Goodwin Procter Makes Strong Case for Knowledge Management

Integrates data using Microsoft's Sharepoint

If anyone knows that time is money, it's an attorney. The 850 attorneys and their staffs at Goodwin Procter were spending too much time assembling documents and looking up information, which meant cases took more time than they should to proceed.

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The $611 million law firm's eight offices used seven different applications to manage over 2 terabytes of data for Goodwin Procter's more than 60,000 cases—close to 10 million documents. CIO Peter Lane wanted to integrate the data. Using Microsoft SharePoint, his team created the Matter Page System as a hub through which attorneys could access business data and client information.

What's more, the firm has been able tlo use the platform to share their notes and work in progress. It's now possible for an attorney to easily find a colleague who can help them with a similar case.

Matter Pages took a year to implement, but once it was deployed, it immediately changed how Goodwin Procter's attorneys work. The transformation of the firm's work processes earned it a 2008 CIO 100 Award.

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Peter Lane, CIO, Goodwin Procter Photo By Steven Vote

A Better Way to Find Data

When Goodwin Procter attorneys assemble documents for a client's case, the data comes from, among other systems, an Interwoven document management system and an Interaction CRM system and Lexis-Nexis.

When a client called with a question, finding the answer used to mean launching more than one application and looking up the data in different systems. Attorneys needed contact information, documents, billing information, and more. The process sometimes took hours.

But all the information had two things in common says Andrew Kawa, Goodwin Procter's development manager, who leads its system development efforts:

"Everything is based on the client number and the matter number." ("Matter" is a term that describes all the facets of a case). The numbers provided the key to integrating the data through SharePoint. SharePoint is used to build a set of web pages within the Goodwin Procter intranet based on the selected matter number. Once a user selects a matter, the pages with the relevant documents are dynamically generated and accessed via a tabbed menu. Each tab represents integration with one of Goodwin Procter's corporate applications.

Now, "Instead of having to launch the different systems from the desktop, or the web interface, or [open] the document management system, we were able to pull all of this information into a one-stop-shop view for the users in our company," Kawa says.

The system increases efficiency for the attorneys because they can find previous matters they or others have worked on and gain extra information much more quickly than before. They spend less time researching and more time moving a case forward.

An Integration Challenge

Lane chose SharePoint because Goodwin Procter is a Microsoft shop; the firm uses Microsoft's .Net framework to develop its custom software and build its web applications (using Microsoft's ASP.Net web development platform). "It gave us the most amount of flexibility to leverage our existing investment in custom code and the .Net framework that we had already made, in addition to providing future development capabilities," says Kawa.

Despite the investment in Microsoft platforms, one of the challenges Goodwin Procter faced was writing APIs to pull information from different systems into SharePoint. The firm's systems, including Interwoven and Lexis Nexis, used different ways to call information from their databases. Goodwin Procter's IT team had to figure out a way for the new system to retrieve data and diplay it in a common format.

"The challenge was to understand how each [system] accessed its data and then build a system that used the appropriate interfaces to access that data," says Kawa. Then, Goodwin Procter had to figure out how to organize the condensed information and make it easily accessible through a web-based interface for the attorneys.

"We had to determine what protocols each third party application provided to access the data contained within," says Kawa. In some cases, Kawa's developers worked directly with their vendor counterparts to accomplish this. Kawa found instances in which the vendor had no APIs; in those cases, Goodwin Procter had to write its own.

New Ways to Work Together

Matter Pages' initial success has Lane investigating new SharePoint features, such as wikis and blogs. He expects to deploy these new capabilities widely over the next few months.

For example, each matter has a wiki that is used to track notes, or other unstructured data that relates to it. These notes are open for editing by all users. Blogs tend to be used for discussions that are not case-specific, although when a matter or set of matters apply to the topic of the blog, users can add links to related cases.

Along with SharePoint upgrades, Goodwin Procter is also looking for increased functionality from standalone applications that would make it easier to integrate these applications through SharePoint. Interwoven, for example, has provided integration with SharePoint so that Matter Pages can display data organized as users are accustomed to seeing it within Interwoven, Kawa says.

"One of the IT goals is to take advantage of the new technology as it becomes available," Lane adds.

With that goal in mind, says Lane, the Matter Page System won't ever truly be completed. Currently, Kawa is looking to integrate Goodwin Procter's patent and trademark information with data about their patent applications from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The integration would allow attorneys to retrieve real-time information on their pending patents and actions they need to take.

"I don't think we will ever declare the project done or say we don't have to put any more time or effort in." he says.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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