When Philip Bryce began practicing law in the late 1970s, his secretary used a typewriter, personal computers were unheard of and offices all over Manhattan would practically come to a standstill when a fax came chugging through on a machine the size and heft of a floor safe.
Mr. Bryce, manager of knowledge resources at White & Case, refers to standard procedure of that time as "a paper paradigm that took hundreds of years to establish."
Today, large New York firms are working together -- circumspectly, so as not to compromise the competitiveness of their respective offices -- to establish "new paradigms," as Mr. Bryce put it, because "e-mail is everything now and hard copy metaphors no longer apply" to the business of law.
Mr. Bryce and some 30 of his counterparts -- including Michael Mills of Davis Polk & Wardwell, Guy Wiggins of Kelly Drye & Warren and Oz Benamram of Morrison & Foerster -- meet in monthly rotation at one another's firms in the common cause of supporting colleagues in practice through the transition from old to new.
Although they are conversant in computerese, and though their work overlaps with that of technology officers at their respective firms, "knowledge management attorneys," as they have become known over the past five years, are not to be confused with the people who keep the servers running.
"Our job is meta-lawyering instead of lawyering," said Mr. Mills, director of professional services at Davis Polk. "It's taking one step back to think about advanced technology and organizing information based on the culture of the firm, and how we serve our clients."
Mr. Bryce explained one of many daily difficulties, in the context of past versus present.
"If I got a letter about a matter, it was either the original or maybe a carbon copy -- or maybe a photocopy. But I would know immediately if I had the original or not," he said. "Now everything's flying around electronically. If somebody sends an e-mail to 50 people, who's got the original document?"
E-mail is at the heart of a complex set of challenges to helping practitioners sort through the storm of information in cyberspace.
Less than a generation ago, said Mr. Mills, "lawyers had time to read opinions from the Second Circuit, and releases from the [Securities and Exchange Commission] on new rules. They just can't do it anymore. The flood is too great, the speed is too great."
He added, "Lawyers are expected to do deals in three days that used to take three weeks."
"Different pieces of a solution are in place, but there isn't really an overarching engine yet to make it all happen," said Mr. Wiggins, director of practice management at Kelly Drye. "I'm struggling with trying to figure out a way of bringing it all together under a Web-based umbrella that's really intuitive."
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By: Thomas Adcock