Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ark Conference: The Role of Technology in KM

These are my notes on an interesting presentation about an intensive investment in technology (specifically, SharePoint) and its impact on a firm. 

Leona Blanco

Leona Blanco lays out a picture of what her firm Colin Biggers & Paisley was like in 2004. 

They had 21 partners, 150 people, and 11 different numbering systems. They had no intranet or extranet, and no document management system.

Now in 2013 there are 2 numbering system, one style guide, and a standard cost agreement.  They adopted SharePoint 2007 for intranet, extranet, and document management system.  Their extranet "My CBP" was rolled out in early 2010.  (Clifford Chance has since adopted SharePoint 2010 and has thousands of employees and documents).

In Australia, the Legal Profession Act requires alerting a client when a budget is threatening to be exceeded.  CPB provides "Mercury Alerts," email notices of issues like these, internal information reports.  Mercury Alerts have evolved to be the source of choice for administrative information, with many many customized reports.

Omni is the CPB data warehouse that feeds data to SharePoint, Mercury Alerts, and the like.  No one knows about Omni. 

They've rolled out SharePoint collaboration sites for specific practices that combine documents, discussion boards, articles, feeds, and the like. Client sites (actually a SharePoint site collection) also have matter-specific SharePoint sites. An "About the Client" section allows for client team members (usually the lead partner) to contribute information about key client contacts, billing information, staffing considerations, and industry background. 

Each matter has a SharePoint site. There are now over 100,000 matter sites and 2 terabytes of data in CPB intranet.

SharePoint allows for alerts from any document or site. 

They do a lot of litigation and are importing an historic litigation sample database.  They are developing litigation forms that will auto-populate documents from matter-level information in the database (under development). 

The system allows for customized matter metadata.

Implementing Technology

It has to work right. You have to have a trial run, focus groups and pilot groups.  Make it cool to be a volunteer. Include a troublemaker, because if you win them over,

Some partners may not use the tools, which may be OK if it only impacts them.

Blathering at people in technical-speak is the quickest way to alienate them.  Translate into plain English. IT is no longer optional.

Chris Latta

A law firm's greatest asset is its knowledge.  It is subject to leakage through attrition and through people losing track of it.

The rate of production of knowledge is increasing. 

If you're supporting a lot of people with a lot of data, you have to leverage technology.  Increased capacity of technological production.

We're never going back to a point where efficiency is not important.  Law firms have to actively plan to make their current work practices obsolete.

Commoditized work has different economies of scale. 

Disruptive systems don't support the current ways of doing business and may not be deployed within the walls of ones law firm. 

Access to justice is a significant problems.  In England a million civil cases go unheard.  In Australia legal service funds are being cut.  We can automate dispute resolution. 

If we don't disrupt our own markets, someone else will.

The KM system must have more knowledge than the firm.  Contact Relationship Management is much more important in bigger firms. 

CBP has a dedicated software development team.

Ark Conference Report: Responding To Current Market Conditions With Successful KM Strategy


Karen Hanigan, KM Director, Clayton Utz
Mira Renko, Head of Expertise, Ashurst
David Williams, Lange Consulting & Software

Facilitator:  Judith Ellis, Enterprise Knowledge Pty Ltd

This is my second post on the ARK conference.  This was an interesting session, a little short on specifics, but full of information about the changes in the legal industry and some of the challenges facing legal knowledge management in Australia.

Karen Hanigan

Clayton Utz is a big firm; clients want faster, better, cheaper, and competition has never been fiercer.  Lawyer's Weekly has picked this up.  A survey of top-tier firms identified fees, merger mania, and depression (among staff) as significant issues.  We're in a state of uncertainty. 

When she started in KM "the world was your oyster."  There is some fatigue around what KM demands.  We had a big field of concepts to master like staff retention, mentoring, and change management.  She feels that KM has to narrow its focus.  Her choice has been to focus on business development. There is a strong synergy between KM and BD.  She's doing a lot of profiling.  She's set up meetings every two weeks with the BD team.

KM can help by simplifying.  She uses what everyone else is doing.  Hear what others are doing and sharing amongst professional is key. 

Client presentations can demonstrate KM value but could potentially take away from the value of knowledge management to the staff. 

She's providing technical legal training to the firm in part as a way of raising the profile of KM, to demonstrate how skilled her staff is.  These require KM attorneys to become good presenters (I have certainly found a more frequent and perhaps greater need for presentation or training skills in this type of a role than I did as a practicing litigator). 

KM also helps provide CLE training to client lawyers.  She'll help lawyers by reviewing dry runs.

Need for KM is getting greater with information overload and the emphasis on lean practice, but there is "KM fatigue" around the need. 

Mira Renko

We have to consider the pressures put upon law firms by clients and by clients on general counsel. Some clients are demanding some free services like certain types of clauses or brief consultation with a research librarians.

KM is addressing pricing pressure by teaching and coaching matter teams about how to manage the matters more efficiently and effectively.

Her firm has stepped into the global law firm environment.

Some areas of profitable work have decreased (like Mergers & Acquisition).  Do you redeploy lawyers to new areas or make them redundant?  KM can help with training lawyers in new areas of increased profitability and opportunity.

Clients may look for access to a shared space on big matters.  This is not difficult to provide.  Some clients are requiring firms to use their portal.  KM can help lawyers manage that change.  KM needs to be nimble and manage client demands.  

Business development managers may not understand what KM can fairly readily and cheaply provide to clients. 

PSLs in the UK do a lot of client-facing work, presenting seminars to clients and writing what goes to clients. 

David Williams

Other industry have already addressed the kinds of pricing pressures now facing the legal industry. How you show that you add value for money?

Cloud solutions are becoming secure (with the right controls) and are easy to get up and running.  Client and partner organization access is fairly straightforward and can be time-delimited.

Is there a case for cost recovery for KM services?

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.

Live-Blogging from Ark Conference

I'll be trying to put up posts today from the Ark Conference on Legal Knowledge Management.  As always, these are my notes from the sessions, and, as I've learned from a recent Myers-Briggs analysis done at my firm as part of manager training, I'm good at getting the sense of a discussion rather than the he-said / she-said part. 

Unfortunately my cool & effective Zagg keyboard / iPad setup is not going to be working today--it turns out that little cord you need to charge up the dang thing is a critical weak link, I replaced it last month and then left it on the plane after a very long flight from San Francisco to Sydney on Monday morning.