Global Mergers Communications Solutions

January 1, 2000

Frances Coulson is joint Managing Partnerof ShawnCoulson. She has been Litigation Partner of the London firm Moon Beeverfor 11 years. Moon Beever now form the London office of ShawnCoulson. The firmhas offices in London, Washington DC, Hartford Connecticut, Brussels, Lyons,Madrid, Geneva and Luxembourg. New offices are being planned in Paris, Milan,Frankfurt, Tel Aviv, and Athens among others.

As every partner in any law firm knows, gettingconsensus in a solely domestic partnership can be difficult enough, let alonewhere more than one jurisdiction is involved. Effective communication is thekey.

Clearly, with closer union there is quite simplygreater need for fast, effective, and seamless communication. Clients needsingle access to law offices worldwide and firms need to be able to unify theirservices, without each office throwing out its own significant IT investment andthence the baby with the bathwater.

The answer for the recent merger of eight US andEuropean law firms, to form international firm ShawnCoulson, Working with a Company called Trialnet, based in the US, ithas built a proprietary extranet which provides a real technological solutionfor increased efficiency of communication and delivery of services betweenclients and law firms.

This involves the creation of a ‘virtual host’site, maintained at the domain address. It directs password-authorised users tothe site that functions on three levels. Clients may access one level, enablingthe firm to provide client-specific proactive advice and information, as well ascase-specific communication. The solution incorporatesencrypted e-mail and secure document delivery. Clients will have access to somegeneral client areas giving information about each office, newsletter, articlesand fee information as well as to other areas specific to them and theirmatters.

All the firm’s lawyers and staff can access the site.One important communication tool it features is the use of threadedconferencing. It also features databases and search tools, full e-mail functionand, internal database information on lawyers and staff. It has tools to allowfor initial upload of client or user information. It permits online documentdevelopment so that clients, and all lawyers, can quickly liaise to concludeagreements and can access these wherever in the world they happen to be.

Naturally co-ordination of people and work schedulesacross continents could prove difficult, but this is resolved by use of thecalendar of events function. Additionally the firm will maintain close personalcross-border contacts by use of video conferencing, although this does notreplace the importance of maintaining actual meetings as it is still notpossible to join colleagues for dinner on the net! Personal relationships willcontinue to be important, even if aided and supplemented by virtual means.However, the enhanced communication methods allow lawyers and clients to get tothe stage where any video or face-to-face meeting will be at its most effectivein terms of time, results and cost.

The first level of access enables contact management,document management and addition of client data to maximise the personalisationof client services. Offices are not to be islands even if geographically theyare on one. Clients must feel that instructions from another country are equallyclosely related to them as are their legal services provided domestically.

Billing is an issue for clients. Often they have workacross several continents, and even if their domestic lawyer is merelyinstructing a single foreign lawyer on their behalf, they can receive multiplebills, possibly not in their native language, and without advance notice of whatto expect. Through a client who has work on matters in severalgeographical locations whether on a single or multiple matters can have onebill, with narratives in English or the native language if non-English speaking,and single credit and reporting lines and can also dial in to see the currentpicture at any given time.

The next access level is internal, for networking ofall offices worldwide. Lawyers with different specialities can use area specificthreaded conferencing and updates. This level can also be used for cross-firmtraining or cross-selling opportunities. It allows the international offices torun a unified internal diarising/scheduling system. In addition, it allowssingle training sessions in, for example, firm quality standards, for all staffvia video conferencing, with subsequent feedback or discussion between stafffrom different offices on the sessions given. The firm accounts and partnerinformation are also held, of course securely passworded. Thus all partners cansee at a glance what their money is being spent on and what results are beingproduced.

The third level allows actual file work across borderson specific transactions and secure access is given per client/attorney permatter. The level of security is high with 128 bit encryption (some banks stillhave only 40 bits). It has RSA authentication and is ECPA protected, as well asthe obvious password and ID security required by users and programmers. It is,in effect, the firm’s boardroom, filing cabinet, fax and e-mail and accountsdepartment. It is a step beyond LAN and WAN, and, with moves towards GAN, canonly continue to improve and take us and our clients confidently into thefuture.

It is true that the Internet poses a great challengefor the legal profession. Lawyers will find the mystique of their expertisesignificantly diminished by open publication of knowledge and tools which werepreviously its professional preserve. However, the Internet also producesexciting opportunities for the legal profession which, if seized, couldstrengthen the profession, widen and improve choice and services available toclients worldwide. The extranet is the ideal solution enabling us to workbetter, faster and more economically than we could have dreamed even a couple ofyears ago.