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Law Firms, Legal Technology, and Telepresence - Teleconferencing Gets Ready for Prime Time

February 26, 2008 | Chris Payatagool

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By Lindsay Thompson
Law Technology News
February 22, 2008

Ever since cartoon character Jane Jetson chatted away on her videophone in 1962, teleconferencing has been on the wish list of just about everybody. While the legal community has always been a prime target for this technology, past efforts have notoriously fallen short -- largely due to poor sound and mediocre visuals.

But finally, Web-based conference technology may be ready for prime time -- thanks to high-definition video and fast, fat "pipes." Advances in large-sized screens, effective systems integration and stronger bandwidth are driving a nascent market for high-end systems where remote participants appear almost to be real, present-in-the-flesh attendees.

Among the leaders in this new technology are San Jose-based Cisco Systems and Palo Alto's Hewlett-Packard.

Unveiled in 2006, Cisco's TelePresence system is designed to replicate the experience of an in-person meeting, offering nuances previously available only in face-to-face interaction. Participants are seen life-size, with clear audio and high-definition images, so that even the most subtle facial expressions and body language can be discerned -- critical factors for lawyers, especially litigators who must be expert in analyzing body language.

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Cisco CTS 3000

For about $300,000, your firm can get TelePresence 3000, a conferencing suite that -- promises Cisco -- will pay for itself, as quickly as in one year, by way of reduced travel costs and improved logistics. And with an added bonus -- it can help your organization go "green." And if you don't need quite that much presence, you can buy TelePresence 1000, a one-screen, small-group version for about $80,000 per room.

Cisco's TelePresence systems include all the furniture, which hides a whole lot of technology inside the new cabinets and conference table: cameras and displays, lighting, speakers, microphones and projection technology. The system operates with H.264 video codecs, native 720p and 1080p high-definition cameras and encoding/decoding; wideband advanced audio coding with low delay; multichannel spatial audio with echo cancellation and interference filters to eliminate feedback from mobile devices, says Cisco.

TelePresence uses standard IP technology, and runs on an integrated voice, video and data network with broadband connections. There's IP telephony, and integration with enterprise groupware applications (i.e., Microsoft Office and Novell's Lotus Notes), allowing for scheduling, management, reporting, billing and metrics capture for tracking and billing.

The larger version offers three screens and can accommodate six people per site; the smaller is for a single office with one screen, where two people at a time can be projected and seen. Each room has a "hemispheric table that virtually connects to the table in the other room, to form a circular table," says Cisco spokesperson John Noh.

The system integrates with key firm software, including Microsoft Corp.'s Office suite, and Novell's Lotus Notes. That means, among other features, that users can schedule meetings through Outlook. Reaching a TelePresence studio, they press a phone pad button to make the call and start the meeting.

Cisco uses outside contractors, dubbed "advance technology partners," to manage build-outs. Those costs are part of the purchase price, via Cisco's service/support agreement. The telephony-based system has no monthly fees and its operating costs are comparable to that of a T-1 line, Cisco advises.

CISCO'S LEGAL TEAM

Mark Chandler, Cisco's senior vice president, secretary and general counsel, is -- as the saying goes -- eating his company's dog food. Chandler has enthusiastically embraced Cisco's TelePresence systems, and says their use has dramatically reduced his law department's national and international travel and meetings costs -- and carbon footprint.

Asked for an example of how the system could aid the legal industry, Chandler cites how, in April 2007, Motorola Inc., and Cisco's Scientific-Atlanta unit used the system to run a beauty contest between four firms to find a legal team for a Supreme Court argument. Stephen Shapiro of Chicago's Mayer Brown was chosen to argue Stoneridge Investment Partners, LLC v. Scientific-Atlanta et al., winning what The Wall Street Journal called "the biggest securities litigation case in a generation."

So far, Cisco has installed 171 TelePresence studios in its offices in "major global cities," says Chandler, including 121 in the U.S. and Canada -- a third of the installations using the smaller 1000 system.

They have been saving Cisco money to the tune of $80.68 million in avoided travel costs, he claims. Between the first build-out October 23, 2006 and January 15, 2008 the company held 62,415 meetings via TelePresence -- at an average meeting time of 75 minutes, says Chandler.

Cisco has invested about $1 billion in the new system -- which has been ramped up faster than any other past product rollout, he notes.

Chandler notes that the company has more than 100 patents pending on the technology, including feedback elimination when remote participants join a meeting, and bandwidth-use reduction (it transmits non-moving images once, refreshing them only if they change position.)

But the technology is still in only its infancy. Within a few years, Chandler predicts, Cisco will offer 360-degree virtual presence of remote participants.

TARGETING LEGAL


While Chandler is unabashedly excited about the potential for the legal market, the profession is -- as usual -- cautious about taking the plunge into the new technology. Major law firms have been slow to adopt the systems, Chandler acknowledges. So far, two AmLaw 200 firms have inked deals, and two more are in negotiation, he says, declining to identify them.

Consultant Bruce MacEwen, a former member of Law Technology News' Editorial Advisory Board, says he had a 45-minute TelePresence conference with Chandler several months ago, and was impressed. The experience, he says, was "scarily realistic. There's a reason they've nicknamed it internally at Cisco 'the holodeck,'" referring to Star Trek's simulated reality fields on starships. "Bottom line: revolutionary," MacEwen says. "If I were an airline executive, I'd be as worried about this as I am about $100-per-barrel oil."

Barbara Saidell, CIO of New York's Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search and assessment firm, says her firm used TelePresence for a meeting between the company's London and New York offices, with several managing directors (partners). "It really is uncanny. It is a bit uncomfortable for a few minutes because the people on the other side of the table are life-sized and seem so real. After a few minutes you really do forget that it is video, and it becomes a real meeting."

Doug Caddell, CIO of Foley & Lardner and a member of LTN's Editorial Advisory Board, was also impressed during a demonstration, but remains guarded. "It is nice. But also nice and expensive, about $300,000 per location. Way too expensive for most law firms, especially if you have many locations."

But Chandler is undeterred. He enthusiastically predicts a 90 percent penetration into the legal market within three years.

In the meantime, Cisco is pursuing several market niches. Its main focus is on business and nonprofit entities with international reach. Wachovia Corp., BT, Rogers Communications Inc., Proctor & Gamble and SAP are among the corporate users already signed up, and Chandler sees a bright future in areas such as remote medical practice.

The Regus Group, which offers managed office space, has also added TelePresence to its offerings, bringing the technology to clients who don't need a full-time studio setup.

HP's HALO

Of course, Cisco's not alone in exploring new teleconferencing technologies. The most aggressive competitor may prove to be another Silicon Valley operation, Hewlett-Packard Co.

Like Cisco, HP offers two choices: one high-end and a second-tier option.

HP's Halo Collaboration Studio, which debuted in December 2005, is the more expensive model; the modular version for existing spaces is HP's Halo Collaboration Meeting Room.

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HP Halo Meeting Room

Halo is drawn heavily on existing HP products and software. It includes three broadcast-quality cameras and lenses; four 60-inch plasma screens and a collaboration screen for visuals; a high-definition overhead object camera; an audio mixer; frame grabber; codec; scan converter; server; collaboration software; third-party device driver software; and an HCS connection user interface as its main operating systems.

Halo uses a dedicated fiber-optic network to provide a secure, closed system for Halo suites, to guarantees 45 megabits per second bandwidth all the time.

HP's client roster includes PepsiCo Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc., AIG Financial Products Corp., General Electric Co.'s commercial finance unit, ABN Ambro Bank N.V., Canon Inc. and Novartis AG.

HP's prices have been dropping steadily since Halo rolled out: from $550,000 to $349,000 today. The modular Collaboration Studio has a $249,000 price tag -- with an add-on Halo Gateway, developed with Tandberg, for interoperability with outside systems, for $39,999. HP provides 24/7 concierge support from a central support center for both versions, for a price tag of $18,000 a month.

SCALABILITY


HP Halo Marketing Manager Darren Podrabsky argues Halo's value is scalability. "Where Halo really is better is when you have four or more global locations. At that size the total cost of ownership comes out 20 to to 25 percent lower than the competition."

Podrabsky reports similar sales numbers to Cisco's: about 140 studios installed or contracted for, in 22 nations, with about 30 global accounts expected to be booked by the end of Q1 2008. He says HP is offering "extremely competitive" prices in major Pacific Rim cities in China, India and Australia.

Like Cisco, HP touts the savings of cash, time and environmental impact. An internal HP study over a one-year period found up to a 40 percent travel reduction in "certain sites" and a 30 percent offsetting increase in Halo Studio use, says Podrabsky. HP maintains if four people avoid a flight from New York to London and meet via Halo instead, the CO2 reduction is the equal of taking 360 cars off the road or planting 5,000 trees.

Halo's genesis was in a post-9/11/01 commission from DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, who asked HP to develop a superior videoconferencing system to reduce the increased challenges and costs of travel. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld and DreamWorks animators -- in Glendale and Palo Alto, California, and Bristol, England -- collaborated daily on "Bee Movie" using Halo; "Shrek 2" and "Shrek 3" developers and animators have made extensive use of the system since. DreamWorks' development participation has earned it an undisclosed royalty on sales of Halo systems.

So far Halo's core market penetration is in entertainment, pharma, financial services and oil & gas/natural resources companies. Big law firms and corporate law departments are a vertical market HP is interested in, says Podrabsky, "but so far we can't figure out what the issue is" in signing up clients. "I'd love to talk with law firm tech people to see how we can help them."

Though offering similar products, Cisco and HP are pursuing strikingly different business models. Cisco's TelePresence plays to its strength in networking. HP sees the future in managed services. HP's Podrabsky sees videoconferencing as a billion dollar market by 2010, but contends HP's concierge support operation has the potential to reach $10-12 billion.

Other companies eye the potential market for lower-cost systems:

    * FedEx Kinko's offers videoconferencing services at 122 sites, and feature "easy-to-operate equipment, including a special camera to present charts and graphics, and voice-activated cameras to track action.

      Users who already have videoconferencing equipment can use direct links to videoconferencing sites without incremental equipment costs, it says.

    * Pleasanton, Calif.'s Polycom Inc.'s offers its TPX 360 HD 306M system, which accommodates six people. It also offers an "immersive telepresence" full-studio offering serving up to 28 participants; and high-definition systems for desktop and classroom use starting at $13,999.

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Polycom TPX 360 HD 306M

      Polycom's market thrust is principally integration with legacy systems for government, education and the medical industries.

    * San Diego's Telanetix Inc. has inked a deal with Mercedes Benz-USA for a modular system using off-the-shelf components for $1,000 a month.

    * New York's Teliris Ltd., an early entrant in HD teleconferencing, offers low-cost modular systems for companies not seeking to build out an exclusive facility.

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Teliris Meeting Room

In an April 9, 2007 Popular Science review of Halo, author Robert Blum reminded readers that Robert Metcalfe (the inventor of ethernet) had formulated that "the value of a telecommunications network increases exponentially with the number of users in the network."

"It only took a decade for e-mail and cell phones to go from novelty to global ubiquity," observed Blum. "Once videoconferencing is as seamless as a phone call, our innate sociability will kick in and make it instinctive. Perhaps you already check your e-mail before work. Soon you may also pop into the office virtually before actually arriving."

That's part of the appeal Cisco's Mark Chandler sees for teleconferencing.

"We can't compress time," he says, "but if you have to get up at midnight for a teleconference, a good system is easier to manage than having to spend 24 hours on an airplane."

Lindsay Thompson is an attorney and freelance writer based in Port Angeles, Washington.

[via Law Technology News]







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