Legal KM in a Time of Coronavirus: Back to Basics

2 Apr

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By Holly Hanna, KM Firm Solutions Manager at Perkins Coie, and Adam Dedynski, KM Project Manager at Reed Smith

In recent years, legal knowledge management has evolved and matured, with an increased focus on how to leverage advanced technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and bots. However, the basic pillars of KM remain relevant, as has become increasingly apparent during the current coronavirus pandemic. Some key takeaways from this experience include:

Document Sets Still Matter

A foundation of legal KM is the gathering of forms, precedents, and other useful documents into a single location (for example, a dedicated space in your document management system), which KM teams often govern and support. These resources need to be curated by subject matter experts, managed to ensure currency and relevance, and reviewed to ensure that all client confidential data is removed – core KM best practices. Your firm’s internally generated content will generally be more relevant than third party content, especially if the third party content isn’t materially different from what your lawyers are generating in-house.

Following these best practices makes it easy for lawyers to find relevant information to incorporate in their work and provide the best advice efficiently. The coronavirus pandemic has legal implications across and within practices, which may also be of a global nature. Whether your firm is primarily focused on transactions, litigation, or both, the current crisis requires quick access to a large corpus of high-value content. It is now more important than ever to have a robust, clear, and secure mechanism in place to capture, curate, and manage materials to help prevent ‘reinventing the wheel’.

Finding Good Sources (and Making Them Available)

In addition to locating good documentation, in a fast-moving, rapidly unfolding crisis like the current pandemic, it’s important to have a way for everyone to track breaking news. Whether it’s lockdown orders at the municipal, state, or federal level, court status, or legislative updates, having a single location where lawyers can find links to authoritative resources is key. This location can be set up in a variety of ways; you can create a toolkit on an intranet page, set up a distribution list, or create a centralized and easily accessible document setting out key information. Your library and research services team can provide links to third party subscriptions that are tracking breaking developments so that firm resources can be more effectively leveraged in responding to the current situation.

Collaboration is Key

Quickly responding to the information needs of lawyers requires a high degree of collaboration among multiple groups, including legal subject matter experts, library and research services, marketing, IT, and knowledge management. In addition, lawyers, many of whom might have been accustomed to going next door to ask a colleague a question, are now working remotely. Secure online collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams or Skype chats, or email tools like distribution lists allow lawyers to ask questions, share guidance, and link to resources. These collaboration experiences are vital in a fully virtual work environment. KM can play a key role in proactively advertising, guiding, or helping set up these tools up so they meet the needs of different groups, and also be pivotal in coordinating collaboration.

Relationships, and Experience, Make a Difference

Finding out who knows who, who’s done what, and other questions related to individual lawyers’ backgrounds becomes a much more urgent requirement when people are scrambling to understand how an event like the coronavirus pandemic impacts their customers; this is especially true when people aren’t having the ‘drive by’ conversations that previously happened. In addition, the ability of the KM group to work effectively with multiple stakeholders is dependent on the level of trust that’s been built to date. If your attorneys trust you to steer them towards the best resources, they’re more likely to direct others towards managed repositories. Now is a great time to reinforce those relationship or forge new ones in this remote environment using the tools and technology available. Taking part in conference calls, responding quickly to email requests (even if it’s just a quick note to let people know you’re working on their request), proactively reaching out to key practice groups to offer existing KM solutions, and supporting lawyer interest in developing additional KM resources for their area of law all help build key relationships.

Highlight Your Work

Tools and repositories are only valuable if lawyers know that they exist and can easily find them. Publicize your efforts, make sure that key practices know where to find information and how to submit additional resources or links, and make it easy for those lawyers who haven’t been paying attention to quickly get up to speed. Announcements in firm publications, emails from leadership, and prominent access from your intranet’s home page can all be used to ensure your lawyers are finding and using high value content.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to quick-response, boots on the ground KM work, the fundamentals matter. While advanced KM tools are valuable, and integrating them into a legal KM program is important, the bread and butter of KM revolves around curation, validation, and quick and easy access to high value content. During times of crisis, when the legal situation is evolving rapidly, KM needs to get back to its roots in order to provide effective service.

 

How to Turn Your KM Function Client-Facing

6 Mar

analysis blackboard board bubbleBy Nicola Shaver, Managing Director of Innovation and Knowledge, Paul Hastings LLP

I had the pleasure of moderating an ILTA webinar titled, How Do You Turn KM Into a Client Service Offering, with a group of stellar panelists who shone some light on what firms across the world are doing to turn their KM functions client-facing.

As clients increasingly understand the value that is to be had from leveraging their law firms’ professional staff, they are asking for increased collaboration as well as services and products that go beyond traditional legal offerings. For firms that have yet to make this leap into “beyond-legal” client work, it can be difficult to know where to start. This conundrum is further complicated by the fact that KM functions look different from firm to firm, and especially from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Our discussion with panelists Heather Colman (Senior Manager of KM and Innovation at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt in Toronto), April Brousseau (Head of Innovation and New Business at Simmons & Simmons in London), and Vedika Mehera (Innovation Advisor at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in San Francisco) kicked off with a comparison of what KM looks like in their various environments. For both Vedika and Heather, KM is focused on efficiency and client value, introducing technology and methods to streamline and enhance legal practice at their firms. April, on the other hand, commented that when she was first invited to participate in the webinar, she politely declined because her firm doesn’t have a KM function as such. I can attest to this fact, and to our follow-up discussion during which April and I talked about the way that KM was variously regarded in North America versus the UK. In the latter, the words KM will still apply more traditionally to content-specific work, and separate functions often exist that deal with legal innovation. This is certainly the case at Simmons & Simmons, where April sits within a pure innovation team that focuses largely on product development.

In spite of international differences, all panelists agreed that the key to turning KM (or legal innovation) client-facing lies in leveraging insights and expertise to the benefit of clients. Vedika considers the key value here to be around collaboration. She highlighted the value to be had in taking platforms that have already proved their value internally and turning them into client-facing tools. Heather spoke of taking a KM department’s expertise, however that is focused within a firm, and engaging the client in such a way that they benefit directly from that expertise. An example here might be providing clients with consulting advice around innovative technology tools, or methods for innovation. April’s client-facing proposition borrows from other industries, using service design methodologies to truly understand the jobs to be done in respect of a particular client problem, and then designing products for clients that meet those requirements. There was general agreement that the key to turning any portion of a KM function client- facing was to really listen to the client, and to ensure that what is being provided responds to client needs.

Each of our panelists provided a success story from their own environments, showcasing the benefits their respective firms had provided to clients by leveraging KM to meet external needs. I highly recommend that any readers who were unable to join the webinar tune in to watch the recording of it, because the excellent summary slides add color and insight to these case studies. However, I will do my best in writing below to give a snapshot of each.

Orrick’s “Observatory”

At Orrick, Vedika and her team responded to a client need that was expressed through repeated requests for information about legaltech tools, by developing a platform that provided this information in a digestible fashion. The “Observatory” database captures information about over 600 legal technology tools across almost 20 data points, and allows users to see whether a tool has been used at Orrick, and if so, in what capacity. The tool is both internal and external-facing, and empowers both attorneys and clients to inform themselves. For attorneys, it also allows them to service clients more readily using technology, and for clients, it provides an easy way to request use of a particular tool in relation to their matter work with the firm. This solution neatly addresses the RFP request that is now regularly posed by clients about how a firm will leverage technology to facilitate the efficiency of their work, and serves the purpose of a kind of menu of services the client can request.

Simmons & Simmons SMCR Solution

An example of the responsiveness by the Simmons & Simmons innovation team to client needs and market changes is showcased in a successful subscription product. The Senior Management Certification Regime (SMCR) is a UK-specific regulation that was recently introduced and affects corporate clients. April’s team recognized it would be useful to clients to provide in-depth information about the regime and how it would affect them. What they hadn’t anticipated until they went to speak with clients to test their theory, is that organizations also wanted training around the new regime so that they could implement the changes themselves. Armed with this knowledge, April’s team pivoted, and partnered with another platform provider with expertise in e-learning. This joint effort across platforms allowed for the development of a product that provides legal insight and expertise on the regulatory changes, combined with practical e-learning modules including quizzes. The platform is fully available to clients on-line, in the cloud, for a subscription fee, and it is the only platform in the UK that provides the training component around this new regulatory regime. April credits the significant uptake and success of the platform to her team’s deep understanding of client needs, which allowed them to deliver something truly useful.

Osler’s Design Spring Workshop

At Osler, Heather and her team were approached by a client who had a number of different needs. The client was itself beginning to develop an internal innovation function, and wanted help from the Osler team in understanding how to build a culture of innovation and what methodologies they could use to get started. They also wanted to learn new methods of problem-solving, and to foster team spirit across their own function. They were keen to get off-site to facilitate this. In order to meet the client’s needs, Heather’s team devised a design thinking workshop for the client that would get them into the Osler offices for an entire morning, learning about how to engage their organization more broadly in their innovation initiative through actively undertaking a design session that had the secondary effect of teaching them how to use the methodology for their own purposes. Heather and her team partnered with Hersh Perlis from the Toronto Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) in order to ensure that the client workshop went smoothly and was run professionally. The client was thrilled with the result, and future client-facing work is now likely.

How to Get Your Initiative Started

The panel finished off with a few practical tips on how to get started with a client-facing initiative. Putting the client first and responding to their needs is at the core of all of the suggestions. It is also vital to consider when to develop a product or an expertise, and when it is more effective to partner with another expert to facilitate a solution. Additional tips include:

  • Identify areas of current expertise, and areas where the firm has sufficient existing data to develop a meaningful solution
  • Identify work that is standard and repeatable, or expertise that might be effectively delivered in nontraditional ways (for example, rules-based areas of law, compliance, regulatory)
  • Actively engage with clients to understand their “Jobs to be Done,” which means understanding the ultimate outcome the client is trying to achieve
  • Collaborate with other departments and other entities

Many thanks again to the engaging panelists for sharing their useful insights.

You Haven’t Heard? Knowledge Among Multi-Offices

12 Feb

black and white blackboard business chalkboardBy Lisa Gianakos, Director of Practice Technology Solutions, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

It is an age-old problem, getting practices to share across offices. The reasons are many but commonly the result of a merger, where there is suddenly more than one group of attorneys specializing in the same area, but in different physical locations.  But when I was asked if I could write a short entry on ways to tackle this problem, I decided to focus on whether there really is a problem to be solved!

Ultimately if there IS, it is due to either people, process or technology.  And while it’s possible a firm does have some technology issues making sharing across regions difficult (slow network speeds across the WAN, outdated technology, technologies not yet integrated in a merged firm scenario, etc.), what I have observed is the problem is most often People and/or Process; in essence, the culture of the practice, and the firm more generally.  I recently spoke with KM leaders at 5 other large firms, and they agreed with this summary.

But let’s start with what I consider the easy-stuff – technology. (OK – not simple at all but perhaps easier than herding cats).  If you need technology upgrades, consolidation or similar issues resolved in order to enable better knowledge-sharing, there’s not much I can offer here that you don’t already know.  People are not going to share, collaborate, whatever you want to call it, if the technology impedes the steady flow of work or is too disruptive to handle. Attorneys will find a workaround even if it’s no more efficient. In some cases that feels easier if it avoids dealing with change.

Assuming the technology issues are not the network infrastructure itself, but your firm simply doesn’t have tools that enable or improve the flow and sharing of knowledge, consider research and investing in platforms such as Microsoft Teams or SharePoint TeamSpace, or even Yammer! I list these because most firms are Microsoft-based and likely to have licensing for these examples.  There are tons of non-MS options out there. Slack or DMS add-ins seem to be among popular options.  Note that I’m assuming your firm HAS a DMS and that it is relatively up-to-date. This tends to be the starting place for building out KM, since attorney work product is most often in written form (documents) and already needs to be managed for the client’s sake, and the firm’s risk protection.  If you are a smaller firm without a DMS, many KM or Collaboration solutions include the ability to store documents too, though bells and whistles (or gavels?) may be limited.

If you are a KM-minded person like me, or have a PM or library science background, you can’t imagine why people would simply NOT want to be organized and use consistent methods.  At Pillsbury, we created a separate library/cabinet in our DMS (NetDocs) for knowledge collections.  This separation was made during our migration from a prior platform, to NetDocs, many years ago, to intentionally raise the visibility of Know-How and providing a central location for it.  We also hoped to entice usage by making our Know-How cabinet searchable in our enterprise search, which goes beyond what is natively possible in NetDocs.  Further, because we license Lexis Search Advantage (LSA) and layer it atop our enterprise search (OpenText’s Decisiv), attorneys receive the added benefit of having additional metadata (meaning more filters) automatically extracted from these documents.  So in my mind, why wouldn’t you want to benefit from following a standard practice?

I believe I was relatively successful in identifying and migrating all of the one-off collections from our old DMS, to the new DMS’ Know-How cabinet.  Many of these were previously in a location designated by both practice and office.  Essentially, it was an office-centric culture that I was trying to lead to a practice-centric approach, at least as far as KM is concerned. There were a handful of practices that already had a single multi-office location for Know-How.  In other cases, I was able to identify “niche” collections and have those moved as well. (By niche, I mean one attorney’s person/private collection).  I did my best to provide taxonomy advice but mostly focused on those that were interested in KM (the enlightened few).

All of that said, there isn’t necessarily much advantage to attorneys practicing in different locations. For example, having Know-How stored in the same location, for real estate attorneys in California and Virginia may not add much, if the forms, precedents, and other stored knowledge is unique to or only specific to that region. Also, when two groups of attorneys in the same practice area, came from different merged firms, it may be difficult to get them to agree on how/what a consolidated library (and/or workflows) should be.  That’s a much harder cultural problem and not one that I try to tackle.  At the end of the day, I have expertise and experience in legal KM, tons of it actually. I love talking about, helping, giving advice and suggestions; I will do just about anything for a practice that is bought in.  But for those not interested in having a single sandbox of friends, I can only offer my advice, and not worry about whether or not they take it, agree with it, or are even interested in what this non-attorney “expert” has to say.  In the end, the idea of sharing across offices as being necessary, or the lack of it a problem, is not necessarily true.  As always, it DEPENDS!

 

Collaborating With Clients: Why is it Increasingly Important and What are the Benefits

10 Feb

people near tableBy Melanie Segraves, Knowledge Management Solutions Analyst, Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP

Chances are, this won’t be the first blog about collaborating with clients that you’ve read. The legal industry is known for its buzzwords (ahem, innovation) and right now collaboration is having a moment.

How important is collaboration in a legal setting? When Law360 interviewed the leadership of several global law firms last year, leaders said that a “collaborative spirit” was one of the four most important traits they look for in a partner.

You may agree that collaboration is important and still find it a challenge to pinpoint your role in encouraging attorneys and clients to collaborate. Writing this blog allowed me to think through some of the things our KM department is already doing and how we might use our team’s strengths to move the needle on collaborative client projects.

Here are some of the concepts that came to mind:

Ask Questions

One common trait of most successful collaborators is that they’re also good listeners. Active listening takes practice and it’s most effective when you learn what the right questions to ask are. For example, one question I might ask a client at the beginning of a project is, “What processes or technology have you used for “X” type of matter in the past? Was there anything you liked or disliked?”

It’s a simple question, but the answer will hopefully provide insight into a client’s workstyle, their aptitude for technology, and if they’re having any hesitations about the collaboration. For example, if a client is accustomed to managing certain processes via a master spreadsheet that’s never left their internal DMS before, they’ll want reassurance that collaborating with your firm will elevate their capabilities without straying too far from what they are accustomed to and comfortable with.

Don’t Oversell the Tech

Many attorneys want to show clients that their firm is on the cutting edge, but beware of the oversell when it comes to technology. If you spend a lot of time talking to a client about the most advanced features of a product because you think they’re exciting, it may send the message that you don’t really understand their needs. Worse, it could seem like you don’t really understand the technology either.

Something else to consider – other firms your clients work with likely have the same or comparable technology available to them. Instead of positioning your firm as cutting edge, try showing the client how little training they’ll need to get started or how easily your technology can be integrated into their current processes.

Clients want to know that you’re making technology choices with them specifically in mind. No matter how great a system is, if you can’t explain how it’ll ultimately make the client’s life easier, you won’t get buy-in from the group. Or as an attorney at our firm once explained it, “That dog won’t hunt.”

There’s No Replacement for Human Connection

Human connection is important to the practice of law and even more crucial to sustaining collaboration with clients. Whether you think that sounds mushy or not, it’s true – most of us would prefer to work with people we like and in order for collaboration to take place, there has to be mutual trust.

Certain technology can help attorneys form closer client relationships, which may lead to natural collaborations occurring more often. The most obvious example of this is probably video conference technology with the benefits of a video call mimicking those of an in-person meeting.

But some ways that we’re able to connect with clients are less evident. Consider doing a quick, informal “audit” of your existing legal tech. Which products have collaborative elements? If collaboration isn’t the main purpose of that software or platform, are attorneys actually using the collaborative features?  Are there ways you can build awareness of collaboration tools within the firm? One idea that we’ve discussed is hosting a CLE workshop where we invite clients to learn about technology in a face-to-face setting alongside our attorneys.

The main takeaway from all of this is that collaborating with clients is a win-win for everyone involved. But to make it happen, we may need to develop new strategies that are more intentional in encouraging collaboration between attorneys and clients.

Knowledge Management for Newbies

31 Jan

young game match kidsBy Nikki Shaver, Global Director of Knowledge Management, Paul Hastings, LLP and Adam Dedynski, KM Project Manager, Reed Smith, LLP

This post is the first in a series ILTA will run over the course of the year, entitled “Foundations of Knowledge Management.” Upcoming posts will discuss the pillars of KM, evolving roles in KM, and how to measure the value of KM. First, though, we start at the beginning, for those new to the field.

What is Knowledge Management (“KM”)?

Defining KM has always been challenging, and it’s only become more so as the legal industry has evolved. [1] Generally, however, most traditional definitions of KM revolve around knowledge as content – collecting and creating useful content, curating it, organizing it, and surfacing it in a way that makes it accessible to lawyers as and when they need it. Knowledge managers have always been stewards of critical content.

Over the past years, the KM department in many law firms has expanded to include functions that no longer sit quite so neatly within conventional definitions of KM. The development of precedent forms and collection of good sample documents was once core to KM, and though it still is, this activity may now sit with just one of the many functions that fall under the KM umbrella. While knowledge managers generally deal with the internal knowledge and content of a firm or organization, it is now common for library or research functions dealing with third party content to similarly report in to KM. Although the capturing of key information about a firm’s matters can rightfully sit within a business development function, the organization skills of knowledge managers and their familiarity with taxonomies and metadata means that such a project is often ideally administered by the KM department. Over time, it has also become increasingly common for KM departments to include functions responsible for: the selection and administration of legal technology that is directly related to legal practice; process optimization; legal project management; alternative timekeepers; litigation support; practice management; and even pricing. In some firms, KM has become a client-facing function, carrying out AI projects and generating secondary revenue streams around subscription products and the commoditization of legal knowledge.

It is now perhaps less accurate to define KM purely in terms of knowledge or content, and more accurate to talk of it as a field dedicated to streamlining legal practice, enhancing firm-wide efficiencies, improving realization and increasing client value. In addition, because knowledge managers are often more directly related to practicing lawyers than other business professionals at a law firm (either because they were once lawyers themselves, or because they have to deeply understand practice in order to work with the content and associated processes), they are ideally situated to gather user-requirements from lawyers for major technology projects, and are often tasked with staying abreast of developments in the legal technology world so that they can match the right solution to a particular use case or practice pain-point. In short, firms and organizations that have a strong KM function are more likely to operate effectively, with greater productivity and better profit margins that those without one.

KM in Context

The core work of a KM department will differ depending on what jurisdiction you’re in, and what kind of firm or organization you work for.

In the United Kingdom and Australia, the traditional definitions of KM set out above might still accurately reflect much of what that department does within a firm. The new functions that often sit within a KM department in the United States might be gathered together in a new area that is called “legal innovation,” or they may be dispersed across the firm’s business units. A PSL or KML (practice support lawyer, knowledge management lawyer) in the United Kingdom is generally more content focused and more likely to be embedded in a practice group than the equivalent KMA (knowledge management attorney) in the United States. KMA roles are less likely to be assigned to a single practice group, and instead one KMA might support multiple practices. A PSL/KML is often tasked with drafting precedent documents, delivering legal training, or answering queries on specific areas of law and must, therefore, retain significant subject matter expertise in their practice area. In contrast, a KMA might coordinate the drafting of precedents by associates, and will spend as much time promoting new tools and processes as they will on content-related tasks.

Context also comes into play in relation to the size of the firm or organization in which a knowledge manager works. For example, the tools that are useful to practicing lawyers in a large firm are quite different to those that are useful in a small firm. In a large firm that is well resourced, knowledge managers are more likely to be tasked with finding discrete tools that improve efficiency for particular practice areas – for example, AI-enabled contract review tools that allow for faster and more precise due diligence review in the context of a large-scale corporate transaction. In a small firm, practice management tools that can perform multiple functions and are applicable across all of the practice areas of the firm will be more useful.

How to Get Started

If you are new to KM and you are hired by a firm or an organization that has an existing knowledge function, it won’t take long before you get a sense of what your department’s priorities are. Indeed, during the interview process it should already have been clear whether the function is one that is more clearly aligned with conventional definitions of KM or a modern, expanded one.

If you are new to KM and seeking a role, it would behoove you to sit down ahead of time and map out the kind of function you would prefer to join. This will likely depend on your desired career trajectory. Spending some time before applying for jobs to determine what you want your KM career to look like will help you decide which roles to apply for, and which firms or organizations to target.

If, however, you are new to the field and you have been tasked with establishing a KM function, that is a different situation entirely. Whether you moved into KM from another position at the same firm, or have been hired new to the firm for the purpose, you will want to spend some initial time understanding the way the organization works at a broader level. For a KM initiative to be effective, it must be supported by senior leaders and partners at the firm. Further, it is essential that the KM function be genuinely collaborative, not just across the firm’s practices but also across its business departments. Many KM projects rely on close working relationships with IT, Business Development, Learning and Development, and so on. KM will succeed best when it is in the process of breaking down silos; it will fail when it becomes territorial. Spending time understanding the way the business departments interact with one another, and building key relationships, will prove invaluable. Once you understand the network of power and influence across your firm or organization, and after receiving guidance from senior management and heads of practice groups about what kind of KM function they want to establish, it’s time to perform a KM audit. The notion of an audit and the priority building blocks that go into setting up a KM function will be explored in more detail in the next post in this series.

The organic evolution and diversity of the KM field makes it a highly rewarding and intellectual endeavor. Whether you are considering a career in KM, have taken the first steps in that career, or are an established KM practitioner looking for a refresher and renewed inspiration, we hope you will stay tuned for the rest of our series on the foundations of knowledge management.

[1] Ten years ago, Richard Susskind described it as a system of “organizing and exploiting the collective knowledge of a business.” Patrick DiDomenico, in his seminal text Knowledge Management for Lawyers (recommended reading for anyone starting out), lists many definitions of KM from different sources, each one valid and no two the same. The ISO Knowledge Management Standard (ISO30401) also set out definitions (and provides guidelines for establishing, implementing, maintaining, reviewing and improving a knowledge management system in organizations).

Buy or Build? Evaluating Options for KM & Related Technologies

23 Jan

typewriter

By Caitlin Peters, Senior Manager of Business Operations, Ropes & Gray and Stephanie Godley, Senior Manager of Knowledge Management & Library Services, Ropes & Gray

Once you have identified a pressing need for a technology solution to a knowledge management, marketing, or practice support issue, often the question arises – should we buy or should we build?

The first step is to outline your core requirements. Once these are identified, take time to research third-party solutions. Then it is time to go through the exercise of considering whether to build your own custom solution. Even if there is a product out there that you can buy or lease, thinking through the pros and cons of building your own solution will help you better understand your needs. Do not forget to look at products your organization already owns. With a little ingenuity, could those be modified, combined, or re-engineered to solve your current problem? Whether you are looking at an experience management system, a knowledge base, a workflow tool or something else, conduct your due diligence before proceeding. Time spent up front evaluating your options will pay off in the long run. Below are some key considerations and questions to ask when determining whether to build an in-house solution or pursue a third-party option.

Bespoke Versus Out-of-the-Box. If there is no vendor tool available, you may have no choice but to build your own solution. Alternatively, if there is a product that does just what you need, don’t reinvent the wheel. Since it is rarely that cut and dry, you will need a highly detailed requirements list and the stamina to put third-party products through a close review. Match your requirements to what the tools on the market offer. Where are the short-comings? How critical is the functionality that the third-party product does not offer? Are there one or two functions you could do without? Take a hard look at how important and unique your needs really are. Would a vendor build them into the product for you?

Best Practices & Consultations. Keep in mind that experienced vendors have often developed products or features based on customer needs and feedback. Vendors can provide recommended best practices, benchmarking, and other guidance based on their work with other clients through implementations and user support mechanisms. Plus, you get the benefit of other customers’ enhancement requests that you may not have even considered. Ask to speak to other customers who have implemented the product.

Control. Is the vendor established and likely to support the product for the foreseeable future? How often does the vendor release updates? Do they allow for customizations? How do they handle enhancement requests? What are their support hours and what is their service level agreement? What are the remedies for outages? Be sure you understand what the relationship with the vendor is going to be and how responsive they are going to be to your needs.

Cost. Adding up all the costs associated with buy or build options is not an easy feat.  Buying means purchase and annual maintenance costs; leasing means annual subscription fees; and don’t forget to calculate any implementation, integration, or customization costs, whether directly with the vendor or through consultants. Watch for contract clauses that raise costs significantly based on an office expansion or increased lawyer headcount. Building in-house eliminates the purchase, maintenance and subscription fees. However, internal teams must often be supplemented by new hires, consultants, and temps. Internally, there is also the very important question of opportunity cost: If your IT team builds your tool, most likely something else gets pushed down their priorities list or your solution ends up at the end of a long list of projects. Where does your need fall into the bigger picture?

End User Documentation & Support. If you pick a third-party solution, make sure to understand what the vendor will provide by way of marketing materials, tutorials, training, and call support for both in-house administrators as well as end users in your organization.  If these are well done, they can save you countless hours of drafting your own materials, providing training, and meeting the need for on-demand support. Putting time and effort into building a system is great, but getting the adoption and usage is essential to have a successful product. What will your support look like during and after launch from either your in-house or vendor team? Can the assistance be maintained?

Internal Bandwidth & Expertise. Legal organizations have relatively small IT departments and an unending pipeline of projects. Is your need a priority? How quickly can your internal team develop a solution? Will there be a project manager to ensure that development stays on pace, on budget, and in scope? Does your team have the necessary skills to build the product?  How agile are they with making fixes and changes?  Will they develop a tool that can easily be maintained, scaled up, and integrated with other core systems?  If the developer leaves, will others be able to step in? Make sure you understand the full extent of the time, expertise, and effort required.

Security. Your IT security team will want to vet any third-party options, whether these are on-prem, cloud or hybrid tools.  Make sure security is reviewed early in the process to address any potential concerns. Don’t let security issues be overlooked and become a road-block at the end of your project.

Speed & Urgency. Are people clamoring for a quick start? If so, third-party tools are often faster to implement unless they require a great deal of customization or integration with your other internal systems.  On the other hand, they may be slower to add features and enhancements.

Build or buy decisions need to take into account a number of factors. Weighing the pros and cons including cost, support, and time can take a fair amount of time. Putting the time and effort in upfront to answer these questions will help you make the best decision for your firm’s needs.

Knowledge Management Round-Up for 2019: What Isn’t KM?

28 Dec

close up of eyeglasses

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

Merry new year!  Please enjoy this fourth annual catalog of International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) programming of interest to Knowledge Management (KM) professionals.  Because we all get busy, I assume that you might have might have missed some of ILTA’s 2019 peer-powered programming.  Plus, let’s be honest, it can be difficult to know what is out there when the content is spread among podcast and blog platforms, magazines, conferences and recordings.  In this post, I gather all those links together and organize them by topic.

Each year, I make judgment calls on what is relevant to KM professionals.  KM is a varied and evolving discipline that seems to have a hand in a lot of parts of the business.  Thus, I include a broad range of topics, focusing on programming within those topics produced by or targeted to the KM community.  It’s a bit subjective and not a comprehensive catalog of content produced by ILTA in 2019.  I encourage you to do your own exploration.  Know that there is much more content in the ILTA archives, particularly if your area of interest is one adjacent to KM, such as adoption, data analytics, information governance, litigation support or project management.

In developing this list, particularly for four years running, some themes emerge for me.

  • Each year, the topics become broader. This year, we also see many new contributors alongside industry leaders. This growing variety highlights for me the continuing evolution of KM, the expansion of its scope and its integration into more business processes.  As the reach of KM grows, more people join the community as both contributors and consumers.  We are taking over the world, or at least legal tech.
  • We continue to see a lot of interest in big, abstract topics like innovation and artificial intelligence, but like last year, the emphasis is on how to apply these concepts and technologies rather than the theory. In addition, the programming reflects a practical bent with project management, adoption and change management content increasing.
  • I was surprised that there was relatively little programming on more traditional aspects of KM, such as practice resource collections, search and document automation. Last year, we saw renewed focus on these topics with a more strategic approach.  Does the reduced programming reflect a shift in focus or simply that we don’t need training and discussion about it?  Based on conversations throughout the year, I believe that focus is still strong among the community, but perhaps we feel comfortable enough with our approaches that we are using our learning time on thornier topics.

Some links below require ILTA membership to access.  Be sure to log into the ILTA website as a first step. It’s a long list this year, so refill your beverage and grab a comfy chair before digging in.

Adoption & Change Management

Artificial Intelligence

Bots

Competitive Intelligence & Research

 Collaboration

Data Analytics

Search & DMS

Experience Management

ILTACON

Innovation

 Intranets

KM Strategy & General

Leadership & Professional Development

Marketing Collaboration

Matter Profiling

 Other Software

 Project Management

There will undoubtedly be much more programming on these and other topics in 2020.  To receive notifications about future programming, go to your Member Dashboard to select the topics for which you would like to receive virtual event alerts.  Also join the Knowledge Management community (among others), if you have not already, to see announcements of publications and events.  Lastly, add the ILTA KM blog to your blog reader so you don’t miss a post.  And if you have ideas or requests for programming you would like to see, click on the light bulb in the upper right to submit your suggestion.

If you want to review past years’ programming, click on the links for the 2018, 2017 and 2016 round-up posts.  Altogether, these blogs posts represent hundreds of hours (or pages, as the case may be) of programming to scratch that learning itch.  Enjoy!