Originally published in the December 2013 issue of International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) Digital White Paper.
By: Chi Eng of Neulexa
The digital era of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, smartphones and cloud computing has completely transformed and redesigned how we communicate in our personal lives. Social networking has evolved beyond its communication origins and has become the primary means of sharing knowledge and information for increasing numbers of individuals and organizations.
Traditionally, businesses – and law firms, especially—have been more concerned with the potential risks of adopting social network models into their workflows than with the potential profit-impacting benefits on their organizations. Deploying and adopting a social network based work flow system would enable a law firm to increase productivity and enhance the quality of the work product of its attorneys, and at the same time, increase client satisfaction. It is a system that complements or otherwise extends the social dynamics of a law firm, encouraging constructive competition among its service professionals and increasing transparency of its workflow to the clients. In the long run, greater client satisfaction will increase law firm revenues, and in our new legal era, that is everything.
How, then, can these powerful networking tools be leveraged in a large organization such as a law firm with thousands of professionals and clients—securely? A large law firm, for instance, has all the concomitant characteristics of a social network structure: groups of social influencers and followers, webs of different professional and social associations, and project teams formed for specific client projects. The sum total of their interactions, i.e., communications and work product, constitute the proprietary Big Data of the organization, from which the law firm can leverage and monetize.
Closed Circuit Social Networks
There is an answer: Closed circuit social networks in which the law firm’s staff and clients are invited to and participate in a social network managed and controlled by the law firm.
This closed circuit social network can be implemented on the law firm’s own servers, or preferably, in the cloud. Cloud based platforms, when properly configured, are preferable for this application because they are readily accessible from around the globe and are scalable depending on data usage and the number of users on the platform. In regards to security, the cloud has grown increasingly sophisticated. Law firm IT departments, and their attorneys can now rely in part on cloud infrastructure experts to configure and update the fire walls and security policies of the cloud servers and databases. Cloud vendors such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) have achieved military-grade compliance with the various security protocols such as SOC 1/SSAE16/ISAW 3402, FISMA Moderate, PCI DSS Level 1, ISO 27001 US International Traffic in Arms Regulations, FIPS, and other compliance initiatives, e.g. HIPAA.
For those who are concerned about security in the cloud, AWS offers the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) which allows users to provision a logically isolated section in the Amazon cloud. Users have complete control over their virtual networking environment, including selection of their own IP address range, creation of subnets, and configuration of route tables and network gateways. Users can easily customize the network configuration for their AWS VPC such as, for example, creating a public-facing subnet for their webservers that have access to the Internet, and place their backend systems such as databases or application servers in a private-facing subnet with no Internet access. Users can also leverage multiple layers of security, including security groups and network access control lists, to help control access to the AWS virtual servers (i.e., EC2 instances) in each subnet. Furthermore, users can create a Hardware Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection between their corporate datacenters and their VPC and leverage the Amazon cloud as an extension of their corporate datacenter.
Social Networking as Productivity Tools
In any event, best of breed social network tools should allow users to organize themselves in public or private groups. Each group will have an area for discussion and a virtual library for storing documents. Public groups would permit anyone in the closed community to join while private groups can only be joined with the group owner’s permission. Private groups are tantamount to closed-door meetings. On the other hand, public groups are more free-wheeling, to the extent allowed by the group moderator, and may be used for bond-building purposes or for general interest discussions around topics such as intellectual property law development, cross-border litigation, and securities law.
These groups will increase the quality of the work product of the lawyers as they will be pressured to demonstrate to their colleagues their breadth and depth of knowledge and expertise of their chosen fields of law. Healthy competition among the lawyers will benefit the law firm as a whole. The closed private groups can be used for confidential discussions, information gathering and document collection by client and professional teams for purposes such as possible M&A transactions or litigation materials protected by a court protective order. Once inside these closed private groups, the invited clients and professionals can freely and confidentially discuss and share documents. All comments are recorded and ownership of documents is indicated so that everyone is on the same page.
Once the preliminary discussions are completed, a private group can open a project room where budget and milestones can be negotiated or set up as goals. The client and professional team workflow is then constructed around these agreed or specified milestones. Project related discussions and documents can then be shared by the project members. There can no longer be any excuse of lost emails or misfiled documents on a PC or that someone was left out of the loop. In this project room, every project team member sees the same discussions, documents, and milestones. There will not be any spam mails, messages from different projects cluttering the project discussions because non-invited members (or spam mailers) cannot access the message or document areas.
Once the social network platform is adopted and used by the law firm staff and clients, data in the form of discussions and documents would be available for mining by the law firm. The documents and discussions are in fact the Big Data that the firm can leverage, analyze and repurpose.
The law firm would not incur significant implementation cost if the platform is deployed in the cloud. For example, the cost of storage at Amazon is less than $0.1 per GB per month and the unit cost goes down further for higher data storage. Thus, for example, for 40 TB usage per month, the monthly cost at $0.1 per GB per month is $0.1/GB/month x 40 TB x 1,024 GB/TB = $4,096/month or $49,152/year. This is well above the requirements for, say, a mix of 200 small cases of 25 GB each and 25 large cases of 200 GB each for a total of 10 TB. It has been reported that an in-house system that can accommodate this amount of data can cost more than $300,000 for upfront purchase cost.
With the Amazon cloud, there would be monthly expenses for renting server and database instances. Depending upon the desired redundancies, a configuration comprising four Linux-based large reserved instances (medium utilization; c3.large) costs $2,364 upfront for a 3 year term, and at $0.049 per hour per instance (i.e., about $141 per month for 4 servers per month of continuous running). For an extra large multi-AZ reserved RDS instance (medium utilization), the upfront cost is $1,720 for a 3 year term, and at $0.199 per hour per RDS instance (i.e. about $143 per month of continuous running). The multi-AZ feature includes a standard redundant database stored in a different location. These cloud usage costs do not come close to the annual operating cost of an in-house system. Of course, the above example is for illustrative purpose and is not meant to be an exhaustive price comparison between cloud and in-house implementation.
Time to Pivot
It’s time for law firms to pivot workflow around people and processes—and be fit for success in the new legal era. Deploying and adopting a social network based work flow system enables firms to increase productivity and quality of the work product of its attorneys, and at the same time, increase client satisfaction. It is a system that complements and extends the social dynamics of a law firm and the necessary and evolving relationship between firms and the clients they want to retain.
About Chi Eng, Esq.
Chi Eng is a practicing IP attorney, former AT&T Bell Labs engineer, former general counsel of a public company, Arbinet Corporation, and CEO of NeuLexa (www.neulexa.com). NeuLexa uniquely combines an enterprise-grade document collaboration platform with project management features, transactional capabilities and team building social tools which leverage the legal team knowledge base. NeuLexa is a technology partner of Amazon Web Services.
 Cloud vs. Appliance: Comparing the Total Cost for E-Discovery, John Tredennick, Esq., Legal IT Professionals, 15 January 2013.
We are pleased to announce that the US Patent Office has issued US Patent No. 8,499,148 covering NeuLexa's secure collaborative platform.
The Neulexa platform may be configured as a private branded portal that facilitates the connection and collaboration of clients and professionals through a wide area network such that professionals having different skill sets and located in different geographical regions will be able to collaborate with clients in an efficient and cost effective manner.
The Neulexa platform is deployable on the Amazon cloud and provides customizable and secure workrooms for clients and authorized professionals to selectively share documents in a confidential but yet user-friendly manner.
A Bar Association’s Very Own Social Network
Bar Associations have always encompassed aspects of “Social Networks”. But are Bar Associations connecting with their members in a meaningful and value-added way? Traditionally, members are contacted by E-mails, list-servs, mailings and journals, which tend to clutter up mailboxes, postal or electronic. Reaching out to as many members as possible, however, is not the same as engaging them.
What to do?
Bar Associations have thousands of member attorneys. They can form closed knit communities for increased collaboration, mentoring, and innovative career planning. These activities could draw in new Bar members and reinvigorate existing Bar members. If Bars devolve into glorified CLE providers their value proposition will be lost on the next generation of attorneys who will be more concerned with paying back law school loans than paying Bar membership dues.
Why not latch onto an existing social network?
Existing social network platforms may offer a convenient and no-hassle solution. However, there are significant downsides to choosing an established social network platform. Facebook and LinkedIn were designed to connect individuals to each other. Group functions and Organization pages were added later to take advantage of the diversity of interests of its users. Existing Social Networks’ rigid templates have proven to be inhospitable to forward-thinking Group or Page managers. Large groups and organizations relying on existing social networks have difficulty obtaining proper metrics, importing and exporting data and creating unique outlets for content and collaboration. Established Social Networks also have marketing and advertising schemes which may clash with the Bar Association’s own mission and strategy.
Bar Associations will also want to set up their own guidelines and protocols for Social Network participation and monitoring. Each bar association will have their own wish list of social networking priorities, group functions, integration concerns and oversight controls. Relinquishing important functions to a third party social network platform may limit a Bar Association’s social networking potential.
A Bar Association without social networking tends to lock knowledge and people behind glass.
Clio's SmallFirmInnovation.com publishes the below article:
Debating about using Dropbox, or other cloud-based applications x in your practice? Here are some do’s and don’ts when performing due diligence for any cloud-based application to use in your practice .... (read more)
April 22, 2013, Legal IT Insider publishes this news excerpt:
New York multidisciplinary law ﬁrm Sloan & Feller (which specializes in elder law, estate planning and Medicaid projects) has deployed the NeuLexa cloud platform to improve legal workﬂow “by reimagining how lawyers both assemble and collaborate with geographically dispersed teams and communicate and collaborate on documents with diversely interested clientbases.” Partner Alan D Feller described the NeuLexa platform as having “supercharged the practice.” NeuLexa CEO Chi Eng said the software rotates legal workﬂow around people, not data, through an intuitive project and document management interface, as well as closed circuit social media features and project management tools.