Law firm opens ‘Sesame’ portal to 1,800 employees

A large Canadian law firm is mid-way through a project to consolidate several intranet into a single portal serving personalized content to 1,800 by the fall.

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG) Tuesday said it had chosen Novell Inc.‘s eDirectory software as well as its portal tools for the effort, which is already underway. The first phase of the portal will be rolled out to offices in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver by the end of June.

BLG was formed by the amalgamation of five different firms about two years ago, each with their own technology platform. Four out of the five offices had intranets. According to Joel Alleyne, BLG’s national chief information and knowledge officer, these intranets had different degrees of acceptance and usage within the various firms, but it decided to model the new portal — which the winners of a corporate naming contest dubbed “”Sesame”” — after the Montreal intranet.

“”Most of what Montreal had done has been written for a single office setting,”” he said. “”What we were faced with was either taking that and customizing that further to do multiple offices and a whole bunch of other things, or look for something that was more off the shelf.””

Alleyne said he sees Sesame containing regular contact information like addresses and telephone directories but also relationship data — the chain of command among the firm’s practice groups. “”It moves from being simply that directory to being a knowledge resource,”” he said.

The long-term plans include giving BLG clients access to their financial information, their dockets and documents BLG maintains on their behalf. Corporate service applications would allow holding companies, for example, to check the status of filings made on behalf of their subsidiaries, or make updates to their directors or banks.

Lawyers don’t have a reputation for using technology well, but the consolidation of firms may change that. James Longwell, vice-chair of the Toronto Computer Lawyers Group who works at Ogilvy Renault, said portals are a regular part of his corporate culture.

“”From my experience in a multi-office environment, we find the intranet to be very helpful for us to share information with our colleagues,”” he said. “”I’m not certain what form that will be in the future; it’s certainly a helpful thing at the moment, but because technologies change quite a bit and different knowledge management programs are out there it might not be all intranet-based.””

Personalizing the look and feel of Sesame and prioritizing information to meet their needs will be the key to get staff to use the portal, Alleyne said.

“”All of these companies that have found religion have found knowledge management. It’s a be-all and end-all,”” he said, adding that Novell has not taken that sort of attitude. “”We’re using the portal as an integrating platform to do things and third-party applications that aren’t directly related to Novell. It provides an umbrella for us.””

BLG is also considering evaluation and survey software, wills and estate applications along with a help desk that lets users to submit their IT problems and follow up online.

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