Portal software draws on different databases to compile a broader picture of data (See my posts of May 1, 2005 on IP databases; and Aug. 5, 2005 more generally on law department databases; and June 27, 2006 with links.). Hypothetically, a law department with a portal could search regarding a particular matter. The portal would gather some information from the matter management system, other information from the document management system, a piece or two from the corporate secretarial package, some from email, and perhaps something from other electronic sources. Another use might be to gather input about a particular lawyer’s work during the year. The composite would offer much more understanding than any one system alone.
Only the largest law departments will find the investment in a portal defensible, it seems to me. I am a strong believer in the value of information, but the effort to design and implement such a system is not likely to be rewarded by sufficiently valuable information.
If a portal had some kind of ranking system or analysis capabilities (See my post of Aug. 14, 2006 on software that summarizes.), that might narrow the gap between cost and value returned, but I have significant doubts that we will see portals make in-roads in law departments in the next five to 10 years.