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.

ILTACON 2016 For KMers

4 Aug

ILTACON 2016 LogoBy David Hobbie, 2016 Team Coordinator, Information Management Track, ILTACON 2016, and Senior Manager, Knowledge Management (Litigation), Goodwin.

The ILTACON 2016 conference promises to be a great learning opportunity for KMers and people interested in how to use technology to improve the practice of law. I’ve recently written about the great slate of educational sessions that are potentially of interest to legal knowledge management practitioners, and I encourage to take a look at that post and also download the Conference App (you’ll also need to have registered for conference and to have received an email with your password).

The legal knowledge management community is small but collegial. In addition to the educational sessions, ILTACON 2016 will have two in-person social gatherings for KMers and friends of KMers.

The first is the Knowledge Management Community of Interest meetup, Sunday August 28, 2016, from 4:00 PM until 5:30 PM in National Harbor 3, sponsored by iManage. This is your first chance to see peers you know, meet those you don’t, and have some beverages and light snacks.  We might have a brief conversation about what’s hot and what’s not among KM practitioners, and also hear some viola music.

The second is the annual KM reception, Tuesday August 30 starting at 4:30 PM (immediately following the last educational session of the day), in the beautiful Cherry Blossom Foyer. Sponsorship by Closing Folders is greatly appreciated. While I can’t promise you that I will sing this time, I can promise you another great opportunity to see your peers, have some beverages, and enjoy each others’ company.

Hope to see you there!

A KM Lawyer’s Quick Guide to Document Assembly

28 Jul

assemblyby Lisa Houston, Knowledge Management Lawyer, Dentons Canada LLP

Implementing and supporting a document assembly initiative can be a daunting task, especially in the first year or so. Having some best practices and lessons learned from others who have trod that ground can be a big help. So, allow me to share one Knowledge Management (KM) Lawyer’s recollections of her early days leading a document assembly initiative.

When our global firm’s Canada region decided to implement the well-known Contract Express document assembly solution, KM led the initiative. A lean team of KM lawyers and content specialists kicked off a pilot with three practice groups, while our counterparts in our firm’s US region conducted their own parallel pilot.  Here is some of what we learned along the way.

Getting Started with a Good Pilot

We piloted Contract Express with a handful of interested lawyers and paralegals from our banking, corporate, and entertainment practices. Each group selected a collection of documents for our team to convert into templates; fortunately, the selected documents all proved to be well-suited for document assembly.

Our entertainment group chose documents used in film production financings and our finance group provided documents for a simple secured financing. Both sets were ideal for a couple of reasons.  First, they were documents for more “commoditized” transactions in that they are used time and time again on similar, smaller-scale transactions, usually by the same group of lawyers and paralegals and for the same client or type of client.  While elements of the main agreements might change based on the business terms, most of the documents remain the same from one transaction to the next. Second, both sets contained everything needed to complete the transaction from start-to-finish. One of the great things about document assembly software like ContractExpress is that one can not only create individual templates to generate one-off documents, but also generate all of the necessary associated documents for a transaction using a single online questionnaire and “master” template.  The time saved by generating multiple documents at once – compared with drafting each individually – is priceless.

Unlike the entertainment and finance groups, our corporate group selected documents that were not meant to be compiled as a set; however, like the financing documents, each of the corporate documents was a model document used frequently for many different clients. The corporate pilot documents included, for instance, model non-disclosure and shareholder agreements.  These model documents also proved ideal for document assembly, having been prepared specifically for our start-up clients who preferred shorter plain English documents that are easily understood.  While the models are not one-size-fits-all, they are simple and flexible enough for a variety of clients.

Since then, from my experience working with a range of documents, I recognized that another prime candidate for document assembly is a model form of the primary document used on significant transactions or matters, such as a share (stock) or asset purchase agreement in merger and acquisition transactions. True, these agreements can be complex and the transactions highly-negotiated, meaning no model or template could cover every possible scenario or structure, and coding to cover everything would be a monumental task.  But, if one has a quality model document at hand – one that is heavily annotated with commentary and instructions for using variations of important clauses (for example, pricing provisions) and optional clauses – converting the model document into a coded template for document assembly is time well-spent.  With this template, lawyers can prepare a solid first draft in a matter of minutes rather than hours, leaving ample time to focus attention on revising the draft to account for unique or sophisticated elements of the transaction.

However, coding complex transaction documents like these does have one small drawback: first drafts inevitably are negotiated and revised and those changes might veer into the “static” text in the template (the text intended to remain the same from one deal to the next regardless of particular business terms and circumstances). So, if something in the business deal or document changes that is not a template variable (like, for instance, agreement date, number of parties, governing law of the document, and pricing terms), one of document assembly’s prime benefits – the ability to generate new versions by simply changing answers on the template’s questionnaire – is lost and the document must be manually changed from that point on.  Even so, considering the alternative, this potential drawback is no big deal.

Training and Supporting Document Assembly

Back when we piloted document assembly, four KM lawyers and two content specialists were trained to code templates and only one of us had any experience with document assembly; I had created some templates with another product (EnAct). We divided into groups, with one of us taking the lead with each of the pilot groups, and jumped straight into coding templates. Much of the advanced coding that became necessary we learned through trial and error and collaboration.  The manuals and Knowledge Base on the ContractExpress website became our new best friends.  It also helped that our colleagues in the US were devoting significant time to their own initiative, so that we could bounce ideas off each other and ask one another if we had already figured something out.

Through the significant time we invested in the beginning and our steep learning curve, we soon recognized expecting all of us to become coding gurus – or even top-notch trainers – was unrealistic. For one, with competing demands, not everyone had time to learn more than the basics or devote extensive time to coding.  We also learned that creating templates was not just about coding; we also would need to support the process in other ways.

While the KM content specialists (who do not have legal education) who received training became very proficient at coding, we knew that at least one person supporting or instructing the coders ought to have some legal knowledge and become an “expert” coder. As the KM lawyer lead on the project, I learned as much coding as necessary to code the templates for the pilot.  I have since trained others on coding and support the other people who do the coding by helping them with the more of the advanced coding and reviewing their coded documents. I also needed to devise and deliver a more formal train-the-trainer program to spread the training responsibility over a larger group and compile materials and create templates for common but complex coding tasks.

The other KM lawyers who had received initial training during our pilot continue to support our process in ways other than through coding. KM lawyers review the initial documents and meet with the lawyers who provided the documents for template creation to get more background or instructions.  They identify what needs to be coded and highlight the documents for coding, which are then passed on to the coding team.  They also help by writing and organizing questionnaires and trying out some of the coded templates before we ask the lawyers who asked for the documents to test and approve them.  At times, our KM lawyers also enlist and supervise law students working at the firm to do some of the non-coding work.

Advancing Document Assembly

Once word gets out following a successful pilot, requests for coded templates come pouring in; in our case, we quickly learned that KM could not support the volume alone. To keep up with demand, we needed to train people outside of our KM Department and we gave a great deal of thought who might be the best people to train.

We started by delivering presentations to various practice groups, describing how document assembly could enhance their work and how they should go about selecting materials suitable for coding. Having the practice groups identify the ideal documents for document assembly helps ensure the best return on our coding investment and manage the workload. We also ask practice groups to identify people within their group to be trained in coding documents. We suggest as good candidates for coding experienced legal assistants who know the practice well, senior paralegals, and junior associates, all both good with and interested in technology.  (One thing we discovered in our own training and by training others is that not everyone has an interest in or aptitude for document assembly coding.)

With every group that requests templates, the coding contingent grows and we develop coding and questionnaire expertise in more and more practice groups. This frees the KM document assembly team to continue advising, providing advanced coding expertise, and supporting others.

Involving Our Lawyers in Document Assembly

Recognizing that our lawyers’ time is best spent on our clients’ matters, we try to limit their time in the template creation process. We ask the lawyers who request templates for their help only at three points in the template creation process.

First, we ask lawyers for their time up front to meet with us and provide relevant background on the documents and any instructions for coding. Typically, this involves just a phone call after the KM lawyer has read and reviewed the documents and identified items needing clarification.

Second, we ask the lawyer to test the templates once they have been coded and provide any feedback to the person coding the documents. Every template is coded to generate a separate document that lists all of the pages and groups of questions (or variables), a Word document version of the online questionnaire.  We ask them to provide their feedback on both the questionnaire (using that document as their guide) and the generated document, and then mark those up before meeting with the KM lawyer if necessary.

Third, after coders have revised the templates based on the lawyers’ feedback, we ask them for a final review. When the templates are ready for use, we hold a short training session for all members of the practice group who will use the coded document sets to generate documents for live matters.  We suggest that all legal assistants in the group and any lawyers who might generate their own first drafts using the templates receive this training.  As for updating the templates, we expect the members of the practice group trained in coding will maintain the coded templates.

Anyone embarking on a KM document assembly initiative is wise to be prepared for enthusiasm from lawyers and demand for coded documents to spread quickly. Make a plan for how you will identify, train, and incorporate others into the team early on so you can meet the demand when it comes.

OpenText’s New Purchase: A Requiem for Recommind?

7 Jun

reqby Joshua Fireman, President & Founder, Fireman & Company

The enterprise search market is getting interesting again and that is a good thing for all of us. The big question this week is, “What does OpenText’s acquisition of Recommind mean?”

Why Did OpenText Buy Recommind?

I think we can safely say that, with a transaction purchase price of $163 million based on $70 to $80 million of annualized Recommind revenues, this deal was about eDiscovery revenue and not enterprise search. Recommind’s enterprise search market (for its Decisiv Search product) has been close to flat for the last couple of years, meaning that annual Decisiv Search revenue is based predominantly on support payments.

Verdict: This deal was about eDiscovery revenue, not enterprise search.

Will OpenText Add Resources to Decisiv Search?

I suggest that we look at OpenText’s historic behaviour with respect to acquisitions. Tony Byrne did a great job of summing this up last month: “The most important thing to understand, though, is that as a vendor OpenText is a financial construct in search of a technology rationale. The company follows a ‘roll-up’ strategy: purchasing older tools for their maintenance revenue streams, streams which — while not always large — are almost always very profitable.”

It is hard to feel optimistic about a long-term vision for Decisiv Search. OpenText would have to do more than add development resources to the product team – it needs to innovate in an era where basic search is becoming commoditized and innovation is being driven by data analytics and artificial intelligence companies.

Verdict: Decisiv Search will remain stable, but is unlikely to evolve.

I am a Decisiv Search client – do I need to switch?

In the short-term, you have no reason to panic. But, you should start planning for the future. I have no reason to believe that Decisiv Search will not be maintained and kept current with required operating systems and integrations. However, as recently observed, enterprise search can be a core system powering content management ecosystems and search-based applications. Moving in this direction means you should look at other search technologies.

Verdict: Decisiv Search should operate in its current state for the foreseeable future. But, an integrated information environment demands more flexible and sophisticated tools that turn search into an intelligent content platform.

Where Is the Search Market Going?

There is no question that basic enterprise search delivers results (no pun intended). But, the real value lies in leveraging the search index and publishing search results via practice-centric applications. Search can power staffing applications, support pricing analysis, and contribute to risk management programs. The right search tool for you is one that:

  1. complements your existing information infrastructure,
  2. integrates into portals and mobile applications, and
  3. delivers information based on multiple data points, including user personas, time entry task codes, application context – even the time of day.

We are also tracking the evolution of more advanced, analytical search tools. Very interesting models are emerging that can be implemented in combination, rather than to the exclusion of, other search tools.

Verdict: Viable search options are available to law firms. Currently available technologies support high-value search-based applications. This path can be pursued in parallel with the emergence of more advanced analytical tools.

Is That All?

Not by a long shot. Fireman & Company evaluates search technologies with our clients regularly and we believe that this is an area with untapped potential. Whether your firm owns Recommind’s Decisiv or another search tool or is still exploring search, you should look hard at the strategic uses of search.

Stop Limiting Your Ferrari to Grocery Trips: Using Enterprise Search for Deeper Integration

11 May

ferBy Joshua Fireman, President, Fireman & Company

The traditional view defines enterprise as a tool that allows attorneys to research and leverage work product in ways that generally are not possible with standard document management system (DMS) search. Documents are returned with contextual information, including matter and people-specific information, and results come back based on relevancy, a key advance over native DMS search. Matter profile pages are generated automatically, as are lawyer profiles based on specific expertise search criteria.

This is how enterprise search has been sold and implemented across the legal industry. The model allows firms to leverage documents, matter information and attorney expertise without the need for large non-billable time allocations and attorney content contributions, while making a firm’s entire corpus of work product available at their fingertips in a way that manual KM contribution models simply cannot scale to. Firms that have adopted enterprise search tools have, indeed, experienced measurable efficiency gains, reduced write-downs, improved internal cross-selling opportunities and produced higher-quality work product.

Counterintuitively, the success of the “documents, matters and expertise” model has led to a general innovation stasis in law firms that own search tools (with a handful of exceptions). The simple and depressing explanation is that it has been relatively easy to benefit from enterprise search – which led, also depressingly, to a lack of market desire to leverage the extraordinary brains (the search engines and indexes) behind these tools. It is similar to buying a sports car and using it for suburban grocery trips.

I see enterprise search as a powerful integration layer that can provide access to integrated and contextualized information within both standalone applications and integrated Intranets. Viewed this way, search provides much more business value than just delivering“Google-like” search results. Rather, it can be used to:

  • Push information to users, using pre-determined search criteria (“canned” searches), where users see content views, rather than search results and can subscribe to topics and request notifications.
  • Target users based on who they are (personas), what they are working on (via phase and task codes) and where they are working (by application or via contextual location in SharePoint).
  • Power search applications responding to a variety of use cases from administrative departments (business development, conflicts and others) and practice areas.

An enterprise search selection must account for strategic considerations that go well beyond the legal industry’s widely accepted definition of enterprise search.

Intranet Integration

Users expect elegant, simple design in their Intranets, to drive and optimize adoption. This extends to searching multiple systems & repositories; these types of search must be transparent and intuitive to the user. Award winning law firm intranets now feature an integrated user-facing search box that combines search options from multiple systems into a single, guided user experience (see the illustration below):

F1Unified search, however, is just the beginning of the value that search can deliver via an Intranet because search can be used as a content management tool within an Intranet. Any content indexed by the search tool can be published in an Intranet by combining pre-populated search criteria with web parts that display result content in an easily consumable form. In other words, the search tool should be capable of displaying search results in multiple display formats (like, for instance, grids and tiles) as a component of an Intranet page.

This opens up the possibility of using search in place of application-specific web parts. Simple examples include displaying recent matters and documents via search. A moderately more complex example would be the display of user-generated DMS content in ways that surpass the capabilities of native DMS functionality (for example, by displaying a working file view). Even more interesting possibilities emerge when search is paired with user targeting (as we discuss below).

User Targeting

Innovative search uses emerge when we take advantage of “audiencing” where content is tailored based on Intranet user persona and page context. For example, an associate working on a matter can have relevant KM material suggested on the basis of matter profiling and time entry information. Similarly, experience location can be targeted to suggest peers (such as lawyers within two years of the user’s bar call) with experience on similar, relevant matters.

The combination of search and audiencing presents an opportunity to facilitate user movement through the Intranet by programmatically anticipating knowledge management and other needs. From the perspective of the attorney, the Intranet becomes a highly personalized work environment enhanced by the serendipitous discovery of relevant knowledge.

One of the most high-value uses of user targeting is the application of audiencing on matter pages to generate electronic matter files. An electronic matter file can meet several objectives, including:

f2providing users with a more relevant view of DMS (and other source) content via filters and content views than is possible with a traditional DMS, and

f3leveraging time entry (particularly where phase and task codes are used) to “push” information based on matter type, role and matter phase (checklists, similar relevant matters, peer experience, etc.)

From a strategic IT perspective, the development of an electronic matter file provides an opportunity to plan its long-term document management application strategy. As the legal industry considers the evolution of DM into back-end infrastructure, a web-based electronic matter file provides the opportunity to transition to a new DM model without substantial “big bang” change management concerns – the back-end can change without materially affecting the web-based front-end seen by the firm’s users.

Search Applications

An enterprise search tool can also be the engine behind targeted applications for different audiences within a firm. The following are examples of search applications:

  • Matter Auto-Prediction/Classification & Budgeting: Predictive coding has been in place for almost a decade in the litigation document review space; some search tools could be used to predictively code matter types, and obviate the need for lawyers to code them when opening a matter. With better and more comprehensive matter types associated with more of your matters, you could locate matters of the same type to help create budgets from the data.
  • Matter Location: Locate relevant matters to leverage past experience for RFP responses and AFAs; support LPM.
  • Conflict Checking: Leverage dynamically joined data across repositories; reduce risk with concept searching (e.g. Pepsi = Frito Lay); issue alerts when conflicts arise mid-matter.
  • Staffing: Make more effective use of legal resources and matching the right people; leverage dynamically joined data across matter intake, HR, Time and Billing, finance repositories; locate people based on multiple factors (experience, billing rate, geography, realization).


The development of search applications is dependent on (1) access to the search index’s data layer, (2) the ability to present content in multiple view types (grids, multi-select tables, tiles, etc.) and (3) a categorization engine able to scale sufficiently to crawl all relevant repositories and be trained on your content. The right tool, integrated with the firm’s existing data and workflow infrastructure can lead to the development of extremely valuable, purpose-driven applications.


The enterprise search market is about to leap forward, as search vendors work with clients to realize the true potential of their tools. For years, clients asked for “Google for the law firm”. Today, we realize that this was the wrong question. Instead of trying to mimic other products, we needed to look at our interactions and relationships with information in the context of the practice of law. Building those use cases takes time, but the payoff is worth it.