Extranets:The Client Disconnect? #ILTA12

Session Title: Beyond Extranets! What Clients Really Want.
Speakers; Scott Rechtschaffen (CKO, Littler Mendelson), Lynn Simpson (Knowledge Manager & Six Sigma Master Black Belt, DuPont), Meredith Williams (Chief Knowledge Management Officer, Baker Donelson).
[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2012 Conference 2012. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

As always, Meredith Williams and Scott Rechtschaffen made strong presentations of their innovative client facing offerings. (To see more details on their presentations, see my tweetstream or the general ILTA12 tweetstream.) And then, Lynn Simpson stood up and said that she was going to “throw a bomb” into the room. Her message was clear and concise:

  • We don’t want you to send us poorly targeted, irrelevant marketing or legal updates. We consider that material to be the equivalent of spam.
  • It’s great that you have all these interesting extranets, but we don’t want to have to go to each firm’s special environment to find the materials we need to work. We want our external clients to come to our environment — the place where we, the client, are most comfortable working.

Lynn’s comments confirmed something I wrote about earlier regarding extranets and law firm client updates. That’s great. But I found myself wondering how many members of the audience were left puzzled at the seeming discrepancy between the two law firm success stories and the very different client experience. While I wasn’t able to put this question to the panel, that didn’t stop me from thinking further about this. Here are my preliminary conclusions

  • The DuPont Rule. A law firm would be wise to consider Lynn Simpson’s advice as the primary operating rule UNLESS your firm can fit into either the Baker Donelson exception or the Littler exception.
  • Baker Donelson Exception. If you can develop a product or service that so impresses your client that your client moves all of its business to you, then you become your client’s only external law firm and your extranet the only environment your client needs.
  • Littler Exception. If you are advising in an area in which the client desperately needs constant external advice, and you can provide an easy to use, accurate, tailored and timely resource, your extranet will become the go to place for your client.

The bottom line is that a garden variety extranet will not impress your client or move you into the territory of one of the exceptions mentioned above. You and your firm will have to develop a very special offering to entice the client away from the client’s own environment. If you stopped to think about this, it makes perfect sense. So why do so many law firms continue to ignore the DuPont rule?

4 thoughts on “Extranets:The Client Disconnect? #ILTA12

  1. One simple reason is that surprisingly few companies in fact have systems like DuPont’s to aggregate and organize content, not just from the company’s outside counsel but even from in-house lawyers.

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