Portal Trends at Law Firms

by Joseph Raczynski

Portal Trends at Law Firms

Significant trends are finally emerging in portal usage by the Am Law 100.  After years of vacillating about platforms, purpose, and its promise many firms have bought into the reality that portal is for real.


Based on legal conferences and consultations with C-level officers over the last several months, the following themes are developing among the largest firms in the country:

  • SharePoint is undoubtedly the leader as the main flavor of portal at large law firms.  With SharePoint 2010, the latest version available, the market share is sure to increase over the next four quarters.  SP 2010 is far more user friendly and it includes FAST, an enterprise search tool that is highly regarded.
  • Firms are integrating all aspects of their business into one sphere.  The goal is to surface valuable internal information thus synthesizing: extranet, business development, current awareness, contact management, DMS, knowledge management, human resources data, client information, social media, and time and billing among others.

The particular specifics:

  • Extranet is massive.  It has become a huge advantage for firms.  One newer use of extranet is to demo the capabilities of the firm at client pitch meetings.  Showing that the firm can establish a secure, intelligent environment before the client signs on has been very effective.  Typically these client pages can contain: RSS feeds of client news, team members, meeting calendars, open matters, stock ticker, blog, team discussion, billing, and docket alerts.  It is an excellent selling point for the firm.
  • Community blogging is gaining traction.  However, firms that have had the best luck typically have chosen stakeholders, higher profile attorney’s, or firm experts who write.  They tend to gain followers quickly building a community which cascades down and encourages other experts to blog or comment.
  • Attorney profiles are far more robust with portal.  Firms are establishing “LinkedIn-esq” profiles which attorneys are responsible for maintaining.  New aspects include short bio informational videos, completed work at the firm, areas of expertise, and tagged work, i.e. work completed so if like cases arise at the firm they can be tapped.  Ultimately the firm is creating a searchable knowledge share of personalize individualized attorney portraits.  This is an excellent tool to find experience colleagues within the firm.
  • Enterprise search, i.e. searching across disparate repositories of information at the firm, is the primary push and becoming very effective.  The sought after federated search, searching internally and over the web, is still somewhat elusive, but gaining traction with better technology.
  • Portal ROI once a subject of examination is far less challenged now.  As one firm stated, “Asking for a ROI for portal expense is akin to asking a partner to quantify ROI for the NBA season box seats the firm bought.  You just know it works.”

The innovative trends are targeting content, surfacing internal data, then indexing, and ultimately utilizing algorithmic enterprise search.  In addition firms are integrating applications and repositories with their portal.  Lastly they are increasing use of Web 2.0 applications like blogging, tagging, and client/user forums.  All of these portal trends integrated together build a vastly more connected, agile, and responsive firm.