The 2010 ILTA conference is still underway in Las Vegas. My panel, "Transparency: Beyond the Extranet," was late Tuesday afternoon, August 24. Cheryl Disch (the extraordinary proposal manager at Duane Morris about whom I've blogged in the past) assembled our diverse ILTA panel that included: Julie Kremer, Enterprise Technology Strategist from Microsoft, Jon Parish, Senior Client Systems Analyst/Project Manager, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Steve McHargue, Senior Consultant, Project Leadership Associates – and me.
Before we could talk about "building a bridge to 2020," we wanted to measure today's usage of extranets in law firms. How much more than document sharing were firms doing? Here are the questions we asked – and you can access the survey results and our slides on the Content Pilot website – here.
1. How many client extranets do you currently have?
2. What platform do you use for your extranets?
3. What third party or other technologies feed into your extranet(s)?
4. How would you describe how your extranets add value to your clients?
5. Have you added features to your extranet in direct response to client requests? If so, what features were
6. Do you "meet" with your clients on your extranet?
7. If yes, by what medium?
8. How are you measuring client satisfaction with your extranets?
9. Do you track how many clients you have won/retained based on your extranet capabilities?
10. For the following technology categories, indicate your firm’s use/adoption for each on your extranet(s).
— File/Folder sharing extranets with clients
— Wiki/collaborative knowledge generation collaboration
— Task/Project Management collaboration
— Docketing/critical date tracking
— Social networking
— Workflow automation that captures firm policies/procedures/checklists/etc for dealing with certain types of matters
— Workflow automation that captures client policies/procedures/checklists/etc for dealing with certain types of matters
— Performance Dashboards/High level reports for large clients
11. Please tell us the size of your law firm
12. Please tell us where your firm is headquartered
The survey had 49 respondents from a mix of small, medium and large law firms.
The panel unanimously agreed that clients will (or are) demanding more than document sharing. They want seamless access to lawyers and intelligence that helps them day-to-day. This elevates the extranet from a tech tool to a client relationship management asset – and it requires sophisticated thinking and planning if it is going to align with a law firm client's business and legal goals. The power and potential of this is enormous for forward-thinking law firms.
Julie Kremer told what large customers of Microsoft are doing with their extranets. These customers view them as mission critical components of their business with their clients and customers. These enterprise extranets are built on Microsoft collaboration tools, such as SharePoint, and are filled with interactive, get-business-done-in-real-time features, such as click-to-chat, mash ups, news aggregators, social media, blogs, wikis and much, much more.
Jon Parish shared the high level bones of a case study where Pillsbury had built a sophisticated extranet for a major client tailored specifically to its complex needs. In a competition, the client defected to another law firm - but within months, returned to Pillsbury, because the new law firm couldn't duplicate the unique workspace that Pillsbury had designed for them. A huge differentiator for Pillsbury with measureable bottom line value.
Question #8 in our survey is about measuring client satisfaction. Only 5 firms that responded to our survey are measuring it, which left the remaining 90% of respondents who are not. The more tailored and personalized that extranets become, the more expensive they are for the law firm – so client use and benefit becomes increasingly important to your business case. Bottom line, the extranets have to save money for the client and drive revenue to the law firm. If they aren't being used and used well by your most important clients, it means that your extranets aren't being viewed as an important part of your relationship.
Oh – and here is my definition of transparency: i like viewing it in the more social context, which implies openness, communication and mutual accountability. I like this definition because it isn't focused on only one party being transparent. Mutual accountability for transparency means that both law firm and client are responsible. I think this is what the law firms – and fundamentally – the clients are after. More about extranets to come.