Web-Enabled Law Firms Capture New Business

Web technology is helping major law firms "know what they know" so they can present data-rich business proposals to clients and win new business.  A Houston firm has created an online club that clients pay a fixed fee to belong to so they can get information on issues they are following.  Meanwhile a Chicago firm is using a powerful search engine that it can point at any of its internal databases to retrieve facts about the firm, which are used to persuade clients to hire the firm.

Partners Mark J. White of Baker Botts and Brent Kidwell of Jenner & Block described how they used Web features to assemble data to attract new business at the Year 2005 Marketing Partner Forum held on January 18-22 at the Four Seasons Resort in North San Diego, CA.  This year a record-setting 500 registrants came to the Forum, which is presented by Glasser Legal Works, a unit of Thomson Inc.

Mark_white Mark J. White, a partner in Baker Botts in Houston, described the firm's online Texas Industry Project extranet, built by Web developer Hubbard One in Chicago, where 60 companies represented by the firm's environmental practice can get daily updates on legal issues that affect them.

"The extranet has been a fabulous tool to drive membership into the group," White said.  "It's a very good tool to bring new membership on board."  Prospective members from can get one month of free access to the extranet, so they can view the list of members, get daily information updates and review all the legal projects underway.  White said membership of the group has grown by 100% over the least five years.

The members include companies in the oil, gas, paper, electric, petrochemical and semiconductor industries that have environmental law issues.  In the past the firm used to send clients 2-inch thick monthly packet of information; it was too much for clients to absorb.  With the extranet, Baker Botts can issue bite-size e-mail updates focusing only on the particular issues clients are following.

Clients can also check the extranet to see the scope of particular projects, who's the lead person at the company, the lead person at the firm, the budget and current status of the project.

Ready, aim, search!

Up north in Chicago, Brent E. Kidwell, partner and Chief Knowledge Counsel of Jenner & Block, has spent the last 18 months building JennerNet, which collects information from the firm's accounting, email, conflicts, records, human resources, document management, CRM and other unstructured databases.

"In RFPs, clients ask whether we will be able to provide them information about us and our matters, whether they can get it via and extranet and what the cost will be.  We tell them "yes" to the first two questions and "free" to the cost question."


"The firm has puddles of data that bleed into JennerNet," Kidwell aid.  "We can selectively pick what we expose the client to, at no cost to the firm or client," he said.  "We can create an extranet on the fly - and show clients every document related to their matter in the Hummingbird document system, allow them to see certain financial information, and allow them to see news snippets about Jenner & Block.  We're just opening certain door to let the client through."

Point search engine at data

For internal use, the firm created KM Search, a powerful search engine that can be pointed at any structured data source.  It will show all the documents retrieved in full text and preview them with the search time highlighted.  Users can change databases and rerun searches or search multiple depositories of information at the same time. 

The marketing department is a heavy user of the system, because they can look up a lawyer's biography, all the lawyer's current cases and find lawyers who know about a particular area of law.  This is essential information to answer RFPs.

"The value is that they can type a query -- like "what do we know about Bill Gates?" The search engine will hit everything in the document repository, finance and accounting systems, docket system and CRM system, and concatenate all the information and show the results," Kidwell said.

For example if a potential client wants to know how many cases the firm has had before a certain judge, "we can show them we've had 122  cases, what the time period was, what kind of cases they were, which attorneys were involved and how the cases were resolved."

If a reporter calls asking how many trials did the firm handle in 2004, the marketing department can retrieve the number of cases, and also the filing dates, jurisdictions,  attorneys involved, legal issue and types of hearings.

The firm's docket database of cases is hosted by an outside company, which updates the information every night.  On the new business intake forms, lawyers put the case into a category and the docket department follows up to make corrections and associate the case with a practice group.

"It's important to know what your people know and what their experience is," Kidwell said.  "We can dig up every piece of information about our people - their biography, business facts, languages spoken, court information with the KM search tool.  So when a client calls and says "do you have anyone who has this particular kind of experience?" this is where we will get the answer."

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