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Minnesota Law Firms' Use of Intranets and Extranets: Results of PLW's January, 2000 Survey

Introduction

In January, 2000, Pritchard Law Webs sent an e-mail survey to four hundred Minnesota law firms (from the largest firms to solo practitioners), asking a few short questions about use of intranets and extranets.

We received just enough responses to be able to preliminarily document how a few Minnesota law firms are using web technology for something more than publishing their credentials to a global audience.

Responses to our overture were few. We recognize that some firms might wish to safeguard their plans and capabilities -- or their lack thereof -- in this high-profile area.

We offered everyone who participated a free summary report of the results.

Now we are offering the same report on Priweb.com as well because information, even if in small doses, is better than none. We are unaware of any prior effort to systematically survey Minnesota law firms on this subject.

Legal Media vs. Actual Implementation

Lawyers' use of web technology to change the way law has traditionally been practiced is receiving sharply escalating coverage by the legal technology media, of course.

And more mainstream law practice publications are paying attention as well.

For instance, the March 2000 issue of Law Practice Management magazine, published by the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section, is entirely devoted to the legal profession's impending move to the web platform.

(Back in the early 1980's, we recall that the novel idea of attorney use of a computer in law practice received the same sort of coverage in Law Practice Management.)

Introducing the special "e-practice" issue, Law Practice Management's editor Merrilyn Astin Tarlton writes:

"Just as e-commerce is planet earth's hottest story of the 2000s' first decade, e-practice is emerging as the next dominant force on the law practice horizon.

...

I guarantee you a March 2001 issue full of stories about genuine e-practices: lawyers marketing, practicing, delivering, billing and collecting for their services via the Internet. Yes, there are already a handful of these true e-practices -- innovative lawyers and firms learning the hard (and profitable) lessons on the bleeding edge."

(Emphasis added.) (View full column).

Start the Revolution Without Us?

But if a revolution is afoot -- and it is -- not all that many shots have yet been fired by Minnesota law firms.

Rather, "the next dominant force on the law practice horizon" is just beginning to move onto the radar screens of most Minnesota law firms.

Reflecting that reality, we received intranet/extranet survey responses from just eight Minnesota firms or solo practitioners with a total of eighty-six Minnesota lawyers.

(In the interests of full disclosure, one firm responding was the Law Office of LaVern A. Pritchard, the law practice of the founder of Pritchard Law Webs. That firm's experience is materially affected by its status as the alpha test site for certain web technologies and techniques developed by Pritchard Law Webs.)

Responding Firms

Responding firms ranged in size from thirty lawyer offices to one lawyer practices.

Priweb.com publishes the list of the largest one hundred Minnesota law firms. Three of the eight responding firms appear on that list.

Since we know some large firms that did not respond have intranet or some form of extranet capability, our January survey results are probably best described as a limited sampling of intranet and extranet activities and plans by Minnesota law firms with thirty or fewer lawyers.

While we made an effort to survey a broad cross-section of firms, seven of the eight firms that actually responded have public web sites.

That is not surprising at all. Firms that publish web sites are likely more interested in intranets and extranets, even if they lack them, than firms reluctant to step onto the Web at all.

For most firms, it is logical to first put up a marketing presence on the Internet. Internal adoption of web technology comes with increasing sophistication about and comfort with web technology and information sharing.

Five of the firms we heard from are in the Twin Cities; three are based in outstate Minnesota cities.

Intranets and Extranets

Three of the eight firms report working intranets.

(We did not ask them to distinguish between intranets consisting of static web pages and those capable of drawing from knowledge stored in databases.)

Of the three firms with intranets, two appear on our largest one hundred Minnesota firms list.

One firm, not on that list, also reports an extranet capability.

Of the three firms having intranets, one dates back to 1996, another to 1998, and the third to 1999.

Four firms without intranets or extranets say they may develop an intranet or extranet in 2000 but none of them report definite plans to do so.

We asked firms where intranets are being used to tell us what they use them for.

We have combined their responses to produce a composite illustrative list of ways some Minnesota law firms already use web technology and techniques.

These uses, listed in no particular order, include:

  • staff handbook
  • quality assurance manual
  • firm calendar
  • links to resources on the Web
  • internal practice group pages
  • contacts information
  • document management
  • marketing activites
  • ticket schedules
  • case-specific knowledge
  • court rules
  • computer tips
  • photographs of firm events
  • administrative forms (expense & mileage forms, etc.)
  • document assembly
  • timekeeping, and
  • billing.

Summary

Despite very low participation, the survey demonstrates that a few Minnesota law firms beyond the state's largest are actually testing the waters of "e-practice".

As of early, 2000, some intranet projects have already been underway for one to more than three years.

The range of ways firms report using web technology suggests that more firms will be taking a hard look at innovation based on web technology in the near future.

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Pritchard Law Webs, 2100 Foshay Tower, 821 Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402. Tel: (612) 332-0102, Fax: (612) 332-3225.

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