New ILTA Podcast: “Increasing Attorney Productivity Through Third Party Apps”

12 Apr

appsBy Gwyn McAlpine, Director of Knowledge Management Services at Perkins Coie LLP

Are your attorneys asking you how they can get more done through their mobile devices? Are you wondering how to respond to this demand because of concerns about choosing, supporting and training from among thousands of apps on multiple platforms? Well, have we got a podcast for you!

In “Increasing Attorney Productivity Through Third Party Apps,” our panel discussion ranges from general issues in supporting mobility to our favorite apps for specific business cases. You’ll hear from two KM lawyers, a library director and a security specialist, giving a diversity of perspectives and ideas. Our panelists are:

The podcast covers the following topics:

  • Mobile device management and using it to push out firm-sanctioned apps
  • How the mobile app distribution model differs from traditional software distribution
  • Training and support of mobile apps
  • Apps for specific uses cases:
  • Doing legal work, such as accessing work product, editing, notetaking, research and trial support
  • Current awareness
  • Staying organized and connected in your professional life
  • Other ways to use small chunks of time

While we leave discussion of specific apps to the podcast (and please let me know if you need help finding any of the apps we mention), I thought I’d share some links for additional app inspiration (or app-spiration!):

  • iPhoneJD: Put this one in your blog reader app. This blog is authored by attorney and Apple fan, Jeff Richardson. He posts frequently on topics including app, accessory and device reviews, tips and tricks, and news round-ups. There’s a nice index on the site for finding past reviews and lists. This link takes you to a recap of the “60 Apps in 60 Minutes “ presentation at the 2014 ABA Techshow.
  • 40 Essential Apps for Trial Attorneys: Robert Ambrogi, another tech savvy attorney, recently posted on apps for trial attorneys via his LawSites blog.
  • How Legal Apps Rank Part 1 and Part 2: iBrary Guy analyzes legal apps based on downloads and earnings via App Annie. Part 1 addresses WestlawNext and Lexis Advance for legal research, and Part 2 discusses litigation and current awareness apps.

Hopefully, the podcast and the links above will give you ideas on helping your attorneys use their mobile devices for more than Angry Birds. In the spirt of productivity through mobility, download the podcast to your Podcast app and listen to it on your next commute or visit to the gym. It will keep you nicely occupied for about 53 minutes. We’d love to hear your thoughts (and favorite apps!) in the comments below.

P.S. I drafted this blog post on my iPad on a plane using the OneNote app. Yay for apps!

Change, Lawyers and LPM

1 Apr

changeBy Melissa LaFlair, Principal, LaFlair Legal and Project Management Services

Change is a tricky thing for most. It seems to be particularly difficult for those in the legal industry. My theory is that the profession is so steeped in precedent and tradition (always looking back) that lawyers need to fundamentally rewire to look forward and figure out how to thrive in a new environment where the days of “hours worked equals pay received” are quickly fading.

In an effort to address clients’ rapidly growing demands for certainty and value, there is currently a flurry of activity as lawyers in both firms and organizations rush to adopt project management principles. But, what is project management for lawyers really?

At its most basic, legal project management involves understanding what the client needs, looking at the process of how lawyers create and deliver what is needed, and then identifying ways to improve the process to better support providing certainty and value. Certainty should be relatively easy to establish, at least regarding time and cost, once the need and desired scope/product has been determined. Surprisingly, most firms and organizations have the relevant time and cost information squirreled away in various nooks and crannies, but not centralized or in a readily accessible data format. This makes it tricky to determine time and cost parameters for their legal products or needs.

Gathering this data, even on the most general level, is in and of itself a valuable exercise for lawyers in firms and organizations alike. The tools, principles and technology available to support gathering the data are numerous and varied, from the basic to the highly complex. At the end of the day, though, some work is required on the part of the lawyers to group their product types and, ideally, provide a general outline of their process.

Interestingly, whether they realize it or not, all lawyers have some sort of processes to get from the initial client question to their final legal product. Some of these processes are more efficient than others. Sadly many lawyers are unintentionally inefficient as the billable hour neither promotes nor encourages efficiency (such that many have never thought about their practice from an efficiency perspective).

Unlike certainty, value is more subjective. So, madly creating processes and introducing technologies to establish certainty without understanding and identifying what value means to your clients and what your strategy for achieving certainty is, likely will not be the best use of your resources. For example, determining whether your clients value low-cost certainty, outcome certainty, or fixed-cost certainty and whether the answer is product-dependent will directly affect the approach you take to planning, process mapping and implementing appropriate change, as well as developing and introducing associated technologies in your firm or organization.

For firms in particular, making the effort to adjust to really serve your client’s needs often means being willing to take a short term hit in the pocket book (this does not mean the hit will actually materialize; but, you do need to acknowledge and be prepared for the possibility) as you identify and implement meaningful change that will delight your clients in the medium and long term. Surprising as it may sound to those in firm settings, clients want the lawyers they work with to be around for the long term as switching lawyers generally is a pain.

And there is the rub, financially. Firms in particular are not particularly well set up for implementing change that takes longer than a year to absorb financially because, among other reasons:

  • most lawyers include expected bonuses as part of their personal annual budgeting;
  • most firms annually disperse the bulk of the firm’s earnings;
  • most lawyers operate as individual profit centres with little incentive to take actions that benefit their group, department or firm as a whole, in the short or long term; and
  • most successful lawyers have highly portable books of business (surprisingly few clients were adversely affected by recent firm failures).

Yet the change involved with retooling to deliver certainty and value generally takes a number of years to master. In this context, it is no wonder the needed change is so slow and difficult in firm settings. I do not envy managing partners’ roles during these interesting times.

That being said, change is inevitable and client demand is growing exponentially. So lawyers, if you are in a firm setting, support your managing partners and your firms and get thinking about what you personally can do about your process for delivering advice to your clients and what specifically your clients value. Do not be fooled into thinking you can rely on past success – financial pressures are everywhere and jumping ship during these interesting times only delays the inevitable.

If you are a lawyer working in an organization, think not about the immediate budget pressures but about what your organization truly needs and values so that you can work productively with your firms to get legal services that support both you and your organization’s success.

Working together to address the new realities, firms and organizations have everything to gain.

Book Review of “The Sherlock Syndrome: Strategic Success through Big Data and the Darwinian Disruption,” Eric Hunter

4 Mar

bookby David Hobbie, Litigation Knowledge Manager, Goodwin Procter LLP

Eric Hunter is a legal knowledge management colleague and recipient of ILTA’s 2010 Knowledge Management Champion Distinguished Peer and Innovative Member awards. He is Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Technology Strategies at Bradford & Barthel, LLP (a California law firm focused on worker’s compensation) and also Executive Director of the Spherical Models consultancy.

His wide-ranging report (available at Amazon, Ark Publishing or Amazon Kindle) puts business analytics and the insights it offers at the core of wide-ranging potential changes in legal and other industries. Though future-oriented, it spends most of its time on developments whose beginnings are firmly entrenched, such as video search, wearable tech, big data, and data visualization.

Through my own work I have come to believe that legal organizationss – and perhaps organizations in general – can obtain significant competitive advantage by leveraging analytics and technologies and taking better advantage of our increasing connectivity and ability to share inside and outside the organization. Hunter’s report provides more substantiation for those beliefs, and also projects ahead to suggest how to prepare for the increasingly rapid changes that are coming. I appreciate that Hunter is “walking the walk,” talking about increased sharing while doing so himself through this book and his many presentations at Ark and ILTA conferences (referenced throughout the report).

Sherlock Syndrome

The title’s “Sherlock Syndrome” concerns our increasing ability to observe, sense, cross-reference, and analyze information and trends much more comprehensively than before through data analytics and Big Data. The trend is one of massive increases in the ability to recall, analyze, and leverage information. Hunter posits that, at least with respect to personal preferences and search patterns, “everything is becoming predictable (and therefore marketable) through analytics.” Particularly striking to me is the thought that not only are the abundance of data and power of our computers increasing rapidly, but also the sophistication and availability of easy to use analytics tools are making this information actionable in ways that were never before possible.

I have seen this myself in my firm’s exploration of the Tableau data visualization tool. Business use-cases for Sherlockian advanced perceptions include forensic (criminal) investigations, insurance claim investigations, and, of course, targeted consumer advertising.

Darwinian Disruption

Hunter also believes that “Darwinian data disruption” is affecting the entire business world. It is not simply data—though the scope of data is increasing dramatically every year—but also computational and analytical capacity that is growing so dramatically. Hunter’s disruption is Darwinian because leveraging these changes provides a clear competitive advantage and those organizations and business leaders able to adapt to the new environment will survive. Businesses that cannot adapt to and take advantage of these technologies and changes may not survive. It may have been said many times before, but it is true: as Hunter observes with many examples, we are seeing accelerating levels of market disruptions as companies learn to innovate faster.

The (Edward) Snowden Effect

Hunter spends a good deal of time digging into the “Snowden” effect (not David Snowden the KM guru, but Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor). In Hunter’s view, Snowden’s revelations of widespread government capture of vast amounts of personal information in pursuit of national security encapsulate the inevitable tension among privacy, the right to share, and the (security and other) benefits of access to others’ information. Snowden demonstrated that cross-border information sharing is happening and will happen more and more. The NSA, US government agencies, and other governments that capture and share personal information are in his view just taking to an extreme and for different ends what corporations like Facebook and Google already do to target advertising to consumers.

The Predictive Orchestra

A skilled jazz and classical bass player, Hunter hits my sweet spot with an extended metaphor of a “predictive organization” as symphony orchestra, all playing from the same music and not simply following a leader, but also anticipating the melodies and entrances of other sections. (I would promote leaderless orchestras like New York’s Orpheus chamber ensemble as a better fit for his progressive view than the hidebound, intensely hierarchical traditional symphony orchestra. For instance, in a traditional orchestra, the musicians within a section are positioned on the stage by rank according to purported ability!)

Legal Industry Impacts

Hunter does not neglect the implications of these much broader developments for the legal industry. Within law firms, Sherlockian advanced perceptions aid pricing, methods for doing legal work, internal communications, and understanding and addressing client needs. The new technology, analytics, and cross-border flow of information have the potential to greatly enhance law firms’ understanding of their clients and clients’ understanding of legal issues. The technologies increase the capacity for clients and firms to build “targeted relationships” and provide a continually expanding set of opportunities. And, the same data collection and predictive analytics that Facebook and Bing use to identify our consumer interests also identify our business needs. Analytics technologies can be applied directly to some types of legal issues, such as the likely extent of exposure from a given worker’s compensation claim.

Another example is law firms’ new ability to bring transparency to matter work, including data analytics around pricing and profitability, staffing models, and project models. Hunter spells out how the concept of “velocity billing” combines client-specific account managers, predictive analytics driving client- and firm-appropriate fee arrangements, and social collaboration around matter and client work has affected his firm. In combination, these processes and technologies lead to very efficient and client-targeted legal work.

Another instance of these technologies manifesting in law firms is his own firm’s adoption of Google Plus (“G+”). While much-maligned as the place where only Google employees “hang out,” Hunter sees G+ as a great example of a system that is both inward- and outward-facing and combines search with a designed social platform. Creating a G+ circle is the kind of fluid, effective, searcheable content and process management Hunter sees in the future of legal work. For Hunter’s firm, G+ is both an internal- and partially external-facing social network and platform. He notes that social network implementation and internal change management, like the pricing and client management projects he has had so much success with, involve different change management dynamics needing different approaches.

For law firms and the general corporate world, the technologies, techniques, analyses, and insights gained and shared so rapidly can be applied to not just readily quantifiable attributes of work such as hours, effort, and outcomes, but also leadership and change management at the levels of self, team, and organization as a whole. Hunter’s exhortations on leadership are very similar to what you might hear from many an Eastern-philosophy or martial arts- influenced business leadership book; what differs is the tie-in to his Sherlock/Darwin analysis.

Hunter suggests that people, teams, and organizations should be reinventing themselves through these enhanced perceptions and abilities every 18 months.

Complaints, Conclusions, and Inspirations

One concept that could have been more clearly elucidated is Hunter’s “spherical analysis/spherical modeling.” Google search suggests that these terms are not widely used in the business intelligence or data analytics communities—references to spherical analysis or models typically relate to variogram models that address how distance effects correlation between variables or a method of modeling magnetic forces (see the spherical models Wikipedia article.)

Much of the report is fairly abstract; I would not go to this book for an introduction to business analytics or Big Data. Nor was it entirely easy to read, with a fair amount of repetition and some extraneous quotes from Ghandi, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Hunter’s martial arts instructor. Finally, the size of the book’s print is too small (at no more than 10-point font) and somewhat faint. Perhaps the book is easier to read on-line (admittedly an appropriate production strategy given the book’s topic).

Overall, I found Hunter’s report an intriguing and inspiring application of broad industry, technology, analytics, and behavior trends to the ground level of the key interactions between law firms, legal work, and clients. His predictions about predictive analytics and more are in some cases not predictions at all; he shows how these can play out and have an impact on a legal practice area. They should not be ignored. I would not be at all surprised if many of his other predictions are soon borne out more broadly in our industry.

Getting Your Mobility Up to Speed

18 Feb

bedby Dan Hauck, CEO,ThreadKM

Mobility is nothing new to the practice of law. Attorneys have travelled to courts, client meetings, depositions, and countless other places since long before the digital age. As workflows became more electronic, lawyers adapted by doing things like checking emails on a phone and editing documents on laptops.

Those early steps are wearing thin and expectations to work outside of the office are growing. Lawyers today demand a richer, more satisfying experience than what they have grown accustomed to so far. If your IT department is busy clamping down on private Dropbox usage and other “shadow IT” applications, you can bet it is because attorneys on the go are more comfortable using consumer apps than firm-approved options.

Higher Demands

Attorneys face extreme challenges. While “traditional” mobility scenarios like courtrooms and boardrooms still occur as often as ever before, preparing to go to these places can be overwhelming without the right tools. Here’s why:

  • More documents and data. The materials lawyers need to bring along rarely fit into a briefcase any more. Not only would there be too much paper, many items never even make it to paper these days; videos and databases are two good examples. If your firm does not offer simple, searchable mobile access to information, your attorneys could end up walking into critical situations woefully unprepared. 

And, the key here is simple. A huge gulf separates that which is theoretically possible from what a partner will actually do in the real world.
  • Changing client expectations. Gone are the days when clients would overlook an extra associate or two tagging along to shuffle through boxes searching for papers. Indeed, the very idea of carting box after box of expensively prepared binders into meetings can make some clients see red. These clients are comfortable working on the road in a paperless environment; seeing their highly paid counsel unable to do the same is frustrating at best.
  • More specialized knowledge. If your firm is building a knowledge management database, it must be mobile-accessible. No one can be an expert on everything, but many firms have expertise that spans countless subjects. Knowledge management and collaboration tools can deliver vital information directly to attorneys in the field. Pulling up relevant insights from the firm’s knowledge base and getting real-time research updates during client meetings both impress and demonstrate your firm’s expertise.

Changing Workflow

When I started practicing, I heard attorneys talk about endless hours at the office. It was a badge of honor I would also earn. Given that all of our tools were at the office, it was the best place to get work done. But the story has changed. Workloads today are higher than ever, but most attorneys find they can be just as productive elsewhere, even preferring other locations to the office and its many distractions. Face-time is giving way to better indicators of productivity, like responsiveness, output, and hours billed.

So, much of the work is being done at the “home office.” Whether just an hour or so in the morning or several hours at night, lawyers are squeezing significant billable time out of their homes. This is not telecommuting. It is just working. The more time attorneys spend working at home, the better that mobile environment needs to be. If it takes lawyers more than a minute or two to log into a remote desktop, that is a bad sign. Many attorneys will decide to work directly out of email, generating a trail of chatter messages and attachments along the way.

Working across time zones also demands that lawyers be proficient working from home. Everyone understands that they may be inconvenienced at times for the sake of scheduling, but few are eager to go into the office for a 5:00 a.m. conference call. The call will be a bust, however, if an attorney cannot access key documents from home.

Re-Evaluating Mobile Solutions

As we jump into 2015, law firms need to take a hard look at the state of their mobile solutions. Start by asking whether your attorneys are just as capable working at their clients’ offices as they are working on-site. Are negative trade-offs driving attorneys to less secure solutions? Consider the following ideas for improving your mobility and KM strategies:

  • Find apps with flat learning curves that empower users. When thinking about mobility tools, ease-of-use is paramount. If attorneys run into problems outside of the office, they probably will have neither the time nor patience to call deskside support. The app simply must work and be effective or it will be tossed aside.
  • Consider device and screen size. An effective mobile strategy is adaptable to any device. Pulling up a remote desktop on a tablet, for example, can be a bad experience. Applications should be built to accommodate or respond to the size and inputs of the device. Equally important is a solid multi-monitor experience, since many attorneys like to plug their laptops into an external monitor at home. Test out each of these scenarios, and try using the same applications that attorneys use to see where the problems are.
  • Use “shadow IT” to identify areas of improvement. Attorneys often use cloud storage, private email, and personal to-do trackers for client work. You may see it as a problem, but it is also a cry for help. Actions speak louder than words. So, never ignore what your users are doing. What they do is the best feedback you have on what they need.

Getting Lawyers into Tech Training

28 Jan

Training1By Susan G. Manch, Partner, SJLShannon LLC

I recently attended a program at the Professional Development Consortium led by Casey Flaherty, General Counsel of Kia Motors. He did not talk about cars; rather, he continued spreading his message that clients expect their outside counsel to be technically capable. For anyone who has not seen the video that introduces Flaherty’s joint venture with Suffolk University, the Suffolk-Flaherty Tech Audit, you should watch it (and squirm) now at

The video really says it all: most associates and partners have woefully inadequate technical skills and outdated understanding of the programs available to make their processes more efficient and their work more accurate with fewer billable hours. Flaherty notes one simple editing task from his audit that anyone with average technical skill could do in an hour, but took typical associates five hours to complete. These were not sophisticated tasks or arcane software uses; they were commonplace tasks like using Styles and Cross Referencing in Word and Sort and Filter in Excel. As a buyer of services billed by the hour, Flaherty takes this personally and describes it as, “Outrageous sums for unnecessary busywork”.

When I was in-house leading the Learning & Development group at Bingham McCutchen (yes they are gone, but many of their innovations will not be forgotten), our resident tech training guru, Norman Aguon, brought the original Kia Motors audit to my attention in January 2013. At that time, had you reviewed our tech training across Bingham on all the usual software programs, you would have likely thought it broad and robust. The problem was that no one attended the training. With a large stable of tech clients, the firm recognized a need to be prepared for a possible tech audit request. So, the Learning & Development and IT Training teams collaborated to create a new approach that would appeal to busy lawyers (and paralegals and assistants) who desperately needed it. Three things were certain; the program had to be:

  • short,
  • focused on one or two related functions, and
  • hands-on and interactive.

In other words, no more hour-long webinars alone at your desk staring at a screen while catching up on Facebook on your iPhone.

Dubbed “Tech Tuesdays,” the program presented 15 to 20 minutes of intensely focused, informal and interactive training. Granted, the real attraction may have the snacks or happy hour that followed each of these quick bursts of pithy, hands-on training.

Delivered monthly, session topics were based on ideas solicited from associates, representing their biggest challenges with Office, Adobe, SharePoint, and other programs. The IT Training and Learning & Development teams met weekly to discuss program feedback, ideas for new sessions, and how to best market the program.

Maybe it was the beer, but lawyers kept coming back. And, they told us they learned. Not only did we see lawyers’ technical confidence increase, we also saw our IT trainers’ understanding of our lawyers’ software needs expand. Our Learning & Development and IT Training teams’ effective collaboration yielded a productive outcome and pushed us all to be more creative in designing tech training that our lawyers would actually attend.

What’s on Your KM Wish List?

7 Jan

wish1By Debbie A. Ting, Knowledge Management Resource Attorney, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

As I wrote this blog post during the holiday season, I wondered what I would include on my KM wish list. Thinking along the lines of a “Santa” wish list, I imagined having no technology, time, money, resource, attorney-bias or other constraints that might otherwise limit me. Ignoring these constraints can help generate creative and innovative KM ideas that might then be implemented to support your law firm’s or in-house legal department’s KM initiatives.

A long-standing item on many KM practitioners’ wish lists – including my own – is attorneys who embrace enterprise social networking and collaboration tools as their primary means of communication and working together instead of email. Oz Benamram’s article, “Why most law firms’ internal collaboration systems are doomed to fail,” provides a good analysis of potential barriers preventing attorneys from adopting these tools. However, I believe many law firms and legal departments will succeed in moving attorneys to adopt enterprise social networking and collaboration systems (“ESNC”) for the following reasons.

  1. Attorneys know the importance of mastering email overload. Every email represents a request for an attorney’s time, attention and response. The sheer volume of email can be overwhelming and takes valuable attorney time away from responding to client-related emails. Shifting internal communications to an ESNC would enable attorneys to better focus on client-related email and result in greater customer service to their clients. Information previously captured in email could be accessible on an ESNC as part of the relevant matter, practice, or other administrative site. Pop-up notifications could be sent instead of email, and a mobile app should be offered for easy access from smart phones and tablets.
  2.  Attorneys are already in the habit of asking for information at work. While an attorney may be reluctant to post a model form on an ESNC, firm culture supports sending out “Pardon the Intrusion” emails asking for information about precedents, expertise and other information needed to do their work. These emails are often sent firm-wide further cluttering inboxes for those not the object of the email. Also, the responses are forever lost in the requestor’s mailbox. Using an ESNC allows attorneys to more appropriately target their requests by expertise and opt-into communications they want to receive, while allowing others to see the thread of all responses organized in one place.
  3.  Attorneys are already in the habit of using social networks at home. Attorneys are comfortable crowd-sourcing information from their social networks (g. Facebook, Google+) for advice on things like, for instance, restaurants and doctors. Having early ESNC adopters who are partners and associates will encourage others that ESNC is accepted at work. Creating communities of interest (like pro bono practice) that encourage collaboration can also foster use.
  4.  Legal Technology has matured. Legal technology has developed robust collaboration platforms to mirror social media platforms like LinkedIn to replace email and discussion forums using older technologies. These new platforms include detailed profiles that allow attorneys to connect with each other by providing key biographical, practice, location, and other information. The technology also better supports checking access rights to information stored on ESNC based on criteria, such as user, role, group, or ethical and confidential screens.
  5.  KM Practitioners can act as champions for successful adoption. At this year’s ARK KM conference in New York City, Amy Fox shared her insight on how she successfully secured adoption of ESNC by Intel’s in-house legal department. The key takeaway from her presentation is that a KM practitioner who acts as an ESNC champion can successfully lead adoption by personally talking to attorneys about the benefits and encouraging use.

The KM wish of ESNC adoption can create a powerful KM tool by leveraging the collective legal wisdom to deliver superior legal services.

In an interview with Henry Blodget at Business Insider’s Ignition 2014, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explains that continuously generating and implementing new ideas, like those on a KM wish list, can ignite “bold bets” that encourage experimentation that is vital to a company’s longevity:

 “What really matters is, companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a Hail Mary bet at the very end of their corporate existence. Whereas companies that are making bets all along, even big bets, but not bet-the-company bets, prevail.”

Law firms and legal departments should consider adopting the same approach and add to their KM wish list. By continuing to experiment and innovate with new KM ideas, they will guarantee their competitive edge and longevity.

I found this process quite liberating and encourage you to do this exercise as a way to jump start your KM ideas in this new year. Once you have your KM wish list, brainstorm how to make these KM wishes become reality.  What is on your KM wish list and how would you implement it? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Two Events – Two Views of Innovation

17 Dec

Picture1By Scott Rechtschaffen, Chief Knowledge Officer, Littler Mendelson PC

 Lately, I have been thinking a lot about innovation – I suspect most readers of this blog have too. But what is “innovation” in the legal industry?

I think of innovation as being dramatic and disruptive – processes that significantly change the way we deliver legal services. I then think in terms of technology: increased efficiency through legal process improvement, automation and online services. Perhaps my perspective is formed from being in San Francisco, surrounded by start-ups looking for the next industry to disrupt. If Uber can destabilize the public transportation industry (apparently, the market for taxi medallions is at historic lows across the country) and AirBnB can threaten to upend the hospitality industry (the CEO of AirBnB has boasted his company will add more rooms in two weeks than Marriott will add in an entire year), then surely the emerging legal technology start-ups will have the same impact on the legal industry. As Basha Rubin, CEO of Priori Legal, wrote recently in a post on TechCrunch:

Legal technology is booming, with companies attempting to disrupt the legal space at every level and from every angle. And with good reason. Some estimates value the market size at as much as $400 billion. While legal still hasn’t caught up with other industries — either in terms of funding or widespread adoption, the future is bright and coming at us fast.

Naturally, many legal industry knowledge management professionals, me included, see these developments, believe in the inevitability of disruption in the industry, and conclude that law firms must respond by increasing efficiency, implementing process improvement, and becoming more innovative through the use of technology.

But maybe there is more to being “innovative” than enterprise search, document automation, process maps, and client dashboards. Perhaps the real future stars of our profession, those that will boldly lead us into the future, have already been innovating in the trenches for years. Maybe there is more than one definition of innovation.

I thought about this question when I recently attended two events. Both events were dedicated to innovation in the legal industry. But the approaches to innovation they highlighted could not have been more different.

The first event was the semiannual Iron Tech Lawyer competition at Georgetown Law School.

I have previously posted about this remarkable event, the culmination of Professor Tanina Rostain’s Technology, Innovation and Law Practice Practicum. During this course, teams of students are paired with outside organizations and, using Neota Logic’s expert system software, spend the semester developing online legal applications. This semester’s course, billed as the Administrative Agency Edition, featured student teams paired with diverse agencies such as the New York Department of Consumer Affairs, the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, and South Brooklyn Legal Services.

As I previously reported, hearing law students talk about user experience, design elements, and graphic interfaces was remarkable in itself. But, hearing law students discuss using technology to make legal solutions more accessible to middle and lower class clients desperately needing quality legal advice was truly – if I may use the word – innovative. Given the enormous need to provide access to justice, here in Professor Rostain’s class was a veritable Y Combinator of law students/budding legal entrepreneurs looking to develop online solutions for targeted users needing help. One student-developed app was designed to help users determine the availability of anti-SLAPP protections; another was designed to help parents navigate the complexities of determining whether their children qualify under educational programs for children with disabilities; yet another helped small businesses navigate the byzantine licensing requirements for operating under New York City law.

What is so remarkable about Professor Rostain’s class is seeing law students apply software solutions to routine legal issues, in effect enabling access to the law for those otherwise unable to afford legal assistance. This is the future of law: technology enabling access to the legal system for those previously unable to afford lawyers.

The second event was a dinner in New York hosted by the Financial Times recognizing the most innovative law firms and lawyers in North America in 2014. Our firm was one of dozens honored by the Financial Times for being innovative. But, something about the event made me wonder again about the meaning of the word “innovative.”

Most of the firms and lawyers recognized by the Financial Times as being the most innovative were not being recognized for adopting cutting-edge technology or implementing dramatic changes in their service delivery processes. Instead, they were being recognized for innovating how they litigated cases, managed matters, and served their clients. There was no triumphant technology or dramatic legal process improvement; these were just examples of really terrific and, yes, innovative lawyering. Take Roberta Kaplan of Paul Weiss who was recognized for her pro bono representation of Edith Windsor in the Supreme Court challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. She did not disrupt the delivery of legal services or deploy cutting edge technology. Instead, she deployed clever legal strategies to achieve success that will affect the lives of millions of Americans. (Ms. Kaplan has successfully represented Airbnb so she is no stranger to disruptive technology.) Consider Tara Lee, global chair of DLA Piper’s cross border litigation practice, who has traveled through war zones to defend African countries struggling against global vulture funds.

So, what is the difference between these two views of innovation? We in knowledge management too often reach for the shiny toy on the shelf and, just as often, try to grab as many toys as we can. In our zeal and passion for technology and our belief that change must be significant, we fail to realize that many of the attorneys we work with are innovative in their own way. They have been trained to look at litigation and transactions in innovative ways to get the best results for their clients. By looking at new ways to apply the law or defend their clients, lawyers are innovators at their core.

Too often we define “innovation” as applying cutting-edge technology to the delivery of legal services. But, we fail to recognize that the attorneys with whom we work – the stalwarts of our profession – have been innovating for years. They have been developing creative and unique approaches to win cases and advance their clients’ interests. Just the other day, I learned about one of my colleagues who tried a case before a jury. The other side thought its case was a slam dunk and made significant settlement demands. My colleague developed a unique approach to the case, tried it, and the jury came back with a complete defense verdict after only three hours of deliberation. My colleague’s approach to litigating this case was nothing less than innovative.

What is the take-away? I believe that legal industry knowledge management professionals must stop insisting that attorneys make the leap to online services and technology solutions or face obsolescence (although we should certainly continue to advocate the advantages of these). Instead, we should recognize the innovative solutions to legal issues that they are developing as part of their regular practice. Recently, one of our attorneys identified a significant change in federal regulation that would dramatically affect a particular industry. He put together a comprehensive package of materials to help companies in this industry comply with these new regulations. We quickly helped him create an online portal to distribute these materials and generate some revenue from the online “product.” In this example, where exactly was the innovation? Was it in the comprehensive package of legal materials the attorney put together or the online portal we developed? The real innovation was in the work the attorney developed – identifying both a new challenge and a novel solution for his clients; the portal was mere technology. Without the attorney’s creative approach to this legal quandary, the portal would have been a hollow piece of technology.

As knowledge management professionals, we must always remember the source of true innovation: the creative endeavors of our attorney colleagues. The technology solutions we advocate and implement are mere conduits to bring their creative legal genius to market. While they benefit from our work, we would be nowhere without their expertise and knowledge.


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