What Functionality and Content Should I Add to My Intranet: Part 9: Research Pages/Portals

This is Part 9 of the “What Functionality and Content Should I Add to My Intranet” series.  To view previous parts of the series, click on Series link listed under pages on the right or use the link in the first sentence.

While we will still have print resources (books, etc.) around for some time, the fact is that, more and more, lawyers are doing the majority of their research online.  It’s all free on the web, right?  Wrong.  To create this powerful library, requires more than just listing some links to free resources.

 As the use of electronic resources has grown, so has the desire and need  to organize them by librarians or information specialists in law firms.   In fact, in many firms, the library’s research pages were the first intranet pages developed at the firm.   You may be familiar with the various levels of these sites/pages. 

Level One:  A page with a list of free resources and the electronic resources/online services the firm subscribes to organized by practice group.  The list generally noted the free vs fee based resources and often included brief descriptions of what the resource could do.  It may be a collapsible list or one that was distributed across pages.  This type of list was useful at the beginning of using electronic resources but quickly lost its value.  The time it took to keep the lists updated, especially if the same resources was listed within more than one group page,  made it prohibitive to maintain.  Outdated sources/links meant the researchers had to find their own way to the resources.

Level Two: At some point, it became obvious to most that trying to manage the free resources was endless.  While the library staff continued to keep lists of these resources, most of the work was dedicated to creating a page that focused on the fee-based services with the most valuable free resources being used.  This focus helped to define the functionality of the pages and serve as a starting point.  The pages also had access to an “Ask a Librarian” form for submitting requests along with the ability to search the library’s online catalog of books, journals, etc.  It was a step forward but was generally maintained using static HTML and was difficult to keep current.

Level Two.Five:  An intermediary step and one that needed to be done for step three, content was being delivered to the desktop dynamically from an in-house database at many firms.  This provides a one to many approach where a resource may be in the database one time but pointers to the practice groups help define which of the research pages for the practice groups have the resource included.  This definitely made update easier.

Level Three:  Fast Forward to today where you’ll find some firms starting to provide personalized access to electronic resources and online services via a portal.  This can be done by identifying each user by who they are with their network userids.  Depending on the information stored in active directory or some other database used for access to the research portal, they could also be identified by title, group, area, dept, office, etc.   Whatever works to provide that personalized access.    This is the future of providing access to information.  Once you have the system in place, if designed well, it should be easy to maintain. 

SharePoint could be used for this by creating a list or Access database that would have the resources along with the permissions based on  the SharePoint user accessing the portal.  Ideally, the integration of portal to content should be done using the firm’s library system.  If that system is supported by a SQL database, SharePoint could be used. 

Many times, libraries will start out using a separate content manager to implement this type of portal.  What they may not realize at the time is the amount of support that will be needed to maintain both the library system and that separate database.  In the long run, it makes sense to do the work to integrate with the system that you will be using to manage the resources including subscription payments and contract management.

I won’t go into any more detail but have some wire frames that demonstrate both the Level Two and Level Three portals/pages.

 Level Two Portal – Click on image to enlarge it for viewing.

 Level Three Portal – Click on image to enlarge it for viewing.

These wire frames were created using a nifty tool, Balsamiq Mockups.  An inexpensive Adobe Air application, it lets you drag and drop elements that make up a website.  You can use it for creating  wire frames for mobile apps as well.

As a director of information resources at a law firm, I led a team to develop a Level three portal back in 2002 that won the SLA Innovations in Technology award in 2003.  At the time, it didn’t seem what we were doing was out of the ordinary but I’ve since learned it was.  What shocks me today is that very few firms have put something like this in place since.  The shock comes from knowing how much more productive researchers are when they have a good access point. 

If you have been waiting for a commercial product to come on the market to provide this functionality, you might be interested in looking at AgentLegal (full disclosure – they are a partner of NPCI).  I’m not aware of any product like it.     In addition to providing personalized access to resources, the portal version of the product also provides a foldering sytem for organizing and sharing research results.  Useful for the individual user but also as a tool to be used to create team folders by client, matter, legal topic, etc.  Contact us for more information at http://ninaplatt.com/contactform.html.


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