Thursday, October 25, 2012

Asking the Right Questions: The Challenge of Big Data

I'm continuing liveblogging / note providing at the Ark conference.  This was a good session about a new topic for law firms (if not for their clients).

Maura Grossman at Wachtell is counsel at Wachtell Lipton.  Chad Ergun is Director of Global Practice Services & Business Intelligence at Gibson Dunn.  Mary Abraham is counsel at Debevoise & Plimpton.

Size matters. By renaming information overload as "big data" we imply that we actually can cope with it (Jeremy Bently).

Big Data has three widely accepted attributes; volume, velocity, variety.  Volume reaches well beyond gigabytes and terabytes to petabytes and beyond.  We're dealing with more stuff coming at us with greater speed and variety than any existing tools can handle.  The panelists added attributes of veracity and value.  Can you actually rely on large vats of data.  If you can't, do they have any value?

Maura asks if the risk of keeping this stuff around is greater than the benefit.

We've been able to manage information in excel cells.  The type of information being produced is mostly unstructured.

Unstructured information is of many types, ranging from audio and video to texts, documents, and email.  Metadata and tags can't really cope with this type of information.

Rod Smith suggests that big data is about new uses and insights into information, not new amounts.

Law firms may not be addressing big data very much at this point, but our clients certainly are.  Big data might be used, for instance, to mine help desk calls and support requests.

Productivity increases more than 5% at organizations that have implemented big data analytics.

One example of big data usage is real-time computer monitoring of live video feeds, for instance, to alert law enforcement on unusual occurances.  Another is grocery store monitoring of customers looking for food.

There is a dark side of big data, such as NSA monitoring of international calls combined with email monitoring.

Industries inquiring about big data include banking and finance companies, the service sector, government, and manufacturing.

Big data may be itself a new form of value.

Common purposes for big data in law firm include competitive intelligence related to an RFP, lateral hiring, or business development.

Ergun--you're not ready for big data if you're tracking your matter information in Excel or in Access databases.

What would happen if you could mine your matters without tracking or coding, using current technology to extract key metadata?  You could likely find related matters, types of matters, staffing models, and the like.  Through an interface you could shift through different aspects like hours / fees  / rates / leverage.

Hours breakdowns by client / industry / type of acquisition.  All information would be touchable / drillable.  

Rand Corporation indicates that eDiscovery data costs around $0.20 per GB per day to store and $18,000 per GB per day.

The question is, what decisions could we make if we had all the information we need?

When you can bring two completely separate data sources together, you can create something beautiful (like Google flu queries and CDC population data.)

Mary polled the audience for some questions or topics that could benefit from big data mashups.

Some ideas were:

  • Cost per document version
  • Matter management & pricing
  • Trends in words in email exchanges
  • Government economic data and IPO list price
  • Attributes of pitches and success rates
  • Attributes of pleadings and trials and litigation success rates
  • Bankruptcy trends and client payments

We have to think without our usual constraints.  If we had our dream data sets, which of our usual business problems could we solve?

 The movement of big data is increasing.  Clients are starting to make price adjustments based on competitor's prices.  Within two to five years there will be a lot more big data work.

One big data story (allegedly) true is that of a father who went to the drug store to complain about his daughter receiving emails and coupons related to pregnancy.  He thought it would inappropriately influence her.  A week later he called to apologize---the drug store (actually its centralized data center) had correctly figured out from the teen's purchases that she was pregnant and targeted her for things she was likely to buy.

The Truth Behind Lawyer Personalities and KM Adoption

These are my notes from an interesting presentation by KM guru (now SNR Denton US CIO) Sally Gonzalez.

Knowledge management in law firms should be easy. The law is a knowledge-intensive industry, and lawyers must be doing some knowledge management every day.  Yet we struggle with km adoption and talk of "pushing the rock up the hill" is common.

Much of what we struggle with may have to do with the personalities of the people we work with.  These personalities won't change, so we need creative ways to deal with these personalities. (I've blogged about Mark Sirkin's presentation on lawyer personalities on the ILTA KM blog).

How will these barriers manifest themselves as KM moves into new areas of effort such as fee arrangements, process improvements, and project management?

Early KM was very inward-focused.  It was intended to help lawyers be more productive earlier in the career, be better technical lawyers.  In the UK risk mitigation was a major expressed concern.  In the US efficiency was more prominent.  Early KM also integrated with professional development, through encouraging training or through mining training materials.  Incidentally some of the KM material was shared with clients.

We struggled with getting lawyers to share know-how, contributing content, getting agreement on standards, forms, precedents.   We also struggled with getting lawyers to spend time on KM.  Lastly some people did not use KM resources very often when they were developed.

We thought that barriers included knowledge hoarding, the billable hour, client willingness to pay for firms to reinvent the wheel, and no funding for dedicated practice support lawyers.

More subtly, barriers included unwillingness to expose less than perfect materials.  challenges around achieving consensus, and fear of exhibiting less than perfect knowledge.

What is unique about lawyer personalities?

She worked with several Hildebrandt consultants who were trained psychologists.  They distributed "Caliper" profiles to 4500 lawyers and compared to more 2 million college-educated subjects.

Lawyers vary from the norm in eight areas.

Lawyers prize autonomy at a score of 89 out of 100 compared to the general public at 50. They also prize skepticism (90 / 100).  This makes them not trust other's work.  (It also makes them good lawyers.)  They are very good at abstract reasoning (89/100).  Their resilience (sensitivity to criticism) is much lower (30/100).   Urgency is at 71/100.  This leads to impatience and a need to get things done.  Lawyers are at 12/100 in sociability, leading to challenges in building relationships with clients, mentoring, or other such activities.

Given those traits, what really works?

In early KM work,  a few approaches worked pretty well.

1.  Know-how by committees, or by highly respected sources.  Committees provide a chance for people to express opinions and validate their autonomy.
2.  Current awareness also has to come from an authoritative source
3.  PSLs who are highly respected can also provide acceptable updates and information.
4.  Submission of "know-how" -level content by others has worked.
5.  Promoting "good enough" precedents worked better.

Rainmakers and firm leadership are typically higher in resilience than other lawyers.  Firms might consider spotting future rainmakers and leaders through tests of this attribute and avoid driving them out early.

There are many challenges to building a team of lawyers, which is what you need project management and process improvement.  Lawyers are skeptical, autonomous, and antisocial.  The compensation system does not reward teamwork, and their higher tolerance of adversity keeps them from fully forming effective groups.

Lawyers' personalities do not make them natural project managers.  

Raising self-awareness is one way to mitigate the impact of negative lawyer personality traits.

Lawyers with more sympathy and sociability end up doing mentoring and so forth, and may end up leaving the firm because of lower hours.

We should measure and reward positive personality traits.

Personality traits inform the constituency that we are dealing with.  Attorneys want to talk to attorneys.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Structuring For Innovation--Ark Conference

John Alber covered his firm Bryan Cave's journey into innovation in greater detail than I heard before.

Innovation is not accidental.  There are steps you can do and thought changes you
can undergo yourself to foster innovation.

Innovation is the bedrock of what clients like Boeing and Google do.  Innovation for them covers business processes as well as technology and product development.

John Alber pointed to his spiffy albeit conservative Brooks Brothers jacket and tie ensemble as a metaphor for the conservative state of legal innovation.

There are many opportunities to help clients reduce legal spend.  Not just fees, but also insurance, eDiscovery costs, settlement payments, and the like.

IT as Source of Innovation

IT has been the source of some innovation, but innovation is not driven by technology, and IT is inherently conservative.  As with Finance, "one person's innovation is another person's disruption" (Rosabeth Moss Kanter of HBS).

You may have to restructure organizations--(though leading legal tech innovator when at Mallesons Gerard Neiditsch would argue that you can keep existing structures and innovate within that. )

Bryan Cave set up three groups to foster innovation.  Each named around a benefit.

Client Technology Group 

This was a sanctioned and uncontrolled "skunk works" with web developers, business analysts, graphic artists, etc.  They are charged with business process mapping and automation.  They are more change-focused than IT.

They have created decision support systems ("Trade Zone"); a socially enabled intranet; and more.

Practice Economics Group

This was spun out of CTG; goal was to focus on a different mission, more on managing for profitability & success with engagements.  People on the team include web developers, financial analysts, and now attorney project managers.

Goal is to create processes, and then manage them.

They have tools for pricing new engagements; tracking & monitoring engagements; and comparing engagements.  They also created a tool to extract task codes from billing entry before LSA.  Reporting includes intranet and extranet reporting to clients.  

Providing right information in a timely way has measurably increased profitability.  Chris Emerson is its director and is very active in sharing best practices through ILTA and other groups.

They've had high success of uptake with partners of their monitoring systems.  It's taken a long time.   88% of partners have looked at it over the past year at various degrees of intensity. It's a function of focused attention from management committee and has propagated throughout.

Accelerated Review Team

The ART (!) covers e-discovery, due diligence, and the like.

Every partner retreat, practice group meeting hears about success stories.  Separate visibility and naming helps.  Because it's broken out, it is easier to give it credit than to say "this part of the IT group" was responsible for a given success.

In 2004 uptake of dashboard was around 10%.

Key to uptake is getting people at many many levels to buy in. Everyone has to feel they have a stake.

Spectrum sales is one area where these groups have applied their efforts.

They analyzed work flow and tracking, and then extracted rules of decision for these complicated sales from the most experienced attorneys.  They used checklists and decision branches (what happens if you find X problem...).

"Data collectors" become guides for first-level lawyers.  The goal is to let a low-level lawyer do the day-to-day work at a very high level of quality.  Other tools manage the work at a higher level (as with eDiscovery management tools), looking at who is productive, quality of work, and the like.

They started with a few lawyers working very slowly under tight supervision, and then were able to scale it up and get a lot more people.  

The program has "dendritic logic" like that of a document assembly, allows people without FCC experience to analyze leases for necessary clauses and optouts.  Metastorm or Neota Logic can also build system like this.

One big client outsourced all of its spectrum.  Average turn time went from months and months to three weeks.

Tools and processes got applied to many many engagements.  They expanded to financial sector litigation.  With enough information you can produce first drafts of motions to dismiss.   These have reached a high level of complexity.  

Competition, Collaboration, and Innovative Service Delivery

This is my second post from the Ark Conference in New York.  This was a very interesting session that focused, as some sessions at the ILTA conference focused, on client-facing KM and understanding the KM and business landscape in law departments.

These are my notes on another good session at the Ark Conference in New York.

Risa Schwartz

Risa is a KM luminary who has been in KM both in-house and in law firms.  The firms need to know what's going on inside client's legal departments so that we can offer things that they need.   Offer what they need in a preservable and reusable manner.  She's providing an overview of the law department landscape.


Most firms have document management systems, but most legal departments do not.  Typically there will be 15-20 different repositories.  Documents are on CDs, on individual servers (she heard of a "Jessica drive" that was under Jessica's desk and contained "trademark.") Law departments don't have search.

Case Management Tools

Documents for cases are often in email.  They may not have matter management, or have only implemented case & matter management for billing purposes.

People & Training

You need to know how training is done.  Is it available 24/7 or is it in too small/too big chunks?  Are they preserving training in a reusable and searcheable way?

If you start asking clients about these issues you can start offering services.

Volunteer to ask. You can send someone to the client and conduct a needs assessment.  Sit in on trainings or even run them.

Understand Client's Business

(down to the level of lines of business)

Clients need business-specific training.  Not a generic copyright session, a copyright session about a particular side of the business.

What can KM do?

Show them what you have developed.  We have extraordinary products and offerings.  If you could hook the client into what you've developed, that would be great. 

They are hungry for litigation information.  New hires need to know about making uniform arguments based on arguments in previous comparable cases.  Offer an extranet or canned report where client can get metrics with outcomes, people, case information.

People finders & referrals can be a big things at law firms. If you can't provide access formally, you can set up an email-based referral system "do you know someone who can do X" and provide replies.

Kathleen Hogan

She started in KM in 2008 and then was asked to join the KM function at Bank of Montreal.

Her bank is one of the "big five."  It's been in China for more than 100 years.  The banks look at themselves like a reflection of the public.

Her group "LCCG" has 650 people, about 125 lawyers in many jurisdictions.  Training is therefore complicated.

Her bank as a whole has 45,000 people.  An employee's supervisor could be three interrelated people.

She thinks a lot about stock price and about quarter ends / year ends.  Public company cycles generate activity.

Huge institutions make law firms look nimble.  How do you roll out Office 2010 across 45K people, hundreds of branches?


The answers to the "what is KM" question often give short shrift to professional development.
In Ontario you have to get 12 hours of credit annual.  She looks after staff in 6 (soon to be 8) jurisdictions.  She relies on outside counsel to come to her and tell her what she can do.

Law firms do a good job providing CLEs at their firms.

She prefers to have law firms come to her, sometimes its just fine to provide exactly the same program internally.  More often these programs need to be  tailored to the bank.

It's hard for her to balance US & Canadian law.  Sometimes in a webinar global or cross-border issues need to be addressed, though counsel is hesitant.

She's been able to show a savings of at least $100,000 by bringing in law firms to present CLEs.

Legal Training For The Business

Law department lawyers go out to their business and train on best practices, for instance, on legal holds.  The business people enjoy talking to lawyers.

Don't provide training directly to the business line without involving the law department.

Technology Training 

Office 2010 rollout just happened.  It would have been helpful to get tip sheets, have our trainers come in, give best practices.  KM people should volunteer to come in.

Julie Lin and Kathleen co-wrote an ILTA paper about productivity and how law firms can help.   How can you help?  Law departments are behind on KM issues.

Risa mentioned that webex and other technologies can be used to record a quick training.

Ellen Rosenthal

Pfizer has an integrated alliance with 19 law firms that provides a platform for knowledge management.  It includes Ropes & Gray, White & Case, Skadden, and other.  The goal is for it to operate a single group.  A stable group of lawyers partner with Pfizer and with each other in support of Pfizer.   There have only been two changes to the group.

All financial arrangements are under a flat fee, with the goal of removing the competition for hours.

Underlying principles are collaboration, training & development, long-term partnerships, and a new mindset.

Training includes monthly programs (2-4 hours at Pfizer),  usually run by a law firm associate with an in-house person.  Other firms might even ask for a particularly impressive associate from another firm to be on their team.

Training also includes secondment and reverse secondment.

They give twice-yearly numerical and quantitative feedback.

Basic knowledge management can enhance communications within the alliance.

Their KM approach is very low-tech and focuses on sharing best practices.  For instance, last week she brought together the whole litigation and patent cases (inside and outside) and went through a products problem scenario, and came up with five lessons learned from the exercise that were real things they could be doing better.

How can they do continuous quality improvement?  Replicate best practices so that they are used throughout.  They've talked about doing post-mortems on matters that includes efficiency assessments, because it is in the law firms' interests to be more efficient.

Quarterly litigation strategy meetings sit almost as an appellate panel and hear about strategy on four or five cases at a time.

They'll make a given lawyer responsible for a given product, so that (for instance) the implications of interrogatory or document request responses can be understood and managed.

They are having the conversations but they are not doing a great job capturing the conversations.  They can't get people to use the online system.

An audience member noted that client-specific KM systems have been built and no one has come.

Risa responded that the mark of a successful product is adoption, and that you have to involve all the stakeholders in in-house projects in the same way as we do internally.  Ask how people do their job.  Get the tool to match the way people do their jobs in the same way.

Paul Lippe says that KM should provide material improvement to productivity.

Lawyers are struggling with change and with new ways of doing business.

Ark Conference--The Economics of Law and the Future of Legal KM

I'm here at the ARK conference in New York.  It is quite well attended.
Toby Brown is giving the keynote, "The Economics of Law and the Future of KM."  I am live-blogging so there may be typos.

Toby challenges core principles of KM.  He wants us to do KM differently, where KM might be focused better.

Toby moved away from KM in his career when AFAs started to come up. He gave it up.  KM "came back to him" as he knew it would, as it underlies much of alternative fee arrangement work.

He started an AFA peer group about a year ago, initially with five people.  Now there are almost 120, and they've added legal project management into the mix.  The group's purpose is to increase professional development, have good conversations, and work with the vendors in the space.  Contact him to sign up.

What keeps law firm leadership up at night?  It's the economics.

Many people at law firms don't understand economics (this gap is his first challenge to KM).  How are people at our law firms going to understand and come to a clear definition of what is profit?

What is profit for a law firm?

Definitions of gross margin, contribution, and net margin go to what kind of behavior we are trying to motivate among the partners.  What's motivated partners in the past is hours and rates.

What drives profit?

We know what drives law firm profits--rates, realization, productivity and leverage.


Raising rates 1% typically rates profitability around 2% where realization is 90-110%.  The cost rate is hidden.   The cost rate (for non-partners) is the expenses (salary, rent) per timekeeper divided by a target annual hours (typically a rate change is around 50-80%).


A 5% discount will typically drive down profit 10% or more.

Discount, writedowns, writeoffs are three cuts at realization, each of which needs to be tracked differently.  Discounts typically reflect market prices; writedowns might reflect inefficiencies in work; and writeoffs reflect inability to collect.  KM should think about getting the firm to clearly differentiate between them and to track them separately.

Productivity / Utilization

Number of effective hours per timekeeper (billed and collected).   As hours go down, costs per hour go up.  Cost rates have less of an impact.

"The rule of three" is that the first third is compensation, the second third overhead, and the third third is profit.

Leverage a/k/a "The great equalizer"

Leverage is ratio of partner time to that other timekeepers (market standard might be around 25%).  The net margin for partners is typically negative.  This is not a bad thing as it shows that the other timekeepers are making profit that pays the partners.

Who is generating the highest net margin?

If you're leveraging well, you're moving the work down to the lowest appropriate level of staff.

What's happening with these levers?

Rates used to go up 8-10% per year.  These days increases are around 3-4%.
Realization has dropped from around 96% to 86% and dropping.
Productivity has dropped around 10%

Leverage--Most firms are overlawyered in the partner ranks.

Toby sees the legal market as competitive rather than a "buyer's" market.  He doesn't see the shift as a pendulum swing that will swing back.  We've cut costs and mitigated somewhat the usually run  in rates.    Rate increases have a delayed effect.

Demand for 2012 was up just about 1%, essentially flat.  Large law firms increased spend on technology and other matters around 6% with projects like Windows 7 and Office 2010.

bHe sees a huge opportunity.   This is not rocket science.  If we drive down the cost of providing legal services we can maintain profitability and provide work for less.

A lot of products and services will meet these needs, and some of them are KM driven.

LSA can read and analyze time entries and programatically put time entries on them (I've seen this product and I believe that it is able to task-code with somewhat more than 85% accuracy).

Sky Analytics provides analytics on billing information.  Initially they were working for law departments.  It can also look at the phases of work and identify the staffing by phase. It can identify timekeeepers repeatedly billing 8 hours a day or working on a lot of weekends.

Another KM opportunity is monitoring.  Compare how you said you were doing with how you did.

KM classically has been about documents and people.  This will turn KM more towards money, staffing, process, and other things it hasn't focused on to date.

Another KM opportunity is reviewing scenarios and identifying profitability for different phases of work.

Partners don't understand leverage and how increasing leverage can increase the firm's profitability and net margin.  This itself is a KM opportunity.

Basic KM tools can be put in place to share information about profitability.

The Finance people may feel threatened by KM efforts.  They are getting asked for more and more different reports and are underwater.   They need KM but may have a hard time getting out of their blinkered approach.

Redwood Analytics, Aderant, Data Fusion, and others can't present the phase/leverage/staffing information in a usable way.

Tom Baldwin--we need to connect the dots between our efficiency tools and the "soft spots" pointed out by finance and profitability analysis.

Finance people can spot the problems, KM can provide solutions