Monday, August 24, 2009

ILTA 09 Session on Extranets

Rachelle Rennagel of Sheppard Mullin and Keith Lipman of Interwoven presented on different approaches to law firm extranets.

The session usefully focused on the three main use cases for extranets and also on factors and options that firms should focus on when considering implementing extranets. Keith Lipman was refreshingly clear of any apparent bias or pitch in his discussion of various approaches he has seen applied.

They identified three primary uses for extranets:

1) Client Extranet

The extent of client information might vary depending on the importance of that client relationship.

2) Matter Extranet

This is the most common type of extranet.

The two most popular matter extranets are those for due diligence and litigation.

In due diligence you are asking multiple people within the client or opposing side of the deal to check off that they have reviewed sets of documents.

Litigation extranets are typically about “give me a status.” Client wants to know for each case or matter what is the next thing to be done. With complexity of litigation these extranets are going to be more important and more complex.

A matter dashboard might include all matter-related documents, matter contacts, calendaring, tasking, and reminders, matter status updates, daily digests, and billing information.

Rachelle does not believe that extranets will work if you try to use them for document review. Use a custom-built web-based tool for that. There is an expectation from the lawyers (that has to be adddressed) that they can go to one place for the matter information and the e-discovery.

3) Knowledge Management Extranet

A rarer and potentially very effective form of extranet is for knowledge sharing. Clients may ask attorneys to publish specific types of information. Attorneys may provide "black letter" legal advice on common questions, online CLE or other training programs for law department staff, or knowledge management tools that generate a useful document (like Wilson Sonsini's term sheet generator).

Client-focused KM resources can be a driver for the brand and show off a firm's expertise, as when attorney-generated forms or procedural information is shared with the client.

One possible next step in this approach is to provide clients access to internal library resources, a firm’s news feeds, or other in-house databases.

Full implementation of effective extranets can generate a tighter client relationship and positions the firm as an extension of the general counsel’s office. Are you offering commodity work?

Concerns around Extranets:


This must be the most important consideration.
How granular can you get? Can it be user-specific? Document level? Does your extranet expose who else is using or has access?

Hire black hats every few years to make sure that your system is secure.


Who is managing the passwords? What happens when an attorney or client loses a password?

In-house v. ASP

This concerns whether the governing application is custom-built or provided by a vendor. Options for the latter include applications hosted by the vendor or applications hosted on a firm's own servers.

For smaller firms both presenters recommended the ASP model.

Infrastructure Requirements

The speed of page load can really matter. Look at factors that affect that. When it takes 4-5 seconds to load that’s a problem (users are used to Google).

Extranet management--Decentralized vs. centralized

Like most firms, Sheppard Mullen has IT resource constraints. Paralegals, secretaries, and junior associates manage the content and help set up various extranets. They can’t have a one-person bottleneck because it’s a matter of client service. A poll in the room established that most other firms do centralize extranet management (although I would expect that

Most extranet managers take pride in their extranet work and can also increase their interaction with a client, perhaps at a peer level.

Firms can have a centralized approach where an extranet is set up on request, or can automate extranet creation in parallel with the matter creation process.

General Considerations

Keep in mind Records and Risk Management Policies—align extranet management with records retention policies. Tell attorneys that sometimes they need to take it down. Have discussion with records people about length of time something should stay up. Addressing archiving means that you need to be aware of the export and import features of the extranet.

Test search engine extensively. How responsive. When maxed out. How long does it take to search all extranets.

Potential for integration with firm systems. Separating firm systems from extranets make it more challenging to add information to the extranet. Sheppard Mullin tracks in iManage when documents are exported to an extranet. Willing to take risk because of the burdens of

Can or should clients post documents to the firm extranet? At Sheppard Mullin clients can put up single documents but typically not a whole directory.

Keith believes that some clients use the same library for both draft & final documents, while some use a library for final documents only. The choice of extranet publishing model depends on attorney security concerns.

An extranet needs the metadata, audit trails, and security structure of document management systems. A right-click “Publish” that follows the firms business rules might make sense. Publishing to an extranet is comparable (DBH-but better!) than sending a long email

Can extranets be customized as firm or client-branded?

How are notifications structured? Daily digest? By matter? Can a firm person administer them? Email comes into play in reminders.

Rachelle reported that a client uses the firm's extranet as a contract management tool. They tie renewal of contracts into extranet notification system. (Their provider custom-built this feature for them).

A “Practice Template” is a set of features as set up for a real estate or other business deal or litigation. Can be a huge time-saver. Might be able to start with matter-specific template. How different do you want it?

Value-add or billable service? Most people don’t bill (poll in the room). Hosted deal rooms are really expensive. Is it possible to charge back to client? Per gig or storage fee?

If it’s free people don’t value it as much. Can you have a nominal one-time fee?

Vendors include

  • AMS Legal
  • WorkSite Web (iManage)

  • Sharepoint
  • eRoom
  • (I would add PBWorks as well)

Frame extranets in terms of the specific client. Firms might treat extranets as a checkbox on RFPs or as a central focus of the way that they manage client relationships.

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