Lost in Translation? KM Counsel Can Help

6 Dec

Rosetta_StoneGuest post by Meghann Barloewen and Marcy McGovern, Littler Mendelson

It’s no secret that law firm attorneys, who are critical subject matter experts for knowledge management, can be deterred from knowledge sharing when the structure of their compensation is, in large part, based on their individual revenue-generating efforts and not on their contribution to the advancement of the collective knowledge of the firm and its attorneys. So how does one get legal experts to contribute to non-billable projects geared towards improving firm processes and practices, developing products for clients, or supporting marketing initiatives? Unless there is a way to credit the attorney’s time for the non-billable project (and to have that credit count as a 1-1 in terms of compensation), firms may find it difficult to deliver a new product, craft a proposal, or gather sufficient substantive information to provide to the operations team who is working on a non-billable process improvement project.

One approach has been to credit billing attorneys with a “bank” of research and development non-billable hours toward an annual billable total (i.e., a set amount of hours that can count toward the attorney’s billable annual requirement). Littler, by contrast, pairs experienced Knowledge Management Counsel with project teams.  The KM Counsel bridges the gap between the operations team and those with substantive legal knowledge. If the operations team needs some substantive insight to translate how their work will impact legal process, whether the information they are reviewing is accurate, or why certain steps should be taken, the KM Counsel on the team can provide the substantive insights in order to effectively facilitate the project.

With eleven full-time KM Counsel, who have an average of 13 years of labor and employment law experience, the KM Department at Littler is well equipped to provide substantive insight in order to facilitate the timely turn-around of firm initiatives. We address here three common areas where KM Counsel collaborate across departments to help advance firm objectives, product development, information technology, and marketing.

Product Development

When Littler sets out to develop a product, it matches up operations teams with practicing attorneys and KM Counsel.  The various roles filled by KM Counsel on these teams can include:

  • Identifying areas where efficiencies can be gained,
  • Informing billing attorneys of existing resources, and
  • Working directly with the operations team to answer questions and clarify information about the substantive aspects of the project that have been discussed by “subject matter expert” billing attorneys.

This structure has improved Littler’s successes in delivering products to the marketplace on an expedited schedule. On some projects, a considerable amount of the substantive legal knowledge can be provided directly by the KM Counsel, with the billing attorneys providing final approval of a product or redesigned process. However, even if the KM Counsel is not herself a subject matter expert, having a legal knowledge base is invaluable in knowing the right questions to ask of the billing attorneys who have limited amounts of time to spend on the project. Combine this legal knowledge with KM’s ability to take on more of the share of project management requirements, and KM Counsel can substantially lighten the load of the billing attorney on product development.

Littler’s Healthcare Reform Advisor (“HCR Advisor”) is a good example of this process in action.  The HCR Advisor is an on-line tool, accessible on Littler.com, that employers can use to assist in determining whether or not they will be subject to penalties under the employer responsibility requirements of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). In a collaboration between Neota Logic (the software developer), KM Counsel, and the subject matter experts (billing attorneys), the HCR Advisor was developed in just three months – despite its subject matter complexity. KM Counsel worked with the billing attorneys to become familiar with the subject matter and then with Neota Logic to map out and build the on-line tool. Having KM Counsel in a position of learning the software process saved the billing attorneys the time of having to do so themselves, and it allowed them to focus on the substance of the tool versus the technical aspects of the tool. In this dual role, KM Counsel was able to successfully translate that process so that (1) the billing attorneys understood the type of information required to build the system and (2) Neota Logic could build the system.

Information Technology

All Littler KM Counsel are former labor and employment practicing attorneys. Accordingly, KM Counsel are often asked to consult with the IT Department on technology developments and the potential user experiences. Engaging KM Counsel to conduct an initial test of beta software or preview potential technologies for firm-wide deployment is a win-win for Littler. It permits our IT Department to receive substantive feedback from experienced attorneys without unnecessarily impacting the revenue generating arm of our firm – our billing attorneys. Moreover, aligning KM Counsel with IT projects often initiates discussion for uses of technologies that can facilitate greater collaboration at the firm, thereby increasing efficiencies, quality, and client service in practice. Of note, KM Counsel have consulted on the firm’s use document automation software, information management software, and time entry systems.

Marketing Initiatives

Littler aligns KM Counsel with marketing professionals to help coordinate marketing-related initiatives. KM Counsel provide content and help identify key developments that should be the subject of firm publications. Collaboration between these departments permits Littler to plan and prepare for covering major legal developments in a systematic way and engage practicing attorneys in an organized fashion. Beyond our publications, KM Counsel regularly partner with marketing professionals to help tailor client seminars, proposal related content, and other strategic initiatives.


As the legal market continues to demand innovations in practice and the delivery of legal services, we foresee the role of KM Counsel as a “translator” expanding.  KM Counsel provide a key link between the firm’s subject-matter experts and those executing innovation. This exciting new role for KM professionals is both challenging and rewarding – so ask yourself, do you know of a firm project where key constituents seem “lost in translation?” If the answer is yes, it could serve as a new opportunity for you as a KM professional to add value to your firm.


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