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Notes from the Technology Trenches - Applications Service Providers (Part 1); the Broadening and Branding of Law.com, May 2000

By Roger V. Skalbeck, Published on May 14, 2000

Roger Skalbeck is a Law Librarian in Washington, D.C., and is the Web Master of the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.  This column reflects the personal views of the author, which are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organization. This column, of course, is 100% free of any legal advice.

By far one of the biggest new things to hit the world of information technology services is the concept of the Application Service Provider, or ASP. The basic tenet of this new model is that you pay a monthly fee for access to business applications, with the servers and applications hosted by an outside application service provider company. These systems are typically accessed through either an Internet browser and/or by using some kind of terminal emulation program.

As the major focus of this month’s column, I’ll look at some of the significant attributes of ASPs, highlighting recent initiatives within the legal industry. In next month’s column, I will take a more in-depth look at a few of the companies that provide legal-specific ASP solutions, while covering other legal industry aspects of this phenomenon.

Attractions and Detractions of ASPs

Some of the immediate attractions of ASPs are that you shouldn’t need to spend as much money up-front in order to be able to use very sophisticated applications. Also, it appears that ASPs will greatly reduce the burden of software upgrades and continued maintenance. By leveraging economies of scale, companies providing the hosted applications should be able to provide lower-cost access, with clients benefiting from the shared experiences of other subscribers.

Also, most of the ASP technologies are configured for browser-based access, which will result in better remote access options for users not working in the office. In addition to that, these service providers will very likely make it possible for more firms to implement extranets with their clients, which are further facilitated by secure and controlled access through a web browser.

As ASPs are still relatively new, there are a number of unknown aspects of this model. Some of the biggest issues now are security, speed and reliability. Secure and confidential options exist now for delivering content over the public Internet, but each vendor will has to implement these solutions wisely, and more importantly, people will have to perceive and believe that any system is secure before using it.

Questions of speed and reliability are very real ones, as many of the initial ASP services are run over the public Internet. For mission-critical and frequently accessed services, dedicated network connections might be needed between host and client, in order to sustain heavy data transfer and constant updates. One other thing to consider is the applications are leased from the provider, which makes it difficult or impossible for the client to continue using an application after a contract has expired. This is not the case in situations where software is purchased outright.

For a critical view of ASPs and other new technologies in legal markets, check out a New York Law Journal article from William Bice, entitled: Does the Web Change Everything?; The Web is Great for Simple Jobs, Not the Tough Technology Tasks. He writes that ASPs per se might not be the answer yet, and indicates that the ASP idea "may sound great in theory (no more IS department!), but it isn’t a revolutionary jump. All that’s happened is that the application server has been moved from your office into somebody else’s, and instead of paying for a program once, you’re paying for it every month. And, your IS department doesn’t go anywhere: Instead of worrying about the application server, now they have to worry about the fat network required to connect to the thin client."(1)

ASPs in the Legal Profession:  A Study

Presently, a study is underway to examine the future of ASPs in the legal profession. This is sponsored initially by iManage, Inc. and the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, and the title pretty much says it all: Application Service Provider Study: An In-Depth Look into the Future Use of ASPs in the Legal Profession. Based on a reading of the prospectus for this program, it looks to be a comprehensive consideration of ASPs and the readiness of law firms to adopt them.

The initial stage of data collection has already begun, and it is quite possible that readers of this column may have had a chance to contribute. The second stage of surveys will be completed over the summer, with the final report scheduled to be released in the fall of this year, around October 2000.

It’s too late for companies to participate to try to help shape the contents of this study, but sponsorship is still an option, and you have until the end of June to order a reduced-price copy of the final report.

Following are the names of the remaining corporate sponsors of this study, as reported at press time:

iManage, Inc.

Microsoft Corporation

casecentral.com

NETwork ALTernatives, Inc.
eAttorney, Inc. Niku for Legal (Niku Corp. / LegalAnywhere)
eJur, Inc. realLegal.com
ELF Union Square Technology Group LLC
Elite.com West Group
Gavel & Gown, Inc.  

ASP Industry Consortium

The ASP market goes well beyond the legal field, and the ASP Industry Consortium exists to promote research and cooperation in this new industry. It was founded in May of 1999, and now consists of more than 460 companies. As one example of the work done by the ASP Industry Consortium, it was announced this month that they will be working together with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to develop a global contract process for application service provider industry. This is focused on creating a dispute avoidance and settlement structure for the ASP industry. This WIPO cooperative initiative is important in that the ASP market will truly be a global phenomenon. Also, with an effort to come up with standardized language in contracts, this speaks to some of the difficulties that ASP providers and customers will have to deal with early on, namely how to deal with the terms of this new business model.

In next month’s column, I will take a look at closer look at some legal ASP companies, with a focus on additional factors at play within the legal profession.

The Branding and Broadening of Law.com

Over the last few weeks, an effort was begun to develop a true brand identity for  Law.com. I haven’t seen these intentions explicitly spelled out as a branding effort, but the end result is fairly apparent that ALM are broadening their Internet offerings, while also adapting some of their existing sites under a single brand name.

The Law.com site initially appears to do at least two major things. This collection of sites brings together existing sites such as the Law News Network and the corollary ones of print publications such as the Legal Times and the New York Law Journal. At the same time, Law.com has expanded their regional coverage by developing a site for every state in the United States.

At press time, if you were to look for the LawNewsNetwork site, you would see the following message:

"Law.com and Law News Network have been merged into a bigger and better law.com site. This change is a first step in solidifying our position as the best destination on the Internet for legal news, information, legal products and services" (http://www.lawnewsnetwork.com)

People may have first recognized this change when the daily news updates from Law News Network were switched over to the newer format. The advent of Law.com results in the disappearance of distinct sites for some publications like the Legal Times, with a more unified approach to providing resources for a given state. Some changes are minor, while others appear to require a bit of explanation. One such site is offers an explanation is at palawnet.com, which is now the Pennsylvania state site for Law.com (www.law.com/pa). ALM included the following note to explain the change:

"An important note to our visitors: Welcome to law.com/pa, formerly PaLawNet. The URL/name change represents the integration of this site into the law.com family of products. While the site has a new color scheme and additional navigational links and menus, The Legal Intelligencer and Pennsylvania Law Weekly will continue to provide the same timely, reliable content you have come to expect. " (http://www.palawnet.comMay 11, 2000)

Other content segments of Law.com include channels for legal professionals, law students, business and the public. Kudos to law.com for including an area devoted to law librarians, especially because it serves as a subset of their legal professionals channel. For additional library-related coverage, a number of the state sites include mention of the law libraries in that area along with notes about the services they provide. This isn’t currently connected with the law librarians channel, but it is nice to see nonetheless.

All in all, the simple URL scheme of Law.com, as well as the rich content sources from established American Lawyer Media publications should make this continue to be a very rich and useful set of resources.

Check back next month for the second update on Application Service Providers, and please contact me if you have comments or suggestions on this column.

Endnote

(1) Bice, William. Does the Web Change Everything? The Web is Great for Simple Jobs, Not the Tough Technology Tasks. In: New York Law Journal, January 24, 2000. Special Section: Tech Trends, p. T4.

Web Sites Mentioned in this Column:

Legal Technology Institute

Application Service Provider Study: An In-Depth Look into the Future Use of ASPs in the Legal Profession

iManage, Inc.

casecentral.com

eAttorney, Inc.

eJur, Inc.

ELF

Elite.com

Gavel & Gown, Inc.

Microsoft Corporation

Niku for Legal (Niku Corp. / LegalAnywhere)

realLegal.com

Union Square Technology Group LLC

West Group

Serengeti

ASP Industry Consortium

ASP Industry Consortium and the World Intellectual Property Organization to Develop Global Contract Process for ASPs

World Intellectual Property Organization

Law.com

LawNewsNetwork

PaLawNet.com

Law librarians channel on Law.com

Copyright © 2000 Roger V. Skalbeck. All Rights Reserved.