Tuesday, March 12, 2013

First Session at Ark Conference, “Using KM to build a robust and efficient firm”

Speaker:  Mira Renko, Head of Expertise, Ashurst
Formal Description:

·         Building the right teams to address various client requirements
·         Effectively locating various knowledge resources
·         Managing the talent and experience of lawyers within the firm
·         Effectively mentoring and training new and experienced lawyers

This was a session with a strong professional development and training bent--Chris Boyd's work at Wilson Sonsini as head of both comes to mind.  I have a strong emphasis on training in my own work and appreciated Mira's laying out details on an advanced program that has accomplished extensive development of soft skills and collaboration amongst firm lawyers.


Knowledge management used to support a law firm's plan can drive law firm success and make lawyers lives better.

The "expertise team" has traditional precedent managers as well as expertise / "Professional Development & Training" people.  There are around four staff on the expertise team in Australia. 

In 2012, Ashurst (A UK-based firm) merged with an Australian firm and now has 24 offices as well as affiliations with Indonesian and India firms.  Core businesses are in corporate finance, and infrastructure, inter allia.  They do a lot of cross-border deals and so need local expertise in a lot of countries. 

Their motto--"Excellence with rapport and more." 

Quotes B. Gupta, "In an economy where the only certainty is uncertainty, the only sure source of lasting competitive advantage is knowledge."

Developing Knowledge Resources

Traditional KM is focused on documents.  She quotes the Wikipedia definition of knowledge management

Robust KM requires talented lawyers.  This makes law firms vulnerable because they can leave.  Expertise-led training programs and the like are key.  Understanding clients is another part of knowledge management.  Her firm talked to bank clients in advance of bank legislation to develop documents that covered the new legislation, which they were then able to leverage to develop new clients.

Formal and informal training are equally important.  Good tools for lawyers are a given in a sophisticated firm.  Documents have to be written in plain language, be consistent across offices, and be up to date.

Practice support lawyers embedded in practice groups initiate sharing and collaboration. 

IT systems are also necessary and are a "given."  Most law firm systems are reasonably good and it is often a matter of leveraging them as necessary.

KM has to support the fundamental business of the firm and be aligned with the firm's long-term goals.  The strategic goals of the firms should guide the KM group's strategic plan.  Resources may be allocated to cover new offices; most profitable or growth areas; and areas of greatest risk for the firm. Understanding clients is also key.

Pinning KM plan to firm plan helps with support for KM, if KM is seen as part of implementing the firm plan.  It shows your engagement with the firm plan and helps your initiatives gain traction.

In developing KM plan, ask questions like, "Who are the experts?" "What is key knowledge employees need to provide an excellent client services?" "What is the knowledge & information that your firms needs to access quickly and effectively?" 

Making Knowledge Resources Accessible

A great set of precedent documents is crucial, although it may not be as exciting.  These save lawyers time and contain highly developed expertise, reducing the risk to the firm.  They are absolutely essential to an efficient firm.

Current awareness has to be robust and developed in an accessible format (they are rolling out new formats).  The KM team works closely with the library in delivering current awareness. They provide value-add by writing case notes about new developments. 

At Ashurst precedent documents are typically "sanitized" with client information removed.

The expertise team sits within the practice area, and are halfway between a "tool" and a "delivery tool."  They act as a conduit and a resource depending on the need.

Knowledge delivery channels have to be easy to access.  They deliver them via intranet, wiki, or document management systems.

Some practice areas love wikis because they are collaborative and easy to update.

Others prefer direct access to the document management system (DMS) libraries of precedent documents.

Practice area pages link through to the document management system.

The knowledge team has recently spent a lot of time on mobile access.  Lawyers like to have updates delivered on the go.  They've delivered tax and other legislative updates as eBooks, which are easy to read on commutes and can be annotated.  CCH, Lexis, and Thomson / Reuters are also available via tablets. The library staff has trained lawyers on how to access these databases, create research folders, and download the folders to their PCs.

The KM team has also been advising lawyers on which apps to use. 

"Using nimble tools to make everyday lawyers more effective."

Building the Right Team

Part of building the right team is getting the right people.  The KM team is not directly involved in recruiting but it does assist in skills assessment and in identifying what skills are needed to move forward.  A robust law firms makes the most effective use of its experts. Properly leveraging experts requires that they are sitting in the right teams, aren't doing work that could be just as easily done by others, and are recognized throughout the firm.

They created a "Learning Passport" program where associates at different levels had to be trained in the "absolute basics," covering some black-letter law and some soft skills.  It's a physical passport, with stamps for courses they have to take. There are five levels of lawyers (one level might be "lawyers 1-3").  Soft skills include delegation, team building, supervision, time entry, matter management, and excellence in writing and oral presentation.  A partner program (not a passport) works in small groups focuses on leadership, business development, and supervision.  KM partners with the learning & development group and relies on outside providers.

Managing Talent

Engaging and motivating lawyers is really important in leveraging expertise and advancing internal personal networks. Associates learn by presenting at boot camps and training sessions, and build the foundations for working cross-office with peers.

They audit and analyze all the practice group training that takes place.  Smaller offices may not get the benefits of trainings that take place in larger offices.  One practice area for instance was doing an induction session in only one office, but at the expertise team's suggestion, extended it by video conferences to other offices.

Ashurst uses technology to its limit; all Continuing Legal Education classes are run across all offices (nationally). 

Using intranets and wikis they try to ensure that learning is available on demand.  They have "self-administered legal training" (SALT) on some subjects.  They have a learning management system and have recorded face-to-face trainings.

Training & Mentoring Experienced Lawyers

Learning soft skills is still necessary to complete and polish off lawyers' educations.  They've developed extensive "buddy" checklists. The KM team is charged with ensuring that lessons learned from matter debriefings are incorporated into precedents and ways of doing business going forward.  They've developed guides for conducting matter debriefs.

In Touch With Clients

Learning about and from clients is really important for competitive advantage. They wrote an "advice-writing guide", supplemented with training, that shows lawyers how to write what I would call "client alerts."  Clients didn't like reams of paper.  Banks might like things in PowerPoint presentations.  Lawyers may feel challenged artistically but graphs, charts, and pictures can greatly improve client advice.

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