Post by David Hobbie, ILTA KM PG
Clearspire, a combination of a traditional business and a law firm, is an innovative legal startup, which has invested a lot of effort in developing advanced enterprise information systems. It first received coverage in the Washington Post on Monday May 9, with additional reports in the ABA Journal and the Law Practice Management Advisor, but apparently has been open since October 2010.
At present it is more a platform for legal work than a fully functioning general law firm, as they appear to have no more than 10 lawyers. Attorneys do most of their work at home, and are not responsible for a billable hour quota or for generating business.
Their basic plan is to hire former Amlaw 200 attorneys, strip out the costs for office space and partner compensation and charge half of typical AMLaw 200 rates, still under a billable hour model but with detailed budgeting and project monitoring. The ownership structure is unusual in that Clearspire co-founder Bryce Arrowood, the founder of the LawCorps contract legal staffing firm, runs Clearspire Service Company, which provides knowledge management, IT, business process engineering, and other support, while co-founder Marc A. Cohen, a very experienced trial lawyer and former AUSA, runs Clearspire Law Company, which provides all legal services. These are not babes in the woods.
From a legal knowledge management perspective, the founders and investors have definitely spent some money (and are highlighting their work) on creating a cutting-edge enterprise collaborative legal technology framework, which they were able to build from the ground up without regard to integration with older legacy systems.
The IT and KM team–which includes CIO Eyal Iffergan, KM Director Joshua Capy and former ILTA board member Jeffrey Brandt as “Community of Practice Manager”–have done some thorough thinking about legal enterprise information needs. KM practitioners at existing firms might well benefit from thinking about what one might do if one could “start over” and build something from scratch.
Clearspire claims that their “Coral” Community of Practice system “integrates and packages the best of Web 2.0, social networking, advanced unified communications and legal management technologies.”
Coral include the following elements:
- Fully capable Enterprise 2.0 / web 2.0 – type intranet platform, including integrated IM, video, and wikis;
- News feeds of information related to each attorney and their practice;
- Knowledge management capabilities including search, internal wikis, blogs, and tagging;
- Transparency to the client including full client access to that client’s documents, with matter dashboards and visibility into attorney availability;
- After-action performance evaluations including discussions of possible process improvements; and,
- Social networking including detailed profiles, presence, and chat.
I know of no firm or law department with a comparably sophisticated and comprehensive set of of internal collaboration technologies, and only a few that provide a comparable level of access to attorney availability and work product.
In a whitepaper Clearspire claims that, taken together, these technologies and activities allow “enhanced connection” and”self-determination,” and even, rather than depersonalizing the work environment, let “individual personalities” and “collective energy” come to the fore.
I believe that collaborative technologies and innovative communications can certainly enhance internal knowledge-sharing and enhance employee engagement. Certainly part of Enterprise 2.0’s promise has been to allow employees to author content, connect and share regardless of geographic location.
It remains to be seen whether the technology, as used by the Clearspire attorneys and staff, will suffice in an environment that decidedly de-emphasizes face-to-face meetings. Without seeming too much of a dinosaur, I don’t think there’s any substitute for that, as a means for getting to know a person and for building trust.
From the perspective of enterprise information flows, Clearspire also seeks to integrate project staging and management and financial tracking into its offerings. It is attempting to be transparent to clients about how teams and matters are constructed, with a goal of no “invoice surprises.” Clients have access to dashboards and a rich array of information about their matters.
The strengths and weaknesses of systems such as Clearspire’s are not entirely apparent from what is publicly available. Their aspirations and reported capacity for enhanced collaboration and knowledge sharing are impressive, however, and their marketing’s emphasis on the benefits to potential attorney employees and clients of effective internal processes and efficiencies may be a harbringer of changes to come.