Above and Beyond KM A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • Dino, Dodo, Extranet

    We all know that dinosaurs and dodo birds are extinct. What about extranets? I know we’ve got them, but for how long?

    With the increasing pressure from clients to have access to the wealth of knowledge generated by law firms, some firms have tried to lance the wound by offering a small collection of their content on password protected extranets. The problem with this approach is that it puts the burden on the client. For example, the client (and in this instance I mean every member of the client’s law department) must (i) know the extranet exists, (ii) figure out its design quirks and how it works, (iii) have some sense of its collection, and (iv) remember the unique password every time they want to consult that archive. Multiply this across the sites of various law firms and you’ve got a major challenge.

    I know that a great driver of this approach is to provide access without compromising security and confidentiality, but does it really work for clients? We’ve heard in-house counsel express the desire for law firm content without having to hunt for it. They would like it in an environment of their own choosing and design. So instead of providing content access tools like extranets, should law firms be thinking harder about better content delivery tools?

    Imagine a virtual umbilical cord stretching from a law firm to its client’s knowledge management system, providing a regular supply of helpful resources? Imagine being an in-house lawyer who doesn’t have to go to a thousand places on the internet to find information, but rather can simply surf a single familiar internal platform? Imagine that in-house lawyer’s delight when they can find easily the information appropriate to the decision at hand, and can identify and follow-up with the lawyer and firm that made the retrieval so pain free? Imagine the impact of these experiences on the relationship between that law firm and its client?

    This isn’t farfetched. As more and more law firms and law departments move to a SharePoint platform, we will approach a common technical vocabulary for making content available.  Next, we need to push this further to see how to provide that content outside the law firm firewall safely.  This could be a wonderful opportunity to provide exactly the level of law firm transparency and support that clients have been asking for.

    ************************

    If you’d like to learn more about new ways of using extranets (before they become extinct!), read Are Law Firms Ready for Transparency?

    [Photo Credit:  Kevin Zim]

    Published on November 23, 2009 · Filed under: law firm knowledge management, Law Firms; Tagged as: ,
    12 Comments
  • http://www.compliancebuilding.com Doug Cornelius

    Mary -

    I tried launching extranets for years, with little success.

    You point out one of the big obstacles: the platform. A client does not want to learn a different platform for each of their law firms. Same with the lawyers in a law firm, not wanting to learn a new platform for a client.

    The real leap will be to use an extranet as a collaboration platform with the client. Its great to centralize documents. But it's even better to run the workflow of the matter through the extranet.

    How about a closing agenda as a wiki?
    A blog to broadcast changes in the matter?

    It would be great to re-think the communication flow.

    Of course there are obstacles. The alert features, with updates being pushed out by RSS and email are starting to be addressed. (For example using SharePoint as the platform.)

    The missing piece for me is mobility. You need to get the platform to work as well on a blackberry as email. SharePoint 2007 fails miserably in mobile use. In fairness, every extranet platform I have seen fails miserably in mobile use.

    Lawyers and business leader live and die by their blackberry. “If I can't easily access it through my blackberry, I'm not going to use it.”

  • VMaryAbraham

    Doug -

    Mobility is a major challenge. I wonder if we'll resolve it by reducing and simplifying everything so it works with a smaller form factor OR will we figure out that while there are some things a blackberry does well, it can't do everything.

    - Mary

  • http://twitter.com/tfriedlich Todd Friedlich

    Mary, great thoughts here.

    Doug, I completely agree that the lack of mobile support with today's extranet platforms is a huge problem for our attorneys. However, I think the fault lies more with the mobile devices we are giving them than with the Extranet, Intranet, and document management platforms.

    On my iPhone I have wonderful tools for consuming RSS, synchronizing calendar and task items, and viewing/editing documents. My Blackberry, however, has a crappy screen and mediocre software. Even with a smaller market share than the Blackberry, the iPhone App Store has many more developers writing custom applications than Blackberry Marketplace does.

    I think the best solution is to move our users to more modern “smart phones” such as the iPhone or Android based phones. The reason the Blackberry is so universal is that they used to be the only game in town. That is no longer the case.

  • http://www.compliancebuilding.com Doug Cornelius

    True. Lots of the fault lies with the BlackBerry itself and not mobility. Many things work better on the iPhone than the BlackBerry. The blackberry needs to catch up. (and probably will.)

    Many sites do not even try to make themselves work better on BlackBerry or iPhone. It's not just the browser. You really need to redesign the site to deal with the smaller screen. Google does a good job of this with Reader. I do the same with my blog: http://www.ComplianceBuilding.com. (Of course, it looks great on the iPhone and mediocre on the Blackberry.)

    It's not that hard to redesign a site for a smaller mobile screen. Extranets need to make that effort or they are doomed to continued failure.

  • http://twitter.com/jimmy1712 James Mullan

    This is really interesting I know a few firms who have thought about doing extranets. I thought they had died a death, but it would appear not. Your idea of an umbilical cord of information is fantastic!

  • Ann Björk

    Mary, fantastic post! Spot on the problem with extranets – that they force the client to learn the different platforms and how they work (and not the least to remember all different sources they can access).

    As Ron tweeted collaboration forums like Legal OnRamp could be part of the answer. But I think that you can take this even further. How about getting into the client’s intranet and knowledge management system? Not only by pushing updates by RSS, but also by actually providing documents and content. I know that Cisco has adopted some really interesting processes for this – see for example this article http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/… – where routine legal tasks are handled internally by standardized technology by filling out questionnaires, but as soon as something is out of the ordinary, there is an automatic link to an outside law firm. Imaging being the law firm providing the standardized material to the client (within the client’s internal system) and getting all assignments whenever the task is outside the ordinary – that would really create a strong client relationship, much stronger than I can imagine any extranet ever providing.

  • petermarques

    How about if you're mandated to serve different firms (5 different tribunals, in our case), each of them with the obvious security and privacy issues, and each of them with differing IT setups and support….and you also serve the public. Yup, that's our scenario as a very unique government agency law library. We're developing a public-facing .net CMS with membership access which will provide an automatic connection based on IP, and building web services which can feed these various extranets.

    We're developing these Extranets to allow the end-user to then integrate whatever content they want into their respective Intranet sharepoint environments. So, instead of it being the end of extranets, in our improbable scenario we prefer to see them as channels of web services. We would love to integrate ourselves into our clients respective Intranets but we can't, so the extranet + to the rescue.

  • Christiana Clement

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