On the other hand, I have written a number of times over the years about the importance of internal directories to law firms, particularly larger firms where lawyers often know little about their fellow partners and colleagues in other offices.
Law firms have invested heavily in their own websites since the early 2000s – they’re now pretty good, as this award-winning example from Winston & Strawn shows – although few have spent much effort on internal directories.
Most firms use their website as their de facto internal directory or they have a fairly basic intranet.
Until recently, few law firms were big enough to justify a product that in effect admits that partners in the same organization no longer all know each other personally.
We now have firms with thousands of lawyers and scores of foreign offices, so it’s easy to see why lawyers know less and less about their fellow partners in other corners of the firm.
In such firms, emails fly around asking whether anyone knows a lawyer with certain expertise.
Partners may not know lawyers that would otherwise have skills that might help one of their clients.
With the growth of these global mega firms, we will see more attention paid to internal directories – products that offer good quality internal information about the firms’ own lawyers, and potentially affiliated firms and referral partners.
As well as law firms, I can also see a benefit for intentional law firm alliances and networks.
The advantage of an in-house product is that firms can share information internally that wouldn’t necessarily be suitable or desirable on an external listing.
The team behind Firm Directory was kind enough to give me a demonstration recently.
Overall, the easiest way to describe the product would be an internal version of LinkedIn.
Firm Directory has the look and feel of LinkedIn – no bad thing – and borrows many of its features, such as lawyer profiles with biographical information, employment history, skills and expertise, bar admissions, matters handled, clients, billing rates, and industry sector expertise.
Although it’s tempting to think that everyone is on LinkedIn these days, many lawyers are not, or at least if they are, they don’t use it much.
Some don’t see the value, but many are nervous about revealing too much in a public place.
A lawyer recently told me that many litigators and arbitration lawyers won’t use LinkedIn because, by being connected to someone, you inadvertently create a conflict situation.
An internal product like Firm Directory neatly addresses some of these concerns by keeping the information in-house, plus you can control the level of visibility and access to more sensitive information in a way that you can’t with LinkedIn.
The other advantage is that law firm staff can help to maintain the directory internally, in the same way that they do with the firm’s website.
In theory, you can do this with LinkedIn, but it’s tricky as the site is designed to be managed by the owner of the profile themselves.
Firm Directory has a taxonomy that enables lawyers to be tagged in a variety of ways, and this means they can be easily found by internal searches.
The site uses a neat “drag and drop” interface, which is easy to use when editing profiles.
Lawyers can also leave endorsements for other lawyers in the firm.
From a technology point of view, there’s all sorts of bells and whistles such as instant messaging, email integration and the ability to synchronize with platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint, Lync, and Active Directory.
Like all technology products, you get out what you put in, so firms would need to ensure that people used it and kept it up to date.
But it could potentially cut down on internal inefficiencies, encourage cross selling, and develop a more cohesive firm culture.
I asked the Neudesic guys how the sales side was going, and they said some firms had signed up and others were interested.
A notable client is the law firm, Reed Smith, and they had this to say:
We make a significant investment in the acquisition of lateral partners so it’s imperative that we ramp up their integration into the firm and showcase their knowledge and experience in the most impactful way possible. We sell our knowledge, knowing as much as possible about our lawyers and serving it up in an intuitive way is paramount. With the Firm Directory, powered by Neudesic Pulse, we have the ability to uncover and promote our lawyers’ capabilities throughout the firm and to clients, maximizing cross-selling efforts and achieving better outcomes across the board.” (Tom Baldwin, Chief Knowledge Officer, Reed Smith)
Some screenshots below, and the product brochure.
Update: following my post yesterday, LawSites ran a piece today on Firm Directory, including details of pricing