Revitalizing a Law Firm Intranet
Law firms, like other professional services, are constantly looking to improve our knowledge-management strategies, i.e., to share and reuse valuable work product and leverage institutional knowledge. When properly executed, these programs translate into efficiency, higher quality work, happier clients, and more engaged employees.
The Knowledge team took an incredibly complex backend product—one that searches a content-management system, matter-profiling system, client database, HR database and lawyer bios—and made the experience feel simple
White & Case, a global law firm with 41 offices in 29 countries, set out to do exactly this in 2014 when it decided to invest in its intranet as a key knowledge tool for the firm. It took more than two years of research, design and development but the Knowledge team produced an award-winning product that supports 5,000 lawyers and staff and gives White & Case a platform to continue innovating.
There were several factors critical to success.
Homepage of the new White & Case intranet
When taking on a high-risk project, it helps to have a reputation as an innovative department. The Knowledge Department was formed in 2008 to help collect, organize and connect people to the firm’s collective knowledge. By the time the intranet project came about, Knowledge had pioneered expanding a successful professional-support-lawyer function and instituted an enterprise search tool for the firm. Through the success of these programs, the department had built strong relationships with lawyer allies and become known for driving change.
The old intranet was known for being inflexible and difficult to navigate, which created big challenges but also opportunities. The project was not an intranet upgrade but a complete revitalization. Since this was a priority project, Chairman Hugh Verrier created a partner-led Steering Committee at the outset. This team of 10 partners and business leaders helped define a clear mandate: the new Connect had to win its audience back. It had to be trustworthy, reliable and intuitive—built around the user’s needs.
Early on, the Knowledge team realized the project also needed a broad group of colleagues to serve as a sounding board and test group for new ideas. The 400-person Sounding Community, a demographically representative group of White & Case colleagues, was established. At its inception, this community represented 10 percent of the firm and throughout the project answered surveys, gave feedback, and tested the product prior to launch. The project team made a point of following up after an outreach to let the full group know the results, which made for a more powerful engagement.
The Sounding Community used interactive software to conduct usability tests like this.
By the time the new intranet launched, the Knowledge team had ready ambassadors in most local offices. Each member of the Sounding Community was given a branded mug, to visibly note that they were part of the intranet team. Their involvement made a global project resonate on a local level.
None of the change-management processes would have made a difference if the new intranet did not deliver. With the strong partnership of the Steering Committee, Sounding Community and Knowledge team, the firm were able to produce a new intranet that was fast, easy to navigate, integrated with key firm systems, and mobile-friendly. It delivered on the Steering Committee’s vision. Shortly after launch, a survey of end users found a 97 percent satisfaction rate, as opposed to 53 percent with the old system.
One of the best innovations from the new intranet was an improved search experience.
The Knowledge team took an incredibly complex backend product—one that searches a content-management system, matter-profiling system, client database, HR database and lawyer bios—and made the experience feel simple.
Whereas the enterprise search had been siloed from the old intranet—and built largely for advanced searchers—on the new intranet the Knowledge team simplified the point of entry into a single search bar for both intranet and enterprise search and kept users within the frame of the intranet when viewing results.
In addition, the team knew from interviews that many users preferred to search for intranet content rather than browse for it. In order to accommodate this, the search bar was built to serve as a navigation tool; after three keystrokes, it fills in the names of colleagues, sites and global tools as recommended results.
Search bar showing predictive typing, and recommended results for sites and people.
White & Case was able to successfully bring the firm back to a new intranet, and begin using it as a valuable knowledge-management tool, by prioritizing the project at the highest levels and having a plan for broader engagement across the global platform. Now the challenge is to keep growing the product to help move the firm into a truly digital workspace.