Monday, July 16, 2007

Instituting Change At Law Firms

Change management has been a popular topic at knowledge management conferences. Nina Platt's excellent presentation on managing change at the October 2006 Ark Conference in Chicago stood out for me. She discussed organizational theory on change, including Everett Rodgers' clustering people into five categories;

•2.5% inventors
•13.5% early adopters
•34% early majority adopters
•34% late majority adopters
•16% laggards

Her main point was that effective change has usually been accomplished by focusing on the 15% of people who are "inventor" or "early adopter"-level change embracers, not on the late majority or the laggards (or even the early majority).

While it was interesting and helpful, I don't recall Nina's talk specifically addressing change in the context of large law firm culture. Despite the popular image of law as a quagmire of dusty and unchanging rules [FN1], lawyers are in fact trained and accustomed to dealing with change. The case method still used in law schools to inculcate young lawyers with the culture of the law necessarily shows them that the law is subject to change. That is because it is plain that the common law has evolved to account for unexpected circumstances, such as the development of railroads and the printed circuit board.

Even the everyday system of authority and validation of cases underscores the changing nature of the law. When lawyers enter practice, it is drilled into them that they must verify the validity of the cases in any brief or research memo they submit to their partner (not to mention the court), among other reasons in order to avoid the embarrasment of having the opposing counsel snidely point out in court that "counsel's argument is based on bad [that is, outdated] law."

That is not to say that lawyers in practice embrace change for the sake of change. To the contrary, I think that the tremendous time pressures on lawyers to bill, win business, and otherwise focus on what they have to do day-to-day makes it very difficult for them to pay attention to or even to gracefully accept significant changes in their working environment.

  • The trick is to quickly make it apparent that the change is in the lawyer's best interest, and ideally, will even save her time.
  • Selling change through a story, in particular, a story about a problem like one that the lawyer actually faces, will bring the need for change home.
  • And, if you are instituting a new IT-based tool, find those lawyers who have professional or personal expertese and invite them in early--lawyers are not shy about providing honest feedback about the utility of software or other tools, and if they help you vet it, they will be some of the early leaders in adoption of the new technology.
And presenting the "how-to" in a way that appeals to a variety of learning styles will also increase the odds of success. I think that most lawyers are by necessity extremely good at learning solely through the printed word, and may not need the visual and oral component as much as a garden-variety business audience. At the same time, adding some visual pizazz can be much appreciated, especially by Generation Y.

FN1: "Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth." Charles Dickens, Bleak House, Chapter 1.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Expertise from the Outside In

Finding the right expert in a professional services organization

Expertise identification is a serious challenge and a focus of our KM Committee's interest at the moment.

Looking For Our Experts From The Outside

From the outside, I imagine that people without prior contact with the firm looking at my firm's web site find someone to contact for help with their legal services by drilling down into a particular legal practice area, such as antitrust litigation or mergers & acquisition, and simply call the head of that practice area. Another way, that our external site also supports, is to run a keyword search of the attorney's biographies to identify relevant experience. At the moment this search is a simple full-text search of the attorney biographies. It would be great if our web site intelligently combined the bios with the relevant practice area names and leading individuals, such that a search for "antitrust" would highlight the leader and members of the Antitrust practice area, as well as identify those attorneys with substantive experience in antitrust law (who could be patent attorneys).

(Of course, the idea that someone would hire a firm like mine based on the web site greatly oversimplifies the situation, since a significant majority of any professional services organization's new clients come through referrals from existing clients, with the referral being made to specific individuals at the firm that the existing client trusts).

Another way that people outside the firm can identify who's working on what is to view regular newsletters, like our Financial Services Alert, or the periodic press releases about significant litigation victories or deals.

Looking For The Inside Expert

Internally the situation is a little more complex.

One problem is the unwilling expert. While any lawyer should be happy to hear from a prospective client as a result of these sorts of indications, that is not necessarily the case about internal expertise. Picture the very senior litigation partner who, although he has very strong expertise in a particular area of law, may not look kindly upon being interrupted, especially by a very junior attorney on a very basic question in that area of knowledge. My point is that you don't just want to know who is the expert, you also want to know who will quickly (& ideally happily) answer your questions. That may be a better definition of what an expert is, as pointed out by Jack Vinson last year.

Another issue is the overeager expert. While the market (and the marketing department) presumably checks those who undeservedly exaggerate their credentials, attorneys rating themselves for internal use face no such limit. Picture the up-and-coming senior associate who would love to gain experience in a new and exciting area of law. Expertise identification by that person might be more aspirational than reality-based, and the person who calls that person for advice based on the system's recommendation may leave disappointed, never to use that system again.

Conversely, some people, even attorneys, are inherently shy and modest. Such people may identify their relevant expertise far more narrowly than is actually warranted.

Guidelines and Structure

So what would an expertise system that can avoid these issues look like?

In their ILTA article, "KM and Expertise Location" Tania Daniels and Mark Horn make the excellent point that the design of any expertise capturing system should be driven by a primary business need, be it identifying cross-selling opportunities, encouraging associates to stay by helping them build their internal network, or something else. What you quantify will drive how well your system functions for one of these business purposes. (Apparently, the Horne Daniels Group is no longer in business as such, but Tania very kindly answered some questions for me about the article from her new perch at The Walt Disney Company.)

Another troublesome aspect of an expertise identification system is listing or developing that particular areas of expertise you wish to track, in other words, developing and maintaining an expertise taxonomy. The difficulty here is finding the right level of granularity. With too little specificity, the system points to too many people in each area and is of little use. With too much granularity, if attorneys must participate by choosing their level of expertise in many dozens of possible areas, the cost of implementing the system for the firm as a whole rises, and may become too great. And it cannot be abstract--there is no point in having a system that identifies one person as the only expert in both a top level and all of the sub-levels of a general topic area.

Perhaps a system combining some real metrics, like hours billed in particular types of legal work, with self-selection would work best. Any professional firm has information about the type of work that its professionals do--it's a question of how to expose that information without exposing other information, such as total hours billed, that may cause personnel difficulties or concern in a sometimes competitive environment.

This year-old article on the "holy grail" of expertise location suggests that solutions are not coming out of the woodwork yet. I've looked at Kanda. Any other decent expertise solutions out there?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pivoting in Delicious; Litigation KM and Social Tagging

Before I first started using last week (yes I am a connectivity software newbie), I questioned the value of tagging. I thought tagging would merely help me find web sites that I was interested in, and that other people's tags would be of comparatively little interest. Since I was fairly happy with storing web sites I used in the IE "Favorites" list, I didn't really see why I should bother.

Count me in as a convert. The power of site tagging is not simply that it helps me find and logically group my own sites. Since so many people are using it, Delicious also provides access to a very substantial collective intelligence about topics I care about, simply through the happenstance of having tagged web sites with the same or closely comparable words.

But as an incredibly important bonus, the tags not only lead you to the web sites, they also point to the delicious accounts of the people who made them. In other words, tagging has uncovered not just the information, but the people who are interested (and may be working on) the same things that I am working on. You can mine other's delicious pages to see not just the tags that you have in common, but the other words and sites that they think are significant.

The example that educated me was the tag "enterprise2.0."
I had tagged the website for the Enterprise 2.0 Conference that I caught the tail end of last week with the logical tag "Enterprise2.0." When I went back to my delicious site, and clicked on my "enterprise2.0" tag, I saw that I could view others' use of that tag, either the most "Popular" uses or "All" uses.

Delicious cleverly puts these "popular" and "all" tags into readily comprehensible and recreatable URLs, such that you can see the page for the enterprise2.0 tag at and the popular tags for "Enterprise2.0" at

Next to each of the sites listed, Delicious identifies the number of people who have tagged that site (the pink lines).

Each of these pink lines is in turn a hyperlink to the Delicious page devoted to that link or resource (with an indecipherable URL, in this case .

The presentation at this "URL" or "link" page is different; it is now easy to see who has tagged what, and to jump into the user profiles, since the tagger's name is listed beneath their tags and description of the URL, if any. For understandable reasons, however, doubtless having to do with spammers and privacy, you cannot actually contact or reach out to the other Delicious users. I had hoped that there would be some way to direct a comment or reach out in some way to the Delicious users with whom I apparently have a lot of interests in common.

In effect Delicious lets you "pivot" and explore idea categories (tags), those who created them (the users) and the resources themselves (in this case, web links).

Circling back, what does this have to do with litigation knowledge management?

Imagine that a tagging system for documents and URLS is implemented internally at a law firm, such that others in the firm can see what you call another document, can see your tags, and aggregates the tags. It would be significantly easier than it currently is to identify and find:

  1. the documents that people go back to again and again (a/k/a exemplars, forms, models);
  2. what people think documents pertain to (removal, subject-matter jurisdiction, pulp plants);
  3. who is concerned with which issues and trends (Joe Partner in DC, Amy Associate in NY).

I am trying to provide these same resources day after day to the attorneys in my firm, which is possible through my extensive time investment in the available search technologies and databases that my firm offers. With social tagging they wouldn't have to call me, but could take advantage of other's perspectives.

Social tagging has the potential to allow attorneys to add rich context to their work product and search efforts, and to lower the effort required to take advantage of the work of others in the firm.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

First Post--Litigation Knowledge Management Blog, "Caselines"

As a blog is a means of communicating news and theories, and real communication is improved by readers and authors having some common ground, I am beginning by a few words about who I am and what I am trying to do.

I am the litigation knowledge management attorney at a large law firm, Goodwin Procter LLP. Not surprisingly, I came to knowledge management from a background as a practicing litigator at two other firms. I used to litigate in such areas as deinked pulp mills, visitation rights for nonbiological parents, trade secrets, and zoning. (If you can find a common thread in those topics, you're smarter than me.) I've practiced in a 350+ attorney law firm and in an office of no more than 20 attorneys.

Part of what interests me about knowledge management is how it can potentially help attorneys avoid some of the confusion, drudgery, and anxiety that practicing law sometimes entails. Having a top-quality example of the same kind of pleading that you are trying to draft can be of tremendous benefit and reassurance. Talking to someone who has already appeared in front of the judge you are about to argue before, or who has previously hired the expert you are about to stake your case on, likewise can be of great value. Technology provides one means to share information such as this, but not the will or the culture that are just as necessary. Legal KM is about the technology and also the processes and cultures neccessary for attorneys to use, share, and reuse their skills and work product.

Currently I'm working on the implications and uses of collaborative software, such as Enterprise 2.0; internal expertese identification; enterprise search; and matter management.

Your comments and views are most welcome.