Thursday, October 30, 2008

KM and The Modern Law Firm: Formal Law Firm KM Strategy

The next session at the Ark KM Conference saw Mark Young, Managing Partner, and John S. Gillies, Director of Practice Support, at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP address development of a KM strategy. I very much appreciated having the perspective of a managing partner on a firm’s KM initiative.

My firm recently went through a similar process. The Cassels Brock KM Strategy built on the firm’s Business Strategy, which conveniently was completed just about the time that John was hired. Cassels Brock has grown significantly through lateral hires in the last five years. As a result there is a relatively large set of younger partners. Their KM strategy focused on this group as they were believed more likely to embrace technological change.

I asked Mark how a strategy that required enhanced profitability justified KM investment, as more efficient work logically reduces the billable time associated with a particular task. He indicated that he often hears partners claim they could get more work in the door if they had more time; KM offered them more time, and hence more opportunity for more business. He also feels that KM provides an opportunity to demonstrate greater value to clients. Tom Baldwin of Reed Smith mentioned at this point that for some clients, predictability of fees is really important, and that the matter and document classification features of many KM approaches can help address that concern, and, again, bring in more business. If KM enables accurate cost prediction, it can also help firms move to a value-based, non-billable hour model. Linking back to KM Strategy, if a KM program can demonstrate enhanced value of work, and enhanced profitability, it will be less likely to be put on hold.

John outlined some specifics of the firm’s KM Strategy. The three primary prongs of their plan were an effective Document Management System (DMS); a way to manage precedents; and good DMS search.

They chose Interwoven for their DMS and adopted a unified “folder structure” as a way of fostering collaboration between practice groups. For their search, they used comments from focus groups and the strategic plan to develop a 100-feature set of requirements, with each of the requirements weighted ranking from 1-5. Despite the extensive quantitative work, the two competitors, Recommind and Interwoven Universal Search (IUS), came out with an identical ranking. They went with IUS because of its tighter integration with Interwoven. John mentioned that Recommind did a better job of expertise identification, but that this feature was less important to them as a one-office shop.

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