There are several reasons why many law firms are using SharePoint:
– Content aggregator/organizer: SharePoint can be used to create a true intranet portal, being the interface – via a web browser – between the user an a variety of data sources such as your document, financial or content management systems as well as linking to external WWW sites (free and subscription).
– Software integration: SharePoint can work well with other software (of course, including other Microsoft products which are heavily used by most law firms); in addition, there are many third party vendors providing value-added software add-ons to make SharePoint easier to use or to improve functionality.
– Better search: Whether using SharePoint search “out of the box” or incorporating third-party search engines, SharePoint can usually often better search – including faceted searching – than the native search in most document management systems.
– Better browsing: Using SharePoint Designer, one can create well-designed portal interfaces to improve access to information for those who browse (as oppose to search).
– Web 2.0 capabilities: SharePoint has “built in” wikis, discussion boards and RSS feeds to make Web 2.0-like collaboration easier within the organization.
The TechnoLawyer Blog has a post from last year from Sara Skiff setting out, with permission, Chapter 17 from The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies (by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell) that discusses SharePoint and provides an excellent overview.
Having been immersed in a SharePoint intranet project, I see the power of this software tool, although there was a fairly high, initial learning curve and a need for a lot of “back end” technical support. However, adding and integrating content is fairly easy. One aspect I have always liked with web development is the immediacy of implementing change. Don’t like a particular page or design aspect? Change it and see the change immediately.
Although there is not likely any particular “Canadian” aspect of deploying SharePoint in a law firm (although there is the English/French bilinguality requirement for those firms with offices in Quebec, which is a challenge in itself), I would be interested in hearing from those of you in Canadian law firms or corporate or government law departments who are using SharePoint and would be willing to join an informal “Canadian Law Firm SharePoint Users” group to share ideas and best practices (contact me offline).