Post by Chris Boyd, Senior Director of Professional Resources, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Oz Benamram, Chief Knowledge Officer, White & Case
Note: this post is based on a presentation that we delivered recently at the Ark Group conference on “Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.” For information about this and other Ark Group conferences, please go to http://usa.ark-group.com/.
Law firm practice resources created by KM and other support teams tend to be presented to users on the firm’s intranet as stand-alone tools in departmental silos. Marketing’s site provides template pitches and pre-approved deal and case lists; Finance’s site provides fee data, pricing estimators, and hours and billing status reports; KM’s site provides form and sample documents, expertise locators, and precedent matters; and so forth. An attorney must typically remember to visit each silo at the right time and find the right resource in order to effectively market, sell, deliver, and bill her services. Because of this inefficient setup, the attorney may take more time than necessary to navigate the offerings, or may overlook a useful tool that’s available but unintentionally hidden. As a result, neither the attorney, nor the firm, nor the client gets full value from the practice support resources.
This setup is also suboptimal from a KM perspective. Not only are KM’s resources likely under-used, but a large amount of knowledge generated during the course of the matter about the project, the client, the attorneys, and the work product is either never collected or, at best, only partially collected after the matter is done. As a result, attorneys and clients on future matters aren’t able to tap the full past experience of the firm, and thereby lose out on some degree of efficiency and effectiveness.
What if you could instead provide resources through a department-neutral interface organized around the lifecycle of a matter? The attorney could open a “dashboard” of her clients and matters, and for each matter have access to useful resources in each of the five steps of the matter lifecycle, as illustrated in the diagram below:
- Pitch. In this phase, the firm offers its services to the client. The pitch can occur in a one-on-one conversation between a general counsel and a partner who’s worked for the company many times before, or in a large beauty contest where delegations from multiple firms meet with a client team to better understand the client’s needs and pitch their services as the best solution for those needs. During this phase, each pitching firm will also check for potential conflicts. To prepare and deliver an effective pitch, the firm’s pitch team may need to use multiple support tools, including matter databases, pitch templates and samples, the enterprise search engine, a proposal generator, the document management system, the client relationship management system, the conflicts system, and others.
- Opening. The client and firm sign an engagement letter, the firm obtains any necessary waiver letters, the firm opens the matter in its administrative system, the lead attorney staffs the matter fully, and the team starts working. During this phase, the firm’s matter team may need to use tools such as the legal forms manual, the new business system, the conflicts system, the client relationship management system, the financial system, and others.
- Work. The firm’s matter team and client work together to close the deal, win the case, or otherwise achieve the matter’s goal. During this phase, the matter team should be using resources such as core form documents and vetted sample documents, the enterprise search engine, expertise locators, matter databases, the document management system, the docketing system, the who-knows-who tool, the client extranet, and others.
- Closing. The firm’s matter team closes the matter in the firm’s systems, sends the client a bill, and ideally debriefs the matter both with the client and internally. The conversation with the client should also ideally turn into a discussion about future possible work, perhaps in the very short term; hence the arrow between Close and Pitch in the matter lifecycle diagram above. During this phase, the firm’s matter team may need to use tools such as matter databases, the client relationship management system, the financial system, the extranet, and others.
- Manage. “Manage” isn’t a separate phase, because project management occurs throughout the matter lifecycle, from organizing the pitch, to budgeting and pricing the matter, to monitoring and reporting work progress, to debriefing with the client and firm teams when the matter is finished. While managing the matter, the team can use tools such as project templates and checklists, the financial system, the project planning tool, the extranet, and others.
During each phase, then, the firm’s team may need to use multiple practice support tools. In most firms’ typically segregated approach to providing the tools, if the attorneys and other team members don’t already know where to find the resources and how best to use them at each point, the team will certainly be less efficient and potentially less effective. A firm that instead united the tools behind a lifecycle-centric view of each matter would enable each attorney to take more advantage of the firm’s collective expertise and experience and as a result, the attorneys, the firm, and its clients will derive more value from the investment in KM.
In our next post, we’ll outline some examples of how this approach might work in practice.