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Listen Up: ILTA’s New Podcast Will Get You Moving

15 May

mobileBy Ginevra Saylor, National Director of Knowledge Management, Dentons Canada LLP

Do you think you know everything you need to know about mobility and the practice of law? If not, you will want to take a few minutes to sit back and listen to the new ILTA podcast, “Going Mobile – Getting Your Practice on the Road.” I had the pleasure of moderating this engaging and highly informative discussion that features three excellent panellists:

  • Dan Hauck is CEO of ThreadKM, a knowledge management platform that helps legal teams work together through integrated chat and file and project management. Before entering the world of technology, Dan practiced law at Bryan Cave LLP, where he focused on complex commercial and antitrust litigation.
  • Fiona Stone is a Systems Analyst at Perkins Coie LLP, where she administers systems and applications for the litigation, e-discovery, and personal planning groups and manages major cloud-based systems that her firm uses. Fiona holds several technical certifications, including Project Management Professional, and is a trained Six Sigma Green Belt and Lean expert.
  • Mark Thorogood is the Director of Application Services at Perkins Coie LLP. He holds several technical certifications, including Project Management Professional and Android Developer. During his tenure in the US Army, Mark earned the Distinguished Leadership Award and US Army Instructor of the Year. An invited member of the International Honor Society for the Computing and Information Disciplines, his passion is enabling others to maximize the value of technology.

Starting with a quick glimpse at the evolution of mobility in the legal industry, the speakers bring their own extensive and diverse experience to bear on a range of topics, including what every lawyer needs today to stay in the game and what additional tricks and tools can give them a real edge on the competition; what IT departments need to consider when developing a mobility strategy for their firm and pushing applications out to lawyers; and where the profession is likely headed with mobility in the next five to ten years. With a mix of practical advice, best practices, lesson learned, speculation, and humour, the three speakers candidly share a wealth of information listeners are bound to find useful and thought provoking.

And, while you are at it, you might want to also listen to “Improving Attorney productivity Through Third Party Applications” if you have not heard it yet.

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!

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!

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.

 

 

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.

Process Innovation in Legal: What It Is and How It’s Done

2 Jun

Picture1Guest post by Scott Rosenberg, Esq., CPA, Solution Group Leader – Corporate Legal Services, and Dan Safran, Executive Vice President – Management Consulting and Legal Solutions, Project Leadership Associates

As consultants to law firms and corporate law departments, our clients frequently ask us two questions: “What can we do to innovate our processes?” and “What process innovation ideas are other people in the legal market implementing?” This post provides a good start for answering those questions.

First, one needs to decide what is meant by “innovation.” Like legal knowledge management, different law firms and departments interpret innovation differently. For this post, we settled on Wikipedia’s definition of innovation as, “the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs… accomplished through more effective processes that are readily available to markets.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innovation).

Next, one needs to choose where to start…but, how do you identify which areas to focus on and what criteria do you use to set priorities? We recommend the following criteria for selecting areas ripe for process change:

  • Must be highly relevant to issues the General Counsel or Managing Partner is facing
  • Results in the form of cost savings or practice efficiencies must be readily apparent
  • Solutions must be readily obtainable
  • Solutions should be transformative

The next thing to keep in mind is that innovation serves a business purpose only when it yields value. When we think of process innovation as creating value, we think in terms of the following four strategies:

  • increasing revenues and profits by, for instance, creating new or revitalizing existing services or driving new and improved profits,
  • decreasing operating costs by, for instance, modifying the business model or process architecture,
  • reducing net investment by, for instance, modifying the business model or service composition, and
  • improving value by, for instance, creating new or extending existing advantages or disrupting rivals.

Of these, we find decreasing costs of highest value to law departments, while both cost reduction and revenue enhancement generally are equally compelling for most law firms.

Innovation is a relatively new concept for the legal industry, coming when the market experienced a fundamental shift in purchasing behavior a few years ago as corporate law departments usurped the driver’s seat in their relationships with law firms. Forcing outside counsel to compete through rigorous RFP processes, in-house counsel now call the shots in setting fees for legal services. Law departments have huge pressure to minimize and more accurately predict costs; in turn, law firms are getting squeezed on rates, margins, hiring, and lawyer retention.

The following true story illustrates just how much the market has changed. In a meeting with the Managing Partner of a 500-lawyer firm several years ago, we were introducing the concept of business process automation to the firm at the request of the firm’s COO, CIO, and CKO. In the middle of the discussion, the Managing Partner interrupted to ask, “Excuse me. Are you serious? You want our firm to spend money to innovate and apply efficiencies to our internal processes? Why in the world would we do that…we will only reduce the number of billable hours to our clients! What are you thinking?!” Wow, have things changed! Gone are the 7&7 years (seven straight years of law firm rates increasing an average of seven percent).

So now we have a definition of innovation, the value proposition, and characteristics for selecting potential areas for innovation. With this in mind, one might be wondering how to tell if something is truly innovative. And, if everyone is looking at the same things, how does anything innovative arise? For that matter, how can one ever quantify the impact of innovation?

To better understand the impact of innovation, we have tried to articulate real life examples of process changes that are truly innovative, particularly in terms of revenue and cost-related process improvements.
Starting with the cost-side of process innovation, we have defined three categories of change relevant to corporate law departments and law firms. We will discuss each one of these innovation categories and provide an example of each.

One cost-focused area of process innovation is how corporate law departments are beginning to reduce the number of law firms to achieve economies of scale.

 biggest

The diagram above outlines the process innovation opportunity, its relevance and application, followed by some ideas on how and when to move forward.

While the corporate law department practice of reducing the number of legal service providers they engage may not seem particularly innovative, the processes that some law departments have implemented and adopted, are. Mapping requirements around the relationships the law department actually needs (and modifying them as the needs change), as well as monitoring and giving feedback to the firms are examples of two simple but innovative processes that some law departments have adopted.

We recently delivered an engagement for a large financial institution with a very large corporate legal department. That institution was focused on reducing its provider list. It had been through the process of reducing the number of firms on its law firm panel list. Though the convergence itself led to some minor cost reductions, the corporation was not really achieving the value it had imagined. The law department had also defined and implemented a process for analyzing its satisfaction with outside counsel. However, when we reviewed the law firm evaluations, it was striking that almost all on the panel list received only an average rating. Issues included poor service, internal firm miscommunication, imperfect lawyer assignments, duplication of effort, and multiple internal law firm reviews cycles. What became clear was that culling the list of firms and grading their performance did little to truly affect results.

So, we shared some ideas for communication and collaboration that could be viewed as innovative. Not complicated or bleeding edge, but definitely effective. The department now works with a short list of law firms and sits with each to review its scores and discuss where delivery has fallen short. Expectations are set and confirmed. Both sides come to the table with concrete ideas for how to better communicate and collaborate. Matter budgeting, early case assessment, and post-closing review are included in the workflow. This process is resulting in huge improvements in delivery, satisfaction, and efficiency.

Innovation need not be complex or costly. This corporation took what might seem to be an obvious route, but one few law departments have historically had the structure, process orientation, direction, stamina, or desire to take on to forge closer relationships with their providers. This is a true win-win.

We hope this initial example offers a taste of innovation in the legal setting. While we offer an example above, please watch for our follow-on blog posting that offers other examples of innovation in both law firms and corporate legal departments.

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