logo

Features - Shaking Up Shook: A Case Study in Implementing LawPort Portal

By Janet McKinney, Published on February 1, 2002

Janet McKinney is Computer Services Librarian at Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P. She serves as content manager of the law library’s intranet site, as an intranet administrator, and trains the content editors for the intranet.

Introduction

Monday, September 17, 2001. It was the date the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P. (Shook or SHB) debuted CityLink, its intranet firmwide. It was more than a year after the agreement was made to purchase SV Technology’s (www.svtechnology.com) portal product, LawPort™, and it was almost exactly a year after the implementation project had begun. How was the decision made to take this path, and what did the implementation team experience while traveling along it?

Acquiring a commercial portal was not a snap decision based on the “wow” factor. Once the management of the firm was ready to support the concept of an intranet, the IT leadership did consider developing an intranet in-house. However, factors such as the amount of staff and time required for such a project led the CIO, Bill Migneron, to recommend purchasing an intranet framework. The purchase was approved for the 2000 budget.

General off-the-shelf portals were not unknown at that time, and the firm did consider a variety of products. SV Technology (SV) was probably one of the first vendors to focus on the law-firm market, and that niche design was one of the reasons the firm chose LawPort™. SV Technology’s founder and CEO, Martin Metz was Chief Technology Officer at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. Shook’s CIO had met Metz earlier and had been impressed with his work at Brobeck and his plans for a legal portal. Several employees from various departments in the firm gathered in a conference room one morning in May of 2000 for a tour of LawPort™, with Metz on the phone and Shook’s IT director on the mouse. Once the call was over, the participants did indeed acknowledge the “wow” factor, and discussion began even then about who would pilot the project.

Whether an organization purchases a portal or develops one from scratch (in-house or outsourced), an intranet project manager must be assigned. Determining who that person will be is as individual as each organization doing so and will depend on the emphases that will be placed on the end product (technology, content, etc.). Shook’s CIO Migneron chose the Director of Library and Records Services, Lori Weiss, as the LawPort™ project manager. Weiss has 25 years’ experience at SHB. When I asked him why he chose the library director to lead the project, he replied:

"I felt it was key to have someone with a strong grounding in the culture of SHB to lead this project, and Lori was the natural choice. Since the library services group was the first to venture into the browser world for the attorneys, a fair amount of work was already done. It also needed to be someone who holds the concept of knowledge sharing near and dear, and that person was and is Lori Weiss."

Weiss recognized that it was not practical to attempt a fully populated intranet for rollout, so she identified a handful of “pilot” groups, an approach that is recommended by SV Technology as well. Three of the practice sections expressed interest in being pilot groups. Weiss’ experience and knowledge of the firm and the employees was invaluable when determining which administrative and city office groups to approach. She considered those that would be interested, that would be able to devote the time and energy, and that would have impressive and important content.

The Product

SV Technology markets LawPort™ as a "complete Web strategy for law firms, providing a unified approach to a firm's Intranet, secure client Extranets, and public Internet site." Shook purchased the extranet component of LawPort™ but has delayed its implementation until after the intranet component is firmly established and the Marketing Department had already begun redesigning the firm's Internet site with an advertising firm, so Shook is not taking full advantage of LawPort™'s capabilities.

According to SV, LawPort™ performs dual functions as a software application and a portal, in that it has its own database of content, publishing functions, and directory, as well as consolidating and offering access to external applications. At the time of writing, there is no security within LawPort™ itself. Clients have requested an enhancement that would limit access to sites or portions of sites, but the philosophy behind LawPort™ is that shared information and knowledge enriches the firm and empowers the employees to achieve higher levels of efficiency and productivity. It would be fair to say that Metz is reluctant to work with firms that do not see the value of knowledge sharing and collaboration, as the chances of a successful use of the system are highly diminished. The extranet component of LawPort™ could be used a a secure internal site.

An employee directory serves as the foundation of LawPort™. It functions in LawPort™ first of all to identify the user. LawPort™ immediately "recognizes" the user based upon the network login, greets the user by name and displays a link to Weather.com for that user's city. New employees are listed by the office and practice group or administrative department they work in. A click on a link produces a list of all employees associated with a practice group, department, or office. The directory search offers a variety of access points. Each employee has a personal directory page listing that person's title, office location, practice group or department, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, secretarial assignments, and if applicable, bar memberships and educational background. Many of the listings are hot links to other LawPort™ pages. Nearly all the information on a directory page is dynamic, so that a page for someone without a secretary or without bar membership will not have those options displayed. There is even an area of the page for a photo of the employee.

The Home Page


Screen shot of the LawPort™ demo site home page (copied December 17, 2001).

The application itself is composed in Cold Fusion and pulls content from a SQL datawarehouse. A header that includes a menu bar to access sites, the intranet search (a powerful character-based search facility with options to narrow the search), a link to the home page, and the day and date remains constant throughout the intranet. The home page displays Firm News, My News, New Matters, Weather, Events, and Welcome. Each of these areas lists titles of published items, and the titles are hyperlinks to fuller information. News and Events are published, New Matters are imported from the client billing or records management system, new employee information under Welcome is pulled from the system that feeds the employee directory (an accounting or human resources system), and Weather links to Weather.com based on the zip codes pulled from the office listings in the database. There is a link to Weather.com for the office in which the user is based, and clicking on the word, "weather" in that phrase will display a list of all the firm offices, each linked to Weather.com for that office's zip code. Both the New Matters and Welcome displays are dynamic, based on the existence of new information and the settings the firm chooses as display periods. The Welcome area will display the names of offices in which there are new employees. Clicking on the office name will display a list of new employees below that office name, showing the name of the employee, the job title, and the hire date.

The New Matters display in a scrolling window when data has been imported into the intranet from the accounting or records system. The displays may be customized to accommodate the firm's client/matter naming conventions. Clicking on the matter name takes the user to a more complete display of that matter's record, which includes the associated attorneys (originating, billing, responsible) and the open and closed dates. Matters are archived and searchable by a number of access points.

The menu bar at the bottom of the header is much like a menu bar in any Windows product. Clicking on a word results in a drop-down menu. In the case of LawPort™, these are navigation menus to take the user to a practice group, a department, or an office. The user that wishes to go to the Business Litigation Section's page clicks on "Practice," moves the mouse until Business Litigation is highlighted, then clicks to open that site. The link to the directory search page is in this bar, as is the link to publish (for those with rights), and the link to MySite (more on MySite later).

There is also a navigation bar on the left side of the screen with links to Classifieds, the Experience module, Referrals, FAQs, Policies, Resources (Web links), the News Archive, and a Suggestions page.

The Classifieds feature allows users to enter items that they wish to sell or requests to buy. SHB decided to mask this feature because it is self-publishing, with no administrative oversight or control. The firm's HR department operated a Classified Ads service with related policies, posted on the bulletin board that used to launch upon login to the network. They now publish it on the intranet sites for the Kansas City metropolitan area. The office managers in the other cities will decide whether to offer Classified Ads for those offices.

The Experience module is also a self-publishing feature. The project manager or team establishes a list of skills during the implementation period and sets the levels of expertise available to the users. The users then enter the Experience module and click to indicate that they have levels of skills. For example, one user indicates that she has a bit of knowledge of French, another indicates that he is a notary public, and another indicates that she is highly skilled in arbitration. SHB has also masked this module, mainly because we felt that it would be overlooked, and therefore greatly underutilized, while the users are learning the other features of the intranet.

The Referrals feature allows firm employees to enter information about and search for attorneys outside the firm, similar to our home-grown Local Counsel Database. We masked this feature at rollout as well, in order to avoid intranet overload. We also masked the Suggestions link until the firm had migrated to an e-mail package that integrates with Internet Explorer.

Sites Within LawPort

A distinct advantage to LawPort is that the design is generally uniform throughout. Rarely is there a need to return to the home page to go to another. New matters display on practice group pages based on one of the attorneys and his/her associated practice group in the employee directory. They also display on an office page based on the association of an assigned attorney. LawPort™ comes with the links to Westlaw practice group pages within the relevant practice group sites which you can chose to include or not.

The Practice Group Site


Practice group site in the LawPort™ demo site (copied December 17, 2001).

The Office Site


Office site in the LawPort™ demo site (copied December 17, 2001).

Each site also has a left navigation bar with five standard links: Forms, Resources, Policies, FAQs, and People. This bar appears on all the pages of a site. In addition, the content team for a site may create "custom menu links," which appear at the top of the left navigation bar (see the Antitrust screen shot above). These links can take the user to another intranet page, a World Wide Web site, or a document in the firm's document management system. Much of the content of the orientation manual the library used to distribute to new employees has been transferred to those custom menu links on our site. We added a link to Martindale.com on the practice and office sites' navigation bars and a link to Switchboard.com on the office sites' navigation bars. On the practice pages, we also created a custom menu link called, "Online Research." That page offers links to the most frequently used research sites for that group. Other pilot groups have chosen to use a custom menu link to introduce their staff members. Below the left navigation bar in each site is a query box to search the site.

The Forms, Resources, Policies, and FAQs links lead the user to lists of titles, each title a hyperlink to more information. Forms publishing is where the content team links to documents saved in the documents management system (DMS) or copies a file to the database. Shook uses DOCS Open as its DMS. The publisher enters the number of the document, specifies which library it is saved in, gives the document a title, and may enter a brief description. When a user clicks on that document title, LawPort™ seamlessly launches the DMS and runs the search for the user. The beauty of this feature, in addition to the link itself, is that any security that has been applied to the document remains intact. One of our practice groups has made extensive use of this feature, providing easy access to documents that are to be used as examples by the attorneys in that group. The other method of using Forms publishing is by choosing to upload a read-only copy of a file to the database. Again, the publisher gives that document a name and a brief description. A click on the title opens that file in its native application.

Resources are links to World Wide Web sites or any other site which can be access with a URL.

The Policies publishing template is designed to display the content directly in the intranet page. That this is the only option for publishing policies is a point of frustration for our publishers. Many of them want to link to policies which are saved in the DMS, yet they are not able to do so. There is a work-around that requires the publisher to create a link to a document under Forms, but if the publisher believes the users will look under Policies, he or she must create a policy page with content that includes a hyperlink (which will direct LawPort™ to go to that link under Forms and activate it). It forces the publishers to create those awkward statements that instruct the user to "click here," when we would prefer that they have to click only once to open the document. On the other hand, the Policies pages are fine for those policies that are not tremendously lengthy or require no security.

There are a number of great features in LawPort™, and the FAQs link is one of them. When the user clicks on this link, the intranet displays all the questions that have been published to that site. The user simply clicks on the question to display the answer. Shook's Accounting and Finance Department has made extensive use of FAQs. Weiss urged the pilot groups to think of those phone inquiries to which they have to answer the same questions repeatedly - they are prime FAQ material.

The final standard link on the left navigation bar is People. This link pulls together directory listings for every employee associated with a group. For example, clicking on the People link in the Law Library's page lists all Law Library employees.

Subject access to intranet content is also provided within LawPort™ by the use of Categories. Categories are a taxonomy that can be applied to the Experience skills and any type of published item in LawPort™ except the custom menu links. Category headings with content assigned to them will display on a page, and the user "drills down" through the categories to locate the desired information. Most categories are created by the publishing groups themselves, but they are available to all publishers. For example, the Accounting and Finance Department assigned some of its content to Human Resources categories because they recognized that users may look for information under those headings. Category headings may be searched through the intranet search facility in the header. From the results display a user may choose to see content associated with the heading.

My Site

Even with a handful of pilot groups publishing content, we have a lot of content in our intranet. In total, we have 46 sites. My Site allows the users to customize the intranet, much like My Findlaw or MyYahoo. They can display My News, My Events, and West Find & Print. In addition, if the firm uses Outlook, the inbox, the contacts list, and the tasks list can display in My Site. A user "subscribes" to any of the sites for which she or he wishes to see the news and events. After the sites are chosen, the news and events from those sites will immediately display in My News on both the My Site page and the intranet home page, and the events will display in My Events on the My Site page and under Events on the home page.


My Site page from the LawPort™ demo site (copied December 17, 2001). The Outlook features were turned off because they displayed the author’s own folders.

Another "cool" feature of My Site is the Out-of-Office notification form. The user completes a form that indicates the beginning and returning dates when he or she will be out of the office plus any messages related to that absence (such as "unable to access e-mail during this time"). When the user clicks the Submit button, the out-of-office information displays on that employee's directory page during the absence.

The News Feeds link in My Site pulls in a long list of topics and subheadings which display relevant news from Moreover.com. Some of our groups have created links to specific news pages, in order to help their members stay up-to-date on industry news of interest to that group. Unfortunately, the user cannot set "My News Feeds" at this time, though it would be a great enhancement.

The My Reports feature links the user to Whitehill™ accounting reports. My Matters links the user to matters listed under his or her name. The My Bio link provides the user with a series of forms which are completed to generate a biography. (This is available if the firm has purchased the Biography Generator feature, an additional charge.) The user's Password Wallet is also located in My Site. The Password Wallet is a page with a list of services set by an administrator, where the user may enter his or her password for easy lookup. If Westlaw is one of the options, LawPort™ will look for the Westlaw ID in the password wallet and pass it through for authentication if the user clicks on a Westlaw practice page link or uses the West Find & Print provided by SV.

One of the newer features within My Site is the Applications Launcher, which allows an icon for an executable file to display in My Site. For example, the icon shortcuts to open frequently used applications such as word processing or a spreadsheet can display on the My Site page, keeping the user within the intranet for much of the day. In our case, the Director of Information Technology has delayed implementation of this feature for the time being. Finally, users in firms that have implemented the contact management application called InterAction™ can choose to display an InterAction Contact Search and/or InterAction Contact Watch.

Publishing

If Shook had taken the route of creating an intranet in-house, the developers would have had to determine a means of publishing the content in HTML. Fortunately, SV Technology solved the publishing dilemma by incorporating eWebEditPro, an HTML editor, into LawPort™. The product comes with a ten-user license to eWebEditPro, but Shook purchased a site license for eWebEditPro, because we have around 50 publishers with just the pilot groups.

The publishing is done through template pages that the content team members fill in. With the exception of Forms and Resources, the templates pull in a downloaded copy of eWebEditPro, where the publishers type in or paste in the content which will display in a LawPort™ page. Little to no knowledge of HTML is required of the publishers, yet those experienced with HTML can use tags to their advantage if they wish. Each template is designed for the type of item to be published. For example, the FAQs template has a field for the question and eWebEditPro for the answer. Like other HTML editors, eWebEditPro lets the publisher create hyperlinks within the content, change the size or color of the fonts, create tables, etc. The program does have some quirks that the publishers need to be aware of, and often pasted-in text requires some amount of cleanup, though usually not much.

The publishing pages are where categories are assigned. The Categories concept has been one of the most difficult for the content team members to understand. I immediately saw an analogy to the directories available on search-engine sites, such as Yahoo, but others have struggled with creating categories and how to use them when publishing. In the publishing templates, the categories are displayed with check boxes next to them. A publisher must decide on one or more categories that describe the content. However, they sometimes confuse them for the actual sites (some category headings are names of sites), fail to select a site for publishing the item, then wonder what happened to that item when it did not display on the site.

In LawPort™, categories may be created, edited, or deleted by any publisher from a publishing template. Weiss decided to mask that ability based on a desire for uniformity in structure and language, so only administrators can create, edit, and delete categories. It is not a difficult task, but it can be tedious, particularly because the "Add" function requires the administrator to scroll through the list of headings in order to place a new heading within the hierarchy.

Another publishing feature is the ability to save an image in the database and drop it into the content. When our intranet rolled out to the firm, one of the Firm News items was about the woman that won the "name the intranet" contest, and the item had a picture of her right at the top. I saved logos from Web pages (BNA, CCH, Lexis, Westlaw), loaded them into the image library, dropped them into content and created links from them to the respective services.

Publishing ability is granted by an administrator. A list of intranet sites is located at the bottom of the publishing pages, and those visible to a publisher are based on that publisher's rights. All publishers have the technical ability to publish to the home page (firmwide). SV Technology should probably consider changing this so that the ability is managed by an administrator. For the time being, Weiss developed policies that the publishers are to follow, several of them having to do with what may be published firmwide and who may do so without first asking permission.

SHB's Implementation Experience

SV Technology originally expected to install the intranet at Shook about five to six weeks after the kick-off meetings with key personnel and pilot groups. We pressed the pilot group content teams to complete spreadsheets which would be used to populate their sites when the intranet was built. Little did we know at the time just how long it would be before all employees saw it every day! The major stumbling block ended up being our employee data. There was no one system in the firm with all the information on each employee that would be fed to LawPort™. Not only was the data spread among systems, it was not consistent from one to another.

The Applications Development group was assigned the task of creating a "Master Personnel Database (MPD)" that would pull all the data together and port it over to LawPort™. At the same time that the database structure was being created, the data sources were identified. Once the database was filled in, the records had to be "scrubbed" and verified for accuracy. Along the way, it was decided that the MPD could serve multiple systems that required employee information, so it was expanded to accommodate those requirements. Painful as it was to accomplish, the MPD was sorely needed within the firm. The Applications Development group has created a Web-based front-end so that the Human Resources department can enter and update the data. And they have modified LawPort™ so that the import goes in approximately every two hours (catching changes in the database), rather than overnight as it was designed.

We had other technological hurdles to be jumped. The Microsoft NT client had to be loaded on everyone's PC, but getting everyone to log into the NT domain was difficult. Most people ignored the messages about logging in and cancelled out the login window. LawPort™ provides links to e-mail addresses, but we were on GroupWise and not able to make use of the links, so the LawPort™ Webmaster had to mask those tags out of the templates. The IT department had to provide Internet access throughout the firm.

Internet Explorer is standard on the desktop image, but not everyone has the same version. We had to stop short of globally installing IE 5.5, Service Pack 2 after we learned that it does not support plug-in applications (required for attached printing from Westlaw.com earlier in 2001). However, IE 5.0 has an issue with Acrobat Reader in that it will display only one PDF file if IE is set to bring up the Reader within the browser. Subsequent links to PDF files will display white pages. We have converted all our personnel and benefits policies to PDF and linked them from the intranet, so this was a major issue to resolve. We ended up having to push a configuration setting that opens Acrobat Reader as a separate application.

On the content side, most of the pilot groups had trouble understanding how to complete the spreadsheets that the vendor provided. When SV creates a LawPort™ site, they are able to pull data from the spreadsheets into the SQL database so that there is published content right away. SV provided little documentation on how to use the spreadsheets and how they relate to the LawPort™ pages. It ended up being an advantage to the publishers that we did not go live right away, because they were able to live and play in their sites. They had a better understanding of where the content went, and they were able to experiment with publishing decisions.

We decided that rather than bring in someone from SV to train the publishers in the pilot groups, I would become the publishing trainer. I traveled to SV's headquarters in San Francisco to be trained on the publishing templates and eWebEditPro.

In some cases, documentation for LawPort™ was sparse or outdated. I had to create a training manual for the content teams. Though it took a lot of effort, one advantage is that the manual is designed for SHB employees, and another is that I know LawPort™ publishing almost inside and out.

Beyond the masking of features, we have made quite a few customization changes. Thanks to the artistic talents of the Creative Services Department, we have a sharp-looking header. The LawPort™ logo, which links to the home page, was replaced with an image of a circuit board. The colors provided in LawPort™ have been changed to coordinate with the header. Several of the terms have been changed. For example, we changed "Forms" to "Documents," "Resources" to "Web Links," and "My Site" to "My CityLink." We added links to template pages (Return to Home Page, Click here to read publishing policies). We added links to Martindale-Hubbell's Lawyer Location, Lexis.com, and Westlaw.com to the navigation bar of the home page. Hyperlinks now change color upon mouse-over so that users will know they are hyperlinks (no underlined links in LawPort™). Every single change made to what was provided by the vendor has to be recorded, because when the software is upgraded, those changes will be wiped out and have to be redone. Each of these changes had to be made by someone with Cold Fusion expertise and access to the code. Chalk up another disadvantage for choosing a commercial portal.

Another disadvantage is the lack of user documentation. If you give users access to SV's client extranet they would have access to the documentation available there, but it is out-of-date. There is currently no Help facility in LawPort™, but SV is developing one with RoboHelp for a future release. Because of this lack of user documentation, we developed a two-fold brochure for quick reference and a 14-page reference manual, and we distributed them to all employees just before the roll-out. We tried to keep in mind that there would be employees with little to no experience with browsers and Web surfing, so the brochure and the manual have browser tips in addition to guidance for the intranet itself. While this was time-consuming and expensive, it does reflect the SHB intranet rather than the generic LawPort™. Had the intranet been developed in-house, we would have had to do this anyway.

Early in the implementation stages, we asked our SV project manager if LawPort™ includes a link-checking feature. It does not, but they recommended a package called WebTrends. WebTrends does a fine job of checking links, but to do so one of the members of the Applications Development department has to extract the links from the SQL table and create an HTML page on which to run the report. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that WebTrends can generate reports on usage of the intranet. We now know what pages within the intranet are visited most and least often, how long a typical user session lasts, what files are most and least downloaded, and on which days of the week the highest usage occurs. One of the growing aches we are experiencing is information redundancy, as employees still depend on e-mail to distribute information that could easily be (or maybe even already is) published on the intranet.

Though it is too soon to know what the full impact of the intranet will be, the response to CityLink has been positive. The impact of the entire year-plus process of implementation has been huge for the firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon. To get to the point where we could determine that the intranet would debut on September 17, we had to collaborate in unprecedented ways and relationships. By the time that date came, over 70 employees in four practice groups, eight administrative departments, one city office, the Information Technology Department, the Applications Development Department, the Practice Resources Department, the Marketing Department, the Creative Services Department, the Help Desk, copy services, the proofreader, and the Law Library had been involved. That kind of collaboration, though on a smaller scale, continues. Without it, the intranet will fail.

We also know that the challenge will be to keep up the momentum and motivation, especially after there is a majority of groups publishing content to their sites and CityLink is no longer new. Revealing additional features will help with that goal. Fortunately, the pilot groups recognized the value that an intranet and shared knowledge can add to their work. They were all thorough and enthusiastic about providing content, and they continue to realize the benefits. For example, the Human Resources department recently conducted the annual "open enrollment" for benefits. Rather than distribute a multipage packet of information to each employee, the department produced a four-page brochure outlining the major changes in benefits. Everything else an employee needed was linked from the HR intranet site.

A quote from the firm's CIO provides a conclusion and early verdict on LawPort™.

"I'm very pleased with the final product, and with the firm's acceptance of it. We need to concentrate now on content, but I'm confident that will come as well. And I would recommend LawPort™ to anyone looking for an intranet product. We had expected that after time and acceptance of the concept of an intranet, we would need to look at a more sophisticated "second" generation, but LawPort™ has continued to progress to the point where I don't see a need to go outside their product to solve our needs."


The author gratefully acknowledges the input and assistance of Shook, Hardy & Bacon's Lori Weiss, Director of Library and Records Services; Bill Migneron, Chief Information Officer; Tom Schmatz, former Director of Information Technology; and Alison Randall, Proofreader; and SV Technology's Mauricette Forzano, Project Manager.