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Other Markets Might 'Terrify' Microsoft, But Not The Legal Space

Send In the Lawyers

  • January 31, 2007
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Although Linux might be making big inroads in some vertical markets, Microsoft Windows keeps enjoying virtually complete domination of the legal software space, with the small exception of some embedded appliances, concurred participants in this week's LegalTech show in New York City.

"Microsoft is actually terrified of Linux in most vertical markets. But the legal market isn't one of them," said Whit McIsaac, moderator of a conference session called "Implementing Strategic Plans--Successfully Deploying Change in the Law Firm."

As one example of a vertical market where Linux is particularly popular, McIsaac pointed to education.

In vivid contrast, within the legal arena, Windows is getting increasingly prevalent not just on desktops, but on the server side, too.

"The only place where you might find Linux in law firms is on security appliances and other kinds of embedded devices," McIsaac said.

But Linux isn't alone in its absence within legal implementations. Other flavors of Unix are also quite rare, as are Mac-based systems. Further, Novell's legacy NetWare network operating system is also quickly vanishing from law firm networks, according to other speakers at the show.

Despite the fact that Novell now produces SUSE Linux, the number two player in commercial Linux distributions, NetWare is being replaced in some legal deployments by Windows, often under some sort of a hosted scenario.

Law firms now using hosted Windows environments in place of NetWare range from Pierce Atwood in Portland, ME to Lacy Katzen in Rochester, NY.

Dean Turner, chief administrative officer at Pierce Atwood, told attendees that the law firm is striving to support current and future expansion with an infrastructure that now revolves around Microsoft Server 2003, an Exchange 2003 mail server with SP (Server Pack) 2, and Windows XP desktops. The servers are running on HP hardware, and the desktops on Dell PCs.

Pierce Atwood also operates in several other New England states outside of Maine. Beyond its other practices, the firm runs a very active practice in patent/trademark law, entailing a presence in the countries of Bosnia, Bulgaria, and Albania. The firm has hired Saturno for intranet and extranet hosting. The lawyers use Blackberry Enterprise for mobile remote connectivity.

But why are law firms relying so heavily on Windows, to the practical exclusion of Linux and other operating systems? Turner and Suzanne Mayer of Lacy Katzen both cited a lack of legal software applications for other environments as the biggest reason. Legal hosting firms also tend to be Windows-dominated, according to Katzen, who now holds the title of "oursourced legal administrator" for the law firm in upstate New York.

In a previous job, Mayer worked for a software firm that specialized in developing Linux solutions for the grocery store industry. One of that company's customers, Wegman's, is still a major Linux implementer. "But in the legal field, Linux just isn't really there," she contended.

McIsaac suggested that Microsoft could be inheriting the legal software market almost by default. The legal market is just too small, he said, to draw much interest from the Linux and Unix perspectives among big OEMs and integrators such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Moreover, most law firms themselves tend to lean toward the small side, noted Brian Kennell, CPA, who is president of Performance Consulting, Inc., a New Orleans-based financial consulting firm specializing in law firm management and disaster recovery issues.

Consequently, many law practices are taking a hosted approach. Typically, even those that employ their own technical specialists don't have huge IT departments.

"Lawyers care about law, not technology. Most of them aren't geeks. They tend to be more interested in the results of a deployment than in the technology used to achieve those results," according to McIsaac.

That's not to say, either, that all providers and hosters of legal applications necessarily use Windows within their own infrastructures. For instance, open source-oriented Google, Inc. was on hand at the LegalTech show floor with Good AdWords, an application for writing and placing online ads.

But panelists at the show also indicated that law firms may have grown leery over the years around new technology investments, in general. Most software firms that try to target the legal industry go out of business within a year, Mayer said.

This sort of wariness also extends to the back-end infrastructure, observed McIsaac. Law firms tend to cautious about deploying systems that require management skills beyond those in the highly entrenched area of Windows system administration. "Because then, what do you do if the guy who put the system in leaves the company?" he asked, during a follow-up interview with Linux Planet.

Ironically, perhaps, makers of security appliances and other Linux-based embedded devices might find a sweet spot in the legal arena, for much the same reason. After all, many such devices are supposed to be geared to ease of use, aren't they?

Meanwhile, on the applications side, Pierce Atwood is deploying Windows-based applications such as Sage Carpe Diem for time management, Cole Valley Software's ContactEase for CRM, and Rippe & Kingston's LMS V for finance. Other systems include Citrix, Tandberg 880 videoconferencing, a Clarion storage system from EMC, and Veritas Back-up Exec.

Lacy Katzen's new implementation is meant to help streamline operations as the firm focuses on some new areas, such as agricultural law, while de-emphasizing some of its older and less money-making practices, Mayer said.

Components of the new configuration include Juris Time for billing and accounting; Adobe Enterprise; Kyocera Multifunction for scanning; Citrix; Cisco switches and routers; and Windows-based applications for document management, case information tracking, time entry, and CRM. In addition, the firm's Exchange 2003 mail environment is integrated with AltiGen IP Phone for VoiP, along with Captaris RightFax.

Mayer also pointed to another reason why Windows is now prevailing in law firms. A lot of lawyers today are "practically living in" Microsoft Outlook, one of the main ingredients in the Microsoft Office Suite.

At the same time, Microsoft Word seems to have long ago displaced WordPerfect as the word processing program most used by legal eagles.

Corel, today's producer of WordPerfect, was also a LegalTech exhibitor. But a big focus in the booth rested on how lawyers can use the software to "easily exchange Microsoft Word files with clients and colleagues," according to a blurb from the show guide.

Furthermore, Microsoft maintained a large presence at the conference in Manhattan, indicating that the company's involvement in the legal vertical isn't exactly entirely accidental.

Speakers from Microsoft addressed everything from "Globalization and The Impact on the Legal Industry" to "Preparing for Tomorrow's Technology Today--Creating a Business Strategy for Change."

As McIsaac sees it, Microsoft's technology dominance in law firms will only get stronger now that Vista has been released.

"After using Vista at home, lawyers will get accustomed to it. Then, they'll want to have it in the office, too," he predicted.

This observation tended to resonate with remarks made by some Microsoft officials during this week's Vista launch in New York City.

One Microsoft executive said the decision to combine all of Vista's business- and home-oriented features in the Ultimate Edition was prompted partly by hopes that high-end home users will want to carry over Vista to office environments.

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