Stewart McKelvey Gets Smart with KM Portal, Creates Go-To Custom Info Resource for Firm Users

Practice Innovation group meshes lean management, agile development and flexible Handshake Software portal foundation to develop popular SmartNet portal

Click to download the case study

Stewart McKelvey has grown to become one of the 20 largest law firms in Canada with more than 200 lawyers in six locations in Atlantic Canada. The firm invests in its people, technology innovation and its business to ensure the continued delivery of quality service that clients have come to expect.

In October 2015, the firm launched a Practice Innovation Department led by Paul Saunders, a former Stewart McKelvey corporate lawyer turned firm lean management and innovation champion. In this new role, Paul, who has extensive experience in knowledge management, process improvement, project management, automated document assembly, and application development, works closely with firm lawyers and staff and in-house legal teams to identify, plan, develop and implement innovative technologies, systems and processes that increase efficiency, profitability and client value.

Mr. Saunders adds: “Clients are looking to reduce costs and to have more certainty around legal fees. In addition to addressing these challenges, there’s a lot firms can do to streamline everyday communication and information flow with clients.”

Speaking of communication and information flow … the firm’s existing intranet portal was in need of a major upgrade, as it turns out, an ideal project to be spearheaded by the Practice Innovation team. Led by Saunders, the firm undertook an intensive planning and review process to identify the proper portal technology as well as develop processes and best practices to develop and deploy a modern firm portal.

“In the case of SmartNet, our Handshake Software powered, SharePoint-based firm portal, we took a close look at how our professionals and staff are working; how they consume and share information; what type of files, information and resources they need instant access to, and how we can package and present this in order to assist them in better serving firm clients,” adds Saunders.

While considerable strategic planning and ‘cross-departmental’ education and buy-in goes into any portal project of this magnitude, the challenges faced by Stewart McKelvey led to a unique hands-on approach to creating SmartNet, its ‘go-to’ knowledge management-driven intranet portal.

Let’s take a closer look at the key challenges the firm faced with respect to its existing intranet portal:

  • Old technology: Existing portal/intranet was built in old technology (SP 2003): The firm was relying on aging SharePoint 2003 portal technology to solve new communication challenges and was struggling to embrace innovations in content marketing, KM, search, collaboration and the emergence of social networks;
  • Garbage in. Garbage out: The firm portal had become a dumping ground for outdated information, much of which was also ‘siloed’ in other databases. As a result, firm users were apprehensive about making the portal their ‘go-to’ information source, and spending valuable firm resources to locate and verify updated content;
  • UI — consistently inconsistent: Every portal page looked different with no consistency in content and format negatively impacting user adoption and impacting the overall user experience;
  • Frustrating UX: Modern enterprise technology has evolved to squarely focus on UI and UX. Software is only as effective as it is useable so creating a positive user experience is paramount. Previously, users had largely stopped using the firm portal all together since they had to memorize specific ‘click paths’ to find the information they needed, in addition to dealing with an inconsistent portal ‘look and feel’ and old document versions.

Leveraging Lean

Once the portal project was prioritized, Stewart McKelvey quickly established a methodical planning process and execution strategy vital to the intranet re-launch. The firm partnered closely with Handshake Software, the leading provider of Microsoft SharePoint-based products and services for law firms, to translate their business and communication vision into a new and improved SharePoint portal reality. Specifically, Saunders’ team in close coordination with firm IT, KM, Finance and firm leadership, worked collaboratively with the Handshake Software consulting team to plan, prioritize and ultimately deliver SharePoint 2013 as the architectural back-bone of the firm’s newly launched SmartNet intranet portal.

The firm was able to leverage Saunders’ experience with lean management and agile development concepts and principals to iterate and evolve the portal solution based on user feedback and needs.

Lean Six Sigma provides attorneys with a new way of looking at legal and business processes. It helps identify and eliminate obstacles, waste and inefficiencies, and leveraging agile development, enables quick, and targeted business process changes.

Handshake Software proved to be the perfect fit for Stewart McKelvey’s lean, ‘change on the fly’, approach. “Handshake’s portal tools and out-of-the box functionality such as the pre-built design skins gave us a great stating point in developing our portal. Once our users provided feedback and feature preferences, we were able to easily alter the look and feel and customize the portal pages without wasting time or requiring a massive re-coding effort. Now that the SmartNet portal is in place, we are able to quickly solicit user feedback and make tweaks and customizations to further enhance utility and usability,” added Saunders.

In further borrowing from Lean Management techniques, the firm created a ‘virtual’ Kanban board, a work and workflow visualization tool, to track priorities for new portal features, glitches and fixes.
SmartNet … more than a firm intranet

Based on the challenges encountered with the previous intranet portal and user portal needs identified for SmartNet, the firm devised a distinctive portal content strategy. The emphasis has been on three distinct buckets of content based on how firm users categorize and visualize their content. Saunders notes: “Developing specific categories based on what information users need and how they aim to use it and collaborate with it, is a big departure from previous portal versions that  housed a mix of ‘dumped’ content with little rhyme or reason.”

The first focus has been on Matter-specific content. My Matters pages are loved by lawyers because they tie into all line of business applications (e.g., DMS, email, financials) and produce comprehensive results, in one place versus everything being siloed in separate databases. Now, new technology crawls all sources and determines which matters users are using every day and keeps track creating a dynamic list to maximize relevancy. This provides an accurate account of what users are working on daily and gives them an electronic data file all in one place.

The second content focus, ‘My PracticeToolbox’ is focused on knowledge management related resources including precedents, checklists and articles they might want to reference during research. Now, when user find relevant content they can tag it and moving forward, will always be able to quickly find it again since their custom homepage saves these searches. Leading up to creation of this section, the firm led by Paul’s team worked with lawyers and staff to identify a taxonomy in order to organize content that is relevant and familiar to them. In SmartNet, in order to maximize content ‘accuracy’, users can subscribe to specific topics to filter only relevant content.

SmartNet ‘Administrative’ content includes policies, procedures and non- core business information. It also adheres to a taxonomy based on user feedback and preferences. Users can access dedicated administrative pages that have the same look and feel as the other content pages, maximizing content familiarity and overall ‘findability’.

Lastly, SmartNet’s ‘My QuickTools’ feature enables users to hand pick content – searches, news, financial metrics and client billing details, and research links they frequently access and design their own reference tool box which they can access any time.

Tangible portal user benefits

Stewart McKelvey only introduced the new SmartNet intranet portal in mid-January 2016 but user response has already been overwhelming. User adoption is up, content usage and sharing have increased and overall access to relevant, client-focused information is unprecedented. Here’s a highlight reel of new features and benefits:

  • User-centric portal: Each user can customize the content that is displayed within the SmartNet portal, maximizing overall relevancy and portal usability. Tight integration with other databases and applications (i.e., document management, email management and financials), enables the creation of dynamic file lists and matter content within a single click;
  • Organized content: Includes three distinct buckets of My SmartNet content (Matters, KM and Admin) with custom taxonomies and features. Also includes centralized repository for KM related content to instantly find precedents, checklists, process maps and other practice content;
  • Consistent branding: By using Handshake Software’s pre-configured page ‘skins’, the firm was able to create a consistent user experience across department pages. Specifically, the use of dynamic pages that push out filtered content to standard Handshake skins, rather than build individually branded pages, provides a more consistent look and feel;
  • Easy access to LOB applications from one central portal location has led to increased database access and information use. SmartNet has increasingly taken on the role of an integrated practice management system tailored to users’ needs versus a ‘standard’ intranet portal. Now, one enterprise search will yield relevant results from all integrated databases and third party data sources;
  • Increased insights and accountability: By adding customizable ‘My Quick Tools’ information to the portal homepage, users know how instant insights into billing and collection metrics, cash flow details as well as client financials;
  • Usage metrics: User response to the new SmartNet portal has been overwhelming. User adoption has doubled since the launch date (with 360 active users every day), content usage and sharing have increased and overall access to relevant, client-focused information is unprecedented;
  • Using a new approach to user engagement, and a comprehensive training and promotion program, Stewart McKelvey has successfully created a broadly utilized, an all-in-one KM, practice management, and intranet platform that the entire firm can use and enhance;
  • UI/UX: As part of its quest to greatly improve the portal user experience, the firm went through great lengths to grant access to relevant user-based information within one click.

Rather than develop a solution that was imposed on the firm’s lawyers and staff, it directly engaged them in the creation of a vision for what the SmartNet portal could be and what it could mean for the firm’s clients. SmartNet has grown far beyond a simple intranet portal, and is now a one-stop shop for all firm content, resources, databases, applications, and tools, each uniquely customized to the user. Integrated into the structure of SmartNet are process maps, automated document assembly templates and other tools developed in partnership between the firm’s Practice Innovation Department and its lawyers and staff.

In conclusion, Stewart McKelvey’s SmartNet Portal has revolutionized the way firm users access, consume and leverage content to increase work productivity and better serve their clients.  By taking a fresh, pragmatic, lean management influenced approach to portal design, the firm developed a comprehensive KM solution that presents content based on how users need it and look for it. Initial user adoption statistics and positive firm feedback, encourage future enhancements and portal innovation.

Stewart McKelvey ‘Tale of the Tape’ [special text box within final case study lay out]

FIRM SIZE: Top 20 Canadian firm; 200+ attorneys, 500+ users in six locations across Atlantic Canada.

PORTAL CHALLENGE: Re-energize and regain trust of the firm user base when it comes to consistently using the firm portal and relying on the intranet as a one-stop, go-to information resource.  The project included identifying deficiencies in the old portal, creating a vision, securing buy-in, identifying software and external support, development, training, implementation and enhancements.

SMARTNET PORTAL TECHNOLOGY: Microsoft SharePoint 2013; Handshake Software’s (HS) Toolkit including HS Relationship Framework; HS Content Designer, and HS Web Parts.

PORTAL BENEFITS: User response to the new SmartNet portal has been overwhelming. User adoption is up, content usage and sharing have increased and overall access to relevant, client-focused information is unprecedented. Stewart McKelvey has successfully created a KM solution the entire firm can use and enhance. SmartNet, a highly customizable, user-centric intranet portal, provides Stewart McKelvey’s users with instant access to everything they need to do their jobs regardless of the application or database that the content resides in.

Download the case study here.


Back to Resources