Everyone loves a good comeback story. We all know how it goes; a rising star with a promising future falls from grace only to fight their way back and become better than ever. From Hoosiers to Rocky, there’s nothing better than watching a hero rise from the ashes and reach their potential.
Within law firms, this age-old story of redemption and reclaimed potential is playing out in an unexpected way—with legal intranets.
Recently, legal intranets have been experiencing a resurgence among legal teams. After a lull in popularity, law firm intranets have found new life as hubs for storing and sharing legal knowledge in law firms. But these aren’t your father’s intranets. They’re not even your old intranets.
The early days of law firm intranets
Intranets experienced a surge of popularity in the 1990s, but after that, many law firms gradually stopped using them.
Back then, law firms set up intranets to serve as information hubs—but that concept was far different from our understanding of a “hub” today. As a result, intranets were developed in ways that thwarted, rather than facilitated, the sharing of information.
Before lawyers and staff could post any information on the old intranet, they had to pass news and developments along to their communications or IT team (or both). By the time the information cleared that bottleneck and got posted on the intranet, it may have already been obsolete. There was no way to share or comment on posted information; the intranet was a one-way tool for passing information out to the firm. Moreover, there was often no rhyme or reason to organizing intranet information, making it less accessible, particularly since it lacked any effective search mechanisms.
And—then, as now—busy lawyers had little time to read, much less submit, useful content. Updating or checking the intranet was simply not part of their daily workflow or billable responsibilities. In a vicious cycle, the less frequently the content was updated, the less valuable the intranet became, until it stalled out as an obsolete repository of stale, 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 around these internal websites, only to see them languish, law firm leadership—along with everyone else—wrote them off.
Why a modern law firm would use an intranet
But don’t confuse the intranet of yesteryear 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 glimpse into how a modern intranet is different and how it benefits law firms.
It’s a one-stop shop. The intranet serves as a comprehensive, centralized digital workplace. Not only is it the place to announce internal news and events, but it also builds bridges between teams that may not otherwise interact, makes it possible to seamlessly collaborate on projects and documents, and offers project and task management.
It creates internal social networks. Intranets with social networking capabilities are designed for two-way communication, breaking down typical silos in law firms. Because intranets mimic existing social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, they make it more likely that lawyers and staff from across the firm will share ideas in wikis, write blog posts, gather feedback through likes and comments on content, and solve problems. They can also readily identify—and give access to—knowledgeable employees who may become integral subject-matter experts for a matter.
It’s integrated into the applications you’re already using. Whether your firm relies on Microsoft Office, G Suite applications, or any other tool, the new generation of intranets allows you to share information and files between systems. It can also put all of the productivity tools and resources your legal team needs in one accessible place.
The user experience is personalized and intuitive. Users are more likely to invest time in building the intranet because it uses a dynamic interface that tailors content to their interests and preferences. Custom dashboards create easy-to-read visualizations that keep your team informed about real-time progress toward goals and budgets.
Information is easier to find. No longer does information get buried in a stream of linear posts. With an improved search and file structure, intranets now make it simpler than ever to surface know-how, locate critical information, and track document versioning.
It can streamline workflows. With the ability to track project tasks and due dates and send reminders, teams can become more organized. Staff can also set up routines to replace manual, paper-based tasks with automated processes for client intake, check requests, contract management, and more.
It requires less IT support. Instead of intensive coding required on the front end, today’s intranets are ready to go right out of the box. And because these intranets can live in the cloud, they’re quick to deploy, scalable, easy to update, and secure.
Best practices for a well-built intranet
If your law firm is ready to reinvigorate knowledge sharing through an updated intranet, here are some best practices to keep in mind.
1. Find champions
Invite a small group of people who are likely to be enthusiastic about new technology to help you plan the intranet. Look for a range of people, including lawyers and staff from different departments. Later, you’ll invite them to pilot the program and spread the word.
2. Assess the knowledge base
Ask your champions what tools users will find most helpful. Which current processes are too cumbersome and are due for an update? What information or resources are hardest to find? Asking questions like these will help you build the foundation for customizing your platform to your users’ unique needs.
3. Choose the right tool to fill the gaps
A number of intranet tools are available on the market, so how do you choose the one that’s right for your law firm? First, look for a cloud solution, which will enable you to adapt and scale quickly. Cloud-based systems are also frequently updated, giving you the latest features without costly downtime or IT resources. Second, look for a vendor with enterprise-grade security that satisfies the most recent cyber security standards. Finally, make sure the system connects with your existing applications; an independent, standalone solution will just be one more tool that legal teams have to incorporate—and that means they won’t use it.
4. Start small
A firmwide launch can be too much too soon. A better approach is to pilot the intranet with your champions and increase from there. An incremental rollout also ensures that you work out any glitches in the system and address all user needs before you share it with the larger group. Once the champions learn how to use the system, they can become your advocates and resources for the rest of the firm.
5. Educate users and publicize wins
As you roll out the system, offer training in small groups, touting the system’s ease of use and benefits. Remember that training does not stop once everyone has been introduced to the system; it should continue over time, ensuring that users remain engaged. And continue promoting the intranet after you launch by sharing your successes. Showing how the intranet solves problems and reduces headaches can go a long way toward encouraging widespread adoption.
It’s time to rethink your law firm’s intranet
Today’s intranet is not the stale, musty repository of out-of-date news and policies that you remember. It’s an interactive, intuitive way to combat the decentralization of information and to better connect people with the information and tools they need to do their job, improving their productivity, collaboration, and satisfaction.
To see how one top-tier law firm transitioned from an antiquated, self-built intranet into a dynamic social collaboration platform, explore the Van Doorne case study.