Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sharpening Sharepoint; Four Firms Implement SP Intranets

Title and Session Link: Sharpening SharePoint - Real Views from Peer Firms on Getting the Most Out of MOSS and SPS 2003


SharePoint is now widely used by law firms for numerous projects ranging from RM to DM and becoming the defacto standard for collaboration. What exactly does this tool provide and how can it be best utilized for your firm. Take this opportunity to learn what other firms are doing to sharpen their competitive edge using SharePoint.


Michael Williams - Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, L.L.P.
Sam Shipley - Ulmer & Berne LLP
Chad Ergun - White & Case LLP
Paul Phillips - Nixon Peabody LLP

This excellent session had top technologists at each of the firms frankly laying out the trials, tribulations, and successes of their implementations of Sharepoint for their portals and much more. What was especially interesting is that each of the speakers stressed in their implementation a different aspect of this powerful platform.

Mike Williams

Mike focused on Sharepoint's ability to pull in and flexibly display in one place information from a wide range of firm information sources, and to show information that took into account the person who had logged in. It also reflected very well an intranet design principle I've become familiar with; an intranet must account for both people who are members of a particular group or team, and want to use it in the course of their daily work, and those who are simply "visiting" the site and want to learn more about that team or group, or perhaps accomplish something quite specific.

The main "home page" he showed had three key tabs---My Links, My Matters, and My Worklist. Each tab would take up about two-thirds of the total width of the page. The matters tab automatically pulled in information from financial, billing, docketing, and document management systems. Other information on the page, such as some of the navigation and available applications, varied depending on the user's practice area and role.

Mike's firm's practice area pages have lots of links to external resources. Each practice area also has locked-down private area. Might have case result information or other information useful for marketing or internal organization.

Science Advisors (!) have their own portal page (I was amused as I set up a basic page for our science advisors just last week). It included information about what they do, experience, FAQs, “Ask the Scientists.” They also have an internal page, some project management.

Technical and Content Management Approach

They’ve assigned content managers to particular pages. They partnered with Handshake to integrate into their core systems, but also wrote some of it themselves. The IP group and insurance litigation groups have benefited more from the Sharepoint portal so far. He has a staff of two developers.

Paul Phillips

Nixon Peabody demonstrated an adoption of Sharepoint's MySite "social networking / personal portal" features that, next to Deloitte D-Street's approach, is perhaps the most involved and effective SP social networking of I've seen or heard of in a professional services firm.

They tried Plumtree portal but migrated to Sharepoint, moving in 2005. They are (mostly) in SP 2003. Settled on SPS ’03 medium farm and WSS 2 sites. New sites now use WSS 3, so they have wiki and blog capability. It sounds like growth of those tools has been fairly slow. New sites are created by KM team, which also is the team that handles staff and lawyer demands for new tools.

They’ve brought in third parties in specific areas. They’ve worked with Handshake, and have adopted Recommind. It is delivered only through SP.

They’ve adopted MySite, and push extensive numbers of web parts based on practice area and role. They also have a webpart gallery and allow simple user modification. They’ve removed some modification abilities. “It’s a combination of what we give them and what they can add to it.” Users click on a "change this site" button, and then have to make only one more click to add a web part to their MySite. They have a “top zone” MySite that the user can’t modify. That one includes billables, collections for partners. The gallery of iGoogle-like parts includes Mealey’s reports, “My Collaboration” sites, “NCAA Tourney Links”, “My docket”, and so forth. User MySite content is recorded in an NP specific data table.

Nixon Peabody has adopted a search strategy that indexes all the DM content (as many as 60 million documents?). Since 2005 they’ve had some growth in sites and upgrades.
They don’t use SP search. Recommind respects network security and DMS ethical walls. “Publication” of document in a KM system boosts its relevancy. Users can rate content on a 1-5 checks. KM documents gets a “Gold Star.” Some partners didn’t think that anybody should be rating documents.

They have a financial dashboard with network and internal security. Their dashboard updates at night, and at intervals throughout current day. A “Management Reports” site links to standard reporting. Users only get links to targeted reports. One set of data supports all outputs.

Dashboards shows last three years’ finances, by month. I was especially impressed by the attractive and easy-to-read billing information charts.

Things they did well:
  • He challenged any requirement for customization.
  • Gladly copied concepts successfully executed elsewhere.

If they did it over

  • Would have said no more often.
  • Might have asked less of some of their vendors. The vendor might have taken some of the requested options as an absolute “requirement,” i.e., the out-of-the box functionality might have worked well enough.
  • What is the adoption rate of personalization of MySite? They maintain metrics on who is adding what?
  • Sam Shipley

    Sam's firm was not as far along in Sharepoint implementation, but had an excellent story about meeting the firm's most important needs (displaying accurate and up-to-the-hour financial information) and doing it well.

    They wanted to replace the old intranet and daily newspaper.

    They didn’t want a KM solution. They have an annual event where they invite vendors. They weren’t making a connection between the firm’s vision and strategy and their vendors.
    The 2005 session led to a call to increase productivity, improve quality of service to clients, and manage growth.

    They focused on productivity and the idea of a digital dashboard. It publishes firm performance indicators, at the firm, practice area, and attorney levels, with a “real time” mentality. Show them “how bad they really are.” If you show attorneys that they are at the bottom of a list, they’ll try to get off of it.

    Sharepoint is really the delivery vehicle for the financial information.

    When Marketing got involved in the design aspects of their intranet, it took some time to educate IT about what Marketing thought was important and educate Marketing about what IT could do.*

    They finally decided to stop worrying about that and focused on financial reporting first.

    They had a simple dashboard showing YTD, goal for year, amount of last year’s billings. They exposed comparative numbers for practice groups. The practice group leaders could drill into attorney records of billable hours and rates.

    Each attorney also could see their targets and actual billables. They built a data warehouse separate from ancient accounting system that had real-time results. Let attorneys affect their ranking in real-time by entering time.

    Administrative departments are starting to have their own pages. Goofy content drives people to the site.

    What they did well.

    • Tied work to management objectives.
    • “Just did it.”
    • Added goofy/entertaining content (take advantage of someone with a good sense of humor)
    • Piloted in one practice group where the practice area leader was really pushing performance.

    What they missed

    • They haven't gotten major announcements moved out of email.
    • Listen to what they want—birthdays! Needed to add it directly to front page. It drives people to the content.


    • MySite has some things that aren’t valuable. They use SP “audiences” to target messages. But nobody in the firm understands it.
    • He is working on security.
    • Wishes firm had a communications plan. Need a standard way to communicate a given type of message. Email is the default.

    Chad Ergun—“Attorney360”

    Although Chad was technically the moderator he couldn't resist a few slides and a few minutes about his firm's sophisticated information display system.

    For the "Attorney360" project White & Case built a “data mart” based on Handshake that is updated every 45 minutes. Billings, time entries, matter profile and description information gets pushed to internal RSS feeds. Chad later told me that they are using a combination of the built-in Sharepoint web part reader and some custom-designed RSS feed readers. They built an individual expertise system that assesses your time entry. The intranet shows “top matters.” Their intranet also shows current (online) status of attorneys on a particular matter.

    The theory here is that by leveraging the login, you can display information that the attorney is likely to need, at or near the time it is needed. A "push" model instead of a "pull" or "go find it" model.

    They did a survey of attorneys and assessed what they do when they aren’t billing. They learned a lot about what is difficult to do and what wastes attorney time.

    *Note revised per comment from Sam.

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