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A primer on core law department technology

A look at the standard set of tech tools every legal department needs

This article is the first in a series that will focus on strategic technology planning for law departments. The series will describe the core elements of a strategic technology plan and walk through the various types of technology to consider. Because the most effective strategic technology plan considers the entire technology landscape and creates a vision for the overall architecture as well as a roadmap to get there, this article begins with the end in mind—what might the technology landscape of a law department look like once all elements have been put into place?

The following diagram represents the technology components that may comprise a law department technology landscape.


The innermost circle represents the technology most commonly found in law departments, and therefore, can be described as core law department technology.

Office applications: These are the email and word processing applications (including spreadsheets and presentation software) in which lawyers and staff members spend most of their working day. This software is almost always dictated by corporate standards, and as such, many of the additional core tools tend to be driven by compatibility with these applications.

Document management: Document management (DM) is the tool that enables the legal team to store, share and find documents produced and received in the course of their work. A DM system may be a stand-alone system, a module within another system or even a simple process that leverages existing storage locations (network drives). In many cases today, DM incorporates email management and storage. Some of the most common concerns among lawyers are the volume of documents and email as well as the ability to find historical documents. The DM system typically addresses these concerns.

Matter management: A matter management (MM) system is the hub for identifying, categorizing and measuring a department’s work. Matters may be cases, transactions, regulatory activities, projects or other elements of work conducted by the department. Historically, the matter management system has been used as an electronic case file to store information about a matter, such as when it was opened or closed, who is working on it, the description of the work, important dates and the current status. Today, the MM system tends to be more a management tool for understanding workloads and generating key performance indicators on everything from efficiency to value to costs.

E-billing: The e-billing (EB) system is the corollary to matter management. Once a separate but integrated system, today, e-billing is usually offered as a module tightly integrated with matter management. An EB system allows the department to receive invoices from legal service providers electronically. In doing so, the department is able to more easily audit invoices for compliance with billing guidelines as well as track, measure and control outside costs. Whereas e-billing used to be a tool used only by larger law departments, with all the recent emphasis on cost containment, even mid-sized and smaller law departments are taking advantage of this functionality to augment outside counsel and vendor management programs.

Practice tools: The phrase “practice tools” is used loosely to describe what could be a wide variety of applications relevant to the type of work in which a law department engages. Litigation-heavy departments that bring work in-house may require litigation support or e-discovery tools. IP-heavy organizations may require an intellectual asset management system. Transactional practices may choose to invest in a contract management system (if the company has not made one available at a corporate level). Finally, companies in regulated industries may see the law department adopting its own system for tracking regulatory activities.


A good law department strategy begins with identifying and strategizing the core tools most relevant to the department. At the very least, these tools should work together. Ideally, they should be formally integrated to create a matter-centric view of legal information produced and stored within the department. Once the department lays the foundation for tracking and supporting the day-to-day work activities, then the strategy may look to value-added components that address specific requirements such as business intelligence, risk management and knowledge management.

Next month’s article will lay out the core elements of a strategic technology plan.

Contributing Author

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Rebecca Thorkildsen

Rebecca Thorkildsen is a director of legal solutions with Pangea3. Leveraging more than 17 years of experience consulting to the legal industry on technology, management...

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