law firm intranets“Be Social or Be Irrelevant!”

That phrase was coined by Vala Afshar, Chief Customer Officer and CMO of Enterasys Networks, when he wrote a blog post for The Huffington Post about the importance of hiring employees that use social media to build their personal brand.

The very same thing could be said about the traditional law firm intranet. Designed to serve as an information hub, most law firm intranets have become obsolete, serving as repositories of stale and low value content such as event listings, announcements, files, forms, presentations, and other general information. But the reality is that busy lawyers don’t have the time to read it. It’s not part of the daily routine or work flow. The content ends up being rarely updated and even more rarely used.

These traditional intranets have become irrelevant because the technology they are built is outdated. As a result of the ubiquity of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we have all developed an entirely new set of habits about how we locate, read and share valuable content. With the click of a button, we can pass along anything we find interesting or useful to our entire network. But this is not possible with information posted to a traditional law firm intranet where the creation and distribution of content is primarily controlled by the firms’ internal communication department. There is little to no sharing capability nor is it possible to engage in online conversations around content of particular interest.

In the corporate arena, intranets are being quickly phased out and replaced with enterprise social networks (ESN’s). These ESN’s provide a broad range of advantages over traditional intranets. They basically function as private social networks that tie together all the employees of a company. Content posted to an ESN can be easily found and shared with colleagues, both inside and outside the firm. But more than that, the ESN provides a platform to build a truly connected enterprise, with functionality that far surpasses what is possible in a traditional intranet environment.

We have written in the past about how ESN’s provide enormous potential value to law firms. In addition to sharing functionality, the ESN enables users to set up work groups on the fly, create activity streams tied to a person or group, tag and follow content or people in order to receive updates, and locate experts within the firm. With an ESN, you can create conversations around a particular piece of content, so lawyers have the ability to add context and value to their work product, or “work out loud” with colleagues and clients, wherever they happen to be located.

But perhaps the biggest difference between a traditional intranet and an ESN is not found in any single feature or functionality but rather resides in the overall design or information architecture. While intranets were designed for top to bottom or one way communication, enterprise social networks are designed to foster two way conversations and sharing amongst all members of the firm. Instead of a centralized communications team using the intranet to dispense information, the ESN thrives by encouraging employees to post and respond and share with one another.

Law firms need to consider the value propositions of enterprise social networks and realize that many of their clients are replacing their corporate intranets for newer and better technology. The law firm intranet has become irrelevant. Law firms have to consider replacing the intranet with social technologies or face the risk of becoming irrelevant themselves.

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