Web-Based Case Management
A Possible Future for CMS

by
Andrew Z. Adkins, III
Legal Technology Institute
at the University of Florida College of Law


It's been a while since we looked closely at Application Service Providers (ASPs) and Web-Based Systems. While the "dot-com" crash of 2000-2001 sent many ASPs packing, several maintained their stability, continuing to develop and enhance their products, and are now poised for prime time. Not too many developers tout the "ASP model," since that was closely associated with dot-coms which continues to carry a negative connotation, but these developers have revised their models and their products to be "Web-based." It's a different model, developed from the ground up to be Web-based instead of a desktop interface.

The Microsoft Dot.Net Platform
Several years ago, Bill Gates handed over the reins of Microsoft to Steve Ballmer, stepped down and became Microsoft's chief software architect and chairman. His vision at the time was to create a software system that would offer a more electronic collaborative working environment, where information would be compiled from many different sources, flow easily between different systems, and operate on multiple platforms. The heart of the .NET vision is the XML ("eXtensive Markup Language"), an open-standard metalanguage for describing and easily exchanging Internet data. Although the initial .NET initially targets the Wintel ("Windows/Intel") platform, Microsoft has designed the underlying architecture (known as the ".NET Framework") to be portable to other hardware platforms.

Several CMS developers are working to bring their products to the industry using the new Microsoft .NET ("dot net") platform, others are using a combination of .NET and JAVA. Either way, these developers see the Web-based platform as the future.

Is a Web-Based System an ASP?
I can see there might be confusion in the industry where users may think that a Web-based case management system is an ASP. In some cases, it may be, but in most they are two totally different systems. Application Service Providers were defined several years ago as "renting software applications over the Internet on a subscription basis." In other words, you would subscribe (typically a per user per month fee) to an ASP that would provide you software delivered to your desktop via the Internet, as opposed to having that software reside on your firm's own computer systems. Software could be simple Microsoft Office Suite applications or it may be time & billing or perhaps case management.

While I still believe that the ASP model is a good business and computing model, there exists some concern about the delivery of software and, more importantly, client information over the Internet. Several developers offer an ASP product, but most offer the Web-based system. The Web-based system resides on your firm's own servers, whether in the main office or all offices, depending upon your needs. Either way, most are designed using a combination of programming languages, including .NET, JAVA, HTML and XML. What that means to you, the end user, is that these systems are designed from the ground up for use via a Web interface, making them more efficient that those systems that simply have a Web browser front-end.

Web-Based CMS Developers - Who's Out There?
A major benefit of Web-based case and matter management systems is that they provide a collaborative work environment between in-house and outside counsel. Information is shared through authorized access. Security is paramount in these systems. For example, a Fortune 500 law department may contract with dozens of outside law firms. Obviously, the law department wants to share only matter information with the assigned outside counsel, so that law firm is only provided access to their matter information. You might even think of this Fortune 500 company as "hosting" these Web-based applications - in fact, that's exactly what they are doing.

That's not to say Web-based CMS is only for law departments. On the contrary, Web-based case management systems may be more cost effective for the smaller or mid-size firms, depending if you look at hosting the system in house or outsourcing to a third party. Either way, Web-based CMS is a viable alternative to the standard client/server approach.

A cursory review of developers who are offering "true" Web-based case management systems for the legal profession include:

LegalFiles - MyLegalFiles was released in January 2003 and is described as a Web portal and allows a user to grant access to specific files or an entire database. With the secure web client, outside counsel has not only access, but the functionality needed to view, create and edit important documents and notes, enter relevant expenses or import expense data, and access and update vital contact information.

LegalEdge - The LegalEdge Web-based Corporate Suite product is currently slated for release 2Q 2004 and will incorporate many of the same functions as the LegalEdge client/server product. In addition to providing access to commonly used CMS functions, LegalEdge plans on introducing knowledge management functionality with a decision support system.

caseManagerPro - caseManagerPro was designed from the ground up to be Web-based case management. It can be either hosted on the organization's own servers or it can be hosted in caseManagerPro's secure data center. caseManagerPro also follows a streamlined workflow approach in the design and navigation of the system. Originally designed for mass tort, the system is easily customizable for any practice area.

Serengeti Tracker - Tracker is a Web-based system for law departments helping to track and manage legal matters. Tracker offers matter management, contract management, electronic billing, and on-demand reporting. It helps organize budgets, bills, status reports, calendars, documents and contacts in one secure system that is shared with outside counsel over the Internet.

TimeMatters – Recently, data.txt, developers of TimeMatters and BillingMatters, released World Server, a JAVA-based browser application serving up information from the TimeMatters (and BillingMatters) databases via the Internet. It was designed to be totally platform independent and is expected to run on a wide variety of platforms including Unix, Linux, Macintosh, or any operating system capable of supporting the JAVA platform.

1stLegal - GlobalCMS is a secure Internet case and matter management system available from any browser-based computer and is designed to be custom-implemented to meet the individual needs of the organization. GlobalCMS is part of the GlobalSuite, a suite of four integrated applications, each with similar user interfaces and integrated functions: (1) GlobalCMS, a case and matter management system; (2) GlobalRepository, a litigation support system; (3)GlobalOffice, a virtual office and docketing system; and (4) GlobalSend, a secure document delivery system.


Security Issues to Consider
Security is always an issue when it comes to law firms and law departments. But, security is often in the eye of the beholder. That's not to say that the legal profession should not worry about security and it's offsprings: confidentiality, authenticity, and reliability. Au contraire! With today's technology, systems are far more secure than they were just a few short years ago. We have encryption available that provides security when information leaves your firm and travels across the Internet. We have digital certificates that authenticate users, either in our offices or in our clients' offices. We have redundant systems that provide a level of reliability that we've never seen before.

The only thing left is be concerned about is client confidentiality. While that will always be a concern, it is usually because the legal profession doesn't understand the technology behind the Internet. Let me share with you a couple of insights that you may not have thought about. First, when you leave your office at night, do you leave client information, in the form of documents or open files, in your office or on your desk or in unlocked filing cabinets? Does your firm utilize a janitorial crew that cleans the office at night? How secure and confidential is your client information?

One more insight - when you go to lunch at your favorite restaurant, do you pay with a credit card? Do you go with your waiter or waitress to the cashier and watch when they run your credit card through?

A Look into the Future of CMS
Will Web-based case management be the only game in town in coming years? I doubt it. But, with the increased use of the Internet and companies migrating their applications to be available via the Net, it's worth your time and effort to take a good hard look at your current technology environment and look to see how you might incorporate Web-based technology in your future business strategies.


Andrew Z. Adkins III is the director of the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and an Editorial Board Member of Law Technology News. He can be reached at adkins@law.ufl.edu or 352-392-2278.