Saturday, June 28, 2014

Law Department Knowledge Management News, Webinar, and Development

As suggested by reports from a recent roundtable moderated by Joshua Fireman and Ron Friedmann, law firm knowledge management, while not booming, is certainly increasing in its penetration among large firms, and continues to succeed in a variety of ways.

A few recent developments have led me to believe that a similar rise in legal knowledge management activity and interest is occurring in law departments (general counsel’s offices).
First, my firm’s knowledge management group was recently asked to (and did) present on our KM journey, and our thoughts on how to get started, to a few Massachusetts law departments.

Second, Linklaters released their nicely-packaged “Knowledge to Action” report, focusing on the value of knowledge management to general counsel (though it disparages the term “knowledge management” and the term “general counsel,” preferring “legal knowledge” and “legal risk officer.”).
Third, along with Robert Bell, Assistant General Counsel & Legal Knowledge Officer at RBC Law Group (Royal Bank of Canada), I have been asked to speak on Legal Department Knowledge Management by C4CM, also known as the “Center for Competitive Management.” (This webinar has been cancelled, however, but may run in the fall).

I have already been thinking some about the differences between legal knowledge management as practiced in law firms and in law departments (within corporations), and the conditions for the same.  Law departments have typically not invested significantly in knowledge management, compared to law firms, and have less advanced legal-related information access and delivery.  In part, this may be due to the traditionally smaller numbers of lawyers found in large corporations, compared to their outside counsel.

Law departments may also be different from law firms in the following ways, which impact the ability to initiate and sustain legal knowledge management efforts:

  • General counsel have limited or no billable hour pressure; rather, they need to be responsive to the direct demands from the corporation and its employees, ideally as efficiently and broadly as possible.
  • General counsel work for a single company, usually in one industry; they are often located in offices associated with different lines of business within a company, and as a result may be far more geographically separated from other attorneys than a law firm of comparable size.  They likely have fewer information needs around getting to know their industry—they deal with their company all day, every day—and more around connecting with and learning from other attorneys.
  • General counsel’s office are only one (non-revenue-generating) part of a corporation; the general perception is that general counsel find it more difficult to obtain IT resources and attention than is the case in law firms, since the organization as a whole is not focused on legal work.
  • While legal-specific technology investment may be limited, law departments may have access to corporate technology—particularly sophisticated enterprise social network and financial analytics software—not broadly available in law firms.  There may also be line-of-business knowledge management staff and processes that can be readily leveraged for the law department. 
It is perhaps unfair to compare so broadly, but I think this is a worthwhile discussion to have, and the rise of law department knowledge management is a very interesting development.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Iron Tech Lawyer Spring 2014--Legal Technology That Works


 

I viewed most of the live streaming Georgetown Iron Tech Lawyer competition Wednesday afternoon (April 23rd). 

Previous related coverage of Iron Tech Lawyer includes Scott Rechschaffen's thorough post on the ILTA KM blog about his experience as an Iron Tech Lawyer judge last spring and my December 2013 post about Michael Mills' visit to speak at the Boston Innovation meetup (for background on the underlying legal technology, Neota Logic, which graciously provided free software and support).

I really liked how the law students worked.  Each team tried hard to identify the specific client needs that could best be met by a specific application of Neota Logic's technology, recognized challenges that clients, and the clients' clients, faced, and proposed solutions that kept the apps simple and usable.

Answers Or Coaching?

Normally I think of expert system applications as resulting in partial or complete legal answers.  As with Littler's HCR Advisor, a company or individual answers a series of questions, the system (very quickly) carries out an analysis, and, Hey Presto, you or your client is advised to [pay a $10 million  Obamacare penalty] [pay no taxes for the next three years] [report the water quality violation to the EPA]. 

One of the applications, the Unemployment Benefits Hearing Coach, did not directly attempt to provide an answer, but rather, sought to in effect train individuals and companies about the unemployment benefits process and educate them about what may be the most important aspect of the hearing process, their respective burdens of proof, so they could be more knowledgeable about what they needed to do at the hearing.

In a former life (or so it seems now) at another firm I actually spent a frustrating few weeks representing an employer in exactly those types of hearings. It turns out to be suprisingly challenging to prevail as an employer--typically employers have the burden of proof to establish that you fired the employee for cause, with a valid rule that is consistently applied. For what it's worth, I checked out the wizard in the factual situations I was familiar with, and it matched my recollection of the appropriate standards.

What struck me is that these types of "training" apps could well be leveraged in a range of other situations.  Even sophisticated firms could use an app like this one to provide basic information to a witness for deposition or trial testimony, in advance of meeting with the person, for instance. Or if a firm does a significant amount of a certain type of work, it could develop training apps for its associates or other junior lawyers, say around inter-state federal subpoenas or preparing deposition notices and logistics.

Apps As Workflow

Some of the apps were anonymous; others resulted in a report being sent on to the non-profit that sponsored the app, in effect operating as a partial onboarding tool.  In fact, one of the apps, the Triage and Intake Assessment System, functioned in part as an onboarding tool, for the Virginia Legal Aid Society,  It asked a simple series of questions that established the key facts (such as residence, income, and disability/age) that the VLAS needs to determine whether the user falls into the unfortunately comparatively limited pool of people who are its potential clients (compared to the demand for legal aid services). I think apps like these could serve as the start of an onboarding process for a law firm's pro bono or regular clients (as could traditional document assembly packages). 

I do not envy the judges.  One of the entries that had the lowest vote in the straw poll was the New York Sick Time Advisor , where the team was dealing with as complex and challenging set of rules faced by any of the teams, but with what at least appears on first glance to be quite dry and limited.  How would you rate a team that tackled a challenging issue, and handled it well, but simply didn't have a subject that compelled interest or had widespread impact? 

Conclusion

As I tweeted during the session, I found the whole set of presentations quite inspiring.  These students students were using sophisticated technology to solve real-world legal service problems, using web-based, mobile-enabled applications that appeared simple to the user but can handle a high degree of sophisticated legal logic under the hood.  They were able to pull these apps together quickly, without a rich understanding of the legal landscape, but with the ingenue's lack of apprehension and what is likely now a higher order of appreciation for the possibilities of legal technology than is the case with the broad run of lawyers. 

For more on the competition, you can view the #irontechlawyer twitter stream, follow Georgetown Iron Tech on Twitter, and visit the formal site for the Spring 2014 competition.

**********
Update May 1, 2014--As recently announced on the official Awards page, the winners were:
Congratulations to the winners and all the participants.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Neota Logic Founder Michael Mills To Meet With Boston Legal Innovators


I'll be introducing Neota Logic founder Michael Mills at the upcoming Boston Legal Innovation meetup, next Monday night December 16th at 6 PM at the District Hall, 75 North Street (in Boston's Seaport District, near the Institute for Contempary Art and the Federal Court House). 

Here's the formal session description:

"Neota Logic is one of most interesting and important companies working in legal technology today. In recent months, it has powered the Iron Tech Lawyer Competition, partnered with Seyfarth Shaw and Littler Mendelson, and helped a NY non-profit streamline its small business assistance program.
But what exactly does Neota Logic do, how does its technology work, and what does it all mean for the future of lawyers, law firms and legal departments?  Find out on Dec. 16th by joining us at Boston's new innovation center District Hall for a fascinating conversation with Michael Mills, Neota Logic's CEO."

I've known Michael for a number of years from a knowledge management peer group we both participate in, and also from various ILTA events.  Most recently in August he was part of an outstanding panel at the ILTA conference on online legal services; in 2012 he spoke on "The Lawyer's Role is Changing"; and back in 2010 we were on a panel together addressing knowledge management and alternative fee arrangements.

I've always found him one of the most clear-headed, thoughtful, and witty members of the legal knowledge management community. I especially admire what he's done in identifying and then developing not simply a system to answer or provide greater insight into a particular set of complex legal questions, but a platform for developing such systems. 

These systems work in similar fashion to document assembly or other "wizards" that walk the user through a series of factual questions, and then apply predetermined legal logic to produce a document draft.  I've seen similar systems that could operate to generate a budget for a legal matter.

Expert systems such as Neota Logic have a similar front end; the end result varies but could be as simple as an answer like "No, you don't have to worry about X regulation" or as complex as "here's a map showing you the states where you have to worry about that wage law issue."  They require a whole new model of development and of legal work, asking lawyers to think not just about a particular factual situation, but all the possible factual situations relating to a particular legal question, and then requiring them to identify what chain of factual questions are required for the system to be able to provide a useful answer.  I've previously called this "dendritic logic," meaning that user's earlier answers influence which branch of additional questions they may have to answer.

As with most cutting-edge technology, scalability is a key advantage ; once the heavy investment of thought and research has been distilled into a Neota Logic solution, it can be leveraged by thousands or even millions of users, for very little if any additional cost for each additional user.

Probably the quickest way to gain an understanding of his company's work is to review the last two Iron Tech Lawyer competitions, for which Neota Logic has donated the software and services.  On the ILTA KM blog, Scott Rechstchaffen describes the spring 2013 competition and results, which focused on legal services challenges (also covered by the ABA), and Neota's own blog described the fall 2013 competition, which focused on administrative law.  See also Probono.net's Michael Mills interview.

I hope you can join us next Monday.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Two Partner's Perspectives On Legal KM--Speeding and Improving Client Service

I recently attended a meeting of knowledge management practitioners from law firms.  We had two law firm partner guests, who effectively spoke as the voice of the internal "KM client," albeit from a firm with a sophisticated and established KM program. I especially valued their thoughts because there was one transactional attorney and one trial lawyer.  In accordance with the expectations under which they spoke frankly to us, I do not identify them or their firm.  Any comments of mine are in brackets.

KM's Impact On Attorney Work

The transactional partner said that KM drives efficiency in his group.  It helps to mitigate demand and improve client service in his matters. Generating work product quickly is of prime importance in his group's practice. People will always use a personal connection and network to learn how to do things and to get answers.  KM can underpin that.  When people contribute consistently to KM it can really take off.

The litigation partner said that being able to leverage prior work product is a prerequisite to being able to do his work. He can tell an associate is leveraging KM when they are able find things more quickly and better. He can also infer that an associate is probably not leveraging KM when an assignment comes back incomplete and not on time.

Speed of turnaround of answers is much faster between people who use KM systems and those who don't.  It's about speed and delivery of service.

The US experience with a "heavy IT footprint" is not as advanced as that of Magic Circle firms.

Partners involved in KM need to continually remind senior leadership of the benefits of KM.

KM Advances Client Service For Transactional And Litigation Practices

Clients expect that you have good systems for leveraging previous firm work. If you are continually inventing the wheel you will appear more expensive and less effective than your peers.

Big financial services institutions expect law firms to be on top of their own business.  The speed and depth and ubiquity with which you can marshal your firm's knowledge for your clients can be a competitive advantage.

In litigation, how to keep clients informed about the progress or status on a matter without distracting the matter team may be a key area for KM.  The litigation partner has had great success with a client extranet, in particular with very large complex cases where the client needs to be aware of the case status on a daily or weekly basis. More effective information sharing with clients on litigation matters is a real opportunity, especially in firms that have invested in effective internal information management.

On the litigation side, some work product junior attorneys produce looks menial or routine.  But there are usually case-specific nuances that require an attorney's eye, so document automation may be less useful. [I believe that document automation in more sophisticated practices is not necessarily designed to produce a final draft, however, so perhaps there is a role for document automation where there is a lot of consistency between work product types, for instance, in discovery "boilerplate."]

KM Improves Marketing and Recruiting

Reliance on previous experience in a pitch (appropriately) leads to client expectation that that experience can be leveraged quickly. Experience and leveraging that experience pertains to substantive legal knowledge as well the business and industry context of the client and its problems.

Sharing relevant precedent documents can also be part of a marketing strategy. [I saw this at the International Bar Association as well--internationally, law firms are sharing "scrubbed" precedents with clients as a way to add value and attract the clients to their expertise].

KM can attract talent by creating a good environment to work and not waste time. Recruits take technology into consideration, and ask about it in interviews.

Fixed Fees and KM

The nature of how you value legal services has changed.  Alternative Fee Arrangements are highly relevant to KM. Fixed fees can be put into place for a whole year or for a particular piece of work around a particular motion. That kind of arrangement puts a huge importance in investing up front in what could make you more efficient.

Fixed fee work will continue increasing. The fee pressure is unparalleled.

KM Staff Expansion?

The Practice Support Lawyer ("PSL") role in the US is new but is gaining momentum.  PSL and client development will merge as methods of developing business.  PSLs can greatly assist a partner's focus on business development and billable work, because almost everything a PSL does in the way of client alerts, precedent development, and training, a partner would have done before.

Video training has helped people manage their time without losing content.  But there is a certain human element that we can't replace yet.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Knowledge Management Panel at the International Bar Association

I just spoke on a knowledge management panel at the International Bar Association today titled "Knowledge Management:  A Law Firm's Secret Weapon."  The IBA is a huge organization; there are over three thousand lawyers here in Boston today, discussing topics such as "legal issues related to photography as an art form" and "strategic positioning in the global investment market" and, of course, networking up a storm.  There aren't really many people tweeting here; as a side benefit to this not being a tech conference, however, the wi-fi is working very well.

I spoke about knowledge management technology, specifically, what makes a piece of technology effective for KM purposes.

I concluded that effective KM technology:
  • Connects people, content, and firm processes; 
  • Is easy to use for attorneys; 
  • Signals or provides access to information about content's trustworthiness; 
  • Does not normally require massive investments of attorney time outside their normal work; and 
  • Is consistently leveraged at the right time during the course of work.

Since the session is broken up into two separate panels, and I am speaking on the second panel, I am taking notes on the first session. I found it to be a strong session providing an excellent overview of justifications for knowledge management in legal and other professional organizations.

Speakers
  • Aku Sorrainen, the organizer and chair of the session, is the founder of an Estonian law firm, a lawyer advising corporations in the areas of mergers & acquisitions and real estate.
  • Shelley Dunstone is a consultant from Australia, moderating the first panel.
  • Gerard Tanja is from Venturis Consulting, which advices governments, law firms, and corporations on HR and organizational matters.  He founded the Clifford Chance educational academy.
  • Michael Peer is from KPMG (forensics).
  • Silke Gottschalk is Director of Compliance with the Luther law firm from Germany
  • Charles Coward is an attorney with Uria Menendez in Barcelona

We start from the premise that law firms have done a lot to reduce their costs.  Law firms need to get creative about increasing their productivity since their continues to be pressure to reduce rates.

Gerard Tanja--What is the Knowledge We Want to Manage and Why?
 
He was at McKinsey, an organization that so effectively manages its know-how that it is considered a "learning organization."  Know-how is systematically available there.  He is seeing convergence between how other professional organizations like consultancies and accountant firms, and law firms are managing their knowledge.

The global legal market is a "Red Ocean" environment (think sharks and blood in the water). New entrants, fragmentation, and consolidation all roil the market.  The market as a whole is not expanding. In a Red Ocean you compete in existing market, as compared to in a Blue Ocean "open water" environment, competition is much less.  

This environment means you need to make systematic assessment of how to manage know-how.

Going forward, from the client's perspective, law firms will make available for free a lot of the templates that they have, via secure client portals.  Doing this does not lead to fewer requests for assistance. 

Operational efficiency is key.  Much of that will be outsourced eventually.  That's necessary if you want to compete in your existing markets.

Firms need to make clear trade offs and choices vis-a-vis your competitors.  How you deal with know-how in relation to your clients becomes a major differentiator. 

Firms should drive their knowledge management efforts in two areas; is the partner's knowledge only tacit, inside their heads, or has it been made explicit?  And, is the organization's know-how unstructured, or structured?  Firms need to encourage knowledge to be structured and explicit.  [I believe that you can't really make a partner's knowledge explicit--but you do need some way of connecting the partner with the person who needs the tacet knowledge at a given point in time.]

How did McKinsey do it?

Know-how criteria is included in the compensation, evaluation, and "brainwashing"; at every level it is made clear that sharing knowledge is an essential part of the culture of the firm.  When a colleague asks for help, you give it, even if it is not immediately rewarded.

Learning and professional development needs to be integrated with know-how.  People need to get rewarded for contributing to know-how. Law firms should invest much more in technology and know-how systems. 

McKinsey generally left their post-engagement review and client reports open, unless the client specifically requested (which happened less than 10% of the time).

The biggest return on investment is in ensuring that reinventing the wheel no longer takes place, and that the precedent quality is high.  This will increase margins without requiring more people.

Michael Peer

He is from KPMG (an IBA sponsor), responsible for dispute advisory services across Eastern Europe.  He runs a team that covers 45 jurisdictions. 

You have to embed knowledge-sharing into what you do every day or it gets lost.

KPMG is a series of individual entities with fairly small global integration.  Most sharing used to happen within each country's entity.  They hired 50 people at a global level to support each practice and service line and developed a knowledge management strategy for each (cross-geographical) practice.  They worked with designated "knowledge champions" who were there to collect and share information for each practice.

It was a major challenge to motivate these individuals.  They built the level of effort into the evaluation process.

The global team had to do some "anonymizing" of the content to avoid sharing client-specific details.  They also realized that they had to evaluate and periodically remove outdated content.

They wanted to create a credentials /  experience database.  Requests for experience can come in at the last minute.  

They also established a Facebook-style portal whereby you could have discussion threads; it was used to replace private "have-you-done-anything-like X" requests, but in a searcheable and retrievable form [I would call this an enterprise social network-- I believe theirs is based on Tibbr].

How at a global firm do you quickly find the right individual?  How do you leverage the best practices others have developed?  

They have a set turn-around time for conflict resolution (24 hours to ID conflicts, 24 hours to resolve / address). 

They handle client confidentiality concerns by having the knowledge champions encourage their teams to share information in anonymized form and by putting up credentials. 

KPMG will keep files limited to a particular group such as the "Czech practice" group, unless the clients impose specific restrictions.

They spent a lot of time developing methodologies, such as how to approach a disputed advisory project, or how to collect information from a client.  The documents were made available in conjunction with online videos.

Silke Gottschalk--KM Do's and Don'ts

Do's

Most of the knowledge in a firm lies in the heads of the practitioners.  You need to establish a formal process to build up a KM system.

Clients expect a mature KM system where clients can access your firm's knowledge.  Clients also need to provide their know-how and information to firms.

You need to develop forms and precedents to get the most.

You need to set up KM goals and standards that comport with what clients expect from you.  

Create a culture of knowledge sharing by showing the benefits of KM systems and incentives for contribution, keeping in mind that voluntary contributions will usually not work.  You should set up formal criteria and systems for contributions. Incentives at her firm include reputational and financial rewards.

The partner on the "service line" needs to monitor the quality of the KM inputs, to avoid "gaming" the system.  They track the level of effort in terms of numbers of hours.  You have to set up a culture where it is "normal" to contribute to the KM system.

Don'ts

Look out for the "lone ranger."  The only way to overcome him is to have top management support.  If you don't have it then it can be very difficult to implement.

Your firm's KM and technology systems have to be up to date.

Her firm is sharing precedents, forms, business development information, and market information (deal terms?) with clients in a secure portal.
 
Charles Coward

Benefits of KM

Knowledge management systems avoid the risks of losing important information.

You lose a lot of partner knowledge if it hasn't been recorded.

KM contributes to integration of a firm and its profitability.

It saves time in the preparation of documents, standardizes formats as well as quality and response time for services.

It provides much more precise information about who knows what, the firm's expertise.

Barriers to KM

Strict time and billing can be an obstacle to an effective knowledge-sharing strategy.  Partner compensation needs to include KM, but KM is hard to measure (you need quality more than quantity).  Public recognition can go a long way.  Get away from a culture where hoarding precedents is acceptable.  Speciality groups may take special negotiation and treatment, for instance requiring notice to the specialty group of a precedent download. 

Another obstacle is the belief that everything is artisanal and unique.  

His firm has 19 KM staff, half of whom are lawyers, with 600 lawyers.

Technology is essential, but is merely the conduit and distribution network that allows the interaction.  

It's easier to have KM in a "lock-step" firm than in an "eat-what-you-kill" law firm.  

How much is knowledge being accessed by lawyers? By clients? Who is monitoring this?

KM is essential.  It gives many things that are intangible and hard to measure. If you spend money well, there will be an enormous return; if you don' t do it, you may not survive in today's world.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

ILTA's Special Ops Track: Making Sure IT Matters and IT: The Catalyst

The "Special Ops" set of sessions at ILTA this year was a set of really great ideas (I suspect Mary Abraham's push for alternative formats is behind it, though praise is due to team coordinators Betsy Parker, Chris Hunt, Jim McCue, and Sean Power.).  Essentially these sessions were organized around unusual formats, like alternative reality, TED talks, or roundtables, and addressed a broad range of topics of interest to legal technologists. 

I participated Monday morning in the session titled "Making Sure IT Matters," (#spec1),  which featured a crowd-sourced list of five topics, and facilitated discussion on a single topic at each of five tables, culminating in presentations to the whole group on each smaller group's discussion.  At my table of fourteen or so people, all but one or two contributed to the discussion, which focused on how to make sure IT "gets it," that is, understands the business of law and also lawyer's work and needs.  The small group that organized the discussion will be developing a mind map and probably also some additional publications (like blog posts or articles) on the results of that effort, so I won't attempt to do so here. Regardless of that additional effort, I feel that the most impact occurred in the room at the time, when so many people had the opportunity to think about and participate in their own education and development. 

A later Special Ops session was titled IT:  The Catalyst #spec5, featuring four very different speakers addressing a very broad range of topics in one hour.  The format imitated that of the TED talks. 

Hat tips to Angela Dowd , Tim Golden , and Ben Wightwick for tweets that supplemented my notes as I drafted this post.
 
Bill Caraher-- Disruption, Risk and Opportunity 

The business model of the law firm is going to have to change. If they want to stand out, law firms are going to have to buy technology, build it, or partner with someone who can supply it.

The top technology spend in law firms is still SharePoint.  Many users don't use SharePoint.  He doesn't think this should be our focus.  He is skeptical about the value of portals and the social features in SharePoint 2013.   His current investment priority is security.

Typically we are not rewarded for taking risk, in fact the contrary.  Clients have started to look more seriously at firm capabilities.

Bring Your Own Device ("BYOD") seems harmless but has serious risks.  The total cost of BYOD is quite high.  Big banks have also become worried about outside counsel who BYOD, because their regulators prohibit them from BYOD.

Phil Schneidermeyer --  Culture and Diversity as Catalysts for Continuous Improvement 

Every conversation with a client of his executive recruiting firm starts with culture.  They are trying to get the fit right between recruits and companies. One challenge is, do you try to acheive a fit with the current culture or the target culture?  Is there any mention of the people side of what we've accomplished on our resumes?

Culture is a sense of what the organization is, its history, attitudes, beliefs, and the like.

Corporations with shared values and that are driven by purpose and values tend to outperform ones that don't. 

Training, onboarding, and orientation are critical for culture.  Corporate culture has risen as a risk that corporations are considering. 

Phil recommends that leaders should be role models for the culture; reward those demonstrating good behavior [And punish those who violate cultural norms?] Peers should weigh culture heavily in considering their own roles and opportunities.

Diversity encompasses gender, race, and generations.  Generational diversity can cause tension around technology and work ethics. 

A really good reason for diversity is that diverse customers are best served by a diverse team.  Robust conversation and effective planning and execution amongst your team  is enhanced by working with people who don't think like you do. 

Ryan McClead-- The Internet of Things

There are more things on the "internet of things" than there are people on the planet.  These things communicate well on their own but don't talk amongst themselves.

Several competing technologies may lead to uniform standards for things on the internet of things.

What is the internet of things?  In quantum physics two particles can be "entangled." When you spin one of the particles, the other one is spun (observed?) as well.  With the increase of devices that are on the internet, we're starting to see the internet and the physical world become entangled.  The internet of things allows for "spooky action at a distance."

He thinks the "Twine" device is the coolest thing on the internet.  It senses temperature, vibration, and light.  He can tie it into the "If Then Then That" service.  He could have his device turn off light bulbs or warn him if his houseplants are too hot.

These sensors will get cheaper, more powerful, and smaller.  At a certain point the physical world can turn into the interface for the network.  It might feel like other technologies that have become invisible, like motors. Things like Twine and the internet of things have the potential to make computing background.
 
Scott Rechtschaffen--"I Had This Great Idea For A Presentation"

As I tweeted out at the time I saw it, Scott's presentation was brilliant, but essentially impossible to blog. 

His main point was, the legal industry needs to move online.  Why would clients work with law firms that aren't online when they wouldn't work with a bank, airline, concert venue, or other business that wasn't online?  [In similar vein, Kingsley Martin later in the week made the pungent observation that, if an airline's website was like law firms' websites, it would have pictures of the pilots, descriptions of how great its aircraft were, and the like, but no way to buy a ticket.]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Innovative Online Legal Products For Clients

This top-notch panel shared important lessons about ways to use to technology, not to simply improve attorney efficiency, but to actually change the way that law firms deliver legal services.

Formal Title: Should You Create Innovative Online Legal Products for Clients?

Description:

Expert systems, document automation and other online tools have come a long way, and innovative law schools and legal aid organizations are using them to provide “self-help” legal services. Given this explosion in legal technology, we’ll tackle a question looming for law firms: Is it time for firms to consider using innovative legal technologies to create online legal products and services for their clients?

See tweets at #kmpg4 .

Speaker(s):

·         Michael Mills - Neota Logic

·         Meredith L. Williams - Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz

·         Scott Rechtschaffen - Littler Mendelson, P.C.

·         Kingsley Martin - KIIAC LLC

Scott Rechtschaffen introduced the topic.

It's important to learn from failure. Littler attorneys sent 10-15 emails each day about "who knows these labor arbitrators." His group set up an (internal) database about them. It was not a good endeavor. It's best not to be guided by the attorneys. They wanted everything, not reviews of arbitrators of the arbitrations, complete with briefs. They didn't do anything, it required too much of the attorneys.

They later made a database of international employment lawyers. This one did get some use, but you had to remember where it was.

They then turned to Courtroom Insight. It creates a Yelp-like reviews for experts, judges, arbitrators, and mediators, all in one place. People who use it like it very much. Buying it created a lot less anxiety and stress.

They also have a database of 50-state comparisons with 50-60 surveys, which also includes a database of legislation and regulation. They charge clients for access to this. They've covered the cost 3x-4x.

I described the Littler CaseSmart system elsewhere.

The clients love the dashboard on the CaseSmart tool. It has a heat map, the type of charges, and the like. One client caught the impact of a minor policy issue that led to charges around the country through the

They also recently launched the Littler Healthcare Reform Advisor, a tool that runs an online questionnaire and indicates the potential penalties under Obamacare.
Buying off the shelf and adding the legal nuance

Meredith Williams showed dashboards where clients can drill in and see details about their matters. These dashboards wins over clients.

They will help map out the data collection processes for clients using their in-house eDiscovery experts.

They also have an "emerging company institute" extranet that startups are charged to access. They developed 30-40 documents that clients purchase from them and let them create documents via document assembly. They use Contract Express, the same document assembly my firm uses.

These systems stickiness with clients. A relationship partner left and the client stayed with the firm because the extranet had all the documentation they needed and used on the site.

If you try to create an app, use someone external. Baker provided an app with a quick guide to labor and employment law. They also provide compliance education at the staff level via an online service. They didn't want to have that compliance training for executives, since they wanted the attorneys in front of the executives talking to them in person.

Keeping It Simple

Martin--Simple and clear is the best way and is the hardest thing in the world.

Online client systems are the way forward. We may not get a seat at the table unless we start to produce revenue.

In our law firms we have collective experience resulting from millions of hours of experience.

His tool takes a pile of documents, decomposes them into clauses, and aggregates the clauses into one common outline. For example, in employment agreements, what clauses are required, what are optional, and which are frequent or common.

Simplification lessons also apply to the practice of law. We need to simplify and make clearer contracts and briefs that we produce.

A simplified, focused approach might put most frequent clauses up top.

He draws a lesson from Silicon Valley--"Get Going--Build something!"

Analyzing documents might start with clause elements. Organizing documents addresses document structure.

He's released a an app for a non-disclosure agreement. He completed it on the airplane ride to conference. www.kmstandards.com/kmauthor/mobile

The content is HTML, library is JQuery Mobile, presentation by ThemeRoller (lets you drag colors around when you design).

What's out there?

Baker McKenzie has some great apps on global equity. Goodwin Procter has the Founder's Workbench. OMelveny has an FCPA app. Wilson Sonsini has a term sheet generator.

Pointer & Squirrel has an "eForeclose" site allowing clients to generate foreclosure papers.

At a lower end, on the Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP site you can start a collection case, upload documents and start the case.

This helps law firms be more efficient, because the client supplies a lot of the information lawyers need directly into the system.

How do we assess the viability of potential projects?

Leon Litigator corners you. He's assessed 2000 cases and determined 56 variables that determine the likelihood of success at trial.

His kid sister is a Google engineer who's already written the algorithm.

Always ask:

1. Is there a market for this? Who would purchase it?

2. Do we have any support in-house to build this?

3. Is there a product on-market that does something like this already?

Law firms are not product companies, and online services are products. They do spend time thinking about acquiring lateral partners. Michael Mills would start with what the business purpose is. It may be that revenue is critical.

It requires substantive infrastructure as well as technical. Online resources about substantive legal issues will decline if not maintained. Building a product is a major commitment. Will they invest the effort necessary to keep it up to date?

Martin--lawyers do want to monetize the experience that they have. The two pieces are expertise and software development.

Williams--they've had most success when they partnered with outside vendors who had the development expertise, they provided the “legal gloss.”

Incentives & Maintenance

You also need the incentive systems to align. Product building is different from the billable hour. Firms may not have the right structure to incentivize attorneys to contribute to online services.

Expanded revenue fund program. Meredith has a laundry list of projects, with lists of people who would do the work. They set up client-matter numbers for the projects, people bill their time.

They get 75% of the credit, so that they have an investment in the success. The "Developers" get a coupon from the firm, they get a percentage of the sale.

Once you start handing over services to your client, you develop a real responsibility. If you can't sustain it, it's better not starting at all.

Attorneys regularly churn out articles for potential clients. If they are willing to do that, shouldn't they be willing to give content to developers who can productize it?

A reputation for being innovative doesn't help. What helps is delivering value that helps clients in very specific areas. Helping lawyers gain business in particular areas, capturing some of the business development activities and redirecting that energy, is useful. It's more useful to clients because it's direct service.

Clients are coming to firms are asking for things at lower cost or for free. Online products are one way to do that.

Does it skew the analysis when a client asks you to develop an on-line service? Maybe, if it's a high-level client as a percentage of revenue.

Development of online products should be considered a part of the essential business of law firms. They are perceived as completely different worlds from traditional concerns like practice area development or opening offices.

The first stage involves some benefits to "first movers."

A second level is systems that create client "stickiness."

The third level is to move to revenue generating services. The big concern is how to scale. Each app currently used is focused on a very narrow area.

How do you take the Founder's Toolkit and move to licensing?

Michael has seen great examples of client stickiness developing from building excellent online services. It makes clients less portable.

"Our employees are so used to what you have, we don't want to replicate that somewhere else."

How do you assess a market?

Market research is an outside expertise for most lawyers, but there are people in firms who do that kind of work. You probably have good market research people. There are also services you can subscribe to.

The trick is how to estimate revenues or sales on something that hasn't been sold before. The business analysis looks for competitors.

They'll start small, offering something to a client and seeing the interest. You have to be willing to pull the plug.

The Shark Tank is a great way to hone your idea. Think of standing in front of the people who will pay for it. "Kawasaki, the art of the "

The questions Meredith gets are around the economics.

Who does it?

Williams--She brings together developers, IT Project Management people, a representative from the attorney group that's asking for it, and a knowledge management attorney. They may also bring the marketing team to the table. They keep the lawyer population to just a few people. Lawyers tend to add unnecessary bells and whistles.

Kingsley--He's been able to involve clients as well. Develop in an agile matter. Set parameters, a lot of things will take care of themselves. Set quality metrics for what you aim to do. For instance at Cassels they set a target for a level of plain English with a specific metric. It really hones the result.

Develop the "minimal sustainable product."

Mills--The front end of these systems are pretty simple. There are mock-up and prototyping tools that let you set up something, and start showing it to clients.

Insourced or Outsourced?

Williams--Do we have the expertise? They don't with app development.

Time constraints also come in. Internal resources may have significant internal demands already.

Mills--Most projects need aspects of both. The Contract Express tools, for instance, can't be reproduced by a law firm. Law firms are talking to clients all the time, and may be good at getting feedback from clients.

Which Idea? What if something that looks better comes along?

Martin--Kawasaki would say, set you milestones and stick to them.

Williams--Don't be distracted by the shiny object (like the dogs in "Up" distracted by squirrels). Think about what you might be losing in what you've already invested. The economics come into play. Look at it as a business decision, not a technical one.

Products and projects have constituencies.

How do you convince partners that they should invest in the future?

Martin--The business of law has one of the lowest budgets for research & development of any industry. What if law firms spent 0.25% of revenue on these new services?

He's tried to convince them that this is an extraordinary opportunity. You could take advantage of the growing tsunami. It's hard to pick the winners. He admits his pitch didn't work.

Mills--It is a year-to-year decision, and the way firms are organized financially. Firms do make huge decision like opening an office, these are small change by comparison.

Williams--It's easier today because they've had success with retaining and obtaining clients.

She scenarios out how it works. She spells out what will happen if we invest or if we don't. Boards are bottom-line driven.

Rechtschaffen--There's a false assumption that an hour spent on direct client service is more assured than an hour spent on product development. Each hour is speculative, albeit in different ways.

What's the future of online services? Will law firms be the providers of online legal services?

Williams--As long as a product is viable and has a legal spin, then we have an area we're going to firmly hold onto.

Martin--The future must involve the delivery of online legal services. Law firm websites will enable the delivery of legal services.

Buyers don't modify a market. They vote with their money, but they pick winners. A lot of this will be driven by vendors.

LexMachina is analyzing and creating data around all patent litigation.

Mills-Some publishers are starting to behave like lawyers. Users don't want search results any more, they want answers.

eDiscovery is an online service. It's managed in the cloud by people who for the most part work directly with clients. Why shouldn't the rest of legal services delivery follow?

Williams--If you aren't in this space, you need to be in this space. The biggest request from clients is for these type of services?

Martin--Online technology will disrupt the $260-270 billion market. Institutional VCs are showing some interest in changing the market.

Take technology you've used to create reputation or stickiness and move into products.