Dibb Lupton Broomhead is installing a £700,000 corporate network to allow the firm's clients to gain instant access to their own case files.
The network, the first of its kind to be installed in a law firm, will also provide a wide area managed data network service to connect the firm's five offices.
Dibbs' IT director Guy Liddell says: "The importance of the system will be its ability to allow our clients to keep up to date on every aspect of their case. This will give us a major advantage over other legal firms who at the moment only allow selective electronic access to information."
Liddell predicts the security devices needed for the implementation of the new system will result in a doubling in size of Dibbs' systems development team.
He says: "The installation will be a major project. The security system is similar to that used in the Ministry of Defence, but there is no doubt that it will be cost-effective in the long term and will increase our stake in the market share."
Cray Communications, the systems installer, will supply cabling, hubs, FDDI bridges and network services to link up the five offices.
Darren Gardener, accounts manager at Crays, says: "Dibbs' initiative is ground-breaking stuff and will mark the start of law firms moving away from single networks to whole networks."
Lawrence O'Brien, IT manager at Eversheds, says: "At the moment Eversheds only has electronic access to information for clients via email. As the market arrives we will implement a more direct system. But at the moment we see no demand for it. We will learn from other people's mistakes."
Martin Telfer, director of IT at Masons, says: "We have a selective on-line information for our clients, but we would give careful thought to the levels of access and security involved before installing a direct access system."
- Masons has produced a guide book called 'Communicating Electronically with Masons'. The firm's adviser in law and technology, Richard Susskind, says: "Our main purpose in producing such a booklet is to provide clients with some practical help as to the purpose of communicating electronically."