Thursday, October 30, 2008

KM and Modern Law Firm: Strategy and Operations for IT and KM


Peter K. Kaomea, Chief Information Officer, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
Tom Baldwin, Chief Knowledge Officer, Reed Smith, LLP
Stuart Kay, Director, Global Information Systems Projects, Baker & McKenzie

This high-powered panel focused on the possible tensions and synergies that arise between IT and KM departments. My basic takeaway is that there are so many dramatic changes in the competitive environment and technology that KM and IT have to work together. While there may always be some sort of tension between the two, it is KM’s responsibility to engage with IT, and to learn something about it.

Stuart mentioned that in his current position, KM acts as the “public face” of IT, representing its abilities to lawyers and in effect “selling” new systems to the firm. KM can avoid tension with IT by demonstrating its value on a daily basis and talking to them a lot.

Peter suggested that some tension or conflict can be avoided simply by setting the framework in a way that cuts to the responsibilities at issue rather than ownership of a project or piece of information. Break out what aspects of “ownership” you care about. If you ask “who owns” an information security project, you are setting up a turf war. It is easier to ask who wants to be responsible for entering and updating particular pieces of information.

Tom Baldwin comes from an IT rather than a legal background. He believes that KM is very much IT-driven in the U.S.; by contrast, it is more driven by Practice Support Lawyers (i.e., people like me) in the U.K. and Australia where there are many more PSLs. He believes that law firms haven’t been able to treat technology strategically until quite recently, as “ripping and replacing” whole systems is no longer necessary and the basic infrastructure is more stable.

Where there is a successful KM project, there is often a heavy dose of IT. IT does not get kudos for making the “plumbing” work (“Hi, this is the managing partner. I’m so glad my phone is working today. Thank you very much.”) Yet (Stuart suggested) it is much harder to make a business case for a precedent database than an email or phone system, because it is harder to prove an indirect profitability driver than a to establish a direct negative impact.

Some of the more interesting side discussion was about identifying what lawyers want out of IT and KM. Ron’s basic answer—“Ask them.” Peter reported from his previous experience that U.S. Defense Department generals want IT and KM provide them with a way to be more competitive, for instance, by making their decision-making cycle quicker than the other side’s.

This was one panel I wish had had much more time to drill into their topics. They were just getting warmed up when the time was up.

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.

First Day of Ark Conference—Knowledge Management and the Modern Law Firm

This was the 9th Legal KM Forum put on by the ARK conference group. I hope it is not the last as I found it a good experience in three ways. For people fairly new to KM, it was a good place to get up to speed, to some degree, on techniques used by other firms to enhance collaboration, efficiency, and knowledge-sharing within the organization. For more experienced folk, it was a chance to discuss where KM might be going. It was also an opportunity to obtain an overview (albeit at warp speed*) of traditional knowledge management principles and practices as they continue to be implemented in the corporate world.

On Monday, Ron Staudt, Professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, led off with an interesting overview of his work history. Ron has been a leader in the “KM for Legal Aid” arena, coordinating legal aid internet portals for attorneys, volunteers in every state in the U.S. Following some work at Lexis-Nexis on the HotDocs document generation application, Ron has also helped develop a user-friendly document generation platform, “A2J Author,” that walks members of the public through an internet interview leading ultimately to the generation of a set of papers that can be filed in court. The basic principle of the legal aid work is to treat the 5,000-8,000 lawyers in the main legal service organizations as one firm, the idea being that they are inundated with prospective clients rather than competing for them, and to provide them with the level of IT support one might expect for a firm of that size.

I have a small amount of experience as a temporary legal aid lawyer at Greater Boston Legal Services, and am too familiar with the unmet needs addressed by legal aid organizations. I wish Ron’s continued work on these projects all the best. I also hope that these portals take advantage of social collaborative software to enable even better knowledge and experience sharing, especially between the legal aid lawyers, as they go about their work. I can readily imagine a social network site for legal aid lawyers that could leverage the tremendous intellectual and people power of these attorneys through forums, wikis, blogs, alerts, and document sharing.

Two conference themes Ron proposed were, one, in this time of economic turmoil, KM must be more strategic than ever, and two, KM is evolving to support more aspects of the firm than before, including client service, risk management, and practice support.

* Star Trek reference entirely intentional Josh.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Presentation to ARK Group Law Firm KM Conference

On Monday, October 27, I will be presenting on Day One of the Chicago Ark Conference on "Knowledge Management in the Modern Law Firm," at the Gleacher Center of the University of Chicago.

I'll be addressing two related topics.

The first talk is a panel on litigation knowledge management. I'm appearing with two other litigation KM practitioners (a rare treat!), Mary Panetta of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and Amy Halvorson of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. We'll be discussing strategies for handling litigation precedent collections and also collecting information about a law firm's litigation experience.

The second talk, titled "Fostering and Nurturing the Research & Development Function at Your Firm" focuses on how to enhance adoption of good KM tools.

I hope to see some of you there!