Monday, February 1, 2010

"Sharepoint Development Best Practices” at LegalTech

These are my notes from my first session at LegalTech in New York, a session on the Advanced IT Track. It is a major experiment in terms of connectivity for meI hope this looks all right as it is being moved around between three devices to get posted.

Overall the session was quite informative and addressed some innovative ways of using SharePoint as a platform for internal and external content sharing and development.


  • Guy Wiggins, Director of Practice Management (and KM expert) at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
  • Bob Beach, HubbardLaw
  • Steve Fletcher, CIO, Parker Poe

The session description:

"Industry leaders discuss how their firms are leveraging SharePoint technology to serve clients and bring value to the firm."

"Panelists share lessons learned and suggestions for best practices."

The introduction noted both general the hash tag #ltny and a session-specific one #ait1

Sharepoint for Business Development at Parker Poe

Steve Fletcher said that Sharepoint is not just an intranet for HR forms or for office pages. It can be used for client service and business development. Sharepoint is used to generate targeted news and events.

Parker Poe is a 225-attorney firm with offices in the South. They compete with much larger firms.

The Parker Poe intranet "Parkway" is a significant business development tool. Their attorneys show it to clients.

Parkway is used for Client Service teams, for instance, for targeted clients, that have news and information about that target.

They do resort development work in the Caribbean. From the main practice screen for the Resort and & Hospitality page you can browse to different regions ("Caribbean") and then islands/countries (e.g.,"Anguilla"). The site pulls in weather and local news through RSS feeds. There are separate sections for resorts, golf courses, articles, legislation, local contacts, development resources, local contacts (from Interaction). Organizes firm information around "Location." They use it as a client development tool and show it to clients to identify how they work. The sites have won the firm business.

The resort sites are run by one technically savvy person located in the Resort & Hospitality area. It was developed by a team of five people including individuals from Research & Library Services, IT, Business Development, and a Practice area rep.

This firm also has dynamically created "Client Sites."

"Client Sites" provide links to unpaid invoices, invoice history, and relationships from Interaction. You can look at individual matters, documents created for the client. A News tab goes to an RSS based on the top 3-5 articles using client name as a search. He plans to bring in West Monitor information in another tab. West Monitor shows client company information identifying what type of legal work that client has, which law firms they are using, litigation/judges, and a lot more.

They also publish their own news through Business Development. One of the keys to success has been a joint venture of Business Development, Marketing, and IT. BD is responsible for delivering news and vets / targets the news. Can limit news to particular groups of attorneys (e.g., partners). They use the vendor"ShiftCentral" to serve as a source of edited news about practice areas or teams. It comes in as an RSS feed, delivered to a particular practice area.

People will use a portal if the information there is timely and creative and useful.

Steve Fletcher has a business development background and it showed in the skill with which his firm has provided BD-appropriate information to his firm. "Parkway works as a business development tool because Business Development helped develop it."

AMS Legal, a big vendor in the space, is Parker Poe's choice for extranets.

Parke Poe uses XMLaw webparts to display iManage folders.

They are using Yahoo weather and a Caribbean news site's RSS feeds. There is no central repository or control over the feeds and they sometimes break. ShiftCentral providing targeted news is some of the most valuable.

Guy Wiggins on Provisioning Made Easy

Provisioning refers to the process of supplying and maintaining passwords. Make it as easy for the end user as possible. Letting paralegals and site administrators add users without IT is a basic requirement. You need to have separate Active Directory structures.

His firm decided to use "Epok for SharePoint." Site administrators can invite people to the site. They then get a page providing provisioning training and letting them create their own passwords. It's a two-step verification, first of the email address, then another email has the link to get them in.

Epok has password reset ability. Microsoft IAG Gateway provides good access to Microsoft.

A best practice is to require legal terms of use that contain disclaimers and limit liability. Epok has an audit trail for acceptance of terms. Sites can expire automatically.

A big consideration in designing the extranet is site collections. The best practice is to have a Site Collection for each extranet. Automatic site provisioning is possible but only necessary if there are hundreds of sites.

If you'll have a lot of documents, data, you should create a dedicated SQL database to that site. No SQL database should be over 100 gigs.

Do you need detailed reporting on visitors and activities? The best practice is to be aware of auditing processes and turn it on if needed. What you can audit is limited in WSS; there are good examples of code if you have a good programmer who knows Sharepoint.

Sharing information from internal to external

Guy claims (without strong certainty in his voice) that XMLaw is the only vendor known to have synced up a legal intranet and an extranet. Extranets should reflect the client's look and feel. Another "best practice" is to set up alerts on key lists so that the client knows when new content is being added (this is the aspect of Sharepoint most like a wiki or other Web 2.0 platform).

Where you can, create a custom solution that solves a particular client problem. Even legal departments in big publicly traded companies may lack IT resources to do such things themselves. A good extranet site can lead to more work for your firm.

Resources include Codeplex External Collaboration Toolkit; XMLaw/Hubbard One Oneview Extranet; and EPOK Edition for SharePoint. Guy does not recommend that small firms undertake this, or that anyone undertake it lightly. It's best if you can leverage existing SharePoint skills and knowledge.

Bob Beach

Bob is often surprised at how little thought goes into providing meaningful content through the portal.

Bob has a six-point bulleted list titled "5 Rules for Great Content." (He made fun of himself for this so I don't have to). Great content is:

Fresh and Relevant

Vetted (manually or through workflow)

Categorized (by practice, department, office)

Targeted (by user, internal or external)

Prioritized / highlighted (by importance, timeliness)

Readily Available (no manual effort)

An extranet is a real opportunity to interact with your firm. Having a place to grab a document is not achieving the "enhance client relations" goal. Vetted content is much more effective. News stories should provide distinct value for that user. You have to deal with information overload. Personalization helps address that. iGoogle or myYahoo are really good for users. Attorneys would rather have someone else think about what information they need. Must be able to tag or attach metadata to the content.

Capturing blogs, wikis, discussion threads is happening. Categorizing and tagging it will help make it great. (I agree but in SharePoint 2007 there is no effective way to have cross-site or even cross-list tagging. You certainly can't look at who made what tags or use the categories on any but the site you are on).

Content Management in MOSS

Site columns provide consistent possible source of categorization, tagging, and metadata.
Content Types lets you define "classes" of communications with common attributes and policies. Can define the metadata and workflow/retention policies. He considers these an important part of configuring a robust content management capability.

User Profile data can drive targeting and what news shows on a portal page.
Presentation can be as important as the data itself. Browsing for content is still really important for people.

Sharepoint 2010 will have some improved content management capabilities. Metadata and taxonomies can be defined for the whole enterprise. You can navigate through categories. There will be better blogs and wikis for capturing information. Social feedback will allow rating of documents, discussions, posts, and so forth.

User profiles are more scalable, as are lists and libraries.

The panel feels that Extranet & Intranet usage analysis is a significant weakness of SharePoint.