A custom Django CMS (content management system) and CRM (constituent relationship management) backend system with Member directory, custom MapBox integration for mapping Member locations, and a fully responsive frontend design.
Founded in 2009, the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) has grown to an organization of more than 200 Members, who serve as either general counsel of major corporations or managing partners of the nation's leading law firms.
United by a spirit of activism and personal commitment, LCLD Members participate widely in the programs they've created—leading by example, taking action, and challenging the legal profession to prepare future generations of diverse talent for the highest positions of leadership.
LCLD came to CO+LAB because they had outgrown their website, both in terms of design and functionality. Although the organization itself was only 5 years old, much had changed since they first built the site. For one, the look and feel of the site was beginning to appear dated and was prohibiting LCLD from expressing the energy and dynamism of its programs and people. Also, the site wasn’t built with small screens in mind, so it wasn’t optimised for mobile users on smartphones and tablet devices.
Additionally, the backend system had been modified a few times over the years, and had reached a point where the organization’s needs had outgrown what their site was built to support. In fact, LCLD had two websites with two separate content management systems to handle their needs – one for the main website, the other strictly for the Fellows program and directory. The two systems had to be maintained separately, and the data stored in each grew out of sync with the other.
Lastly, LCLD had several ideas about where they wanted to take their organization and how the website would play a role in that growth and evolution. They needed a website that could grow with them, as well as a partner who could provide the expertise in advising them on how to navigate through the many technological, structural, and organizational options they would face in a redesign and redevelopment of their website.
The solution for LCLD, as with nearly every problem, is to begin by asking questions. LCLD already had a backend system in place which they had used for years, so it was an important first step to find out which parts of that system worked well in their business processes AND to understand why they worked well. We didn’t want to lose anything that was already working. And obviously we needed to dig into the converse as well to understand what wasn’t meeting their needs and why not – the "why not" always being the most critical in creating a solution that solves the problem.
We met with the LCLD team several times, along with several follow-up calls, to unpack all of the successes and frustrations they’ve had with their website over the years. As with every discovery process CO+LAB undertakes, we had to learn their organization and how it works – to know what they do and how they do it – almost as well as they know it in order to provide good recommendations and insight into how we should make changes.
Several issues became clear from these conversations. For one, maintaining two separate websites with separate backends and separate databases would not only remain an administrative problem, it would also prevent LCLD from making meaningful use of their data in whole to demonstrate the breadth of their social impact. In other words, with separate systems, LCLD would not be able to show compelling demographic facts about its organization, such as the breadth, depth, and geographic diversity of its Membership and Programs. We needed to consolidate all of their data into one system and one database.
Too Many Tools
Another issue which became clear was that LCLD viewed their website as a universal tool for solving many of their digital communications challenges. In addition to being their public-facing website, they also wanted their site to function as a constituent relationship management system, a shared file system, a document management tool, a social engagement platform, an email marketing system, an event registration system, an internal calendaring tool and private intranet. Grouping all of these functions quickly creates a very complicated system, and as is often the case when a system becomes more complex, it becomes more rigid as well. That would be a problem for an organization that recognized its own gravitation towards and likelihood of internal change and evolution. They needed flexibility above all else.
Additionally, building all of these tools into one platform would inevitably mean that none of them would work as best-in-class software for their intended purposes. In short, we advised LCLD they would be best served by using software specifically designed to address some of their digital communications business needs. We recommended several systems they could use and how to incorporate them into their processes, even training them to use some of these third-party tools, such as Campaign Monitor for email marketing and Trello for internal coordination, communications and project management.
With a more feasible scope of work in hand, we could then move on to solving the design and messaging issues LCLD faced.
For an organization dedicated to diversity in the legal profession, especially one focused on supporting young lawyers in the early stages of their careers, the LCLD website needed to reflect the dynamic and vibrant energy of its people and programming. Also, given the breadth of their audiences and the diversity of their programming, LCLD needed a flexible content strategy that would allow them to feature many different types of content (news stories, past events, upcoming events, features of members, etc.) at different times, depending on what was most important at the moment.
It was also critically important that the tenor and tone of the design fit the mission and make-up of the organization as well. We needed to design a site that would allow LCLD to feature its most important content, while demonstrating its emphasis on its people (and diversity by association). After meeting with the LCLD team several times, we landed on a design solution that would give LCLD immense flexibility in featuring content, while bringing the faces of their organization to the forefront.
The metaphor for our homepage design was one of forging a path. This was a vision for the organization articulated directly to us by Robert Grey, the Executive Director of LCLD, who described the journey these young lawyers take, from law students to associates to managing partners and chief counsels. The role of LCLD is to support them along that path as they transition from one level to the next. We felt this idea of the path and of moving from point to point was a powerful metaphor for describing both the journey these young lawyers take, but also the narrative of LCLD itself – one of an organization that is growing and taking steps towards a more expansive and meaningful impact on society.
The outcome of this idea was a homepage design that literally connects the dots, tying one story featured on the homepage to the next story. The dots that connect these “stories” reinforce that the programming LCLD does is connected, that all of these pieces actually work together to create a larger narrative of what LCLD does and how that delivers on the promise of their mission. And these aren’t just stories. We designed the homepage to be completely flexible, so what is featured can be an upcoming event, a past event, a feature story of a member, a news article – anything LCLD wants to feature, presented in any order they like. This allows them to create their own narratives about the organization and its people in real time.
From the standpoint of design, we would like to think the results speak for themselves. Whether or not you understand all of the meaning behind the design of the site, we think it still clearly speaks to the vibrancy and dynamism of LCLD’s people and programs. It is a design that brings to the forefront LCLD’s two strongest assets: its people and its programs.
Digging further into the site, you can begin to appreciate the value of consolidating LCLD’s data into one ecosystem. The custom map shows the geolocation of Members, Fellows, and Mentoring programs across the country. The Fellows’ map-points connect to each Fellow’s directory listing – providing both a high-level view of the extent of the program, as well as a way of finding Fellows in a particular city.
News and Events listings now show the full breadth of all of the programming that happens at LCLD, but can also be filtered by audience in order to see a more refined set of items. Registrations, sign-ups, and profile updates now all feed directly into the same backend system for LCLD staff to administer.
Merging the two sites and the two sets of data was not a simple (nor painless) task, however the benefits, both administratively and in terms of site content, far outweighed the work-effort required. From a constituent management standpoint alone, having all Members, Fellow, Scholars, Mentors and Mentees included in the same backend system is essential for business operations. The custom CRM tool we developed for LCLD allows them to pull reports that draw from all of the consolidated data they now have at their fingertips.
Both in form and function, the LCLD website has been a great success and is a site in which CO+LAB takes tremendous pride as it shows the breadth of professional skills we can bring to a project. Whether the problems we need to solve are strategic, design-centric, programmatic, or all of the above, we have creative and appropriate solutions that can be woven together – good form married to great function.
No success would be possible without the right client, however, and to LCLD’s credit, they were the perfect client for enabling CO+LAB to do its best work. LCLD had a lot of ideas about what they liked and what they wanted, but more than anything, they came to us with an eagerness to listen to our professional expertise and insight. The LCLD team was a highly intelligent and accomplished group of professionals, but they approached the project with an absolute sense of humility and openness for learning how to make their digital communications better. They gained the most from working with CO+LAB because they were most open to being good partners.
And we learned a lot from them, too. For one, we learned how to be better listeners. Not everyone communicates their ideas in the same way, and sometimes what may seem at the outset like a rather long tangent is actually the most important information, or the key to unlocking an otherwise unsolvable problem. We also learned to be better communicators and teachers. We can build the most sophisticated website, or devise the savviest content strategy, but if we don’t successfully teach our clients how to execute it, or communicate clearly its purpose and intention, then we haven’t ultimately succeeded at anything. In the end, a good product has to be useful and actually create the change it was designed to produce – building it is only part of the solution.
We are thrilled that our work on this project received a 2014 Bronze Cannonball & 2014 Certificate of Merit from The Richmond Ad Club and AIGA Richmond.