Case Study: Law Firm Finds Value in VoIP

When it comes to practicing law, the attorneys at Langdon & Emison rely on closely examined evidence and effective argument. This winning strategy has earned the firm a national reputation as a leader in product liability and personal injury litigation.

So when the desire to incorporate new communication technologies — coupled with burgeoning storage requirements — made a strong case for upgrading the firm’s network infrastructure, it wasn’t surprising that the verdict to proceed was unanimous. Langdon & Emison wanted a way to better manage and store ever-increasing amounts of data relevant to each case. This could amount to terabytes of information, required by attorneys as cases play out. Equally important, the firm wanted to enjoy the numerous advantages of deploying VoIP and a fully converged network. Such benefits include significant cost efficiencies, increased functionality along with enhanced productivity.

The firm also planned to capitalize on a virtual LAN network environment. A convenient, flexible and cost-efficient way to modify logical LAN segments in changing environments, VLANS can help maximize VoIP investments.

Network Upgrades

“We wanted a long-term solution that would allow us to grow more effectively,” explained Shaun Bender, IT director for the Lexington, Mo.-based law firm, which represents clients across the United States. In order to execute on its storage management, VLAN and VoIP initiatives, Langdon & Emison first needed to bolster its network infrastructure. This included implementing a more flexible, robust and layered network solution. The firm began by deploying a Cisco Catalyst 4500 Series Switch, which offers a broad set of connectivity features and powerful internetworking software, as well as the modularity that protects system investments as network needs evolve. “It’s just a powerhouse unit,” Bender said. The switch was complemented by the Cisco Catalyst 4500 Supervisor Engine 6-E with CenterFlex technology. Optimized for firms deploying business-critical applications, the product offers an intelligent, high-performance, next-generation extension to the Cisco 4500 Series Switch. Additionally, the firm deployed Cisco Catalyst 3560-E Series Switches to the network edge, enabling applications such as IP telephony, wireless and video. The switches also offer Power over Ethernet (PoE) capability along with incremental availability, security and QoS to enhance network operations, Bender noted.

The network’s new-found VLAN capabilities have reduced the firm’s dependence on subdividing into physical networks. They also facilitate better performance than a routed network, and offer easier management and higher security — all at a lower cost.

Storage Strategy

Among the firm’s key requirements was the ability to better manage the perpetual onslaught of incoming case-related data. This content can be relayed via CDs, gigabit-filled DVDs or terabyte-heavy external hard drives. It can also arrive in Bankers Boxes overflowing with hard copy files, each needing to be scanned and placed appropriately into storage. In addition to being able to efficiently process the huge amount of information, Langdon & Emison must store it on servers for the duration of a case. And some cases can last up to five years.

“Obviously, that data takes more power to process,” said Bender, noting that a single vehicular lawsuit has the potential to generate hundreds of pictures of a crash site, as well as four to five hours of crash-test video. “We wanted to be able to process the data and get it onto the system faster,” he explained. The VLANs help to facilitate this goal by defining which individuals participate in a particular LAN — and offering a common communication connection.

For storage, the firm relies on a variety of storage types including Direct Attached Storage (DAS), Network-Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Networks (SAN). The Fibre-Channel SAN is used to store documents, photos and other case-related information.

Failing PBX System

Langdon & Emison’s aging PBX system failed to meet the needs of the firm’s mobile and ever-expanding staff. With the firm having doubled personnel over the past several years, as well as hosting six summer interns, the system was quickly approaching its capacity.

“Each year, we keep adding more and more people,” Bender said. “The phone system just couldn’t handle it.” In addition to making it difficult and extremely costly to move, add or change phones, the PBX was unable to keep pace with Langdon & Emison’s physical expansion plans. This includes ultimately opening a second office.

Sage Research reports that IP-based unified communications saves a typical firm 32 minutes per day per employee — just by providing the ability to connect to others more efficiently.

Near-term development proved equally challenging. “We were expanding to the first floor of our building,” Bender revealed. “But the network couldn’t expand effectively with us. Furthermore, the PBX didn’t provide the manageability or functionality desired by attorneys, many of whom are frequently on the road.

Noting that staff members had to call into the office and be transferred to their voice mailboxes, Bender acknowledged, “It became a real hassle. We wanted to be able to have access to voice mail wherever we go.”

VoIP Answers the Call

With its network upgrade complete, Langdon & Emison was positioned to dial into the broad spectrum of benefits afforded by VoIP. The firm’s ultimate plan called for moving to a fully converged network. Also commonly referred to as unified communications (UC), this process relies on IP and MPLS to handle a multitude of different traffic types, including voice, data and video. Utilizing the Cisco MCS 7828-H3 Unified Communications Manager Business Edition Appliance, the firm is now able to route all traffic over an IP-based network. This has eliminated the complexity involved with managing separate networks, while also reducing costs. Hefty savings on long-distance calls are one of the most appealing aspects of VoIP. And it’s a benefit that is already ringing true for Langdon & Emison.

Because its office is located in a small town, the firm is subject to long-distance charges even when phoning just a few miles away, Bender noted. “Nearly all — 99.9 percent — of our calls” fall into this category, he said. Since switching to VoIP, the firm has dramatically reduced its phone bill. “We were able to negotiate significant savings in long distance when we went to a completely digital circuit,” Bender confirmed. Furthermore, the solution allows the firm to track calls and assign billing codes. “If our attorneys are talking to expert witnesses four states away for three hours a day, we have the ability to bill that back, if needed, to a particular case,” Bender explained.

Not only will VoIP keep more money in the company coffers, it also helps preserve a commodity often deemed even more valuable: time. In fact, Sage Research reports that IP-based unified communications saves a typical firm 32 minutes per day per employee — just by providing the ability to connect to others more efficiently.

For Langdon & Emison attorneys, this advantage is being delivered through features offered by VoIP, such as unified messaging with “Find-me, Follow-me” capabilities. The feature — which allows staff members to retrieve e-mail, voice mail and faxes from one inbox on the computer — keeps attorneys constantly connected wherever they might be. Even more, with a simple click of a button, an individual can play back a voice mail message on the computer, listen to messages on the phone or view e-mail messages on a display built into the handset.

“We love that,” said Bender. “It’s just an amazing tool.” In addition, with intelligent call-routing capability, the firm has simplified the once-tedious process of locating mobile employees.

Full Network Convergence

In many instances, deploying a VoIP solution is just the initial step for businesses seeking to enrich their communication system. A growing number of firms, like Langdon & Emison, are transitioning to an even more efficient and productive work environment through full network convergence. Doing so enables users to receive, sort and respond to any type of communication — including voice, fax, e-mail, images, landline phone calls, wireless phone calls, pages and video. Plus, they can do so from any location and from a single inbox.

Convergence has made keeping in contact a seamless and highly flexible process for Langdon & Emison’s attorneys, regardless of where they may be. Also, the difficulty of retrieving faxes and having to check multiple devices for different types of messages has

been eliminated. Even more, the Cisco IP Communicator — a software-basedsoftphone application — delivers enhanced telephony support through the PC. The supplemental telephone provides traveling lawyers with the same familiar phone services that they have in the office. “They just take their laptops and they can pull up Cisco IP Communicator and dial calls right from there,” says Bender. “It’s as if they were sitting at their desk.”

Since switching to VoIP, Langdon & Emison has dramatically reduced its phone bill in addition to being able to track calls and assign billing codes. The capability also lowers inventory requirements and reduces the risk of theft, said Bender. In addition, attorneys do not require multiple communication devices.

Having deployed the new equipment just a few months ago, Langdon & Emison is still in the process of incorporating other features offered through convergence. This includes the option of voice over Wireless LAN (VoWLAN), the use of a wireless network for the purpose of vocal conversation. It can reduce or eliminate mobile telephony costs by allowing users to access their communications via a Wi-Fi handset or softphone.

With VoIP audio conferencing, the firm has the ability to seamlessly connect callers over the network. It can unite employees in different locations while diminishing long-distance costs and other expenses associated with a conventional audio bridge. Additionally, convergence will allow Langdon & Emison to integrate VoIP with its computer databases, thereby adding value to contact lists and CRM applications. The idea is to enhance client service and support, while combining networks for enhanced productivity.

Simple Network Management

The fact that a single person can easily manage and maintain the entire converged network — including the IP phones, voice switches and network management software — is a benefit that cannot be understated.

The Langdon & Emison IT director also is singing the praises about the ease with which new phones can be added to the VoIP system. “It’s really a piece of cake,” he says. “We can deploy a phone virtually anywhere we want.” Having connected the Cisco Catalyst switches directly to the firm’s phones via PoE, Langdon & Emison has reduced the number of cables and decreased issues with equipment overheating. It has also eliminated the need for power-related products at each phone. Meanwhile, the firm’s virtual environment has expanded with 16 separate VLANs established to date, which provide a greater degree of security than a traditional LAN. They enable traffic to remain separate and distinct from other network users.

“Security was the biggest aspect for us,” Bender said. With separate networks established for voice, server and storage, “We have 100 percent uptime for our phones,” he said. “It’s a very critical part of the solution.”

In conjunction with its unified communications system, Langdon & Emison also added Cisco’s Unified MeetingPlace Express. It’s an integrated voice, video and Web conferencing solution that makes it easy to set up meetings from a variety of different interfaces, including Microsoft Outlook calendars. To gain powerful paging capabilities, the firm also deployed CDW Berbee’s InformaCast. It allows an audio stream and/or text message to be simultaneously broadcast to multiple IP phones, IP speakers, the InformaCast desktop agent or the firm’s overhead paging system. The firm uses InformaCast to broadcast audio pages to all phones and speakers installed throughout the office. “We use it to have someone call an extension or pick up a parked call,” Bender explains. “We also use the ‘text broadcast’ portion of InformaCast to send a text message to each phone regarding weekly office meeting reminders.”

A Trusted Partner

CDW was able to supply the law office with a full lineup of Cisco networking and unified communications products. In addition, the firm was able to assist Langdon & Emison with installing its entire telephony solution via CDW Onsite Services.

“Langdon & Emison was able to come to CDW and ask for assistance in obtaining an end-to-end solution,” explained Michele Nielsen, CDW telephony specialist who helped the firm map out the solution and coordinated the installation. “That gave them the whole portfolio of unified communications they were looking for.” Systems integrators from CDW assessed the network, ensured all programs and settings were accurate and installed all of the equipment. All gear was preconfigured upon arrival, helping to speed installation. “It was a very smooth process and communication was exceptional,” said Langdon & Emison’s Bender. He notes that team members participated in numerous conference calls during the comprehensive design process.

“It was seamless,” agreed Josh Tarter, the CDW account manager who works regularly with the law firm. “We were able to provide a one-stop shop. “The customer didn’t have to track down numerous service providers on their own, or cut a check to a variety of different vendors,” Tarter added. “We came together with one big solution to meet their complete needs.”

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