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.

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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]

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