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Case Management Programs
for Corporate Paralegals

Case management programs are the right ticket for these large corporate legal departments.

By Debra Levy Martinelli

(Originally appeared in print as "The Corporate Fast Track")

November/December 2003 Table of Contents

 

When you think of case management software, you might immediately think of litigation, but times have changed. Paralegals in corporations nationwide have hopped on the case management train, discovering cost-saving, time-saving and sometimes angst-saving benefits of programs such as Synaptec Software Inc.’s LawBase and Bridgeway’s eCounsel. Nancy Jones and George Sheehy are just two of the paralegals in corporations nationwide who have discovered the benefits of case management software in their corporate law departments.

Tracking Trademarks and Domain Data

Nancy Jones can’t imagine a day without LawBase. A paralegal in the 130-plus-member legal department of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., with headquarters in Atlanta, Jones manages just about every aspect of her intellectual property work for the media and sports conglomerate with LawBase, a computerized case management system.

At TBS, a Time Warner company originally founded by media mogul Ted Turner more than 20 years
ago, Jones and Senior Counsel Rick McMurtry are part of the 19-member Brand Management Group in the company’s legal department. Everyone in the group, from the records center support staff to senior attorneys, uses LawBase to manage the corporation’s trademark and domain name portfolio for TBS entities CNN, including 15 cable and satellite television networks, two private place-based networks, two radio networks, 12 Web sites, CNN Mobile, syndicated news service CNN Newsource; Turner’s entertainment networks TBS Superstation, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, and regional entertainment network Turner South; and Turner’s animation networks Cartoon Network, Boomerang and regional networks featuring animation; as well as the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

Jones, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1975 from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and a paralegal certificate from the recently closed National Center for Paralegal Studies in Atlanta (see November/December 2002 LAT) in 1992, came to TBS from Michelin North America’s corporate legal department six years ago. She has worked with McMurtry, a 1994 graduate of Vanderbilt University’s law school, since he joined TBS more than three years ago. Both used case management software in previous positions, but neither used Synaptec’s LawBase until they went to TBS.

TBS, however, is no stranger to LawBase. “The legal department has been using some LawBase product for the past eight or nine years,” Jones said. “The first one was a DOS-based version.” Immediately before LawBase 2000, which the department began using in January 2003, it used LawBase for Windows. “LawBase 2000 is such an improvement over the previous versions,” she added.

The duo uses the software to track trademark and domain name prosecutions, trademark and domain name enforcements (oppositions, cancellations and unauthorized uses), claims by third parties and litigation matters. Most of the information is input by the user, based on filing documents, correspondence with the USPTO and registration certificates as well as information provided by outside counsel.

“We can track information in the entire portfolio by such categories as type of action, subsidiary, and the territory or region in which a trademark was filed,” McMurtry explained. “We can determine how many trademarks TBS holds in Lebanon, which is classified as a territory, or how many opposition actions have been filed against our trademarks in Asia, which is classified as a region.” Worldwide, the company holds more than 7,500 trademarks and more than 3,000 domain name applications and registrations.

This legal team also uses LawBase to search by class of goods. If they want to know how many registrations TBS holds for a mark in a certain region for clothing, they can search for Class 25, the international trademark designation for clothing, and find out how many marks are held in the region and specifically where they are held. “LawBase provides a comprehensive look at that data, so we can see where we may need to fill holes,” McMurtry explained. “We may have a lot of marks for clothing in South America, but we may not have one in Colombia, so we would look into getting one there.”

He cited another example of how the team uses LawBase by describing a recent trademark search request from a TBS subsidiary. “The name sounded familiar,” he said. “I searched it on LawBase and not only found that we had searched it previously but also discovered TBS already had the trademark and the rights to it. And I was able to locate the trademark applications and the oppositions to it. It saved a lot of time for the client.”

The version of LawBase 2000 used by the TBS legal staff is a customized rather than an “off-the-shelf” product. The other groups in the legal department — transactional, litigation, media production practice, labor and employment, and sports law — all have access to and uses for LawBase. The Employment Group, for instance, might use it to track talent agreements, which are contracts between the company and employees such as news anchors and reporters. Security features limiting the people who have access to those contracts protect the sensitive information contained in them. “A lot of people would probably like to know how much money [news anchor] Paula Zahn makes, which would probably be in her talent agreement,” McMurtry said. “But only the people who need to know that information have access to it.”

The Brand Management Group uses five different LawBase screens for its trademark and domain name practice: trademark search, which captures information regarding new trademarks for things such as program titles or network names that TBS might adopt; trademark prosecution, which captures data about trademarks for which applications for registrations have been filed in various countries around the world; domain name registration, which captures information concerning domain names registered to TBS; trademark and domain name enforcement, which captures data regarding unauthorized uses of TBS trademarks or domain names, claims from third parties regarding Turner’s use of a mark or domain name, and piracy of goods bearing TBS marks; and trademark and domain name litigation, which captures information about litigation arising out of an enforcement matter or an opposition or cancellation proceeding. Each shows different fields that can be tracked.

Developing those screens was a large part of the LawBase customization process and Jones was largely responsible for customizing the software for the search and prosecution functions. “Nancy’s primary responsibilities at Turner deal with trademark search and prosecution, which is why she was chosen to lead the effort to customize those screens,” McMurtry said. “I was primarily responsible for leading efforts to customize the remaining screens. Of course, we had input from all the other members of the Trademark Domain Name team of the Brand Management Group.”

Jones said her favorite features of LawBase 2000 are its flexibility, speed and report-writing capabilities. “The software can search any field and is very fast. It takes under a minute to get results. And it is very, very good at report writing,” she said. “Intellectual property portfolios of this size require at least weekly ‘critical date’ reports of deadlines that must be met for trademark applications and registrations, as well as enforcement and litigation matters. We also run status and history reports in answer to a variety of questions. We may be asked or have a reason to define our portfolio by any of the fields of information we have entered. LawBase allows us to easily choose this sort of criteria and the fields that will appear on the report. The reports are dumped into [Microsoft] Excel for further ease of handling.” She said a hard copy report will be run if outside counsel needs a picture of the company’s trademark portfolio in Portugal, for example.

Still, there is one feature, in her opinion, LawBase lacks. “True IP software automatically calculates certain filing dates and deadlines and sends reminders on them,” she explained. “If I entered the date a trademark was registered in the United States, true IP software would automatically calendar that between the fifth and sixth years I need to file certain documents and in the 10th year I need to file certain other documents. We hope to be able to automate the filing of some fields, but at this time all information is entered from the documents.”

That deficiency notwithstanding, the software’s benefits to Jones, McMurtry and their colleagues are enormous. “LawBase is more than just helpful,” Jones said. “It’s a requirement in managing a portfolio as large as ours.”

Managing Transactions and Litigation Worldwide

George Sheehy’s world would be a very different place without Bridgeway’s eCounsel, the case management software used by his employer, Convergys, an international company based in Cincinnati providing outsourced services to clients such as AT&T, Microsoft and DirecTV. With eCounsel, Sheehy, the sole paralegal in the company’s legal department, can access the information he needs with lightning speed.

Sheehy is responsible for coordinating responses to all subpoenas duces tecum for all of Convergys’ 56 locations in 24 states. He also is the department’s authority — “SME” or subject matter expert, in corporate parlance — on telemarketing laws and regulations, as well as the office automation guru.

By the time Sheehy joined the company in May 2000, after 13 years at the Cincinnati law firm of Frost & Jacobs, Convergys’ legal department had already selected eCounsel as its case management software. A team composed of SMEs in the different areas of the department was formed. Sheehy, who had three years experience as a litigation support manager at Frost & Jacobs, was part of that group, which worked with Bridgeway representatives to customize and implement eCounsel.

“The team was included in meetings with Bridgeway [personnel] when the screens we now see when we use eCounsel were designed,” said Sheehy, a 1985 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and a 1987 graduate from the Philadelphia Paralegal Institute’s certificate program. “They asked us, ‘How do you do your work?’ We walked them through the documents we use and picked the fields and drop-down lists that would be important for us to track information in those documents.”

In spring 2001, after several on-site visits from Bridgeway and a mock-up and test of the specially designed eCounsel system, it was rolled out and training for Convergys legal department employees began at Bridgeway’s Houston headquarters. Sheehy and two other members of the department also were designated system administrators and were taught how to do the job and train others to use the software.

“It’s easy to train people to use eCounsel because it’s intuitive and it’s Web-based. It has the look and feel of a Web page, which is familiar to most users,” Sheehy said.

He and his colleagues, 11 attorneys and five contract administrators, at Convergys’ Cincinnati world headquarters, where all of the data entry is centralized, use eCounsel. The attorney and two contract administrators in the company’s Jacksonville, Fla., office have access to the system; the six attorneys and one contract administrator in its Europe, Middle East and Asia operations send their contracts to the Cincinnati office for incorporation into the eCounsel system.

“The main purpose of eCounsel that has evolved at Convergys is as a disaster recovery mechanism,” Sheehy explained. “Convergys makes its money by signing contracts with clients. As part of the process, when the contract is finalized, a matter is created in eCounsel. The matter contains all the important base information — names, dates, amounts — as well as an attached final version of the contract.”

It’s no accident that the thousands of electronically saved contracts are stored on a server in a building separate from where the legal department is housed. “That was by design,” Sheehy said. “After Sept. 11, security became a priority. It just happened that we were implementing eCounsel at that time.” The idea is if for some reason Convergys’ legal team were a target of some type of terrorist attack, the documents would be safe. “The contracts are some of the most important documents the company has,” Sheehy said.

From the perspective of Convergys Senior Attorney Michelle Rowland, whose practice focuses primarily on contract negotiation, eCounsel has made organizing and locating documents quick and easy. “George [Sheehy] has done a great job of ensuring all of the documents filed in the legal department are scanned into eCounsel. All of the agreements I need to locate are right at my fingertips,” said Rowland, a three-year Convergys veteran.

But because Convergys’ legal department does much more than negotiate contracts, it uses eCounsel for much more, including managing current litigation matters — such as the subpoena duces tecum responses for which Sheehy is responsible — as well as maintaining vendor contracts, corporate documents, and employee benefit and pension records. The company, Sheehy said, has plans for even more uses, including monitoring statements for services rendered by outside law firms. “The software has the flexibility to import an electronic version of the bill and run a series of checks and balances,” he explained. If, for instance, Convergys and a law firm have agreed that only designated attorneys and paralegals can work on a matter and that no attorney or paralegal will bill more than eight hours a day on any single matter, eCounsel can flag any deviations documented on the billing statement. It also can flag billable rates higher than those Convergys has agreed to pay and can search for mathematical errors, Sheehy added.

Although he said the customized version of eCounsel serves the original purpose Convergys had in mind when it purchased it, at least one function contemplated at the outset has not been used. “Much of our contract negotiations are handled through e-mail. When the eCounsel system was originally designed, we envisioned using it throughout the negotiation process so we could track versions of the contract. The [technological] tools to switch that function to eCounsel are there. But some users’ comfort level with it didn’t get to where the department as a whole felt it would be beneficial to change from the way we had been tracking contracts with Lotus Notes,” he explained. The department continues to use Lotus Notes for that purpose.

The final version of the contract, however, including a summary of its basic information, is maintained on eCounsel. “If my general counsel needs to see contracts regarding Atlys, which is one of our billing software products, that information is captured in eCounsel so the contracts can be located through a field search,” Sheehy said. Fields include product name, contract date, ranges of monetary contract values on an annual basis and contact information for both Convergys personnel and the client.

Rowland said she appreciates the instant availability of information eCounsel offers. “But I do feel legal users could expand the use of the product by spreading the word more effectively through other organizations within the company that would benefit from the software,” she said. “Now that the legal department has mastered the use of eCounsel, George is currently making an effort to determine what other departments would benefit.”

The first to express interest in using eCounsel was the accounts receivable department. “They need to view contract documents, but there’s no reason for them to have access to, for example, employee litigation matters,” Sheehy explained. “So the rights of each user are limited. The system administrator assigns a user ID and password to each person who has access. Each person has a profile card based on his or her job and the system administrator maintains each employee’s level of access.”

Inside the company, other departments have followed the accounts receivable group’s lead. “Within the past six months or so, the word has gotten out in the corporation that eCounsel is available. After the accounts receivable department asked for access, the sourcing group handling vendor contracts also indicated an interest. As more departments are finding out about eCounsel, they are telling us they want access to it,” he said.

That doesn’t mean, though, that all Convergys employees worldwide eventually will use eCounsel in their jobs. “We have 45,000 employees and 30,000 of them work in our contact centers. Most of them won’t need eCounsel. But the managers who run the programs in those centers may need access if they need to see the contracts [under which they are operating],” Sheehy said.

The Case for Corporate Use

For Jones and Sheehy, case management software is as indispensable a tool as e-mail or the Internet. With just a few keystrokes, they can gather and analyze information that otherwise might take hours or longer to pull together. And for any paralegal, saving time is invaluable.

 


 

Debra Levy Martinelli is a freelance writer from Norman, Okla., where she serves as a court appointed special advocate. A paralegal for 20 years in New Mexico and Oklahoma, she worked in the areas of media and employment law, product liability, medical malpractice, and banking, business and real estate law. Martinelli holds bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism and is a frequent contributor to LAT. She also has written for Law Office Computing, NurseWeek, Oklahoma Today, Sooner Magazine, Albuquerque Living, and New Mexico Business Journal.

 

 

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