Tool trashes the paper chase

Minter Ellison's new case management system has eliminated the paper trail of legal cases and projects and has powered up the collaboration level between lawyers and clients.

The local branch of the multinational law firm was traditionally a box-type software user which "didn't even have computers 10 years ago", Minter Ellison Australia's director of know-how David Rymer said.

"For a big-end document management system holding around four million documents, we needed a sophisticated single tool to capture all electronic information on a matter, project or client and a place where users could draft, review and finalise documentation."

"eRoom is a blue-ribbon tool to do that," Rymer said.

Documentum's eRoom software has been set up to provide chat rooms, electronic workflows and file-sharing tools for different divisions within the firm. These tools simplify communication and increase knowledge-sharing among team members and selected national clients working on mutual projects, according to Rymer.

The first collaboration tool available to Minter Ellison's client services staff, eRoom is only accessible by law staff and key clients from the firm's construction, energy, corporate, and technology and media practices, whose business commands critical mass internally, Rymer told Computerworld.

eRoom has replaced a time-consuming process the firm previously used to coordinate and distribute legal documentation to clients. Before, staff would laboriously convert documents to PDF form, burn them onto a CD and post or deliver those files to the client. The eRoom system however, enables employees and clients to access up-to-date files from a contact management database and through search and sorting options, let the client generate the reports they need, on demand.

"Giving clients a complete overview of all their legal work increases understanding and aids transparency," Rymer said.

After a successful pilot late last year to test if the software addressed issues around productivity, client relationship management and up-skilling young lawyers, Minter Ellison has since rolled out eRoom to some 80 client services staff in its Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane offices. Rymer said the firm will extend the system to twice as many users over the next few months as staff and client demand for the system builds. The firm is paying around $500 per licence for eRoom.

The strength of the technology is its ease of use for the firm's lawyers who say they "know nothing about technology", he said. Minter Ellison has 2000 law staff in Australia, 180 of which are partners.

Rymer said eRoom has also brought some order into the "loose" way people are accustomed to working in law where business activity can be ad hoc, heavily driven by client needs and thus costly.

"A lot of our administrative work was manual and written off as unbillable hours. You'd burn 20 hours a month doing back-office work like burning files onto CDs and couriering things across to clients. But this tool is attractive because it enables us to publish the most commonly requested information in a central, secure, easily accessible location, also cutting down the number of administration queries from clients."

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