Leigh Day & Co is a 19-partner firm in London that specialises in clinical negligence, personal injury and human rights law. The firm had previously used a simple intranet that ran on Microsoft FrontPage, maintained by the librarian and IT manager. This had a few pages relating to library services and a gallery of photos but not much more.
There had been talk of introducing a more sophisticated intranet for some time before the project started. The specification that we put together was drafted by the partner who had volunteered to manage the project, together with the librarian and website editor (me) who had some experience of using intranets in other law firms.
The desire to develop the intranet was driven by the desire to move away from a paper copy of the office manual, a Word document that ran to several hundred pages and covered every aspect of the firm’s professional life. Other features that were considered desirable were:
- an office directory with a photo of each member of staff (the firm has expanded rapidly so it would be useful to have an image to attach to a new face, especially for new joiners) and one that was searchable by name and department;
- a notice-board (where staff could advertise such things as items for sale and holiday lets) with the additional attraction that “all staff” emails might be reduced;
- an area for library and information services – to be used for library bulletins, lists of resources, links to the firm’s online catalogue, password help and useful links;
- areas for support functions such as Marketing and IT to post useful material.
The home page was seen as very important, with a “welcome/farewell to staff” section as well as a “what’s new” list.
High-end design was not seen as vital in the commissioning process but a reasonable price was. Having successfully used a content management system (CMS) to run our website, we wished to use a similar approach with the intranet.
At the time we did not include SharePoint in our list of possibilities, largely because no-one in the firm had experience of using it. We compared the cost of hosting by an external provider against the cost of a new server that would be needed for the intranet and eventually decided that the successful firm who won the contract would do the hosting, if the price was acceptable. The cost of transferring the office manual plus any existing intranet content, together with training should be included in the quotation. We were not looking for a system that interacted with our IT systems but pointed people towards the appropriate piece of software.
We asked four agencies to pitch for the work. Each submitted a quote and gave a presentation. We decided to use Sygnet Interactive for a number of reasons. They had done work for barristers’ chambers with whom we were familiar and gave excellent references; their quote was reasonable (in fact the project came in under budget and we have been able to add a couple more features since the launch and still remain on budget); and the pitch they gave was responsive to our needs.
The launch of the new system
The intranet was launched in October 2007 and has been a success, although a fairly low-key one to start with. The real value of the intranet has become apparent as more people use the system and come up with ideas for improvements.
At the end of this article are screenshots giving examples of our intranet and the sort of topics it encompasses.
The new system has been easy to use. Training on using the CMS was provided for the librarian and marketing team with the idea that future training could be done internally. In reality only one more department – HR – provide material for the intranet when they add job advertisements to the recruitment section. The content of the office manual was turned into web pages and the other features that we requested were built into the system. Very little input was needed from our own IT department other than the initial set-up.
- Staff input/buy-in. Overcoming some staff cynicism about a central intranet has largely been overcome as people find it useful, even if they only use a small part of the intranet such as the staff directory.
- There have been few IT issues. We decided to make the intranet the home page for everyone when they click on internet explorer.
- People forget passwords despite an option to save them. We have chosen a common password for the majority of users in the hope that most people will remember this.
- Secretaries don’t always use the intranet as the first option to find documents that were kept as annexes to the old office manual. Old habits die hard.
- Despite publishing library bulletins on intranet I am also sending these around by email as people are still reluctant to click through. However excellent searching on the system means that an archive of searchable bulletins has built up.
- Feedback from secretaries has led to development of a “useful documents” page that is well-used.
- More feedback has led to the development of a “check my CPD points” page.
- Material is being added to the site that staff were not previously aware of.
- Uploading of picture and seminar documents is easy and allows pages to be brightened up and made more interesting.
- Updating of office procedures is easy and quick.
- The staff directory and notice-board have proved popular, the notice-board function is easy to use (this is one part of the intranet that everyone is adding to regularly).
- Sygnet Interactive have proved attentive and they offered a good price for the project and for hosting the intranet
- The intranet has been good for social side of firm, eg, publishing pictures of new babies and dates for Christmas parties.
- The calendar and bulletin functions are excellent. Most useful is the education and training calendar that lists all seminars and courses and then has documentation added after the session. The firm calendar with information about closing dates of the office and functions is also valuable.
- A “ticker tape” feature running across the home page allows constant reminders about current events or reports.
Partner buy-in and monitoring
Partner backing has been essential to the success of the project. I became heavily involved with the project after giving a presentation to a full partners meeting about the benefits of introducing an intranet (quoting other firm’s use, time-saving benefits, ease of use, benefit to staff etc) before the partners agreed in principle and allocated a sum above which we couldn’t spend. The arrival of a marketing manager after the project was underway added to the number of people who would be able to input material on a regular basis.
It is also essential to have one or two people with responsibility for monitoring most of the site, otherwise no-one bothers. Here at least the idea that one or two people in each department would happily get involved with entering items was a non-starter. I have trained various people to use the system that is easy to use, but in the end only two or three of us actually add material.
One person needs to have the responsibility of monitoring the firm’s email for possible items of interest for the intranet, taking photos and adding new members of staff to the directory and making sure the home page is up to date. By using one editor consistency of style is ensured.
Helen Dewar is a freelance law librarian and website editor at Leigh Day & Co.
Sygnet Interactive develops website and intranet solutions and has a number of law firms and barristers’ chambers as clients.