Friday, July 31, 2015

Adjusting the extranet GUI

When building a legal extranet, one would be wise to develop functionality which allows the administrator to alter the user interface. Some clients want large text, some want small text. Some want headings over sections, others do not. You'll definitely want to ability to place a client logo on a law firm extranet. We even have clients who request specific fonts or other variations in layout which are not closely aligned with the basic functionality of the system.

And, most notably, these types of request are often more important to a client than some of the basic functionality of a system (adding/removing fields, etc.).

One can debate which of these two types of changes are more important to the business, but the moral of the story is to build a system with some elements of flexibility in the user interface and don't hard code or embed all of the GUI settings within the application code.  If you can do that, the likelihood for user acceptance of the system can increase dramatically.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

User-Focused Query Reporting Engines For User Within Legal Case Management Systems

High quality legal extranet systems provide their clients with user-friendly reporting tools which allow them to develop ad hoc reports. These reporting engines allow clients to develop reports (including things like selecting the field to show, defining the sorting criteria, defining the filtering logic, and formatting the data selected by the report logic) on their own without having to wait (or pay for) customized reports to be created by programmers.

A strong query engine should also let one decide who can run which reports, and control the ability to download or view data contained in the reports. In other words, the delivery of a strong security module is also vital to the success of such a product.

Reporting engines of this nature should support the output of case reports both to printable formats (like PDF files) as well as to common program formats such as spreadsheet files.

It is advisable when selecting a legal extranet system to be sure you select a system which will allow you to run the reports you need, when you need them. It makes the data and information in a legal extanet or case management system far more useful.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Best Practices For Legal Extranet Software Development Teams

Teams developing legal deal rooms or legal extranets should strongly consider adapting a set of software development best practices or application development methodologies.

One such example of this is the Rational Unified Process (RUP). While it is impossible to describe this entire process in a blog, it is comprised of four broad steps: Inception Phase, Elaboration Phase, Construction Phase, Transition Phase. The RUP also encourages development teams to gather business requirements, understand business needs and goals, develop a project budget and timeline, ask clients to review and approve business requirements documents, write functional specifications, prepare a project timeline, develop and use a testing plan to ensure quality within the application, use proper change management methodologies to deploy the application to a production environment, and to document the technical aspects of the system post deployment.

When teams follow these steps, quality and client satisfaction are sure to dramatically improve.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ease of use

When designing (or selecting) a legal extranet, be sure it is easy to use. If it is not easy to use, it will not be used.

How is that statement "make it easy to use" defined?

Make all of the screens consistent in their presentation. Be sure all the system navigation menus are deployed and displayed in a consistent manner. Make the text readable -- no 6 point fonts or crazy colors. Display only a reasonable amount of information on each screen - too much information can be overwhelming for people to process -- especially those who might be accessing your system on an iPad or smart phone.

From a technology standpoint, use technologies that will work on everybody's internet browser (there is nothing system clients hate more than to have to download internet plug-ins) just to get something to work. Consider cool toolsets like jQuery to provide advanced functionality to users on a thin client.

And, select technologies that will allow your clients to load large volumes of information (no flat file databases, no other obvious size constraints) so large litigation support projects can be handled by the legal extranet.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Legal Extranet Security Considerations

Security settings and methods are critically important in the area of deploying client extranets. Here are some of the "basics".

Firstly, we expose extranets both on the internet and intranet. Therefore, it is necessary to protect the data with an SSL certificate so that any data flowing over the internet is appropriately encrypted.

Within your application itself, there are several dimensions to consider. Some of the more important areas are:

- The type of access you will grant to various types of data (submit, modify, delete). Ideally, the access levels can vary by entity type (cases, documents, calendar events, etc.).

- The creation of a set of system privileges (to grant access to see various types of functionality) and a set of corresponding roles granting different sets of privileges. The system roles should correlate to functional roles within a law firm and clients of the law firm. To cite a primitive example, one might consider creating roles for Administrators, Staff Members, Staff Attorneys, Partners and Clients, each with a different set of system privileges (depending on the nature of work they need to do in the extranet).

- Visibility to collections of data must also be protected. For example, to cite another primitive example, some workers in a law firm need access to data from Client A, others to date from Client B, and others still require access to both Client A and Client B's data. Clients A and B obviously may not be granted access to each other's data.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Reporting Flexibility

Be sure, when developing a legal extranet, to provide clients various options in terms of the type of reports that they will need. Some clients will want "pretty" PDF reports which are simple "push-button" reports which they can either print or save to their hard drive for quick and simply electronic distribution (be sure for these report that you place the appropriate confidentiality and disclaimer language as well as the date/time the reports are generated on each report during the programming phase of the project since this information can not be added in an ad-hoc manner when reports are constructed) .

Others will want the ability to print simple reports (in HTML) directly from the browser with no plug ins because they prefer the simplicty of basic reporting. Others will want to export the contents of a report they run to Excel so that they have the flexibility to modify the report themselves, changing formats, headings, footings, etc. Finally, those with true IT skills may want to try and develop their own reports using a query engine/report builder.which provides the users with an interface by which they can seemlessly construct and save SQL statements to generate report output. Report builders are very valuable, they all clients to construct their own reports ASAP with no additional incremental cost since they can hop on the system and extract the data they need without asking for external programming assistance.

To the extent that a development organization can meet these needs during the process of building their legal extranet application, the higher client satisfaction will be once all their data is loaded and they need to begin to get information out of the systems. It is, of course, wonderful that an extranet allows one to look up the status of information on-line anytime, anywhere, but there are still many businesspeople in the world who need and rely upon printed or electronically saved reports, and when building a system like this we need to be sure that we develop the reports that are needed in the formats which are most useful to the user community for that particular project.