This week I had the opportunity to see a demonstration of an AmLaw 100 firm’s client-facing Extranet. Extranets have been much discussed but the evidence suggests little used. One reason I suspect usage has been low is that many Extranets don’t do that much. The one I saw this week, however, was impressive in its design and functionality. 

This firm has done a good job thinking through the business and design issues of Extranets. The firm acknowledges that ideally an Extranet would be hosted by the client and visited by multiple outside counsel. But they rightly point out that the reality is that most law departments don’t have the resources to build and host their own Extranets. So this firm set out to build an Extranet that its clients would find useful – and succeeded.

The Extranet includes numerous features such as share documents, matter management (e.g., docketing), contacts, tasks, and reporting tools. The interface and functionality varies, depending on the matter type. For example, both the navigation links and content are quite different for transaction versus litigation. In some areas of the Extranet, the firm has also included value-added features such as annotated form documents and “best practice” checklists.

This firm has gone beyond merely providing Extranets as we usually think of them. It also reports that its Extranets are, in some instances, instantiated as corporate law department Intranets. That is, employees in some companies use a corporate law department legal Intranet. Some or all of the Intranet is actually hosted and administered by the law firm.

The firm reports that they do monitor usage and use the tracking data to improve the site and to go back to the client if usage is lower than expected to understand why. Based on the URLs I saw, it appears the firm has built the entire system using Cold Fusion.

All in all, I was quite impressed with what I saw. While I have no information about client reaction, if I put myself in clients’ shoes and saw a similar demonstration, I would be impressed.