Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wikis at ILTA 2009, Part 1, Bracewell & Giuliani Litigation Knowledge Base

Wikis (a significant interest of mine) came up in three largely unrelated contexts at the ILTA conference this year.

One law firm, Bracewell and Giuliani, is using an externally-hosted wikis provided by PBWorks for "core" knowledge management and retrieval in the litigation group at one of their offices. I attended an Enterprise 2.0 session on this on Monday as part of the Enterprise 2.0 track (more details below).

Second, I had a preview of an iManage-reliant technology called "SmartSpace" in developement by Baker Robbins that integrates wikis with iManage's matter workspaces (details in the second part). Increasing people's ability to easily add context through a wiki or other interactive tool like tagging has great potential to change the way that people work with and relate to the document management system. (Disclaimer: my firm has employed Baker Robbins from time to time).

Third, at a knowledge-management track session on Creative Adoption Techniques, I learned that another law firm is using Sharepoint wikis to store practice-area related information. I did not obtain any significant details about this and so have little to add to this tidbit. Wikis are clearly beginning to make some inroads for limited purposes even at firms not noted for Enterprise 2.0 adoption.

Bracewell & Giuliani -- Wikis as Litigation Work Product Research and Knowledge Sharing Tool

Bracewell's project was an outstanding example of leveraging the power of Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 tools to enhance a group's sharing and alerting of valuable core knowledge, for one litigation practice.


The New York office of this firm has less than 30 litigators, yet they had difficulty finding legal research that had been previously carried out at that office. They did not have a work-product retrieval tool like West KM(TM) or Lexis(TM) Search Advantage. They did have an enterprise search tool but it was providing them with "too much information."

They were using a set of centrally-located research binders, but they were hard to maintain and keep current.

One of their attorneys heard that the U.S. State Department is using wiki technology to share and collaborate across the globe (through Diplopedia), and they have since investigated and adopted wikis as the primary way of storing and retrieving valuable work product (in that office).

They commented that if you can’t share the research it’s not efficient and makes the next attorney reinvent the wheel.

Tool, Form, and Adoption Techniques

They chose PBWorks as an easy-to-use externally hosted platform into which they could load the documents and create a browseable view of resources (PBWorks is the first E20 vendor to really focus on the legal market with its PBWorks Legal).

The B & G wiki focused on what NY litigators wanted. Their wiki covers areas such as substantive law of New York (the example they showed was contract law); civil procedure; and information about judges and courts (for instance, filing practices in particular New York Supreme Court offices). Each topic page enhances browsing by linking to related procedures, areas of law, and court information. Search on the wiki also works quite well because of the targeted nature of the content.

Their adoption approach leveraged attorneys' competitive nature. They set up a substantial reward for the most (real) new entries over a certain period of time. In 3 months they went from a handful of entries to hundreds of entries, with an especially numerous clump of entries on the (near-holiday) night the contest closed. They are now able to find valuable precedent through searching, or, just as often, browsing the wiki.


They believe that an average successful search saves around 2 hours in fruitless searching or reinvention of work product. Theor wiki has resulted in more efficient service and cheaper client bills (happier clients).

The three attorneys who led the effort suspected that if a critical mass of information is built up, the information pool would reach at a certain point reach “critical mass” and be self-sustaining. As it turns out, the wiki has succeeded in terms of the number of users. Partners now will say “check the wiki first" or “just go to the wiki.” Partners have to answer for high bills and so they are driving use.

An additional goal is also to eventually provide the information on-line to answer questions, say, about liquidated and consequential damages under New York law from other Bracewell & Giuliani offices.

They find it much easier to post small bits of information on the wiki than to draft a formal research memo on a given subject. Attorneys can easily cut and paste an email into the wiki.

One paralegal was able to find a form for accepting assignment of a case to a mostly retired New York state judge on 30 seconds on the wiki, where it had taken two hours on the internet.


Users get redlined changes of updates to wiki. This provides a way to educate all of them to keep up on new developments in the law.

Other Uses

While the litigation group's wiki was solely for internal use, they believe that the external hosting makes sharing the project wiki with the client a potential use for transactional work.

Reaction and Conclusion

At my firm we use West KM to retrieve previous examples of substantive legal research, and that tool works quite well for that purpose. We also use a collection of Sharepoint and Interaction lists and systems to track information about judges and courts. I am working on a Sharepoint wiki focused on federal civil procedure but Sharepoint's notifications limitations make it an inappropriate tool to serve as a tool for updating my department about developments in the law. And my systems don't currently provide an easy way for attorneys to capture knowledge contained in email or to contribute small bits of higher-level knowledge, such as the procedures and practices of a particular judge.

Litigation knowledge managers, practice support lawyers, and people with similar responsibilities inside law firms should look at the benefits that a substantive litigation wiki can provide their groups, and draw from this firm's experience with selection, adoption, and success.

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