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CIO Leadership Series: Doug Caddell focuses on Foley & Lardner client experience

Milwaukee, Wis. - For Doug Caddell, chief information officer for the law firm Foley & Lardner, life is good, and it's good because he's been ahead of the curve on client-focused technologies.

In many ways, Caddell is a typical CIO in that he leads the firm's information technology department and that he directs company-wide technology planning, implementation, and support. Yet he's also responsible for the firm's national technology efforts, and he has been an early driver of technology innovation to develop value-added service for clients and attorneys.

By not being late to the online-community party, Foley & Lardner has been honored six times as one of CIO magazine's “Top 100” technology innovators, and the firm also has been named to Information Week's 25 "Innovators in Collaboration" and its InformationWeek 500 in 2006 and 2007, when it ranked 32nd nationally.

More importantly, this tech-enabled creative strategy has made it possible for the firm to maintain and build a client base while other law firms put off similar investments. According to Hoover's, the private law firm, which has offices in more than 15 cities beyond its Milwaukee base, reported $668 million in 2007 sales, up 9.4 percent over the previous year.

Extranet extroverts
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When he first arrived at Foley in 1999, Caddell faced a “turn-around” situation with network infrastructure, which was sorely in need of an upgrade, and his vision was to enhance the client experience. Airlines have done this, he noted, as has the United States Postal Service with simple things like online stamp purchasing, but the legal profession wasn't exactly breaking the online mold.

By electronically connecting its nearly 1,000 attorneys in offices around the nation, and linking their insights with those of clients as part of the firm's client suite, Foley & Lardner has positioned itself as a technology trendsetter in the legal profession. For Foley, it has become an ideal way to provide clients with additional value and remain true to a technological approach that stresses continuous improvement as a strategic initiative.

The approach requires attorneys to be well versed (trained) in the use of technology, but it is now embedded into the firm's practices and it has become second nature to many legal professionals (attorneys and non-attorneys, alike).

Now that the firm has developed web-based tools for attorneys and clients, it does not want to keep re-inventing the wheel (although updating is an absolute necessity). Whether an attorney uses the suite to serve a litigation client, a transactional client, or a real estate client, the respective modules must contain the proper verbiage and other tailoring.

There is plenty of updating that must take place each time a law is created or changed. Real estate, which is an example of a particular client suite Foley has established, is the perfect example because each state Foley operates in has its own set of applicable laws. For each geographic jurisdiction, there is a documented checklist of work that must be accomplished to process a real estate transaction. Foley's attorneys and paralegals work to update the information, and clients use it to get up to speed on best practices and knowledge management.

Many organizations have extranets, but that doesn't mean they leverage them to the fullest extent. “People think it's just a way to exchange documents, but it goes far beyond that,” Caddell said. “It's anytime, anywhere access. Clients don't need to play telephone tag with their attorneys as much.”

The client suite was developed after hours of communication with general counsel and corporate clients. In the corporate environment, the legal departments usually are on the bottom of the IT food chain, and IT people typically don't know a great deal about the legal system, so a law firm is the ideal entity to provide this service, Caddell said.

Multiplying modules

A lot of the best ideas come from clients, providing additional opportunities to align IT with the business of the law firm. The sheer number of modules has expanded over time, and Foley has offered more in the way of technology to clients, including web-based tools embedded into their internal intranets and accessible to their business units.

Caddell said it's difficult to get specific metrics in a law firm, but he knows the service has provided business value by helping the firm retain and expand services to existing clients, and land new clients - often because their former legal representatives did not offer this service.

Much like Foley & Lardner, a number of its clients operate across multiple offices, so the firm also has incorporated collaborative technology tools that enable an attorney in its Los Angeles office to work, on behalf of clients, with its attorneys in Chicago.

The product keeps evolving and, in Caddell's view, has become much more of a value proposition than it was to begin with. The firm also has created systems to help with billing and budgeting, and it has developed a tool to match clients seeking private equity financing with those who provide it. The latter function is a clientele two-for-one, allowing the firm to better serve venture capital and emerging-growth clients.

The services are built on a Web-based, data-warehouse platform, enabling Foley and Lardner to do more with its web properties and with multi-media - what Caddell calls “dynamic data.”

Foley & Lardner's commitment to continuous tech improvement pays dividends in terms of public perception. “The word is out that we're tech savvy,” Caddell stated.

IT shoes

Caddell has more than 25 years of experience in finance, operations, and management and in leading the technology efforts of a variety of organizations, including law firms. He speaks and writes on law-firm technology, and has held professional certifications as a CPA and a certified information systems auditor.

Now, having spent the better part of nine years building Foley's capabilities (while, yes, also managing to mitigate risk), Caddell confesses no overriding technology challenges. Foley's client service suite is an evolutionary project that requires more than occasional tweaking and updating, but the firm has a strong grip on regulatory mandates, including Sarbanes-Oxley.

That's precisely why Caddell is waiting for a new shoe to drop.

One concern involves a sort of enhancement - the high availability of its IT systems. Caddell's mindset has transitioned into “always available,” especially with a highly mobile workforce and mobile computing technologies having been introduced in much of what the firm does.

“Right now, the tolerance for downtime is approaching zero,” he said.

Figuring that it provides 24 x 7 industrial strength, the firm has moved its primary data center to an off site industrial facility in Dayton, Ohio. Its redundant data center is located seven floors below its downtown Milwaukee office in the basement of the U.S. Bank Building, and once served as the data center for the former Firstar Bank.

That's a far cry from 10 years ago, when its IT was powered by a couple of servers in a room.

E-discovery

Electronic data discovery is the latest issue, and it's a real concern for Foley. With expanding e-mail data, the law firm, itself, has struggled with its approach to e-mail archiving, but wanted to wait until it had a policy in place before developing a technology tool.

It can be technically complex to locate data because it's not necessarily on everyone's hard drive and it can be dispersed, especially at multi-national client corporations. Searches may bump into privacy laws that vary from nation to nation and are not terribly helpful to a defendant in countries where subpoenas are issued. At other times, judges in e-discovery cases can demonstrate a lack of technological understanding about what is possible to produce.

On the plus side, search tools are improving - Foley has developed an Electronic Data Discovery (EDD) tool for internal use - but even they are no substitute for establishing a records retention (and yes, destruction) policy, educating employees about it, and understanding beforehand how the client organization would produce e-mails in the event of litigation. As long as a client has a sensible policy and adheres to it, generally the courts will be “okay with that,” Caddell said.

With the current regulatory environment, more companies have approached Foley for advice about records retention. “It's a real issue that a lot of people don't understand,” Caddell said. “A number of court decisions out there are putting the ball in corporate hands to produce documents.”

IT implementations

Caddell, whose background is in project management, has put together a team of project managers that are counted on to be brutally honest about the progress, or lack thereof, of technology projects. It's a more personalized approach that also uses business sponsors (who normally are out practicing law), and has led to cutting losses and occasionally pulling the plug on projects that are underway.

During Caddell's tenure, one or two projects have been jettisoned, but for organizational, not technology, reasons. There is no formal step in the planning process where this decision must be made, just a keen awareness on the part of project managers and business sponsors that what was promised isn't being delivered - and whether the project should remain a priority.

This requires a special, brutally honest skill among project managers - the ability to face reality and acknowledge the truth before a failing implementation becomes too costly. “A good project manager,” Caddell noted, “will tell you where you are.”

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