How to make your intranet fun

Internal sites are often neglected but can be a key to building connections,

Tom Corfman was a trial lawyer for six years before becoming a journalist. He’s a senior consultant with RCG.

The intranet for a big law firm should be fun.

Maybe a fun intranet sounds crazy. These are hard-driving places where associates work long hours, partners are obsessed with compensation, and everybody takes it out on the support staff. At least that’s the stereotype.

Yet the intranet should be the vibrant center of life at a firm, a place where lawyers and staff want to go. If that sounds unrealistic, it’s not so far-fetched when you consider some of the grand claims that law firm leaders make about their working environments. Often the day-to-day experience falls far short of the promises.

“Maybe firm ‘culture’ isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be,” quipped Joe Patrice, senior editor at Above the Law.

These are high-pressure jobs, often with large sums of money and entire companies at stake. Meanwhile, clients demand successful results at the same time they’re tightening the purse strings. Adding to the tension is the deep divide over working from home, with many law firm leaders demanding that lawyers come back to the office.

Yet the legal profession offers unique moments of satisfaction, from the intellectual reward of solving thorny problems and the high of winning in the courtroom, to the development of lasting ties with clients.

Valuable assets

Our thoughts on the goals of a law firm intranet apply to many other employers, but especially professional service firms.

A law firm’s most important assets are its people. Building a culture takes persistent effort through many internal communication channels, but especially the intranet.

Both lawyers and staff should start every day on the intranet to learn about the accomplishments of their colleagues, get news about the firm and obtain the knowledge they need to do their jobs better than the day before.

The intranet content should be more than sharing company news and information. It should aim to motivate and engage your partners, associates and professional staff.

That requires a shift in thinking for many internal communicators. Instead of focusing on what you think lawyers and staff should know, aim for what they want to learn about. The content must win the attention of audiences who are bombarded with information from all directions, inside and outside the firm.

You must earn their respect, no different than any news outlet. Clear, concise writing will help. So will better reporting. Dig for stories about people that will touch the emotions.

Winning over associates and staff is crucial because they have a better grasp on a firm’s culture than practice leaders and the partners’ executive committee.

By design

To build an audience among partners and employees demands news judgment and editorial guidelines, like news outlets. It also requires the tools to measure the impact of your stories, also just like newspapers.

A design that easily accommodates photos and short videos will also build the site’s audience. It’s a social media world, especially for lawyers who zealously search Westlaw like they’re playing Fortnite.

Will a bustling intranet lure lawyers back to the office? See what you’re missing? Probably not. But it will help better connect employees working from home to the life of the firm.

A well-organized intranet also should make lawyers more efficient, putting at their fingertips the information needed to provide clients with sound advice quickly. People across the firm should be encouraged to suggest content, which in turn builds the audience.

Accommodating broad participation requires intranet governance procedures that permit oversight without cumbersome approvals that turn off people. Roles and responsibilities should be spelled out.

Making introductions

For new hires, the intranet is an important introduction to the firm. This is a key consideration for firms that strengthen their ranks of associates every year.

Partners joining from other firms are proficient in their specialties, but they are accustomed to their old firm’s culture. Focused on work, they need to feel part of a larger team.

For firms with offices spread across the country or the globe, the intranet is a crucial way to build ties among lawyers who don’t regularly communicate.

The intranet should build ties not just among your lawyers, but between lawyers and staff, helping break down barriers that sometimes hinder law firms. When the staff shares the commitment to provide high-quality legal services to clients, lawyers’ productivity is lifted.

There’s one more obstacle law firms must overcome to construct an entertaining and informative intranet: The source — and quality — of some of the content.

As Will Rogers wrote, “The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer.”

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