using token-ring technology and serviced by a single 486/50 file server. We run an MS-DOS/Windows platform on the work-stations and the Novell Netware network operating system on the file server.

Communications

Our file server is complemented by a communication server which provides dial-in access to the system. Lawyers and senior managers can call in and access all system resources from home. All users at the office also have access to a shared modem for use in connecting to external legal database services such as QL, Yorkline and Canadian Law Online.

Fax Server

Our LAN has a Network Fax Server which can be used to electronically fax documents from the E-Mail system or from any Windows application. A single E-Mail message can therefore be addressed to individuals on the system and also recipients who are only reachable through a fax number. Faxing from the word processing program or other Windows programs is almost as easy as printing. While the Fax Server can also be used to route in-coming faxes, it is not presently used for that purpose.

Wide Area Network

Our departmental LAN is connected to the Bank's local backbone network in First Canadian Place and also interconnects to the Bank's Corporate Wide Area Network which spans from Vancouver to Montreal and includes access to an office in London, England and four American cities.

Scanning and OCR

A recent addition to the Department has been a scanner and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. This combination allows us to scan in text from a printed document and reproduce the text in computer-readable form which can be edited using word processing software. Our experience with the use of OCR has been mediocre. Accuracy rates have increased in the last couple of years but are still at a level where proof reading is required. Also, OCR is only suitable for clean documents with sharp printing. OCR facilities are useful if you have a department which is sufficiently large to make the hardware and software cost effective. Office Automation Applications

Word Processing

The most popular software application in use by the Law Department has been word processing and we currently utilize WordPerfect 5.2 for Windows.

Electronic Mail

The Bank's Electronic Mail (E-Mail) system is based on Microsoft Mail software. This system is utilized by about 4,000 Bank employees who operate PCs which are attached to LANs. A Microsoft Mail to mainframe gateway allows the exchange of mail between these users and about 3,000-4,000 other Bank employees who utilize the Bank mainframe for E-Mail access. A corporate gateway provides some users with E-Mail access to the Internet.

Our departmental E-Mail system includes a Novell MHS gateway which provides access to external E-Mail systems. We have successfully used this MHS gateway to link up with a growing number of our external legal suppliers and hope to continue building this capability. Although there has been a growing trend towards use of the Internet for inter- company communications, MHS-based connectivity offers a number of advantages including lower cost, increased privacy and quicker delivery times.

Scheduling

Another office automation application which is used by all employees in the Department is scheduling software. We selected Microsoft's Schedule+ program due to its close integration with our E-Mail system. All lawyers and managers maintain their calendar on the system. The ability of each user can view other's free/busy times has made scheduling meetings a much more productive exercise.

Databases

A number of different database programs are in use by the Law Department. The diversity is due to special strengths that the different programs bring to the different tasks.

InMagic Plus was the first database program to be used by the Department. It is used to maintain the library catalog as well as litigation support, file management and correspondence tracking. The primary reason for selecting InMagic was its ability to quickly perform keyword searching. Unlike more traditional database programs, InMagic pre-indexes every word in the database and allows the construction of boolean-based searches. On the administrative side, databases have been implemented using a program called DataEase, which has been a Bank standard for PC based databases. Administrative databases are used for such functions as tracking training expenses and vacation times.

We are, however, exploring the migration of certain databases to more powerful relational database systems such as Microsoft Access. We began using Microsoft Access about one year ago and databases are gradually being migrated to that platform. We currently use Microsoft Access to track work performed by the Technology Law Group, agreements between the Bank and its subsidiaries and maintain information about trademarks owned by the Bank. It is our goal that we will eventually end up with one integrated database at the end of our conversions instead of the individual applications we currently have. The library catalog may however remain in InMagic because of InMagic's superior full-text search capabilities.

Other Programs

A number of other specialty programs are also available on the LAN to provide facilities to use spreadsheets, create presentations, compare documents, etc.

Benefits of Automation

Reduction in Support Staff Costs

One major benefit of automation has been a decrease in the number of support staff to professional staff. The average lawyer/legal analyst to secretary ratio is 2:1. In some cases, a single secretary supports up to three legal professionals.

Increase in Lawyer Productivity

Technology can also have a positive effect on the productivity level of lawyers. When we originally planned our automation strategy, we were told by Price Waterhouse that we could expect a 20% increase in attorney productivity. Our experience confirmed an increase. For instance, the volume of work performed by the Department's Technology Law Group has increased approximately 15% in the last four years while the resources in the Group have decreased by about 15%.

Flexibility in Responding to Urgent Requests

Automation has also provided other benefits. The availability of the technology, combined with an increase in computer proficiency by the professional staff, has provided the professional staff with greater flexibility to perform work outside of normal business hours. This is especially important to corporate law departments, which due to their generally small size, cannot afford to maintain a secretarial pool which can be easily called upon outside of normal business hours.

Quicker Responses

Automation has provided the Department with an ability to provide a faster response to client requests. Lawyers receive immediate notification when new mail messages arrive. The need to dictate a response letter, have it typed, proof-read, corrected and addressed are all reduced. The time required to send a reply back to a Bank client has been reduced from days to minutes. Electronic mail also makes it possible for internal clients to send electronic copies of documents which can be modified and then sent back to the client without any retyping by the Law Department being required.

Distribution of Internal Notices

Electronic Mail has also reduced the amount of work involved in distributing internal notices. These include notices of upcoming events, administrative notices and notes from lawyers looking for missing files or library materials. Formerly, secretaries were required to print, photocopy and then walk around the Department to distribute these notices.

Scheduling Meetings

Group scheduling capabilities have reduced the time required to perform another secretarial function, that of scheduling meetings. A lawyer or secretary can now easily check the busy times of other lawyers and the availability of conference rooms from their own desk. Secretaries are no longer required to spend time calling other secretaries in order to locate convenient meeting times. The task of managing conference room bookings can now be performed entirely by the computer system. Scheduling a meeting and inviting other staff can be almost as easy as entering an appointment in a lawyer's own calendar.

As well, the close integration of the scheduling software with the E-Mail system means that even attendees located in Bank areas outside our Department can be scheduled. External attendees which do not have access to scheduling software will receive a notification of the meeting by Electronic Mail.

Research

The automation of the Law Department has also had an impact on how lawyers perform legal research. Many new electronic sources are now available and accessible from the Desktop. The lawyers in our Department have access to a shared modem which is used to connect to legal online databases such as QL and Canadian Law Online. The actual use of these facilities, however, is currently restricted to only a handful of lawyers.

A PC in the library provides access to a newsfeed service called NewsEdge. Our NewsEdge subscription includes a live feed, and two months of historical articles, from the Globe and Mail, Canadian News Wire, the Wall Street Journal and a collection of business newswires from Dow Vision.

Lawyers also have access to a number of departmental databases which are useful for research purposes. These include the library catalog and an Opinions database. The Opinions database consists of keyword abstracts to both internally generated opinions and those obtained from external counsel. The full text version of internally generated opinions can be accessed online after a reference number is obtained from the Opinions database.

Another area where automation is impacting legal research is the increased usage of CDROM based applications. The equipment required to view CDROMs has decreased substantially in price. Our department changed the Bank's subscription to Martindale & Hubbel from the printed version to an electronic CDROM version. The CDROM version provides searching capabilities which were not available using the printed version and has substantially reduced the amount of shelf space required to store the publication. As well, the electronic version is updated more frequently than the printed version.

We are also currently evaluating other CDROM based legal applications such as the Canada Statute Service put out by Canada Law Book. CDROM-based materials are especially attractive if available for services which otherwise would require a substantial amount of manual updating.

The Bank's Business Information Center subscribes to a number of CDROM-based databases such as ABI/Inform, Disclosure Canada and Computer Select. The ABI/Inform database for example, contains abstracts of articles from approximately 800 business and legal publications. The Bank's subscription is to an enhanced level of this service which can provide the full text of many of the abstracted articles. These databases are mounted on the LAN and can be accessed by Law Department staff from their own desktop computers. One advantage of belonging to a larger organization has been the ability to share the high costs of some of these databases.

Flexible Working Arrangements

In May 1992, the Bank introduced a new policy to help support flexible working arrangements. One of the options which was made available under the Bank's Flexible Work Arrangements is called "flexplace". The Bank recognized that the combination of personal computer, fax machine and telephone makes it possible to perform large parts of some jobs very effectively, perhaps more effectively, somewhere other than at the traditional office site.

The growing use of electronic communication and the increasing availability of research tools which are accessible from the Desktop have increased the viability of telecommuting for legal professionals. Client instructions, messages and documents are increasingly being sent by E-Mail instead of phones or couriers. Everything from interpersonal conversations to reviewing documents can now be done by E-Mail. Where the E-Mail is read or where the research tools are accessed from is becoming less important. The ability to access the "electronic desktop" from home allows the corporation to better support employees who need to work at home during a temporary absence or for some days of the week. Flexplace is appealing for employees because it can save the time and cost of commuting, particularly if the employee works from home, and can allow an employee to be more effective in balancing their multiple commitments.

Regulatory Compliance Program

The Bank's Corporate Compliance Department has also benefited from automation. As part of its mandate, the Corporate Compliance Department is responsible for developing policies and procedures for the effective functional compliance by the Bank, its subsidiaries and affiliates with all applicable laws, regulations and rules, and, in particular, with any undertakings made to any regulatory authority. To assist this area of compliance, the Corporate Compliance Department developed a "Regulatory Compliance Program" which consists of a corporate policy and a centralized computer database. The Program is designed to ensure that all significant regulatory compliance obligations are properly assigned, understood, fulfilled and monitored. The LAN has allowed us to expand access to the Regulatory Compliance Database so that it is accessible by Bank compliance officers from Bank offices across Canada, the U.S. and England.

Implementation of New Technology

One of the principles we focussed on during the initial implementation of automation in the Department was to make it a priority to provide everyone with a PC rather than only those who were most likely to use one. This required a greater expenditure of capital initially but allowed us to establish the critical mass necessary to sustain the use of electronic mail and scheduling functions by lawyers. If everyone in the Department does not have a PC then it becomes difficult to justify the use of electronic mail when a printed version must still be distributed.

The hierarchical nature of a corporation, as opposed to the "peer" nature of law firms, also provides a better opportunity to encourage use of the technology by every lawyer. The acceptance of the technology by the Department's executives, and their use of electronic mail and scheduling, provided an incentive for others in the Department to gain technical proficiency. Further incentive came from some of our clients which were already accustomed to the use of electronic mail for communication.

After everyone had a chance to gain some familiarity with the technology, a technical proficiency guideline was issued. This document listed a number of specific functions which everyone, including the lawyers, were expected to be able to perform. The goal was not to shift secretarial work to the lawyers but rather to ensure that the lawyers had basic skills to function on their own when secretarial services were not available.

Another principle we followed initially in the automation of the Department was that more powerful equipment were allocated to those with the need rather than by seniority. This resulted in the secretaries initially obtaining the newer technology in preference to the lawyers but allowed us to ensure that our automation dollars were being put to the most productive use. However, this rationale is no longer relevant. Newer operating systems based on graphical user interfaces, such as Windows and OS/2, can make the use of technology more intuitive but require more capable hardware. However, the savings in training costs and the greater productivity which results from a lawyer being able to use new features more intuitively can usually offset the additional hardware costs.

Sometimes the introduction of new technology will be met by reluctance to even try it. For instance, the use of a network fax server is more productive than walking faxes to a fax machine and then waiting for the transmission to complete. At the time we introduced our network fax server, our staff was very accustomed to the old way of doing things. What we did to get our staff to try our network fax server was to run a contest with dinner for two as a prize. For a two month period, each fax sent through the network fax server entitled the sender to one entry in the contest. Most of the staff gave it a try and continued using the network faxing facilities even after the completion of the contest.

Training

One popular form of training we utilize is a group training session. These are conducted by an instructor with the assistance of a projector and colour LCD panel which is used to project the contents of a computer monitor onto an overhead screen for group viewing. We have found group training sessions to be most useful for presenting a general overview of a new program or database. In most cases, this type of training needs to be followed up with another type of training which can provide more detailed instructions and give each participant hands-on access to the material being taught.

It was initially necessary to designate a person to perform the administrative task of registering participants. This task was later automated through an internally developed database. Our staff can now use a user-friendly software interface to register for training courses. The software can automatically limit the number of participants to a specified maximum.

Computer-Based Training (CBT) software is widely available. In some cases this type of software is built into or comes packaged with a particular software program (ex. Microsoft Mail, Schedule+). In other cases it can be obtained from third party software publishers (ex. A.T.I. CBTs for WordPerfect and Lotus 123). These types of programs can be used to teach the basic workings of a program or can be used by more experienced users to learn advanced techniques.

CBT allows people to obtain training at times which are convenient to them and allows them to progress at their own pace. Where possible, CBT software has also been installed on Laptop computers which can be taken home by both the professional staff or the secretaries.

Another related form of training we provide is video training tapes. Employees are free to take tapes home for viewing on their own VCR. A TV and VCR combination is also available for viewing such tapes at the office. The use of such materials in the office is more effective because they can more easily be used in conjunction with a computer containing a copy of the software program for which training is provided. This allows an employee to stop the tape and try out what is being taught.

After a recent move and renovation in our facilities we have added a computer training room which can be used by an instructor and a small number of students. This type of training, with its hands-on emphasis, is a particularly effective method of providing instruction on the use of computer software. The computer training room can also be used without an instructor to allow staff to book time to learn a new program or work through a CBT course or a video with less distractions.

Another highly effective method of training which is provided is one-on-one training. This can be provided by one of the more proficient support staff or, where necessary, by a computer support person.

Corporate Standards

One of the considerations involved in managing the automation of a corporate law department is the obligation to follow corporate standards. This becomes important in order to allow for support staff mobility, volume purchase agreements and compatibility when documents or files are transferred between departments. A corporate standard may stipulate which word processing software may be utilized, the brand of PCs which may be purchased, selection of the network operating system and the vendor to be used for sourcing acquisitions.

In our organization, for instance, WordPerfect has been the standard for word processing, Lotus 123 the standard for spreadsheets and Microsoft Mail for electronic mail. The existence of such standards provides a number of benefits. The use of a common E-Mail system, for example, allows our lawyers to send messages or documents to Bank clients within about 10 minutes. In many cases a document may be sent to or received from a client much faster through E-Mail than through the use of a fax machine. An added benefit is that the document arrives in a form which can be easily changed without the need for retyping.

There are also disadvantages to corporate standards and centralized purchasing. The requirement for technical concurrence from an outside department can prove frustrating at times. Also, the inability to select a desired vendor makes it more difficult to obtain products on an evaluation basis.

Another real problem with corporate standards is that sometimes they can change. For example, the Bank is currently seriously considering adopting a software suite as a corporate standard instead of individual applications. A software suite typically includes a number of well integrated applications such as word processing, spreadsheet and presentation graphics software. The greater level of integration and consistency between programs in a suite can reduce training time to master the different components. However, the benefits of utilizing a suite in a law department is less than that available to other Bank units who would make better use of the other components in the suite. If the Microsoft Office suite is selected then that will require substantial retraining of staff and a loss in productivity until law department staff can come back up to the same level of proficiency with Microsoft Word as they had developed in the use of WordPerfect.

Future Directions

Document Management

One new area of automation we are almost ready to implement is a document management system. At present, each lawyer has their own sub-directory where their memos, agreements and correspondence are stored. This arrangement has worked well in the past. However, as the size of the Law Department has grown, a Document Management has become increasingly important for locating work product created by other lawyers. The number of documents stored in electronic form are also increasing each year and a Document Management System can provide facilities to automate the archiving of older documents.

Another benefit which is expected from the implementation of a document management system is the elimination of the work involved in maintaining an opinions database. A document management system would ensure that all documents created in the Department will be profiled and the full text of significant documents can be automatically indexed.

The use of document management software had in the past been restricted to only certain disciplines such as law. However, it is now becoming increasingly important for many other business units. A law department planning to install document management facilities should base their selection of a product so that it is in conformance with corporate standards. This will help ensure that law department staff can have access to other corporate documents being managed by document management systems in other areas.

Other corporate areas at the Bank currently utilizing document management systems include Public Affairs and Taxation. Public Affairs would likely want to make press releases and speeches by Bank executives accessible to other Bank areas through a document management system. Another area which would be a good candidate for a document management system is the group responsible for maintaining the Bank's Policies and Procedures. The Bank currently has thousands of topics which could be made more easily searchable and accessible through a document management system.

Some consideration has been given to the use of imaging as a component of a document management system. The system we are planning to implement supports limited imaging facilities. However, the use of imaging technology for day-to-day correspondence does not appear cost effective.

Legal Resources on the Internet

One new area we are planning to explore in the coming year is that of providing access to legal resources available on the Internet. Such access would likely be restricted to a PC in the library rather than made available from individual desktops unless the Bank implements a secure gateway for general corporate-wide access to the Internet.

Voice Recognition Technology

Another area which will likely be examined in the future is the feasibility of utilizing voice dictation technology. The cost of voice dictation systems has decreased from approximately $12,000 only three or four years ago to much more reasonable $1,500 today. There is also the additional cost of training the user on how to use the software and training the software to accurately recognize the user's speech patterns. The implementation of voice dictation technology is becoming more cost effective for lawyers who do not possess touch- typing skills and are still utilizing tape dictation equipment.


Related Sources: Canadian Legal Resources | Cyberlaw Encyclopedia | Entrepreneur Resources | Canadian Technology | Precedents | Alan Gahtan

2005 Alan M. Gahtan. All Rights Reserved | Use is subject to these Legal Terms
Disclaimer: Not all materials may be applicable in your jurisdiction. Not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. No implied endorsement of, or affiliation with, any linked sites. Path to individual pages may change - please link to home page only.   Linking Info