Intranets – Why, and Why Bother?

November 1, 1999

Rupert Kendrick LL.M is a Law Firm Management Consultant. He canbe contacted on 01234 782810, or by e-mail at

Much has been written of the technological sophistication ofIntranets, but do lawyers really appreciate the potentially seismic effects theymight have on the management of the lawyer/client relationship?

What is an Intranet? It might most easily be described as a private computernetwork through which an enterprise’s employees store and communicateinformation concerning the enterprise with one another. It can be applied acrossa worldwide network, which stores information, accessible to all who have accessto that network.

It is a network of computers dedicated for the purpose. By its nature, it iseasy to use, relatively inexpensive to construct and layout, moderatelyinexpensive to maintain and easy to operate as between packages.


Individually, collectively and organisationally, there are great benefits. Ona one-to-one basis, information can be sought and obtained at the click of abutton. As a group, individuals can collectively seek and deposit information onthe network. Organisationally, large files of knowledge can be made accessibleto large numbers of personnel in an enterprise.

An Intranet has a variety of purposes. Four principal uses may be describedas:

  • the ability to manage information – an Intranet enables an organisation to organise the way information is promulgated ie acquired, distributed and accessed
  • the ability of disparate groups and individuals to co-operate or collaborate, so that stored knowledge becomes an easily accessible asset
  • the opportunity for training, because those seeking particular skills can access the material, how, when and where they want and need in a planned and organised way
  • the ability to update material easily and contemporaneously whether for information or tutorial purposes, through the real-time nature of the Intranet.

The creation of an Intranet has a number of benefits for both the individualand the enterprise. The end-user will have access to relevant, specific data,reducing time-wasting searches, and providing the information needed when it isneeded.

Marketing and personnel departments will be able to collect data anddistribute information relevant to specific groups. It will be speedier and moreup to date than conventional methods of data storage.

Management and executives will have at their disposal a vast knowledge baseproviding a cost-effective, updating mechanism, which, in turn, offers acompetitive edge through the availability of information.



A properly constructed Intranet should provide vital information upon whichan enterprise can operate. Examples of this type of information are: corporatenews and policy; job vacancies; staff and social activities; regulations;products and service information; departmental expertise; and discussion groups.

Knowledge sharing

The Intranet will enable information to be shared at a variety of differentlevels. Internal e-mail, can be shared personally, or as between groups. Fileinformation can be exchanged and shared, so vast quantities of knowledge can bedisseminated throughout the enterprise. Special areas can be created so thatrelevant information is easily accessible. A search facility will allowinformation retrieval when and wherever required.

Model change

The consequential changes that arise from the development of an Intranet areno more keenly felt than in the method of working. The empowerment thatknowledge usually offers is distributed among teams, so that the organisation,rather than the individual, is empowered. Employees develop more initiative, yetthe unity of the organisation or department is enhanced and collaborativearrangements now have an opportunity for development. The potential forInternet/Intranet technology to change the working ‘model’ was discussed bythe writer in the October/November (1998) issue (Vol 9, Issue 4, p 15).


While the principal benefits of knowledge-sharing are easily appreciated, thetraditional uncertainties of any new technology surface in the form of security,or lack of it. Networked information is supposed to be controlled andconfidential. Any Intranet strategy must, therefore, include some protectivemeasures. Security issues and some solutions were discussed in a wider contextby the writer in the June/July (1999) issue (Vol 10, Issue 2, at p 14). What arethe principal areas of vulnerability for an Intranet?

Viruses and hackers

These arise either through floppy disks or through software downloaded froman outside source. Virus-scanning software is essential for any enterpriseconsidering the establishment of an Intranet. The other obvious and relatedsources are (either accidentally benign or purposely malicious) hackers.


Disaffected or negligent employees are frequently a real, and overlooked,threat to the efficient operation of an Intranet. Forgotten or exposedpasswords, unsupervised access, all expose the Intranet to the hazards ofinsecurity.

Security Strategy

If security is to be preserved in respect of valuable internal information ina network, it is essential that some thought is given as to how security is tobe achieved and maintained.

In a helpful comment on the strategy to be adopted, David Reynolds,consultant and managing director of Network Information Services Ltd, suggests afour-fold strategy. He advises that to ensure a secure network four elementsmust be present:

  • deterrence
  • protection
  • detection
  • response.

In each of these four areas, he comments, those creating the Intranet musthave in place such software as will offer security in these areas. The firstthree are relatively easy to understand. The fourth implies the need to ensurethat security lapses receive a suitably vigorous response and constantmonitoring to ensure standards are upheld and maintained.

He helpfully suggests a checklist for an Intranet security strategy:

(a) assignment of responsibility for design and management of the system;
(b) identification of the elements to be protected;
(c) determination of risk and solution for possible training;
(d) secure documentation through passwords and authentication;
(e) evaluation of the importance of information against the user;
(f) establishment of procedures for security;
(g) establishment of a monitoring and review programme.

Protection measures

David Reynolds adds that the solution is to adopt methods of securityproportionate to the nature of the Intranet to be protected. So, differentlevels of information will call for commensurate levels of protection fromattack. Three issues for consideration are: prevention of unauthorised access;detection of intruders; and preservation of confidentiality.

A variety of technologies exist to provide security in the followingscenarios:

  • firewalls: will monitor internal and external access to the network
  • authentication software: checks the identity of the sender and recipient and then also that the information has not been interfered with
  • encryption: ensures that only those entitled to access to information have such access, through a series of encryption codes (see the June/July issue at p 14) so that confidentiality and access are protected
  • digital certificates: a unique type of signature that ensures authenticity.

The Intranet Itself

The composition of information on an Intranet will vary, depending upon theservices offered by law firms. Some information will be specific to the nicheareas of the practice. Other information will be generic – for instance, therules and regulations surrounding the professional standards expected within thepractice.

Inevitably, there will be a period of transition when the paper-based natureof the conventional law firm will gradually migrate to the supply of informationonline.

Generic types of information will include: reports; library information;corporate information; legislative changes; health and safety issues; employmentinformation; disciplinary and regulatory issues; and even internal jobvacancies. More specific niche information might include: departmentalinformation; billing figures; new client acquisitions; case reports; managementissues; and client care developments.

Why Bother?

The purpose of an Intranet is to enable an organisation to deploy itscollective knowledge to all staff, so that individually, the staff can benefitthe organisation by providing an improved service to its clients.

The speedier sharing of improved quality information will, for instance,enable a law firm not only to retain but also to develop its financial returnfrom its clients. Its essence is the facilitation of communication andinformation retrieval.

Lawyers’ business is essentially concerned with communication andinformation. Technology that enhances these is surely an essential part of thelawyers’ toolkit. Yet, in law firms in particular, there will be those whochoose to see no benefit in employing technology that offers a change andimprovement in their working methods.

As in any project, whether technology-driven or otherwise, ultimate successdepends upon how far the change has been driven by top management. While topmanagement exists to drive change, it is a definition of the term that suchchange must be managed in such a way that those charged with implementationembrace rather than recoil from it.

Partners will need to educate their staff on the possible advantages. Thesemay be described as: the ease with which information may be published; the timesaved in accessing information and the fact that anyone with information in thepractice should share this and in turn have access to the collective know-how ofthe firm.

This accessibility raises an important cultural issue for lawyers.Conventionally, lawyers are used to gathering and hoarding information, for thebenefit of themselves or their clients. The Intranet culture depends upon acontrary philosophy, the philosophy of information sharing and distribution. Inthe initial stage, law firms intent upon installing such a system will need todevise a way of ensuring participation in the Intranet culture so as to fosterits gradual adoption.

It would be a useful exercise for law firms to consider a variety of factorsin deciding whether to develop an Intranet, alongside or in place of theirconventional storage and retrieval systems – put bluntly, their libraries. Forinstance, how will the law firm benefit from improvement in communications,increased knowledge and information derived from a unique source? Are thereadvantages in having employees with a greater depth of knowledge at a levelwhich is consistent throughout the practice? Might departmental collaboration beenhanced as a result?

Law firms intending to implement Intranet strategies need to establish aclear set of objectives – before embarking upon the project. Does thepractice require an Intranet specifically to improve its knowledge base or itscommunications systems – and if so what are the anticipated benefits? Thepractice might wish to consider whether its clients should have access incertain circumstances. Does the practice foresee how the introduction of anIntranet might change and modernise the working procedures and appreciate thepossible effects? Is there to be a specific individual or department responsiblefor introducing, driving through and maintaining the change? What effect is thecombination of these changes likely to have upon the working culture of the firmand how is this change to be managed?

‘All, but only, information’

Even with a sophisticated Intranet, an enterprise may be capturinginformation that is only partially relevant to its core activities.

Such information, or organisational knowledge, stored on an Intranet may beprovisional, fragmented, muddled or even contradictory. Law firms need to be ina position to assess and access information that is essential to their corebusiness. This is an application of the principle of the ‘all but onlyinformation’

discussed by Professor Richard Susskind in The Future of Law.

Controlled ‘knowledge’ needs to be created from as many different sourcesas possible, then disseminated through the practice. The progressive stages maybe described as creation, capture, storage, availability and use.

An interesting approach to this has been adopted by Autonomy, an informationsoftware company, which has developed a dynamics reasoning engine, which itdescribes as a ‘ highly advanced datamining tool’. In presenting thesoftware at a recent seminar, Autonomy described the key benefits as being thatthe software does not simply perform index or keyword searches in order toretrieve information, but rather takes advantage of the probable significance ofgroups of words and concepts. In this way, it can understand concepts and thecontext in which information arises, as opposed to being confined to keywordsearching.

Through an ability to recognise the importance of word groups and concepts,the software is able to obtain a strong indication of what its user isinterested in. It can suggest information that may be relevant. Through anongoing process of calling into the system items in which the user isinterested, the system gains a better understanding of the user’s needs – inother words, the system learns by experience about the user.

The software is being promoted and demonstrated in a series of seminars bothin the United Kingdom and Europe and has been named Portal in a Box.

Its salient features are that it

  • provides one point of contact to all information resources
  • has the familiar appearance of a Web site
  • promotes information sharing
  • and, remotely accessing information from anywhere via a browser, thereby raises the level of the Intranet.

A portal is created that is easy to navigate, is organised in comprehensivedirectories, offers personalised information services, captures users’profiles and is a one-stop shop for all information needs.

Through one source (the portal), the user at the desktop in a law firm mayhave access, for example, to the standard information of the practice on itsIntranet, the World Wide Web, e-mail, Lotus Notes, Microsoft applications andnewsfeeds.

The benefits are immediately apparent. The categorisation, tagging, hypertextlinking and presentation of information are customised. Content can be selectedand organised into specific categories. Staff are not needed to manage content.

Employees will also benefit in key areas, so improving the performance of theorganisation. Information will be upgraded. The portal features ensure ease ofnavigation. Information is customised to meet users’ needs. The relevantfeatures of the World Wide Web and the enterprise’s Intranet are combined.Relevant topic categories are formed for users, with the result that employeesare updated with information needed for their work. Time wasted by employees insearching for information on the World Wide Web is eliminated.


The development of such software has implications beyond the mere improvementof performance by employees and enterprises.

The personalisation of information content delivered to users’ desktops hasa potentially enormous implication for the way law firms manage the relationshipwith their clients, not to mention the way in which the individual lawyermanages the information needed to carry out the client’s instructions.

Far greater knowledge of the client’s needs may be ascertained and, as aconsequence, the services of the lawyer can be tailored to meet those needs,developing at an individual, departmental or even organisational level.

This trend was foreshadowed to an extent by the writer’s article in theOctober/November (1998) issue (Vol 9, Issue 4, p 15), where it was suggestedthat the Internet had the potential to personalise the lawyer-clientrelationship to a far greater extent than conventional approaches. In fact, theopportunity seems to have developed through a redefinition of the Intranet, as aresult of the creation of this type of software.

The significance is that this new Intranet software offers law firms atremendous marketing opportunity which may change seismically the management ofthe lawyer-client relationship.

Critical Mass Factor

The undeniable conclusion to be drawn is, as always, that ultimately anymethod of improving services to clients is likely not only to benefit the lawfirm but, in the long run, to prove essential to its survival.

Commercial clients are likely to be some way ahead of the majority of lawfirms in embracing technology. They will, in many cases, already be familiarwith the potential of the Intranet as a business tool. Dare law firms allowclients to steal a march on issues of knowledge, communication and information,when these elements are the life-blood of the provision of legal services?