Everyone loves a good comeback story. We all know how to do it; A rising star with a bright future falls from grace only to fight back and get better than ever. From Hoosiers to Rocky, there’s nothing like seeing a hero rise from the ashes and realize their potential.
In law firms, this age-old story of salvation and regained potential plays out in unexpected ways – with legal intranets.
Recently, legal intranets have seen a resurgence among legal teams. After a slump in popularity, law firm intranets have found a new lease on life as a hub for the storage and sharing of legal knowledge in law firms. But these are not your father’s intranets. They’re not even your old intranets.
The beginnings of the law firm intranets
Intranets grew in popularity in the 1990s, but many law firms gradually stopped using them.
Back then, law firms set up intranets as information hubs – but this concept was very different from our current understanding of a “hub”. As a result, intranets have been designed to thwart rather than facilitate the exchange of information.
Before lawyers and staff could post information on the old intranet, they had to share news and developments with their communications or IT team (or both). By the time the information was removed and posted on the intranet, it may have been out of date. There was no way to share or comment on published information. The intranet was a one-way tool for sharing information with the company. In addition, there was often no rhyme or reason to organize intranet information, which made it less accessible, especially since there were no effective search mechanisms.
And – then as now – busy lawyers had little time to read, let alone submit, useful content. Updating or reviewing the intranet just wasn’t part of the daily workflow or billable responsibilities. In a vicious cycle, the less content was updated the less valuable the intranet became, until it stalled as an outdated repository for outdated, low-value content.
Intranets were also an expensive investment that required constant IT support to maintain. After spending countless hours setting up the security and permissions on these internal websites, the law firm’s leadership – along with everyone else – wrote them off.
Why a modern law firm would use an intranet
But don’t confuse yesterday’s intranet with the latest iteration. Today’s intranet is a brand new beast with robust functionality that combines the best features of social platforms and project management applications.
Here’s just a look at how a modern intranet differs and how it benefits law firms.
It’s a one stop shop. The intranet serves as a comprehensive, central digital workplace. Not only can you announce internal messages and events here, but you can also build bridges between teams that may not otherwise interact. You can also collaborate seamlessly on projects and documents and offer project and task management.
It creates internal social networks. Intranets with functions for social networks are designed for bidirectional communication and break down typical silos in law firms. Because intranets mimic existing social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, they increase the likelihood that lawyers and employees from across the firm will exchange ideas on wikis, blog posts, seek feedback through likes and comments on content, and solve problems. You can also easily identify and give access to knowledgeable employees who can become integral subject matter experts on a matter.
It’s built into the applications you’re already using. Regardless of whether your company relies on Microsoft Office, G Suite applications or another tool, the new generation of intranets allows you to exchange information and files between systems. Plus, all of the productivity tools and resources your legal team needs can be stored in one accessible location.
The user experience is personalized and intuitive. Users are more likely to invest time building the intranet because it uses a dynamic interface that tailors content to suit their interests and preferences. Custom dashboards create easy-to-read visualizations that keep your team updated on real-time progress toward goals and budgets.
Information is easier to find. Information is no longer buried in a stream of linear posts. With an improved search and file structure, intranets are now making it easier than ever to find expertise, find important information and track the versioning of documents.
It can streamline workflows. With the ability to track project tasks and due dates, and send reminders, teams can be better organized. Employees can also set up routines to replace manual, paper-based tasks with automated processes for customer enrollment, review requests, contract management, and more.
It requires less IT support. Instead of intensive coding in the front-end, today’s intranets are ready for immediate use. And because these intranets can live in the cloud, they’re fast to deploy, scalable, easy to update, and secure.
Best practices for a well-built intranet
When your law firm is ready to revitalize knowledge sharing over an updated intranet, consider the following best practices.
Invite a small group of people who are likely to be excited about new technologies to help you plan your intranet. Look for a range of people including lawyers and employees from different departments. Later you will invite them to take control of the program and spread the word.
Assess the knowledge base
Ask your champions which tools users find most helpful. Which current processes are too cumbersome and need to be updated? What information or resources are hardest to find? When you ask questions like these you can lay the groundwork for customizing your platform to suit your users’ unique needs.
Choose the right tool to fill in the gaps
A number of intranet tools are available in the market. So how do you choose the right one for your law firm? First, look for a cloud solution that allows you to quickly adapt and scale. Cloud-based systems are also updated frequently, giving you the latest functionality without costly downtime or IT resources. Second, find an enterprise-grade security vendor that meets the latest cybersecurity standards. Finally, make sure the system is connected to your existing applications. An independent, standalone solution is just another tool legal teams need to incorporate – and that means they won’t be using it.
A firm start can be too early. A better approach is to control the intranet with your champions and raise it from there. An incremental rollout also ensures that you fix any malfunctions in the system and meet all user requirements before sharing them with the larger group. Once the champions learn how to use the system, they can become your lawyers and resources for the rest of the company.
Inform users and post profits
When introducing the system, offer small group training to promote the usability and benefits of the system. Remember, training doesn’t stop once everyone is familiar with the system. It should continue over time to ensure that users stay busy. Once launched, continue promoting the intranet by sharing your successes. Showing how the intranet solves problems and reduces headaches can go a long way in promoting widespread adoption.
It’s time to rethink your law firm’s intranet
Today’s intranet isn’t the stale, musty repository of stale news and guidelines that you remember. It’s an interactive, intuitive way to combat information decentralization and better connect people with the information and tools they need to do their jobs to improve their productivity, collaboration, and satisfaction.
In Van Doorne’s case study, learn how a world-class law firm went from an outdated, custom intranet to a dynamic social collaboration platform.