Passing a Verdict: Knowledge Management in a Top Law Firm

Jonathan Cowley

Verdict

Introduction

This top 100 UK law firm provides expert legal advice to individuals and businesses across a wide range of sectors including construction, property and personal injury.

As with any large organisation, effective knowledge management is key for sharing information, improving business performance and creating competitive advantage.   It is vital that legal information in particular is current and readily accessible.

New intranet

A new intranet was introduced in February 2016. The previous intranet had been designed in-house and suffered from a dated design and limited functionality. For example, the previous system was not customisable and could not display images and videos. The intranet had not kept up with the external facing website, which has a modern design and includes staff blogs and social media content.

The choice of company to provide the new intranet involved meetings with staff from across the firm.   The new intranet needed to provide fast and efficient access to information, and aimed to reduce the firm’s reliance on email as a means of communication.

Newbury-based software company Sorce (http://www.sorce.co.uk/) offered a product with a range of customisable options to provide the flexibility needed to connect with existing business systems.

There was no data available for hits for pages on the old intranet, so it was difficult to know which pages were popular and which were surplus to requirements. However, the company selection process had involved gathering feedback from across the firm, and this provided a great deal of specific information on how the intranet was being used.

Launch

The launch of the new intranet was supported by a promotional campaign to get as many staff engaged with the intranet as possible. Initiatives included providing free headphones to all staff, so that they could listen to video content; and a “treasure hunt” quiz where staff could win a prize by answering questions with information available on the intranet.

News stories

When the intranet was launched, a key benefit visible immediately was the ability to put company news front and centre. News stories are displayed on the intranet front page, and can be accompanied by video content where required. This has been particularly effective for big news stories, such as acquisitions of other law firms and office moves. If “a picture is worth a thousand words” then a video must be worth even more! As would be expected with a modern intranet system, it is easy to obtain detailed statistics on how many times stories are accessed and who is reading them, and therefore judge which stories are reaching their intended audience and which are less effective.

Databases/legal information

The intranet also features improved access to legal databases and research guides. Each legal department has its own homepage which is used to highlight news relevant to that particular area. This also allowed us to link to subject-specific resources within each department’s page e.g. the Personal Injury page has direct links to the personal injury commentary on Lexis rather than just a general link to Lexis itself. This has been important to create maximum value for money from database subscriptions, and to ensure that the most up-to-date legislation and commentaries are being used.

Customisation

A “dashboard” is added to the homepage of all fee-earning staff such as solicitors. This displays all relevant financial information for that particular member of staff. The customisation levels provided mean that this section does not appear for members of support staff that it is not relevant to.

Social media

A key aim of the intranet enhancements was to improve awareness of “good news” across the firm, such as key cases or work done with local charities. The new intranet includes a social media widget which allows Twitter feeds to be embedded within intranet pages, which ensures that content is regularly updated and staff are aware of firm news.

Documents and risk management

Another key aim of the new intranet was to improve access to documents across the firm. This includes standard letters, forms, procedures and terms of business. Within a legal firm it is crucial to minimise risk, and this includes ensuring that up-to-date versions of such documents are used. A central repository or “document hub” on the intranet ensures that this is the case. The intranet functionality also means that an audit trail is available for each document to track who has made changes to files.

Extranet function

A developing area of the intranet is the extranet function. This is extremely useful when clients need to securely access documents relating to a case. It is of utmost importance that such sensitive documents have appropriate security and can only be accessed by the individuals concerned. The firm does not allow the use of Dropbox for security reasons, and this provides a viable and more secure alternative. An extranet page can be created which can only be accessed by clients, and staff working on the case. A username and password is sent to each client and the intranet customisation options allow a restricted version of the intranet to be displayed.

Usage statistics

The new intranet provides far more detailed usage statistics. A page displaying internal job vacancies proved to be surprisingly popular. As a result, it was added to the main navigation menu to make it easier to access.

As with any intranet statistics the raw data only tells a partial story – for example, more time spent using the intranet may indicate that users are having difficulty finding the information they need. We therefore found it important to actively seek feedback from users to see how they are accessing information and how the service could be improved.

Conclusion

The introduction of the new intranet has been a crucial step in improving the knowledge management process within this law firm. As the project enters its second year, the firm will continue to actively improve the service through additional functionality such as extranet pages. The intranet content has been continually refined, based on feedback; and changes will continue to be made to build on its capabilities.

K & IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017

 

 

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