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Linux Rare at Legal Firms, Except for Security

WordPerfect Hasn't Been Enough

  • February 10, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

In the increasingly Microsoft-dominated land of law firms, Linux deployments remain just about nil, but security appliances are starting to stand out as one exception, according to attorneys and IT folks attending LegalTech.

At the recent national show in New York City, partners from small to mid-size law firms said that while they're aware of the cost savings that Linux might provide, they'd much rather go with Windows anyway.

Generally, the partners cited a lack of in-house Linux technical staff as the chief reason why.

"But corporate law is another thing entirely," pointed out Leonard T. Nuara, chair of the Technology & Intellectual Property Practice Group at Thacher, Proffitt, & Wood LLP, during one conference session.

Like other employees of large companies, attorneys working in corporate legal departments are "accustomed to being surrounded by all kinds of servers" running on different OSes, according to Nuara.

Show attendees encompassed lawyers specializing in technology and IP, along with mainly Microsoft-oriented IT pros hired to run law firms' networks. Yet others present at LegalTech were attorneys with admitted aversions to technology.

For most lawyers, word processing is the one truly "mission-critical" application, according to another speaker, Peter E. Lesser of Kraft, Kennedy, & Lesser.

Long ago, prior to its acquisition by Corel, WordPerfect reigned practically uncontested as the word-processing choice for law firms.

First offered on DOS, WordPerfect then expanded on to other platforms--mostly to Windows, but even to Linux and other Unix desktops, such as Sun Solaris and IBM AIX.

Despite being discontinued by Corel a few years back, the Linux breed of WordPerfect is still available for download on the Web if you search hard enough.

But WordPerfect for Linux never caught on in the legal world--and furthermore, nor has any other type of desktop Linux, said Ross Kodner, senior legal technologist and CEO at MicroLaw, Inc., during an interview with LinuxPlanet.

"In all my years in this business, I've never seen anyone at all running Linux on the desktop," said Kodner, who also moderated a LegalTech panel called "Facts & Fiction, Threats & Response: Network Security in Practice."

Where Linux exists at all in law firms is on network back ends, the same place where it's most evident in other industries.

But network implementations of Linux in the legal profession are particularly paltry, and nearly all manifestations show up in multifunctional edge security devices, attendees agreed.

For example, Kraft, Kennedy, & Lesser is running security appliances from vendors that include Cisco on its Microsoft-driven network.

Scott Rosen, president for North America of Network Box, told LinuxPlanet that his company has zoomed in on the legal vertical as one of only two top target markets for its own Linux-enabled security devices.

During the LegalTech panel on "Threats & Response," Kodner promoted the concept of "unified security" for law offices, suggesting that security appliances--whether running Linux or another OS--can simplify security.

Ironically, he said, attorneys face particularly strong pressures to adhere on the IT side to privacy and security regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA.

But big customers are also driving change. "I've seen customers actually move networking equipment into their attorneys' offices," noted John Simek, VP of Computer Forensic/Legal IT at Sensei Enterprises.

Beyond legal, the other major vertical target for Network Box includes financial services, according to Rosen.

"We put different amounts of emphasis on various verticals," he told LinuxPlanet in another interview. Retail stores, for example, are also a company target, but the retail industry lands further down the vendor's list. Network Box also took a booth at this year's earlier NRF (National Retail Federation) show in Manhattan, for instance.

"But we didn't really do that much at NRF. We have a much larger presence at LegalTech," he elaborated.

The company's boxes combine firewall, VPN, anti-virus, anti-spam, Web filtering, and intrusion prevention and detection in one devices.

Why the focus on legal and financial? "The financial field has always been aware of the need for security," said the Network Box executive. "The legal market is realizing that it should be."

In contrast, Microsoft is not placing a particularly hefty thrust on the legal market, maintained one Microsoft rep buttonholed at LegalTech.

"Microsoft is targeting all vertical markets," according to the rep, who asked not to be identified.

But in the conference tracks at LegalTech and in the company literature given out to attendees, Microsoft touted quite a bit more than merely MS Word.

"Microsoft and its partners are committed to serving the legal industry with a complete set of soutions to address current and emerging needs," according to one hard copy handout from Microsoft Professional Services.

Moreover, special sessions at the show iwere devoted to collaborative and network-oriented Microsoft technologies such as mobility apps and SharePoint for Legal.

On the desktop side of the law office, Microsoft Office's earlier nemesis WordPerfect still seems to retain some adherents, albeit only within Microsoft OS environments.

During an all-day seminar sponsored by Corel, one attorney talked up the usefulness of the latest edition of WordPerfect Office for Web-based blogging.

But most WordPerfect users tend to be traditionalists, indicated Thatcher, Proffitt, & Woods' Nuara.

"You might find a couple of receptionists who insist on using WordPerfect for DOS. And the law firm will go, 'Okay,' because [the receptionists] have been using it for so long," Nuara said.

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