By Lisa B. Vessels, Firm Docket Manager, Duane Morris LLP
With 1300 users across 22 offices, Duane Morris has an enormous docketing volume to manage on a daily basis. Our firm takes a decentralized approach, asking attorneys, paralegals and legal assistants to handle their own docketing. These professionals rely on various software applications to complete their tasks effectively.
One of the challenges we faced was that our overall docketing solution was too fragmented. We were using 3 different docketing software systems – one for New York, a second for Chicago and third for all other offices. Both the New York and Chicago systems required subscriptions for access to court dates, and then we had to enter data manually from those two into the third system to sync the dates with Outlook. And though the third system did integrate with Outlook, we realized it was no longer competitive, state-of-the-art technology. More innovative software had become available that could benefit the firm. To truly become efficient and consistent, we realized Duane Morris had to find a cutting-edge solution to consolidate these three separate systems into a single unified rules-based docketing platform.
We began our search, conducting a thorough review of all the rules-based docketing software systems on the market. Many vendors we spoke to promised us that their products would provide all the services we needed “soon,” but they still had not launched these initiatives by the time we were ready. American LegalNet was the only vendor that had a single product – eDockets – that included all the criteria our firm needed, providing universal access to court dates and court rules from all jurisdictions we currently had available, plus expanded our selection by an additional 200+ court rule sets.
After hearing positive reviews of American LegalNet from many AmLaw 100 references, we were impressed enough to launch an extensive pilot installation including 25 users across 7 different offices. The pilot lasted 6-7 weeks which was longer than expected because so many people joined along the way. With American LegalNet’s help, we were able to complete the pilot in the allotted time with positive results.
Duane Morris purchased all modules of eDockets for a complete enterprise implementation. This included AutoDocket, which provides federal court automated PDF downloads from PACER; Docket Direct, which offers automated court docket feeds from New York and Chicago state and federal court systems, which directly sync through eDockets into Outlook; iManage FileSite integration for all attachments to events; and eDockets’ main module with over 1,400 rule sets available for docketing for our 22 offices nationwide.
Next, our firm-wide implementation occurred in phases over several months: New York data was converted first, then Chicago, and the remaining 20 offices launched once the users were trained. Each phase took 4-6 weeks, and we were under pressure to finish during a scheduled open window during a major phone installation project.
Our ultimate goal was to convert all the docketing data into SQL formatted language. Some of our applications had docket feeds we could tap into, others didn’t. Also, some of the legacy data was in “static” form – unstructured – not in columns/rows – and one of our incumbent data service vendors held our data hostage, refusing to provide extractable data, which added an extra wrinkle.
Conversion issues can be the downfall of implementations like this. More than 8 years ago, I had supervised a difficult docketing implementation process at the firm. Therefore, I knew how challenging it would be for us to achieve a large-scale data conversion in only a few months.
However, American LegalNet’s conversion of data from our three legacy systems into their eDocket system was seamless. Our data set was huge – over 1 million transactions. In a rules-based docketing system you have individual court rules for each jurisdiction that the software handles. The previous software we were using had over 1,200 different court rules sets, so there was a lot to identify that had to be mapped out differently. American LegalNet’s engineers brought all our data – including the static portions – into eDockets so we could achieve our data consolidation goals without having to reenter data that had already been input into the legacy system.
Naturally, I was concerned about what would be lost during the conversion process. Our larger system had data we had converted in 2009 with content which dated back to the early 1990s as well as rules-based docketing from our current software since implementation of that system in 2009. When we first moved to a rules-based docketing system years ago, we were converting data from proprietary software developed in-house, but the developer couldn’t recapture reminder flags. The reminder flags were not brought over during the conversion which caused a true “heart attack” moment for the firm. Unhappy users had to recreate the flags one at a time which took them weeks to do, with my help. We told American LegalNet that it was crucial to convert not only the raw data but also associated items like reminder flags.
Fortunately, American LegalNet engineers quickly put my worries to rest. Even after the first data conversion in New York, I was amazed at how clean the data was, accurately capturing the minutia of rules-based docketing, including capturing of all reminder flags. There is nested event hierarchy within each docket set, tracked movements of dates, multiple reminders, team changes, etc. All were precisely captured by the analysts performing the conversion into eDockets.
In fact, the conversion was so seamless that our users can now barely decipher the converted data from the native data. That seamless appearance is always the ultimate goal in a data conversion, but it is rarely achieved so accurately and flawlessly. We are very pleased with the results. Our firm’s CIO John Sroka was thrilled with how smoothly the implementation process hit its targets and progressed.
“The eDockets product suite from American LegalNet allows us to consolidate multiple regional software products into one single national platform with regional support,” said John Sroka, CIO at Duane Morris LLP. “The smooth deployment and seamless transition to eDockets speaks to the product and the knowledge and dedication of the staff at ALN. With eDockets, we are now communicating with one platform and we are able to use that platform across jurisdictions to manage information about court actions and deadlines.” All the data in the final conversion was completed with a week to spare.
From a reporting standpoint, the developers at American LegalNet strategically converted all the static reports to useable format so we could retain our historical data. Overall, American LegalNet’s engineers did a very clean conversion of all reports and our users were extremely happy with the results. The task required patience, expertise and perseverance but everything was completed in a timely fashion.
Another example of the American LegalNet engineering ingenuity and dedication to customization was their response to a Duane Morris partner’s request. A partner in one of our offices wanted a special feature within his reports that mimicked what he had been using in the old software. So while eDockets implementation was ongoing, American LegalNet found a third-party software provider to develop a method to accommodate our attorney’s request. Throughout the entire implementation and conversion process I was continually impressed with how the American LegalNet team went the extra mile to meet – and exceed – our needs in a short period of time.
Today, all of our eDockets users at Duane Morris could not be happier with the American LegalNet product. We find it to be intuitive and user-friendly. Our attorneys, who have the items synced to their Outlook calendars, love the integrated links within their events in Outlook. They need only to click on that link to see additional detail, specific to just that event, rather than having to wade through screen upon screen to get the specific information they need.
Our previous older system had been inconsistent about updating court rules. There are times when you need to revise dates, change them or apply new rules, and it is not always evident when such changes must be made. But eDockets offers new features and attachments to events, which makes it easy for attorneys who are not using the software to get the benefit of it when events show up in their Outlook calendars. eDockets has a hyperlink in the appointments section of Outlook that attorneys can click on to see additional event details, such as how the rules calculations were determined. The software then calculates the deadlines for them. These types of questions previously came to me, but now the attorneys can answer them for themselves. In fact, I used to spend six to eight hours with the previous software to complete rules updates, and now it only takes 15 minutes.
The eDockets reporting functionality is also new for us, and gives users the ability to run their own reports or look at individual events for a particular attorney or a whole group. Now we can create extensive automated reports that are delivered by email automatically on a set schedule and that can be customized. Our users really like this function.
Since the eDockets implementation, American LegalNet has continued to provide us with unique solutions that have had an outstanding impact on our firm’s day-to-day activities. The entire team has delivered on all their promises and exceeded our expectations. I look forward to the upcoming version of eDockets, with added features such as ECF verification and access to documents filed in New York state court dockets. In short, we are extremely happy and satisfied with American LegalNet and the functionality of its eDockets software.
About the Author: Lisa B. Vessels, RP, CP, FRP, manages the docketing function for Duane Morris LLP’s U.S. offices. Lisa has a Bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies from Nova Southeastern University, and Associates’ degrees in Computer Programming (VB) and Information Systems from Miami Dade College in 2002. Lisa is certified as a Registered Paralegal (RP), a Certified Paralegal (CP) and Registered Florida Paralegal (RFP). Lisa also serves as the current President of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.