Law: Cultivating an electronic tree of knowledge: Everything the practice needs to know is on Wendy London's computer system. She describes her project to Sharon Wallach

BERT, the file storage manager, is the odd man out at Cameron Markby Hewitt - he is the only member of the firm's 600 staff who refuses to have a terminal on his desk. Bert aside, the City firm is 100 per cent on-line.

In CMH's offices near Tower of London, Wendy London, director of information technology, oversees the firm's computer system and IT programme. She describes herself variously as the firm's oldest trainee and the most highly paid articled clerk in the City. She has in fact just signed her deed of articles, but she is also a qualified US lawyer.

Her IT credentials include active involvement in International Bar Association committees. She is also a council member of the Society for Computers and Law and managing editor of its magazine.

She was responsible for designing the integrated system that is available to all staff at the firm's four sites - CMH has a satellite office in the Lloyd's building, an office in Brussels and one in Bristol, opened in response to a move there by one of the firm's major clients, Lloyds Bank.

CMH's technology group offers consultancy as well as legal advice to clients, targeting legal issues that are dependent on technical matters. 'We capitalise on our technology as a way of marketing to existing and potential clients, and of improving our speed, accuracy and quality of service,' says Chris Larlham, the firm's managing partner.

Even in the primitive days of IT, Ms London says, CMH was a leader. 'It was one of the first City firms to use word processing and the first or second to bring mini- computers into the country,' she says.

The initiative has its roots in 1985, when Richard Goodman, now the firm's IT partner, wrote a paper stressing the importance of recycling information. Ms London says: 'A law firm is a very document-oriented business - we get through 10 to 15 million A4 sheets a year. Lawyers are information brokers, so rather than constantly re-create information, we need to recycle it.'

She was appointed in May 1987 to take the IT function forward, heading one of four non-lawyer administrative departments at the firm (the others are marketing, personnel and finance).

She was fortunate, she says, to come to a greenfield site. 'My one demand, which was granted,

was that I would not work for a committee.'

She undertook a broadbrush look at the firm, examining its business requirements and overall business planning, and drafted a 'user requirement study'.

The firm operates two core systems. 'I'm not interested in separate satellite systems,' Ms London says. 'They run the risk of data getting out of step, duplication and building up costs.'

The first system is known as Freia, a database that acts as a repository for documents. 'It allows us to retrieve documents, send information bulletins, and find externally sourced documents,' Ms London says. 'Development of the system is continuing. A lawyer need not leave his or her desk to find a library book. It's a unique approach, in that all the information is in one place.'

However, it did not help with 'people data'. CMH's second core system, says Ms London, pushes current technology to the limit. CCC - standing for contacts, clients, conflicts - is used

to ensure that no conflicts arise

in new cases for the firm, to discover who is connected with what matter, to track down any internally held information about an existing or new client, to link various individuals together to build a profile of those involved in any given matter.

'All parts of the database can be related to each other and can show all connections. Reduced to a graphical form, it would show a family tree,' Ms London says. 'It's an extremely powerful


She acknowledges that in common with all systems, its success relies on the consistent, regular and accurate feeding-in of data. The answer lies in 'massive IT training and indoctrination sessions', part of Ms London's function at the firm.

Electronic mail is also part of the system. 'It's fun, but it's also a real working tool,' she says. One common criticism of E-mail is that it can make people lazy about maintaining face-to-face contacts with colleagues - it is quicker to key in a message than to walk along the corridor to talk to someone. On the contrary, says Ms London, it has introduced an informality into the firm that has helped to change its culture.

The firm is about to embark on a third core system, which will redesign its accounting procedures and integrate them with the existing networks.

'It's a very sophisticated system, especially for a law firm,' Ms London says. 'It's a good marketing tool because we act for many clients involved in information technology. We are capable of, for instance, building systems for clients in anticipation of litigation, or for insurance claims-handling matters.'

Anyone - except presumably Bert - can get into any of the systems. 'There is complete transparency at all levels - it's all about giving us a competitive edge.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform