One Monday last September, hundreds of lawyers and paralegals showed up to work in Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker's nine U.S. offices and found a laminated page sitting by their computers. "Get Started in Six Steps," it began.
It sounded simple, but over the weekend Paul Hastings had actually reinvented the way the global law firm works, replacing a cumbersome legacy application with a new document management system that completely restructured the way files were organized. It combined email and documents into one centralized system instead of splitting them between different systems and offices.
"Before, you had information dispersed everywhere," says CIO Stova Wong. "There were such inefficiencies in the old system. All our client files were in different conditions. Attorney[s] A and B had their own files in their own offices. If Attorney C came into the case, he had to ask for someone to email him that file."
Now it's all in one location. And while this may mean more work for individual attorneys who have to access the master document instead of just their own draft, it also means that the overall process is streamlined and more efficient for the client.
"Our old system sucked, but everyone got used to it," says Derek Smith, an attorney who is the chairman of the firm's technology committee, which oversees the IT department. "It was crappy but familiar."
Changing the way people work is never popular, but it's often necessary for the business. The new document management system is but one of myriad technologies that Paul Hastings has deployed in its transformation from a regional law firm where the business day ends with the FedEx deadline to an international practice where the workday never ends. Technology deployments can be relatively easy. Transforming work habits is almost always more challenging.
"There was tons of resistance," says Wong. "Users have to live in a world that's more like a public domain, sharing files. The fear that anyone might have the appropriate rights to see the whole file makes attorneys very careful. When you're centralizing something like this, you have to give up speed. You're saving to a central location. It was really difficult for attorneys to learn a different application, even in the Outlook application. Searching documents was different. It's really a change in culture, switching to a client-centric model."
This was first published in June 2006