People-Finding: Achieving One of KM’s Three “P”s

5 Dec

crowdBy Chris Boyd, Senior Director of Professional Services, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

Our firm defines KM as “delivering more value to clients by putting the knowledge of all attorneys at the fingertips of each attorney” and includes within “knowledge” the following three “P”s:

  1. Work product: model and sample documents, how-to guides, checklists, and other practice aids.
  2. Project-related information: profiles of cases and deals.
  3. People-related information.

This post focuses on the third “P”: people-related information. KM projects that focus on the first two Ps typically get more publicity and recognition within firms, probably because the output is more tangible; it’s usually obvious if a practice group has forms and matter profiles, but less obvious if the firm has a way to locate expertise.  But connecting attorneys to the right people to answer questions and help clients achieve their goals can be the most powerful KM resource of all.

Below are some ways to achieve the third “P,” referred to from here on as “people-finding.”

Internal expertise.  This is a critical part of people-finding, and much has already been written about it by excellent authors.  See for example, the listing in Gwyn McAlpine’s November 23 ILTA KM blog post under Enterprise Search / Expertise Location.

External expertise. Clients frequently want referrals to attorneys in practices that a firm doesn’t provide or to professionals in fields other than law, such as accounting, banking, or consulting. A strong people-finding resource should help attorneys tap their colleagues’ referrals to find external experts.  The main challenge is deciding which referrals to collect and post, given that gathering every last name from every attorney is neither feasible nor worthwhile.  Our firm limits the scope by simply including in the referral tool only those attorneys and other professionals whom firm lawyers have recommended in response to internal requests for help.  This approach both limits the work and, more importantly, ensures that each referral is supported by a firm attorney who has recommended the name to a colleague with a client question.

Experience with judges, arbitrators, and others. Information about judges, arbitrators, mediators, and experts can be useful for litigators.  For example, when drafting briefs in support of a substantive motion to be heard by an unfamiliar judge, it would be useful for the litigation team to know that the judge does not take kindly to requests to exceed page limits and will not allow counsel to repeat at oral argument any of the points already set forth in the briefs. Similarly, if a litigation team is bullish about a client’s chances to defend a case at trial, the team will want to avoid using a mediator who is known to “split the baby” between the parties and instead seek someone who has a reputation for pressing for an outcome that is in line with the actual merits of the case.  And when retaining a testifying expert in a matter in which opposing counsel is known to be aggressive in deposition and cross-examination, the attorney will want to know how the witness has performed in similar circumstances – whether the witness can retain composure under pressure and testify clearly and persuasively.

A strong people-finding resource enables a firm’s litigators to quickly locate information about each of these key players in the litigation process. A judge’s profile should note the firm’s attorneys who have clerked for or appeared in front of the judge, the matters the judge has presided over, and perhaps even link to external profiles of the judge’s cases and decisions.  The resource should enable attorneys to search arbitrator or mediator names to find out which of the firm’s attorneys have experience with them.  And expert profiles should outline expertise, link to CVs, and note the cases they’ve appeared in.

Who-knows-whom. A final category of people-finding is providing attorneys the ability to find out who at a firm knows a specific person or knows people at a specific company or other organization.  Two ways to do this are (1) an enterprise search for the person’s or company’s name in documents or time entries, and (2) a search in ContactNet or similar tools to see if the name occurs in a colleague’s public contacts or the email addresses of emails sent to or from the firm.

People-finding is a critical component of a strong KM program. Enabling attorneys and other professionals to find internal experts is a great start; enabling them to find external experts, information about key players in cases, and who-knows-whom is even better.

For Your Viewing Pleasure…

23 Nov

catalogBy Gwyn McAlpine, Director of Knowledge Management Services, Perkins Coie LLP

Did you miss any of ILTA’s programming for knowledge management professionals this past year? Below is a catalog of what you may have missed.  Because programming is member-driven based on your requests and feedback, the categorization below gives you insight into what your peers think are hot topics.

But first, some background for those new to ILTA programming. ILTA produces KM programming in a variety of formats, building upon timely themes.  Each year, you can count on targeted articles and sessions in the Knowledge Management White Paper, typically published in June, and at ILTACON, held in August.  Throughout the rest of the year, the ILTA KM blog delivers a steady stream of thoughtful content approximately every two weeks.  Keep an eye out for articles in other places, such as the Peer to Peer magazine, and ad hoc sessions, such as webinars, virtual roundtables and vendor product briefings.  To facilitate open sharing and discussion, the latter are not always recorded, so be sure to attend those with topics of interest to you.  Lastly, the Connected Community Discussion Board features lively Q&A and announcements among an active, 1600-member community.

And because Knowledge Management can touch on many other areas, don’t forget to check out programming that may not be specifically targeted to KMers but is relevant to you nonetheless. Searches in the Connected Community will lead you to publications, recordings and discussions across a multitude of areas.  Also browse the ILTA TV page where you will find dozens of short interviews with thought leaders in fields that touch Knowledge Management directly and indirectly.

Note that you do need to be an ILTA member to access many of these resources. What are you waiting for?

Artificial Intelligence/Expert Systems

Collaboration/Tacit Knowledge

Data Analytics

DMS/Information Governance

Enterprise Search/Expertise Location

ILTACON

KM Strategy

Other Innovation

SharePoint/Portals

Upcoming Programming

In 2017, we have big plans for programing relevant to KM professionals. Look for a year-long focus on artificial intelligence and the changing legal market.  In addition, the biennial KM survey, which provides useful comparability metrics, is due to be published in July 2017. If you have suggestions for content you would like to see, respond to this blog post or feel free to contact me directly. Better yet, start a discussion amongst your peers on the Connected Community Discussion Board.

*For all the Blue Book die-hards out there, sorry. Just use the links. You’ll find it.

Evolution of the Contract: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

11 Nov

contractBy Lesha Van Der Bij, Principal, Optimize Legal

Contracts have been a key component of legal transactions for hundreds of years. Many lawyers, including me, began our careers reading Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company and learning the tenets of contract law – offer, acceptance and consideration.

For some lawyers, the process of drafting and reviewing contracts has remained largely the same since the days of Carbolic Smoke Ball. These lawyers begin working on matters by trying to remember a past file where they drafted a similar document, asking a colleague for sample agreements, or even reviewing first principles.

Over the years many, within and outside of the legal profession, have come to recognize that taking an ad hoc approach to contracts is suboptimal. Not only is it inefficient, it can lead to clients receiving varying quality of responses and work product from different lawyers within the same organization.  With clients expecting more from their law firms and the emergence of new technologies, the process of drafting and reviewing contracts has evolved.

Standardizing Language

The standardization of contract language began in earnest in the 1990s and early 2000s when many law firms created model agreements. Unlike sample documents pulled from past matters, which may vary in quality, a model is reviewed and approved by senior lawyers to establish an agreed upon standard.  Models tend to include best-case language that differs depending on the party (for instance, vendor or purchaser) the lawyer represents.

By developing models, law firms could take a consistent approach to each type of contract. Standardization also helped highlight boilerplate clauses that tend to not need negotiation, enabling lawyers to focus on more contentious and deal-specific provisions.

While model agreements promote consistency and efficiency, lawyers still spend substantial time creating first drafts and conducting side-by-side reviews that compare key clauses in their deal documents to those in their model agreement. Many law firms also have a difficult time maintaining and updating their vast collection of model agreements. So, after much initial hoopla, many model document collections start to languish.

Process Mapping

As interest in Lean Six Sigma and other process improvement techniques started to increase, a number of law firms began applying these approaches to contract work. Consultants or in-house experts would lead a group of lawyers through a typical transaction, mapping out the various steps to identify and try to eliminate inefficiencies, while documenting a more streamlined process in a checklist or project plan template.

Checklists setting out the key steps in a particular transaction are then used to instruct junior lawyers and ensure that important steps are not missed. Project plan templates outline a matter’s milestones, staffing, and time estimates – information that is then used to develop more accurate fee estimates and keep matters on budget.

While checklists and project plan templates help standardize and streamline contract drafting and review, much of the time-consuming drafting remains in the lawyers’ hands.

Process Automation

Standardizing contract language and workflow generated an excellent opportunity for enterprising individuals to automate contracts. Limited automation (for example, through mail merge macros) has existed for many years. More recently, sophisticated and easy-to-use document assembly tools have emerged.

Document assembly tools enable users to answer a questionnaire asking for information about the transaction, such as parties’ names, deal type, currency, and closing date, and with the click of a button the deal information is incorporated into the applicable template to generate a first draft. While lawyers still must massage their agreements to ensure that they accurately convey the particular circumstances of each case, these technologies significantly advance the drafting process. The time spent drafting massive agreements for complex transactions, often containing only slight modifications, is greatly reduced.

That said, one downside is that these technologies require much effort and time to create templates and questionnaires. While the end user’s experience is relatively simple and seamless, the logic required to create the underlying questions is not always intuitive. An understanding of the underlying law is needed to create the templates and most lawyers have neither the requisite patience nor time to code documents.

So, many law firms still struggle with how to automate their model document collections. And, once the models are automated, how will law firms maintain and update them? Will history repeat itself, this time with coded model agreements languishing?

 Boosting Technology’s Role

In the march toward greater efficiency, still more emphasis is being placed on technology’s role. Some of the newest technologies have moved beyond automation and into machine learning and artificial intelligence. Most notably, contract analytics tools that are learning the language of contracts are being used in a number of interesting ways.

Some businesses are using these tools to analyze their day-to-day contracts by, for instance, triaging routine contracts, identifying problem clauses, and highlighting when legal counsel should be called. Law firms have started using contract analytics tools for reviewing hundreds or thousands of documents as part of due diligence.

Even with the aid of a model agreements and checklists, reviewing key clauses in numerous contracts is labourious and time consuming. Contract analytics tools can quickly identify the contracts from the mounds of data room documents, classify the key clauses in them, and produce an easily digestible summary for the lawyer’s review – all within minutes or hours instead of days or weeks.

While these technologies remain a far cry from robots replacing lawyers, they do provide the information required for quick and effective issue spotting.

Peeking into the Future

Contract drafting and review has evolved from a seemingly bespoke practice into an increasingly automated, computerized, and commoditized process. So, where are we headed?

Standardized Technology. Using automation and artificial intelligence tools to create first drafts and initially review contracts will become routine as technologies become easier to use and better supported. Companies offering these tools may well consolidate or industry leaders may expand their offerings to include all-in-one, one-stop-shop contract management systems.

New Legal Skills. Lawyers will need to develop a solid understanding of these technologies as they become a standard part of the contract process. Law schools will offer programs to provide graduates with basic knowledge of and skills using the range of tools available. Law societies will also specify a minimum level of technical proficiency that lawyers must possess to practice law.

New Roles and Mixed Professions. Lawyers will work more closely with technologists and other professionals to optimize the contract process. As tools and practice evolve, new hybrid roles that combine law, technology, and process improvement will develop.

Fewer Lawyers Required. Smaller teams of lawyers will be able to complete larger and more complex contract-related work. For instance, teams of junior lawyers conducting due diligence reviews will be replaced by one or two lawyers overseeing a computer-based document review. The volume of day-to-day contract review will also be reduced as businesses use these new tools to conduct initial assessments and identify problematic agreements requiring legal advice.

Greater Access to Legal Review. For a subscription or fixed fee, smaller businesses and individuals will have access to tools that can provide them with basic advice on routine contracts, enabling these groups to obtain previously unavailable legal advice.

Of course, contracts are but a subset of the overall practice of law. That said, the evolution of contract law provides a useful case study that may apply to the legal profession as a whole.

The practice of law clearly is changing. As new processes and technologies develop at a rapid pace, these changes bring opportunities for lawyers ready to adapt.  Not only will lawyers have the opportunity to improve legal service delivery, but also to free themselves from much of the mundane tasks and focus their time on work that can add significant value.

Four Lessons Lawyers Can Learn from Software Developers

31 Oct

yingand-yangBy Dan Hauck, CEO, ThreadKM

While many may not realize it, lawyers could learn a great deal by examining how software developers work and solve problems. A few years ago, I spent every day with outstanding lawyers while practicing at a large firm. It was a great experience that eventually led me to the world of legal technology. Now I work every day with incredibly talented software developers. Reflecting on this transition, I have come to realize that for all the differences between lawyers and developers, profound similarities exist.

But let’s start by stating the obvious: lawyers and software developers often fall on opposite ends of the technology spectrum. Some lawyers openly profess to not understanding technology, despite the fact that the American Bar Association and numerous states enacted a duty of competency surrounding the use of technology in the practice of law. By contrast, most developers love exploring new tech, eager to try out the latest apps and devices. And while lawyers typically excel in the soft skills of argument, persuasion and compromise, software developers are proficient in math and computer science – precision-based disciplines needed to build great code.

Fascinating, however, is that lawyers and software developers alike are considered knowledge workers. Both often are engaged in “non-routine problem solving that requires a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking.”  In short, they are paid to devise solutions, not just follow instructions.

Neither lawyers nor developers produce work in a vacuum. Rather, they focus on solving particular problems for their clients. A developer’s client could be an external paying customer or the developer’s own company. Either way, solving the problem generally involves a combination of education, experience, original research, and effort. And, that is knowledge work in a nutshell.

Watching how developers approach their clients’ problems has taught me some valuable lessons that lawyers would be wise to adopt in their own practice.

Lesson One: Plan, Then Execute

Although this may seem obvious, for many lawyers opening a new matter triggers an urgent rush to act. Whether jumping in with research assignments or document drafting, doing something feels productive. But, is that the best approach?

When starting a new software development project, writing code is among the last steps a developer completes. Before starting, good developers spend significant time planning the project, asking the client questions like:

  • What is your goal? Often, the client’s goal can be accomplished in a better way that differs from what the client initially had in mind. Understanding the goal helps formulate the best course of action.
  • What seems to be the best way to reach your goal and what risks might require us to change our plan? Developers look well down the road to envision the completed project to visualize both the end point and every step needed to get there. Developers frequently use kanban boards to visualize the process, a method becoming increasingly popular with lawyers, as well.
  • What tools and people are needed to best execute our plan and will those resources be available? Rarely can a project be handled by one person. Ensuring the right resources are in place – people with the appropriate knowledge and skills – when needed is critical to understanding how and when a project can be delivered.

Lawyers should ask similar questions before beginning work on their next matter. The planning process doesn’t take too much time and is essential for building a path toward client success. And, in most cases it may even be billable. Clients appreciate your taking time at the outset to plan their work because doing so can help prevent costly mistakes.

Lesson Two: Automate, Don’t Repeat Common Tasks

As observed above, a key component of knowledge work is original effort. If the same task has been repeated hundreds or thousands of times with little or no variation, it no longer remains a problem that a knowledge worker need solve. The task is ripe for automation.

tasks

The image to the left illustrates the lifecycle of a task that can be automated. The first several times require significant planning, research, and effort. But over time, the task becomes more familiar, risks diminish, and the process takes less time to complete. As a process matures, the task can be automated.

Automation brings many benefits. First, it reduces the likelihood of error when completing the task. Second, it increases both quality and consistency. And third, it increases the volume of work that can be completed in the same amount of time.

Software developers are experts at identifying and building solutions that automate repetitive tasks. Once developers have done a task several times, they begin looking for ways to automate that task going forward.

Somewhat slowly, automation is taking root in legal work. Tools like document assembly, automated contract review, and technology-assisted e-discovery all are examples of how automation is making traditional, repetitive tasks faster and more reliable. Yet many lawyers still refuse to incorporate them into everyday practice, even though the firms that are leveraging these tools have a distinct advantage in attracting new clients.

Lesson Three: Ditch Blame, Embrace Process Improvement

Like many of us, lawyers want their work to be perfect. But, too many lawyers assume that if no problems cropped up, their work was in fact perfect. In reality, this rarely is the case as numerous important documents that top law firms have drafted have been rife with errors. (Read here, for example.) To lawyers, an error means that something has gone wrong, which in turn means someone’s work was not perfect. Mistakes are always blamed on people instead of on processes; and, the tendency to place blame on someone generally outstrips even the desire to solve the problem.

In the engineering world, big mistakes also happen – mistakes like, for instance, causing $135M worth of damage to a satellite…by dropping it on the floor.  Or, like accidentally erasing all of the animation files for Toy Story 2 during the film’s production.  While both instances involved individual mistakes, they stemmed from process failures. In the latter, a single computer command deleted Pixar’s next big film release. But, rather than lead a witchhunt for the guilty finger that pushed the button, management chose to empower the engineers to recover the film and put new processes in place to make sure this kind of accident would never happen again.

In law firms, the instinct to assign blame for errors can be powerful. And, it’s not always useful. Lawyers faced with grave errors in delivery of their services should first ask themselves what they can do to immediately fix the problem for the client and, as soon as the fire is squelched, examine the causes – causes that go well beyond who made the mistake. Was sufficient time allocated to review and check work-product before submission? Was something missed because research tools were inadequate or users were improperly trained? Were responsibilities miscommunicated? All of these questions can help formulate processes that prevent mistakes in the future.

Lesson Four: Hourly Billing Is Okay – If You Are Efficient

The debate over the billable hour is unending. Yes, it can reward inefficiency and create cost uncertainty. But here is an interesting fact: most software developers also charge for their time, in one-hour increments or by the day or week. If developers are so smart, why can’t they figure out a better way to price?

The answer goes back to the core idea of knowledge work as solving non-routine problems. When the problem and solution are familiar, the appropriate cost also is familiar. Certain types of legal work – for instance, creating an entity or filing immigration applications – can be easily packaged into a simple fee, and more and more lawyers are taking this approach for these types of matters. These tasks are also well-suited for automation, meaning the lawyer can focus on generating higher volume.

On the other hand, if you face a non-routine problem, the issues that arise are difficult to anticipate in advance. The time it takes to address those issues is likewise difficult to calculate. For a software developer, the only hedge against a problem is the charge for his or her time. On the flip side, the client’s protection is that the software developer excels at planning and has access to the best tools and people to complete the task efficiently.

The same is true for lawyers. While some tasks can be automated, many still require original effort to develop a solution for the client. Any number of things can arise to complicate that process. Charging for time makes sense. But that also means assuring your client that you have the best tools, people and processes to complete the work.

Lawyers and software developers certainly could exchange many more lessons. The key is recognizing that despite the differences between the two professions, the end goal of client satisfaction is exactly the same.

Even If They Don’t Ask – It’s Time to Do Some Soul Searching

19 Oct

By Mara Nickerson, Chief Knowledge Officer, Osler

Casey Flaherty and the ACC recently published Unless You Ask: A guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships. The basic premise of the Guide is that if clients want their external lawyers to change the way they work and ensure they focus on delivering efficient client service, they need to ask.  And, the Guide is full of all of the questions in-house lawyers can ask on a broad range of topics, including knowledge management, process and project management and expert systems – all topics near and dear to my heart (and job). The Guide specifically warns clients not to accept puffery from their law firms, but instead ask for concrete and measurable evidence.

Casey sent me a copy of the Guide just as it was released because my firm has been rolling out the Legal Technology Assessment. Needless to say, one of the topics covered in the Guide is lawyers’ technical competencies. I was able to use the Guide as one of the tools to encourage lawyers to complete the assessment. Beyond that, I have also been using it do a bit of KM soul searching.

My firm has a very old and well-established KM program, dating back to former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Bertha Wilson, who started our centralized research collection in the early 1960s. We now have a solid KM team and many of the standard KM systems and databases. We are also quite focused on process improvement and efficiency and implemented a number of new technologies to enhance practice efficiency. But, all that might sound like puffery!

While I could debate with Casey the extent to which law firms should be required to disclose how we make our “secret sauce,” I have found the Guide a valuable tool to work through with my team and consider where we are doing well and where we still have gaps. And, of course, we do have gaps.  Even Casey counsels law departments not to expect perfection from law firms – expect only a willingness to engage and evolve.

Sometimes we can get stuck in what we are doing: it started out as the right thing to do, so we just keep doing it. The Guide reminds us to take a step back and review the ROI.  Are we having the impact we think we are?  Are our tools being used the way we expect them to be? Yes, it is time for some soul searching and I plan to use the Guide as the starting point for discussing 2017 KM goals and projects with my team.

I have forwarded the Guide to the other Chiefs at my firm and asked them to review and summarize how we are doing in the areas they manage. I want us to be fully prepared when clients ask.

And, one client has asked; the client has instructed us to use the Guide as the focus of conversation at our next quarterly relationship meeting. This client has not yet asked for a detailed response to the specific questions in the Guide. But we are ready.  And I am well on the way to setting our KM goals for 2017.  Thanks Casey.

All About Data

3 Oct

databy Amy Halverson, Senior Manager, Knowledge Management, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

The official 2016 ILTACON conference theme may have been “Embracing Change,” but the hot topic at the conference was data.

Two keynote presentations set the data-driven tone, starting with author and futurist Mike Walsh’s opening keynote on “Re-Imagining Legal Technology for the 21st Century”, in which he described how data is being used in real time by entities such as Walt Disney World to deliver customized, predictive services and products to visitors.  He anticipates a future driven by in-the-moment delivery of information that influences behavior in real time, in which law firm clients demand real-time data and visualization tools that augment their decision-making process around legal services and issues.

Chicago Kent College of Law Professor Dan Katz’s keynote on “Solving the Legal Profession’s Biggest Problems” positioned data as an essential to the success of legal practice going forward, stressing that a lawyer or enterprise must capture, clean, and regularize data in order to then offer the predictive services (substantive, procedural, risk management) that clients will expect and demand to receive in the next decade.  Other sessions applied data more specifically to legal knowledge management endeavors, including:

as well as several others.

The range of discussion points included the practical nuts and bolts of using data in law firms and legal departments: what data to capture, tips on how to represent data visually, and some “show-and-tell” examples of data dashboards and analytics.  Other sessions followed on the themes of the keynote presentations, such as current and potential use of artificial intelligence and expert systems in legal and predictive analytics.  Conference attendees could not help but receive the message:  Data is important, it is the future, and law firms need to capitalize on it.  Less clear, however, was exactly how to implement the data directive, what challenges a firm looking to build a data culture may face, and how to overcome them.

Winning with Data

A slim book published in May, titled Winning with Data, fills some of these gaps.  The book addresses many of the challenges organizations face as they evolve from data silos to data-driven enterprises that use data to operationalize their business processes.  At less than 200 pages, it is a quick read that cites real-world examples of how companies like Facebook and Zendesk are cultivating a data culture that empowers everyone in the organization to access data and perform their own analyses.  Authors Tomasz Tunguz and Frank Bien speak from their own experiences, the former having worked at Google and now a partner at a VC fund (and prolific blogger), and the latter an industry veteran with more than 20 years’ experience working with various database and BI companies.  (Disclosure:  My employer has had, and does have, relationships with certain of the authors’ employers and entities referenced in the book.)

Even though law firms and legal departments do not have the same business model as technology product and services-driven businesses, several observations and recommendations in the book about the progression of data-driven organizations should be relevant to most professional services organizations.

The authors identify several hurdles along the path to what they hold out as the ultimate goal of “operationalizing data” – meaning organizations using data in real time to enable immediate and predictive changes in operations. Uber is a clear example of a company that has operationalized data – unlike taxi drivers who had to guess where to find fares, Uber uses data to deliver customers to drivers in the most time-efficient way possible and even increase the fare when demand hits certain thresholds.

But organizations do not reach data maturity overnight. The journey to data maturity is difficult, and the authors quickly identify scenarios and stumbling blocks that are both recognizable and humorous.

  • The “data breadline.” Much as there were lines of people waiting for free bread during the Great Depression, data-poor employees wait at the end of data breadlines. Unable to directly tap the source of the data, they are dependent on data gatekeepers who are overwhelmed with requests for data from all departments.
  • Data obscurity. Once employees get to the front of the line, then they must be able to specify what data they need and where it is — using the same terminology as the data-gatekeeper. While routine requests may be well documented, the huge increase in the amount of data available to an enterprise, and the uses for that data, increases the potential for obscurity.
  • Rogue databases and shadow data analysts. Rather than suffer standing in a data breadline, employees circumvent chains of command and find data other ways. Data obtained through personal relationships or favors is then quietly hoarded by the employee or team and used for analysis as a substitute for “official” data, with obvious risk for misinterpretation.
  • The “bastardize an existing solution” phenomenon. While the authors use a different example, we might just call this SharePoint – or more accurately, the temptation to clone a SharePoint solution created for one team, and shoehorn different data into it.

So what are the building blocks of mature data teams and data-driven organizations? The authors cite three foundational elements.

The Building Blocks

The first building block is a culture of data literacy. Everyone within the organization needs to know what data is available, what it means, and how it is used internally.  New Facebook employees attend a two-week data camp run by the Facebook data team. AvantCredit, a growing lending institution, requires all of its employees to attend a two-week seminar on the data infrastructure and data tools the company uses.  Zendesk, a help desk customer service platform, has a 30-person data team that hosts weekly office hours for the 1,000 person organization.

Second, a functional data supply chain is needed. Eliminate, or at least shorten, the data breadline.  Allow direct access to as much data as possible.  Teach employees how, when and why to tap different data supply chains.

The third foundational element is a shared data language. Establish an institutional “Data Dictionary” that contains universal definitions of particular metrics within a company.  A data dictionary ensures that everyone within the organization speaks the same data language.  And perhaps more importantly, it requires that the organization clearly define its key performance indicators (KPIs) and the equations that define the business.

The book concludes with an appendix of revenue metrics, some of which are adaptable to legal, but which also provide concrete examples of what a data dictionary may look like.

Takeaways for Legal KM

While not all lessons from the start-up case studies provided in Winning with Data are easily transferred to law firms and legal departments, many are.  In particular, the descriptions of human behavior around data seem particularly apt.  Data access and supply chains likely need to be far more controlled in our organizations due to confidentiality concerns.  But taken in context with the aspirational ILTACON sessions, the book does highlight a few subtle but potentially significant aspects of successful data-driven organizations.

  • Develop a data dictionary for your firm or department — and make it widely available. Otherwise the “shadow data analyst” and KM may inadvertently be working from different numbers or with inconsistent formulas.
  • Learn, teach and encourage data literacy within the organization. This may be challenging, given it is a complex skill set, but look for ways to create shortcuts for users by making things such as Excel templates with pre-populated cells available for budget tracking and projecting.
  • Reporting dashboards are nice, but aim for operationalized data and that changes behavior. For example, by tracking and logging the types of requests a KM department receives from users from month to month or year to year, one may spot trends that will allow your department to predict needs and push the needed materials to users when they need it.
  • Impose discipline on how data is defined when exploring out of-the-box BI dashboards and reporting.   Does the proffered output address the equation that is most important to the business? Does the output inform your firm or legal department’s strategic decision making?

Be an Explorer

gartnerWhile the authors cite to Gartner’s Data Sophistication Journey, which diagrams the path from descriptive analytics (such as monthly budget reports) to prescriptive analytics (such as risk mitigation), they suggest that the diagram is missing an important step between the retrospective analysis (steps 1 and 2) and prescriptive analysis (steps 3 and 4). Exploratory analytics — using data to search for hypotheses — should occur at the halfway point of the ascending line.  Exploratory data analysis doesn’t seek to prove or disprove a particular idea using data.  Rather, it is the use of data to test a hypothesis for patterns observed in one’s business.  Exploratory analytics allows one to see what is happening in real time, and the authors suggest it is the key to reaching the ultimate goal of operationalizing data.

The Future of Legal Knowledge Management

16 Aug

future bohrBy Patrick DiDomenico, Chief Knowledge Officer, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

While no one can really predict the future, I can tell you that I’m scheduled to talk about the future of legal knowledge management (KM) in the near future. Barring any unforeseen, intervening circumstances, that will happen on Monday, August 29, 2016, at 1:00 pm at ILTACON in a session aptly called “The Future of Legal KM.” I’ll be joined on the panel by Rob Saccone and Sam Nickless. Steve Lastres will moderate.

In addition to talking about it in the future and blogging about it presently, I’ve also written about the future of legal KM in the past. Wait, that’s confusing. What I mean is I’ve written about this topic (the future of legal KM) before. It’s the topic of the final chapter of my book, Knowledge Management for Lawyers, which I wrote (and you may have read) in the past. Or perhaps you will read it in the future (or never).

I mention the book not as a shameless plug, but because some of what follows is reproduced from the book and the publisher (American Bar Association) made me tell you that. I do, in fact, feel great shame about the plug.

Anyway, back to the future…

At the aforementioned future ILTACON session, my co-panelists and I will discuss the future of legal KM in four main sections:

  1. the current state of KM,
  2. what drives change in KM,
  3. the role of KM professionals, and
  4. the role of technology in KM.

We also hope that the audience will have questions, and perhaps, some answers. The official session description reads:

“Knowledge management (KM) in law firms has been a key component to the successful delivery of client services. Thanks to recent advances in better analytics, less expensive start-up costs and a focus on empowering the next generation of workforce, KM of the future is shining bright. As law firms move quickly to address new client-first imperatives, they are leveraging knowledge management to support smarter answers, improved decisions and better outcomes. What does the future hold for legal KM? Come find out what’s next!”

I’m not sure the exclamation point is warranted, but we will do our best to live up to the hype.

I’m reluctant to make any predictions about the future of KM because in the worst case scenario, I’ll be completely wrong. In the best, we’ll all shrug and say, “Well, that was obvious.”

KM’s changing roles

One topic related to the future of KM that came up in our presentation preparation, and in my personal experience, is the changing role of KM professionals. But it’s not just the changing roles; it’s the ability and willingness to change. I believe that one reason for the longevity and resiliency of KM over the years – and the promise of the future – is the nature of the people who are drawn to the field. KM professionals are an innovative and entrepreneurial bunch. They seek out new and better ways to do things. They are not satisfied with the status quo. They seek constant improvement. As entrepreneurs, they search for change, respond to it, and exploit it as an opportunity. This is a fundamental reason that the future of KM is so bright.

Just one example of many that we will discuss in the ILTACON panel is the changing role of law firm librarians. Now, I know that this can be a touchy topic, especially among librarians, so, please understand that this is just my personal perspective. That said, when I talk to KM leaders at other law firms, I’m starting to see a trend. The trend is not to eliminate librarians or to minimize their value. To the contrary, the trend is to refine their roles to maximize the value that they bring.

In my 10+ years in legal KM (at three different law firms), librarians have always been an important part of the KM department. It’s a natural fit. But it was not until a relatively recent deep-dive analysis of librarians’ actual activities that I realized how much of a fit it is.

For example, take reference librarians, who primarily (though not exclusively) conduct legal research. One of their main activities, helping attorneys find information using third party resources, is really the “flip side of the coin” of what many professional support lawyers do – helping attorneys find information using firm-facing, internal resources. For my firm, it made sense to consolidate the reference librarians with the professional support lawyers under one manager. We similarly consolidated the library technical services staff with the KM firm solutions staff under a different manager. As this new consolidated structure matures (we’re only about eight months in), we are finding great benefits. The tighter bond between the previously-separated groups is creating more efficient workflows and increased collaboration. Lines of communication have opened, and our customers (the firm’s attorneys) are better served. I expect additional benefits in the months and years to come.

Clients’ role in driving change

There are many more areas of change ahead in the future of legal KM. The most significant driver of that change is client demand. It’s probably safe to assume that the legal industry will survive (and thrive) for quite some time in ways that are at least vaguely similar to its current form. That does not mean, however, that there will not be changes in what clients expect from their lawyers. We don’t need a crystal ball to know that clients will likely continue to demand more for less when it comes to legal services. For years, lawyers have heard the cries from clients demanding greater value for their legal spend. These cries are not likely to stop and will probably grow more intense.

Clients also continue to demand pricing options, such as fixed or guaranteed pricing. If a matter is based on a fixed price, the only way for a lawyer to make a profit is to spend less money executing the work than the lawyer received to complete it. KM’s role in ensuring that matters are handled efficiently can help ensure profitability on those matters. In fact, no greater direct relationship between increased efficiency and increased profits exists than when a matter is guaranteed to be completed at a fixed cost. If KM efforts can help a lawyer complete a matter in 10 hours that would otherwise have taken 20, then the profit margin more than doubles (assuming a profit margin was built into the 20-hour budget). Each minute saved as a result of the efficiencies gained from KM is pure profit.

KM’s bright future

This is another key reason that the future of KM is bright. The primary purpose of KM is to improve the efficiency with which lawyers do their work and deliver legal services to their clients while maintaining or increasing quality. Greater efficiency means more for less, and this means happier clients. But some might say that efficiency has its limits; you can only squeeze so much waste out of a process or activity before it reaches peak efficiency. That’s true, and that’s when the shift in focus must go from efficiency (doing things right) to effectiveness (doing the right things). As Peter Drucker noted, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”

So, in some ways, the future is not as much about finding a better solution to a problem as it is about eliminating the need to solve the problem in the first place. However, with new ways of doing things comes the opportunity to make the new ways we do them more efficient. There is always room for improvement, and KM can help.

I hope to see many of you at ILTACON. Please consider attending “The Future of Legal KM” panel. And as a thank you for reading this far, if you would like a PDF copy of “The Future of Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession,” which is Chapter 11 of my book, Knowledge Management for Lawyers, send me an email with “future of KM” in the subject line. Free, of course. No strings, no spam.