A Legal Practitioner's Guide To Networking & Implementing Legal Workbench For The Entire Law Firm

Presented on Saturday, 9 May 1998 at the Singapore Academy of Law

1. INTRODUCTION

There are several matters that have to be addressed before we can talk about implementing the Legal Workbench for a Law Firm. The Legal Workbench is a legal research tool that is found on the Internet. The URL for the Legal Workbench is http://www.lawnet.com.sg.Thus anybody who needs access to the Legal Workbench must have access to the Internet. The law firm must first decide if it wants to allow the entire or only a selected part of the Law Firm access to the Internet. The Law Firm must bear in mind that in the near future both Intereqs and other Lawnet services will be moving to the Internet and may only be accessible from there. Some of the issues that must be taken into consideration by any Law Firm intending to allow its staff access to the Internet are found in the article entitled “Policy Considerations Before Deciding Who Can Connect to the Internet“.

Assuming that the law firm decides that it would allow the entire or a substantial part of the law firm access to the Internet and thus the Legal Workbench, how does one go about doing this?

The answer from the Information Technology (or IT) professionals will be familiar to lawyers: “It depends on the facts and circumstances of the case!” The considerations?

  1. How much you are willing to spend? An important consideration in the present market conditions.
  2. How many people are to have access to the Internet?
  3. What equipment have you got?
  4. What is the level of the IT technical skills available in your firm, ie who knows what and how much about computers?

While many would agree that cost is most important, I think it is best we deal with it later.

I will not be dealing with getting an Internet account. If you wish further information on this, see the webpages of the various ISPs.

I have set out what I would consider as the 4 basic scenarios to enable a law firm to have access to the Internet.

2. SCENARIO ONE

Assume a law firm with the following profile:-

  1. 1 or 2 lawyer firm
  2. 4 or 5 stand alone personal computers, some of which are Pentium PCs.
  3. Next to zero IT skills
  4. Only needs 1 or 2 Internet connections.

This law firm would only need the most basic of connections to the Internet to access the Legal Workbench. Buy 1 or 2 modems (costing about S$250.00 each) for those computers you want connected to the Internet and 1 or 2 telephone connections, one for each modem.

3. SCENARIO TWO

Assume a law firm with the following profile:-

  1. 3 to 5 lawyer firm
  2. Several standalone PCs, some of which are Pentium PCs.
  3. Next to zero IT skills

If the law firm is willing or wants to limit the number of connections to the Internet to 1 or 2 computers, the law firm can follow Scenario One.

If the firm needs more connections, it could spend more money and get more modems and telephone connections, one for each of the PCs to be connected to the Internet. However, several problems will arise. Singapore Telecom’s and the Internet Service Provider’s charges may go out of control, especially if they are time based. It would be difficult to monitor who is using the Internet and when. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

The firm could acquire (a) an integrated analog router/ethernet hub; (b) 1 external modem; (c) network cards for each PC to be attached to the Internet; and (d) cabling to connect the PCs. What this set-up does is to connect all the PCs together to the ethernet hub thus creating a local area network (LAN). The whole LAN is then connected to the Internet using the analog router and modem. The cost of this set-up would be approximately S$990.00 plus S$60.00 for each PC that is to be connected to the LAN. There will be no need to obtain separate Internet access accounts for each user. Only 1 account need be obtained. All users will access this connection through the router.

If the firm already has a LAN, then only the integrated analog router/ethernet hub and the external modem is needed. These cost about S$990.00. By the way, some routers allow several modems to be connected together to increase the bandwidth of the Internet access. An example of such an integrated analog router/ethernet hub is WebRamp M3.

This arrangement is fairly easy to maintain once it is properly set-up. However setting it up requires IT skills and I suggest getting outside help to do this.

4. SCENARIO THREE

Assume a law firm with the following profile:-

  1. 5 or more lawyer firm
  2. Several PCs on a network, either with a server or by peer-to-peer network.
  3. Some IT skills

With all the PCs already connected to a LAN, the law firm can decide to only get an analog router and an external modem (something similiar to Scenario Two).

Another possible solution is to acquire a “proxy server software”. While the proxy server software has many functions (eg filtering sites, allowing faster access to certain sites etc), for the present purposes the proxy server software is a software that allows users of a LAN to access the Internet through a single computer or access point with 1 or more Internet accounts. This way, there is no need to acquire 1 modem, 1 telephone connection and 1 Internet access account for each user. There must be someone in the firm with some IT skills, able to set-up the configuration for each “client” or user computer. There are several products available for different LANs. Some examples are Iware for Netware LANs, Wingate for Windows95 peer-to-peer networks, Windows NT Proxy Server for Windows NT LANs.

Most of these proxy server software allow the law firms’ administrator to control who and when access to the Internet is allowed. Setting up and maintaining the network, proxy server software and related matters require IT skills. A network administrator (whether a lawyer or a dedicated staff) will be needed.

5. SCENARIO FOUR

There is a fourth scenario. This scenario assumes that:-

  1. the office is already on a LAN
  2. the particular network operating system allows use of TCP/IP protocol
  3. there is a network administrator with some IT skills
  4. IP addresses are obtained for each of the computers using TCP/IP for access to the Internet
  5. there is a high speed router/gateway to the Internet, usually a leased line; and
  6. the firm has an Internet account, usually a corporate access.

The maintenance cost for this is scenario usually the highest, in terms of cost and IT skills, of the several scenarios listed here but makes the whole office literally a part of the Internet. To maximise benefit of this scenario, the law firm could have their own Web Server and a firewall. With this the law firm can maintain a web site on the Internet on their own server.

6. COSTS

The estimated cost for each scenario has already been indicated. This estimate does not take into account the cost of the computer itself and the recurring costs of the Legal Workbench subscription, the ISP’s access fees and the telephone charges. Thankfully the 2 main Web Browser software are free, Netscape’s Navigator and Microsoft’s Explorer.

However the “writing” is on the wall. As earlier stated, Intereqs and the present Lawnet Services are moving to the Internet. As more and more law related services move to the Internet, this expenditure will have to be incurred, otherwise everyone will be queueing to use the 1 computer with Internet access.

7. CONCLUSION

The above scenarios are not the only scenarios available. Much will depend on the needs of the individual firms. Unique situations will require unique solutions. As an example, my firm has a mixture of Scenario 1 and a modified Scenario 4. The firm has a corporate Internet ISDN account (instead of a leased line) with certain PCs having access to the Internet, ie the modified Scenario 4. In addition, we have 1 standalone PC with a modem, ie Scenario 1. The standalone is for use by individuals who want to make use of their personal Internet accounts which may be from different Internet Service Providers. Seek assistance from your IT equipment supplier, he is usually the best person to help.