Set aside the usual applications of email, word processing, redlining, spreadsheets, and scanning. Two other applications at firms vie to be the most valuable to law departments.
The most likely candidate for the top spot is an effective document management system. If the lawyers in a law firm can efficiently locate prior work product, they will most help their law department client. This blawg has many comments on document management from the law department side (See my posts of Sept. 10, 2005 on the costs of that software; Dec. 20, 2005 on staff reductions that might accompany its installation; Jan. 3, 2006 with a comparison to “unified content management; Sept. 21, 2005 on the 19 lives of documents; March 18, 2005 about law departments that use it to manage contracts; April 30, 2006 on technology solutions ranked by law departments; Jan.14, 2007 about GE’s investment in document management; April 30, 2006 and Feb.11, 2007 on survey data from law departments; and June 20, 2007 on three examples.).
If there is no document management system, or even if there is one, a database of work product may be the second-best technology asset among a law firm’s applications (See my posts of Aug. 16, 2006 on sharing work product among law firms; May 17, 2006 on policies at Schering-Plough; Aug. 22, 2006 about the futility of law departments collecting work product; Feb. 18, 2007 on records management; and Dec. 23, 2005 about information asymmetry.).
In a distant third place I would put such software as document assembly and extranets.