KM as Agents of Adoption

31 Oct

agentBy Gwyneth McAlpine, Director of Knowledge Management Services, Perkins Coie

Like many of you, I often start my day scanning the Pinhawk Law Technology Daily Digest while waiting for the coffee to kick in. The three-part series called “Why Do Law Firms Struggle With Strategic IT” (see part I, part II and part III), by David Houlihan, Esq. of BlueHill Research, caught my eye. It dissects why law firms are not doing more in response to calls for innovation and disruption, possible obstacles preventing the shift to more strategic IT, and thoughts on how to overcome those obstacles. Blame it on a lack of caffeine, but I immediately interpreted the series through the lens of my current problem: adoption of Knowledge Management resources and productivity tools. Like the IT departments discussed in the series, KM programs often roll out new tools and resources with hopes for high adoption only to have those hopes fall short in reality. Low adoption makes it difficult to show return on investment and get budget for the next projects, even those that promise innovation and disruption. If adoption is essential to continuing investment, how can we improve it?

The Adoption Challenge

Because attorneys are timekeepers, the time they spend on nonbillable activities – such as sharing feedback, participating in pilots, reading rollout communications, training, and changing their behavior – roughly equates to time spent on the couch. This causes resistance to change, lack of engagement with technology, and no time for learning about possible solutions to their business problems. So our efforts to teach attorneys how new innovations can help their practice often fall on deaf ears. With the pressure they are under, who could blame them? Can a robust adoption program conquer such obstacles?

Objectives of an Adoption Program

Strategies that tie our solutions more closely to attorneys’ problems could be the answer. The goal is to insinuate solutions into workflows to shift the burden from the attorneys back to ourselves. Ask yourself whether you are addressing the following objectives across the board and building on what works in your firm.

  • Focus on Ongoing Education, Not Rollout. The rollout fanfare is somewhat self-serving on our part. We want our project to be over and so we inundate users with rollout communications and training when it is most convenient for us – the end of our project. What happens next tends to be fairly ad hoc. Since no one remembers anything during a rollout, reduce the commitment to rollout and redirect that time and effort to ongoing adoption activities.
  • Go to the Attorneys. Stop assuming that attorneys read and digest our emails. We need to visit the attorneys where they are, in real-time. That means walking the halls and popping into offices, making time to attend and participate in regularly scheduled practice group and office meetings, and coordinating with Attorney Development to be part of their CLE-accredited programming. Though a huge time commitment, this direct touch can pay off. Live conversation often brings unexpected issues to light and you can shift your focus accordingly to make the time invested even more valuable and relevant.
  • Target the Audience. Preparing one set of materials for training and ongoing communications about our resources and tools is easy. But, different practice areas really are…well, different. Examples relevant to one group may not resonate with another. Our communications (whether written, live, or recorded) must be tailored with examples and situations for each practice group so that, for instance, litigators can see how your great new solution will help them litigate without the noise of the solution’s transactional application.
  • Marketing and Promotion. Take a marketing approach to adoption. While trying to convince someone to use your widget, you are actually educating them about it.  Maybe some enticing brochures that quickly and effectively convey the what, why and how of your resources or a trade-show booth at attorney retreats to show off the latest and greatest would serve your cause. We do a booth at our Partner Planning Conference to showcase a variety of services (with giveaways for visitors, of course!) and, after some growing pains, we are seeing some success in getting the word out about new resources.
  • Tie to the Larger Business Environment. We are often more current on changes in the legal industry that affect the business of law than our attorneys are. Think of how, for example, AFAs, the legal tech audit, and legal project management (LPM) have changed the conversation in recent years. When promoting our resources and tools, we need to include the context of the larger business environment so our attorneys understand the importance of evolving their practice. When working with practice groups on developing their forms and precedents libraries, consider conveying the strong client demand for LPM and the vital contribution KM resources paly in LPM’s success. It is not just about individual legal skills anymore, my friend!
  • Be the Concierge. Our attorneys do not care which department sponsors which resources. We should ensure KM knows about the full panoply of offerings across the firm and acts as a concierge. When attorneys have problems, do not make them forum shop; rather, help them with the solution. In this way, KM acts as an advisor and problem-solver.  When we match solutions to problems, adoption follows.   And, this leads to my final point…

Be an Agent of Adoption

I have been a little vague in talking about “resources and tools” to allow you to assume I have been talking only about what is in your world. Actually, I think KM professionals are ideally suited to take on broader adoption activities. While we need to learn about and tackle adoption challenges for our own KM resources and tools, are we not equally well-positioned to bring value to attorneys by matching their business needs with other technology tools and firm resources that enhance their productivity? Assuming many KM programs have an ultimate goal of increasing attorney productivity, does it matter whether what makes an attorney more productive comes from KM, IT, or Finance? To become an agent of adoption, consider developing a program that targets not just your own department’s efforts, but also anything that enhances attorney productivity. Being an attorney-adoption clearinghouse puts us right in the middle of bringing meaningful solutions to attorneys.

What adoption challenges do you face? How have you successfully overcome these challenges? Are you an agent of adoption in your firm? Please contribute your experience and ideas in the comments below!

Directing Traffic: Delivering Content through Roadblocks and Highways

1 Oct

Picture1By Jessica M. Hackett, Litigation Knowledge Management Attorney, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.

The project started simply enough. I got a call from the Advocacy Department Chair inquiring whether we could create an intranet site to combine the resources of the department’s more-than-ten practice groups and subgroups. We needed an area to house the department’s meeting minutes and a list of helpful links to commonly used resources, among them library, marketing, client relationship policies, and, of course, KM. Out of habit, I asked, “Is there anything else KM can do to help?” He responded, “Well, I know you all do these great forms and practice guides, but I can never find them.” Ouch.

These legal-knowledge resources, known as precedent in some circles, are housed on the various practice groups’ intranet sites. Our firm is not alone in housing precedent on practice group sites. Indeed, I conducted an unscientific poll of legal KMers and found that this is the norm; precedent is kept by the group who creates it.

But, Can They Find It?

This begs the question: how hard could it be to find an automated form? Just go to the practice group site, look under forms, and there, you will find it! Surely you will find it there. Right? For our firm, the answer is yes – so long as someone has placed the content on the correct page of the correct site and your practice group actively participates in posting content. Also, I am sure you can even find some, if not most, of these items by using our not-so-brand-new enterprise search.

During my meeting with the Advocacy Department Chair, we devised a plan. We would put links to all of the practice groups’ precedent (for instance, forms, practice guides, and exemplar documents) in one location. We would let the groups that own the content keep their materials; we would simply have a global links list of every resource for every group and subgroup. Each link would have metadata regarding the source practice group, jurisdiction, legal topic, and format – indicating form, practice guide, or other resource. The goal was to direct all groups to one source that allows them to see everything that is available. We would remove the barrier of not knowing whether you are searching for a form, an exemplar document, or practice guide. One group would no longer hoard its stellar brief on recent developments in personal jurisdiction for federal courts. Knowledge would be exposed. It would be shared by all.

Which Came First?

Tackling one practice group site at a time, a large endeavor for a firm that has been open for more than 125 years and has had a formal KM department for more than a decade, one thing became clear: some groups have been more active than others in using their practice group sites. Then I made another discovery: the more active the group, the more content on the site. This makes sense, but I wondered whether the lack of content caused the lack of traffic or the lack of traffic caused the lack of content. It became an exercise in the classic question of “which came first: the chicken or the egg?”

I set out in search of answers. In her article “Another Look at Precedent Management” published in the July 2013 Digital White Paper “Knowledge Management: Intelligent Business at Its Best,” Marybeth Corbett observed that “[t]he demand on billable attorney time is the biggest barrier to robust precedent collections.” Baker Donelson attorneys do get billable and hourly credit for contributing to the production of precedent. This program is available to each practice group without preference. With this consideration off the table, I could not help but wonder what other barriers cause a lack of participation and content. How can I encourage more participation causing or caused by (the jury is still out) more content?

We will soon debut the global list on the brand new Advocacy Department site. I suspect that seeing side-by-side where each practice group stacks up against the others will drive participation and content. This will also give KM the opportunity to formally reeducate every attorney in the department on the topics of practice group sites and precedent management.

To disrupt the status quo, our KM department will purchase gift cards to be used as raffle-type prizes for some of our less active practice groups. The cost of entry will be one item of content. An attorney increases the chances of winning for each item submitted. Of course, in true KM fashion, content will be vetted before the attorney gets credit.

What Do You Think?

ILTA KMers would love to hear from you. Can you solve the riddle of which came first: content or traffic? What is your firm doing to encourage the creation of content? How is your firm directing traffic to content? Do you have any innovative ideas for encouraging traffic and content?

ILTA KM Peer Group Steering Committee Opportunity

5 Aug

Guest Post by Chris Boyd, Peer Group Vice President

ILTA’s Knowledge Management Peer Group Steering Committee has an opening and we’re looking for an interested volunteer to fill it. The KM peer group works with ILTA, fellow peer groups, and regional leadership to deliver programs and publications on how law firms and law departments can use KM to help their attorneys and other professionals be more effective and efficient and ultimately deliver more value to their clients. We enjoy working together to develop conference sessions, put on webinars and local meetings, encourage the use of the e-group, publish an annual white paper, post on this blog, collaborate with vendors on peer-focused programming, and otherwise capitalize on ILTA’s excellent resources to facilitate peer knowledge sharing and champion KM.

Our steering committee has eight people, and one of our long-serving members has decided to step down, so we are looking to fill that slot. Our departing member is from Washington D.C., and because we collaborate with local KM groups and each have an assigned regional ILTA group to work with, we are especially interested in applicants from ILTA’s Middle Atlantic region (Delaware, D.C., Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia), but that is a preference rather than a firm requirement.

Click here to learn more about Steering Committee member qualifications and responsibilities, as well as to submit your application. Please also feel free to contact me at cboyd@wsgr.com or 650-354-4195 if you have any questions.

ILTA Conference KM Track Preview

25 Jul

Imagine Guest post by David Hobbie, KM PG Steering Committee, Conference Committee Liaison

The amazing annual conference put on by ILTA in Nashville, Tennessee is less than a month away!  This post lays out the speakers and substance for the six sessions on the “formal” km track, that organized by the KM Peer Group itself–although, as in other years, numerous other sessions are being organized by knowledge management professionals, address knowledge management concerns, or are otherwise of interest to the knowledge management community.  I’ve already located a few time slots when I would like to clone or perhaps “bi-clone” myself, so I could be in two or three places at once.

This year the KM track is grouped early in the week, with four sessions Monday August 18 and one each on Tuesday August 19 and Wednesday August 20.

The KM Peer Group is also hosting a reception on Tuesday evening at 4:30 PM in the Governor’s A Foyer, in the time between the last session of the day and the annual Distinguished Peer Award ceremony (the reception is generously sponsored by HighQ.)

Tweeting during the sessions can leverage the #ilta14 hashtag (already seeing significant amounts of vendor traffic) and the session hashtags, which are #kmpg1 through #kmpg6 and will be announced at the beginning of every session.  Please note that twitter searches on the session-specific may reflect previous years’ information, for a while at least.

1. Expert Systems, #kmpg1

Title:  The Rise of Expert Systems: Threat or Opportunity to Traditional Legal Services?  

Description:

It is no longer necessary to build technology that “bakes in” legal wisdom to deliver fact-based advice. Instead, expert systems for delivering legal advice are coming more into play, led by providers, client-facing document assembly products and budget wizards. What types of legal market needs do these kinds of products meet, what opportunities are ahead for law firms and legal departments, and how can law departments best harness the collective wisdom of their and their law firms’ lawyers?

The first session after the keynote, Monday at 11 AM in “Governor’s B,” features an innovative technology, “expert systems,” which has only recently made the transition from laboriously developed custom one-off creations to mobile or intranet applications, developed on an expert system platform (read more about expert systems on my Caselines posts here and here.)

Speaking at the session are Neota Logic President & Chief Strategy Officer* Michael Mills, whose company Neota Logic created the platform for creating expert system apps, Scott Rechtschaffen, CKO at Littler Mendelson, who has already publicly leveraged expert systems with the Health Care Reform Advisor, and Professor Tanina Rostain, who runs the Georgetown Law’s Iron Tech Lawyer competition that also leverages expert systems technology for the benefit of legal services. The panel will be moderated by Ginevra Saylor.

2. Security, #kmpg2

Title: KM, Security and Compliance: Fist Fight or Compromise?  

Description:

Clients demand compliance with strict information security guidelines vis-à-vis protection of legal work product. But the “need to know” security model could hinder information access and collaborative KM processes, including, but not limited to, accessibility of enterprise search. Clients are under regulatory pressures and are cracking down on what they consider lackadaisical law firm security. Is there a right balance or compromise that can address the concerns of all involved — clients, KM and security officers? Come watch the fight unfold!

The next KM session, after lunch on Monday at 1 PM, in the same room, “Govenor’s B.” Security is an increasing concern for law firms and legal organizations. Pressure to enhance security has flowed from federal and state regulators to corporations and to corporate legal service providers such as large law firms.  Many approaches to security directly or potentially conflict with knowledge management practices and goals, such as the ability to search across client matter files. We’ll hear about this issue from the perspective of key stakeholders on all sides.

Speakers include moderator Tim Golden of McGuireWoods, James Tuvell of Fox Rothschild, Dawn Radcliffe of TransCanada Pipelines, and Jim Higdon of Vendor Direct Solutions.

3. Experience, #kmpg3

Title: Leveraging Experience To Enhance the Bottom Line: New Information and New Tools

Description:

Firms are under pressure to collect more information about firm experiences and new kinds of information that relate to estimating the expected costs of new matters. New processes, information systems and staff are needed to meet this challenge, which will ultimately result in accurate pricing, effective business development and the efficient provision of legal services. Come hear more about how experience management can enhance your firm’s pricing, budgeting and KM efforts.

Next up, in the same room at 2:30 PM, is a session highlighting new uses for what is in some firms old technology and business process.  Come hear how some firms may have found a way to uncover the “gold” hidden in the firm’s experience and financial information.

Speakers will address key requirements for effective experience databases, when used primarily for pricing purposes rather than marketing purposes; discuss new technology that is being leveraged for experience management; and have a robust discussion about different approaches that different organizations have taken to this old area of inquiry and work that has new meaning in today’s legal industry.

Speakers include Toby Brown of Akin Gump, Andrew Pauluhn of Bryan Cave, and Matt Laws of Crowell & Moring.  I will be moderating.

4. Failure #kmpg4

TitleIt’s a Failure Party! How To Celebrate These Learning Opportunities

Description: 

Embrace productive failure! We’re not celebrating failure itself, but rather the ability to learn from it. While some tend to be reluctant to acknowledge or follow up on their mistakes, we know this is not an ideal strategy. Come listen to several successful legal information management professionals tell stories about their least successful projects, what they’ve learned and how to turn your last failure into an opportunity for future success.

Same room, 4 PM.  Learning from past experiences, good and bad, is an essential component of knowledge management and project  management.  Experienced panelists will offer perspectives on learning from failure from the military (Col. Scott Reid (retired), formerly leader of the Army JAG Corps KM, now of Littler Mendelson), and KM (John Gillies of Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP and recent conference co-chair Rachelle Renegal of  Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler), moderated by Scott Rechtschaffen.  Do not fail to attend or you might regret it!

5. Gamification #kmpg5

Title: Gaming the Lawyers: Driving Adoption, Contribution and Change 

Description:

Motivating people to change their behavior often comes with KM territory. Can gamification help change behavior by making the change competitive and fun? With gamification moving beyond a fad in the corporate world, this session will explore a few examples of successful gamification in aid of KM programs inside legal organizations. Join us to see if we can motivate you to brainstorm and share ideas on how to apply gamification in the context of legal KM. Competitive ILTAns may race to chime in!

The next KM track session is an extended Tuesday morning session at 11 AM in Governor’s C/D.  Rather than offer my own gloss, I link to moderator Milena Higgens’ recent ILTA KM blog post on the session.

Speakers are Raul Taveras of Fish & Richardson,  Pamela Woldow of Edge International, Scott Reid of Littler Mendelson, and Rubsun Ho of Cognition LLP.

The KM Peer Group reception is Tuesday evening, 4:30 PM, in the Governor’s Foyer.

6. KM and Advertising #jnog6

 Title:  Upselling KM:  What Would Don Draper Do? 

Description:

What would Don Draper do if he were put in charge of a legal knowledge management program? In other words, what points must be made to firm leadership to start or reinvest in KM initiatives? How can you “sell” the value of KM in the current market? We’ll present insights from knowledge management professionals who have successfully “sold” KM in their organizations. 

This charismatic panel of experienced and successful knowledge management practitioners has repeatedly made the pitch for knowledge management within their legal organizations.  Come hear some of their secrets in what is sure to be an entertaining and educational session.

Speakers include the handsome Tom Baldwin of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, the beautiful Meredith L. Williams-Range of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, and the dapper Joshua Fireman of Fireman & Company, moderated by talented KM Distinguished Peer Patrick DiDominico. Cigars and Scotch optional.
*Earlier version of this post had an incorrect title.

 

 

Are You Game?

23 Jul

gameBy Milena Higgins, Director, Litigation Knowledge Management, Fish & Richardson P.C.

Warning: This is a pitch.

This post is designed to intrigue you into considering a novel learning experience. Be warned: you have entered the cone of persuasion.

When I first began hearing about gamification, frankly, I thought translating the features that motivate players in video games into non-game settings (e.g., the practice of law) was a bit silly. Images of Candy Crush, Farmville, and my teenagers’ Portal and Assassin’s Creed games flashed through my mind. Then I remembered Tetris and got nostalgic; but, I digress. Naively I thought gamification was all about playing games.

Like law, gamification appeared to be based on competitive principles, but seemed to be all about awarding points and badges. My reaction was dismissive: surely no lawyer is going to be seriously motivated by earning points and badges, right?

Familiarity Breeds Respect

That’s what I thought until I actually decided to experience gamification in action. In the process of implementing gamification for one of our Knowledge Management (KM) applications at my firm, Fish & Richardson, and later through working with gamification experts while planning the upcoming ILTA Imagine Gaming the Lawyers session (This is a non-subliminal prompt: KM track, Tuesday 8/19/2014 at 11:00, #ILTA14, #KMPG5), I learned that gamification not only is a lot more nuanced and complex, but also can be a powerful tool for motivating change.

Let’s Just Go with the Status Quo

Most people are at best uncomfortable with any kind of change – personal, social, operational, or vocational. Many deeply fear or actively hate it. As creatures of habit, we value stability and security more than novelty and innovation. We prefer the devil we know to the one we don’t. Accordingly, the changes sweeping through the legal profession have left many lawyers ashen-faced, defensive, and very resistant to novel approaches and technologies, let alone major paradigm shifts. Is there a way to loosen this rigidity?

Fun? Seriously?

Imagine if, instead of dreading and resisting any new approach, people could be motivated to try it. What if they could be the leader in their community, the first to change, the one who contributes most, the one recognized for their knowledge that others look up to and admire?

This is what gamification can bring to the table, even a table surrounded by lawyers. By learning about and implementing game mechanics concepts, you really can motivate people to try that new application you just spent months building or installing. As a bonus, they might even become more engaged in their work and actually have fun while trying the new application.

Gamification 101

To gamify any activity, you first need to decide on the object of the “game.” Is your goal to get people to switch from using system A to system B? Is it to get users to contribute content? Or, is it to get people to consistently enter their time daily?

Whatever your goal, once you know the desired outcome you can start thinking about the behaviors you want to reward. Yes, you can reward the desired behaviors with points. And, yes, maybe a certain number of points earns a badge. But, the key is in the social component – others seeing the badge just earned.

If you think these competitive incentives sound trivial, just watch them in action. Maybe the person sitting next door to you noticed that you just earned the “Awesome” badge, and is now trying to do whatever you did because they want to prove that they are more awesome than you. Before you know it, you might have a whole group of people competing to be the most awesome. Imagine the change you could generate – the resistance you could beat — if you could make this happen. You might just end up the most awesome person in your organization.

Advanced Gamification

Let’s be clear: gamification is much more than points and badges. It focuses on engaging people on an emotional level to motivate them. This is quite different from merely playing games, which is primarily for entertainment. It also goes beyond rewards programs (all those points and badges) that engage people on a transactional level primarily to compensate them (remember the old coffee shop punch cards?). For more on this, see Why Gamification’s Not a Game.

Gamification is already used in education to engage and motivate students to learn (see Fantasy Geopolitics) and by corporations to engage their employees or customers. For example, after building a gamified experience for their customers, New Belgium Brews saw an 8x increase in new user registrations in just one day and a 5x growth in daily logins. Imagine if KM could show these types of metrics.

The bottom line: If our job as Knowledge Managers is to engage people to participate in our programs and help them to adjust to change, gamification can be a powerful tool indeed.

Here’s the Pitch, Folks

Want to learn some practical techniques for becoming awesome? Want to get a handle on the ABCs of Gamification? Come to our ILTA Imagine Conference session on Tuesday after the keynote, Gaming the Lawyers: Driving Adoption, Contribution, and Change. You will learn a lot more about gamification from our panel of experts:

Scott Reid, Director of KM Innovation at Littler Mendelson and former CKO at the US Army JAG Corps. Scott will share his experience motivating JAG lawyers to participate in their enterprise social network through gamification.

Pam Woldow, Partner and General Counsel of global legal consulting firm Edge International. Pam has worked with law firm and law department clients who use gamification in their business and has written compelling posts on the benefits of gamification in the legal industry.

Raul Taveras, Manager of IT Application Projects at Fish & Richardson. Raul is an avid Foursquare gamer and self-professed hashtag king. He will share his experience in gamifying KM and training efforts at Fish.

Rubsun Ho, partner and co-founder of Cognition LLP. Rubsun will explain how Cognition motivates lawyers to provide outstanding client value and service with a gamification process that earns them redeemable points.

The Super-charged Firm Directory: Identifying the Right Combination of Experience and Skills

8 Jul

By Ramin Vosough, Vice President Product Sales & Marketing, Neudesic
Part I of a three-part series*

Many firms with 200+ attorneys have arrived at some method for identifying which lawyers have which experience and skills.  Some firms have developed an in-house directory or profile solution residing on the firm’s intranet, which combines public and internal information and links to a public bio. In a larger firm, the tool may include a search solution that crawls through the firm’s documents and matters or a manual database that captures expertise by practice and industry. Common across these approaches, however, is the reality that all too often someone within business development, marketing or KM must field email and phone requests to identify the best lawyers for a project. So, while many sophisticated tools exist, a human resource still needs to match the right resource to any given opportunity.

Firms tell us that identifying the right resource involves looking at a combination of factors, starting with a vision of what “right” means for the firm and being flexible enough to capture a magical combination. Firms often ask us, “How can I find the right attorney with a specific, substantiated skill and experience combination, who is based in a particular location, and available to work on a project within a given timeframe?” Next, they ask what that would even look like: Is it a profile, a custom search, or something else entirely? Where does the information come from and how is it populated? Perhaps the most important question is, “Can I trust the information when I find it?”

Attorney profile information resides in various systems of record throughout a firm. Bar associations, court affiliations, and employment history are just a few examples of the information firms have at hand. Firm systems also house valuable experience-related data in documents, emails, and other client-matter related records. But, some firms are starting to realize that much critical information may not exist in their systems yet – attorneys understand the unique combination of skills and experience they bring to bear on particular projects and that understanding typically is never identified, published, or presented in ways that can be searched and located effectively. This is especially true with laterally hired partners with no activity history on record to turn up in an experience search.

Identifying and communicating that level of information, not to mention keeping it current, may involve formal initiatives using questionnaires or interviews. But, this raises important considerations for KM professionals who must determine how to weave the optimal combination of certified and self-declared information into a real-time, dynamic profile. For example, by combining self-declaration with layers of validation, a firm could capture new information about skills and experience directly from employees, while also validating the information before it is published and becomes searchable within the firm.

Internal comprehensive skills and expertise provide great value. A flexible approach that includes self-declared, validated, and certified information allows a firm to dive more deeply into the skills, experience, or other profile criteria than what can be shared in public-facing bios or on social media channels like LinkedIn. This approach enables business development and marketing professionals to slice and dice the unique, multifaceted skills and experience of attorneys in real-time for different pitches.

Your firm has its own goals and objectives. So, how your firm uses its lawyer directory should reflect those goals and objectives. But, all firms taking on this type of initiative need to do it right, with “right” meaning making it worthwhile, making it valuable, and making it useful.

*Look for part II on Surfacing and Validating Real Expertise in an upcoming post.

Why Sharing Is Power

13 Jun

headsBy Peggy Lahammer

In the January BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review 2014, we learned that corporate counsel spending for outside counsel is flat and that competition for “primary” or even “secondary” law firm status is highly competitive. However, firms that can deliver consistently superior client service will win the hearts and pocketbooks of their corporate clients and be able to grow their business, outstripping the legal services industry’s current flat growth trend.

A firm’s knowledge base, both physical and intellectual, is one of its greatest assets and, when leveraged well, can create a competitive advantage that will result in a superior quality work product in less time. Central to the development of a knowledge base is the need for attorneys to share information. In my experience, those firms that are able to gain attorney buy-in and then develop KM initiatives that effectively leverage that knowledge base tend to be the most successful over time.

The Sharing Problem

Attorneys must be willing to share their relationships, their expertise, their forms and templates, and even their bits of insight on their clients’ needs. Unfortunately, this is where the problem lies—attorneys as a group have personality traits that make sharing not intrinsic to their natural way of functioning. To make matters worse – and perhaps in part because of those personality traits – many law firm compensation structures do not adequately reward attorneys for sharing.

Dr. Larry Richard, an attorney and psychologist, has explored attorney personality traits for over 20 years using the Caliper Profile. His research shows that, as a group, attorneys score far higher than members of the general public for a personality trait known as skepticism. In fact, they tend to have an average score in the 90th percentile for this trait. “People who score high on this trait tend to be skeptical, cynical, judgmental, questioning, argumentative and somewhat self-protective” and have a tendency not to trust others. Although skepticism may serve attorneys well in representing clients, it can detract from a collaborative working environment.

Indeed a climate of trust is essential to delivery and effective use of information capital at a firm. If attorneys are skeptical of the value of sharing their information, they are less likely to share it – even if it may benefit the firm and result in improved client results. If KM professionals have to spend much of their time and energy defending the need to share information, rather than organizing and creating easy access to it, they may waste considerable time “making their case” instead of proving its value through improved shared resources. In my experience, potentially beneficial KM initiatives dependent on shared information will wither and die in a firm climate that does not support sharing.

Compounding attorney personality tendencies are attorney compensation models that may not reward sharing activities. Financial rewards must be given to attorneys to engage in non-billable activities that deliver information. Without financial compensation, there simply is little incentive to take time away from billable or revenue generating activities for important KM initiatives. Firm administrators must expect that attorneys will share their intelligence, and KM professionals must make it quick and easy for them to do so, so that they can effectively leverage it for the benefit of all firm members.

Examples of Success

In my many years of working with firms, I have been fortunate to learn of some great examples of effective sharing programs at law firms. For example, I know of one practice group that is highly dependent on form documents for its practice; the group carefully creates and regularly updates templates through a committee process. No changes are made to the templates without review of the necessary changes by those who are most familiar with changes in the law. Also, the documents are secured so that only members of the team have access to the templates, and any use of those documents results in a financial credit to those who created those forms.

Another successful content sharing program I have seen is the use of dynamic public Outlook folders mapped to a legal taxonomy. Each folder contains the top node of the legal taxonomy, with sub-folders for categories of content. Each document is placed in an appropriate topical sub-folder, with the document name displayed through a single click drill-down. Locating this content in Outlook is ideal given that Outlook is where most attorneys live for much of their time in the office. The browsing capability through the familiar click-through tree format is understood and easy for attorneys to use. The documents all have security so the templates cannot be modified without approval and the public folders are displayed only for those who should have access to those documents. All attorneys who contribute to this document repository are rewarded at compensation time for sharing their content.

Although many other examples of effective KM programs that reward attorneys for sharing exist, we all have colleagues who hoard their intelligence hoping that it will garner them exclusive power and future revenue opportunities. They hope that by retaining exclusive control over key client relationships, intelligence on client needs, and valuable work product they will have a competitive advantage over their colleagues. That way of thinking is from the old world where knowledge was power and where collaboration and sharing were not essential to the growth of all business, including law firms.

This old perspective is one that I would have expected from the US military intelligence establishment, which is why I was surprised to hear Stanley McChrystal’s recent TED Talk on sharing. He describes why US military leadership decided to embark upon a cultural shift from the old “knowledge is power” intelligence strategy to a new “knowledge is shared” policy. McChrystal sought to give intelligence to not only those with a demonstrated need to know, but also those who should know and could make positive use of it. McChrystal notes, “[I]t was [a] fundamental shift, not new tactics, not new weapons, not new anything else. It was the idea that we were now part of a team in which information became the essential link between us, not a block between us.”

In the US security context, the risks associated with sharing information with those who may do us harm are high and must be thoroughly assessed because failure can be catastrophic. Unlike the military environment, however, the risks associated with oversharing in the law firm context are low and largely preventable. Concerns over sharing information with colleagues who may not be experts in the use of a template, may want to undermine the client relationship, or do not fully understand the nature of the work or relationship can all be mitigated by reasonable KM policies and financial rewards for productive sharing behaviors.

I believe there is a compelling business need to share intelligence within law firms to deliver better client service and work product, and those who are able to effectively leverage shared intelligence will become the most powerful and profitable firms over time. If the U.S. military can change its ethos, I believe law firms – even with their lot of skeptical lawyers – can change as well.

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