Digital Deliberations

How the Web is changing the lives of lawyers.

It's an unlikely encounter between two very different worlds: one of Capitol Hill's most prestigious law firms interacting with a fast-growing Internet company. But it's an encounter that's happening more and more frequently at Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, a 40-year-old firm whose partners include former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. The firm's clients range from high-tech giant Microsoft to (ironically, given Microsoft's antitrust woes) Web startup EqualFooting.com. "Increasingly, Internet ventures were asking our firm for help," explains Marla Grossman, 31, director of the firm's Internet Ventures Group. "After a while, we realized that we had a de facto Internet practice and that we'd better start acting as if we did." The firm made the Net practice official in March, putting Grossman in charge.

In an interview with Fast Company, Grossman talked about how the Web is changing the lives of lawyers.

What skills do lawyers need in the digital domain?

Lawyers have to be more strategic and more creative than we were 10 years ago. In an economy that moves this fast, the best lawyers are also business-development and public-relations counselors to their e-commerce clients. A couple of years ago, lawyers focused on protecting their clients' reputation. Now we have to help enhance our clients' valuation. To be a business partner in every sense of the word, we have to understand the nature of our client value proposition.

How has technology affected your work life?

Technology has changed my life dramatically. These days, clients expect immediate responses, so lawyers have to adopt the same 24-7 mind-set that Internet companies take for granted. I carry a cell-phone with me at all times. And I have a laptop both at the office and at home.

As a firm, we use the Internet a great deal. In the past, we would send nearly all documents to our clients in hard-copy form. Now perhaps 90% of our clients request documents via email. That may sound unremarkable to Net companies, but it's a pretty dramatic shift for law firms.

When it comes to tools that you absolutely cannot live without, what immediately comes to mind?

My running shoes, my cell-phone, and my PalmPilot. My Palm is the first thing that I check in the morning and the last thing that I check at night. My network is one of my most important assets, and my Palm allows me to access whomever I want, whenever I need to, wherever I am. I can't live without it.

How do you think Internet time has changed the legal profession?

The Internet has enabled even the most traditional companies to bust up their hierarchies. You no longer need gray hair to be a CEO. You don't have to have been around for decades to be a market leader.

The same trend applies to my profession. In many law firms, you no longer have to be a senior member of the firm to lead a practice group. I'm living proof of that. I'm 31 years old, and I lead my firm's Internet Ventures Group. It's one of our fastest-growing groups: Our revenues are projected to grow at least 600% this year. You would not have seen someone my age running such a practice a decade ago.

My biggest personal challenge is keeping up with the growth of our clients. We keep getting more of them, and the ones that we already have continue to grow. I have to find the best people -- and fast -- in order to meet the needs of my clients.

Contact Marla Grossman by email (mgrossman@verner.com).

Sidebar: No Objections to This Gear

All Talk

Lawyers get paid to think and to write, but mainly they get paid to talk. Even the best lawyers need the right phone to get their point across. The Polycom SoundPoint Pro makes even the most dubious arguments sound good (or at least clear). This desktop speakerphone offers the same high-quality acoustics that, until recently, were available only on high-priced audioconferencing systems. Besides great sound quality, the SoundPoint Pro also offers a 32-character LCD display that shows the number dialed and the length of the call. And the 99-number call-history directory makes it easy to recall whom you've called or talked to.

The SoundPoint Pro costs $299. Visit Polycom Inc. on the Web (www.polycom.com).

No Hands

Of course, what good is a great phone if using it requires that you stay chained to your desk? The VTech HS1000 is a lightweight, over-the-ear headset that works with desk phones, as well as with most cordless and wireless phones. Its "noise-dampening" microphone reduces background clutter so that you're sure to be heard no matter where you are. You can even unplug the headset in the middle of a conversation without interrupting the call.

The HS1000 costs $19.95. Visit VTech on the Web (www.vtech.com).

Sidebar: These Sites Have Real Appeal

If you have a legal question, you call a lawyer. But whom do lawyers call when they have a legal question? Increasingly, they call on the Web. Here are some sites with real appeal.

Findlaw, www.findlaw.com

Think Yahoo! for lawyers. This site looks like Yahoo! and shares its mantra: FindLaw links only to sites that it deems worthy. Browse the guide to more than 25,000 legal sites, search for legal cases, or join "LegalMinds," a virtual community.

Law.Com, www.law.com

From legal news to book sales to job openings to course offerings, you'll find it all here. Law.com also offers regional sites for 11 different states. (It will eventually have a site for each of the 50 states.)

Martindale-Hubbell, www.martindale.com

A new way to access an age-old resource. This online directory lists more than 900,000 lawyers and law firms.

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