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When lawyers and other employees at Stevens & Lee arrive at work every morning at any of the 10 offices the firm has in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, they can turn on their computers and, as so many other Americans do during the course of a day, click on the Internet browser icon. The result, however, is a little different. The home page at the firm is not nytimes.com or some other Web site. Rather, it is an intranet page, a customized site only for the firm’s employees. According to Rose Lowther, a lawyer and director of information sharing at the firm, when the staff enter the firm’s intranet, they are able to locate items such as news about clients; frequently used Web sites; forms regularly relied on by various practice areas; descriptions of upcoming events; firmwide telephone contact lists; and, for partners only, the firm’s most-recent confidential financial information. MANAGING INFORMATION The explosive growth of the Internet has allowed attorneys to access an enormous amount of data; an intranet is a way of efficiently and effectively managing that information. An intranet, in other words, is different from the Internet in that an intranet is tailored to provide the information most beneficial and most appropriate to a firm’s individual lawyers and other staff members. An intranet “is an internal repository of a variety of information contained within a firm, including client-related information and news links,” says Gary Osborne, director of information technology at Calfee, Halter & Griswold of Cleveland. It is, he says, “the place where our users can go to find information.” The breadth of knowledge that can be placed on an intranet is staggering. It may encompass the whole of the intellectual property generated by the law firm as well as selected information from the Internet. For example, the Calfee Halter intranet, called “CalfeeNet,” has three separate sections. There is a general information section containing access to airline and travel information; an administrative section that allows staff to reach the accounting, records and human resources departments; and a third section where each of the firm’s major practice areas has an individual page with its own important news. There is even a practice area calendar (noting, for example, the date, location and speakers at upcoming departmental luncheons), and a collection of links to a forms index, as well as relevant Internet links to the New York Stock Exchange, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a customized Lexis research link. CalfeeNet may be used to check the weather, read the newspaper, launch an e-mail, learn if the next day is “business casual,” schedule conference rooms, order coffee for a meeting and have a data projector delivered. A secretary can look up a client billing number, find the open matters and use it to submit a lawyer’s billing information to the billing department. Anyone at the firm can electronically complete, submit and print out a medical claim or dependent care form. DESIGNING AN INTRANET Each law firm will have a unique intranet because it reflects the firm’s practice and people. Indeed, a firm’s intranet should be designed with its particular needs and capabilities in mind. Travis Yates, director of Web development services at the Legal Technology Institute of the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, says that a small firm can have an effective intranet site, although it might be more “static” than “database driven.” Moreover, he added, a firm that has a small information technology department “should not have a system that would need 10 people to maintain it.” When designing an intranet, firms should involve more than just their IT professionals. Lowther said it took her firm nine months to come up with the concept behind its intranet, with five people from the firm on the team that created it. A key player on any firm’s intranet team should be the firm’s librarian. According to Jeff Cohan, the library director of Newark, N.J.’s Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey, there are three primary reasons to involve librarians in the creation and maintenance of a firm’s intranet. First, he points out that law librarians are primarily charged with the responsibility of organizing information in law firms. “They are trained in library science and have a special knowledge of the field of law, including external sources such as Westlaw, Lexis and legal newspapers, and internal sources such as databases on clients and attorney work product,” he says. Librarians are able to “organize this information efficiently,” Cohan adds. They are trained to examine the costs associated with different resources and to suggest from a cost perspective whether there should be “one link or two different links” to the same general resource on the firm’s intranet. Perhaps most important, Cohan emphasized that librarians can evaluate the “reliability” of information. “Some information on the Internet is not as good as other information,” he observes. “An advantage of a firm’s intranet is that the librarian is able to determine if the information to which it is linked is reliable.” INCREASING USAGE Even if a firm has devoted all appropriate resources to the creation of its intranet, it is unlikely that 100 percent of the lawyers and staff will use it. Still, to maximize its benefits and reduce other costs, it is important to try to have as many people in a firm as possible use its intranet. Osborne says that one important way to reach that goal is to “provide value, not just stuff,” on an intranet. If a lawyer knows he or she is “one click away from a travel expense form,” he says, then the lawyer is likely to go to the intranet. He also suggests a “tip of the day” on the intranet, such as “how to insert clip art into a PowerPoint presentation.” Anne Balduzzi, a legal and technology marketing consultant in the Washington, D.C., area and a former marketing director at two Baltimore law firms, proposes a number of other steps firms can take to encourage intranet use. First, the design of the firm’s home page must be “easily digestible and not too complex,” and the information on the site must be current, she says. An intranet can have “contests and riddles” as a means of attracting visitors, Balduzzi adds. She also recommends that an intranet provide information not available anywhere else, such as recommending local restaurants for meetings and reminders of firm events. Lowther uses the same technique. “We used to send out global e-mail to the firm,” she says, but now the firm relies on the intranet to get the content of those messages across. If the firm has news about its 401(k) plan, or someone has a beach house for rent, for example, the information is posted on the intranet. But one of the key ways to improve intranet usage is training. Before Stevens & Lee launched its intranet, Lowther went to every office and trained everyone in the firm. She also spoke for an hour at a firm retreat. She meets with all new attorneys to go over the intranet in detail and provides refresher courses for the entire firm. THE FUTURE So what does the future hold for intranets? A difficult question, but the possibilities seem almost unlimited. Balduzzi says that despite their recent growth, law firm intranets are underused today. Imagine having training — from marketing to litigation — “available 24/7 with streaming video” on an intranet, she says. E-learning might be next; it could be in depth, with testing (such as typing tests) offered, she adds. “Some companies are wirelessly connecting to their intranets,” Balduzzi notes, enabling them “to have access to documents and research reports from within a conference room.” That can streamline meetings and improve efficiency. An intranet may not be a communications panacea, but a “well-designed and utilized intranet enables firms to have better informed and trained attorneys and staff,” and can benefit a firm’s internal communications and work flow, Balduzzi concludes. The author, a lawyer, is president of Meyerowitz Communications Inc., a law firm marketing communications consulting company in Northport, N.Y.

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