NYC Department Lays Down Law On I.T. Buildup

Legal group appoints its first CIO to prepare for World Trade Center suits

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

November 7, 2002

3 Min Read

A crush of more than 1,500 lawsuits related to the World Trade Center attacks has prompted New York City's Law Department to get serious about IT management. The department, which represents the city on claims from injured city employees, victims' families, and property owners, last week appointed John Hupper as its first CIO. Hupper's most pressing task is to roll out the department's first document- and knowledge-management system. The absence of such a system is almost unheard of in a law office the size of New York's -- with 650 attorneys, it's the second-largest public law organization in the country, after the Justice Department. The system will "help our attorneys work as effectively as possible," Hupper says. "They won't have to reinvent the wheel as much."

Hupper is an attorney who was previously senior counsel for IT at the department and has advised the city's administration on such projects as E-government, digital signatures, and the Web site. But now the department needs him to put an even greater focus on IT and business alignment. "We needed someone to take a 30,000-foot look at how IT intersects with business all day long, every day," says managing partner G. Foster Mills. In addition to fighting suits filed against the city, the department negotiates city contracts and defends its officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

IT will help attorneys be more efficient, Hupper says.

One of the department's biggest challenges in coming months will be getting the city, which is grappling with a $5 billion deficit, to earmark an estimated $10 million needed primarily for technology-related investments for supporting World Trade Center litigation. In September, the department established a unit of 25 litigators to deal full time with $9 billion in suits related to the attack. The department is now trying to determine how it will manage millions of documents related to those thousands of suits and make them accessible and searchable on its network. The requested funding, to include everything from software to scanning systems, also will modernize the department for managing future suits, Mills says.

There's no question the department lacks a modern IT infrastructure. Eugene Stein, chief knowledge officer and global head of technology at White & Case LLP, a firm of 1,600 attorneys, says most firms with more than 250 lawyers already have at least a document-management system in place, if not more sophisticated knowledge-management processes.

"We have a case-management system that was rolled out in 1982, with a black screen and orange lettering, that was written in Cobol," Mills says. "We need to replace that system with one that will allow us to generate reports and capture data more easily than the current system."

Other initiatives under Hupper's regime will include increasing use of the department's intranet, a new infrastructure to support employee telecommuting, and improvements to the department's central network.

Still, the department benefits from having a tech-savvy mayoral administration that understands the benefits of technology. "Like a lot of cities, our budget and financial situation is a problem," says Gino Menchini, commissioner of the Department of Information and Telecommunications and the city's information officer. "The mayor recognizes from business and personal experience that technology can really be an enabler and save the city money," Menchini says.

One of New York's highest-profile technology projects is the planned implementation early next year of a 311 nonemergency government telephone number, which requires a new telecommunications infrastructure. But there's more under way, including community-related Web projects. Says Menchini, "We have a directive from Mayor Bloomberg to be more accessible to people and more open as a result of the attacks."

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