A New Era for Managing and Finding Experience in Large Law Firms

9 Jun

By Ron Friedmann, Partner, Fireman & Company

Experience management – the ability to find relevant matters and lawyers with specific experience – has become critical for both knowledge management (KM) and marketing large law firms. Here, I explain here its importance and examine the evolution of the technology and processes that support it.

KM Evolves from Documents to Experience

Lawyers have long tried to find and re-use work product. They started in the paper days with file folders and indexes. With the rise of PCs and networks in the early 1990s, forward thinking firms deployed full-text search tools to find work product. Variations on search continued for over a dozen years.

Search started with promise, but is ending with disappointment. It was not smart enough, often failing to find relevant documents. Even when lawyers did find good documents, those documents had limited re-use value without context about the matter or from the author. This dramatically changed KM around 2005, when new technology emerged that tapped into matter types and billing data (number of hours and narratives) to infer lawyer experience and a matter’s area of law. With this new capability, KM professionals learned that finding relevant lawyers and matters was at least as valuable as finding documents, if not more so. A quick conversation with an experienced lawyer not only supplied context, but also identified the most relevant documents. The software also significantly improved relevance ranking in document searches.

Need for Experience Data Expands

The 2008 economic crisis spawned many changes in large law firms. Marketing and business development grew in importance and firms hired pricing professionals to set budgets and alternative fees. Management started analyzing profitability by matter, client, partner, and type of matter. These new initiatives require accurate information about lawyers’ experience and the matter’s area of law:

  • Winning Pitches. Clients want lawyers with proven expertise to solve their problems. Proving expertise, whether in formal written proposals or informal discussions, requires a dossier that demonstrates the firm’s relevant experience and best- suited lawyers.
  • Establishing Expertise Publicly. To win opportunities to pitch, firms must establish their expertise publicly by presenting specific matter experience by practice, earning league table top rankings, and winning awards. All three require locating relevant experience.
  • Pricing. Pricing professionals need to find similar matters to estimate costs and set prices, which requires an accurate record of matter type and experience.
  • Integrating Laterals and Cross-Selling. With lawyers regularly moving laterally to new firms, the complexion of cross-selling has changed. Personal connections and memory of past matters no longer suffices. To cross-sell effectively, partners need a constantly refreshed source of information on matters and lawyers.  

Approaches to Managing Experience Evolve

Law firms have tried many ways to capture and manage experience, most with limited success. Today, new and much better options exist.

Email was the earliest approach with the all too familiar “pardon the interruption” (PTI) messages that lawyers send to internal mailing lists. In some firms, this yields answers but they come at a cost: PTIs interrupt the other lawyers and several may answer, duplicating effort. Because firms rarely capture the responses, lawyers ask the same questions again. In some firms, the culture does not tolerate this practice.

Early in the century, many firms created area-of-law taxonomies to catalog expertise. Firms asked lawyers to rate themselves, which generally failed because many lawyers never rated themselves and those who did often under- or over-rated their experience. Self-rating has a place, but not as the primary way to capture experience.

The inference approach described above was a big breakthrough and served firms fairly well for about a decade. Then, requirements changed and its limitations became apparent. Inference captures only area of law. For pitches, pricing, and profitability, more detail is needed. Many firms created custom databases to capture deal attributes or litigation metadata, such as opposing party, judge, and jurisdiction. Firms also licensed specialized RFP generation software. Unfortunately, these approaches require substantial care and feeding and have their own significant technology or process limitations.

Rise of Modern Tools and Processes

Recently, a new class of software has come on the market designed to manage experience. These tools collect important details about lawyers and matters, offer flexible reporting, integrate with other law firm systems, and have simple-to-use interfaces. Furthermore, they offer a single, enterprise system that can power marketing, KM, finance, and other functions.

However, software alone is not enough; someone must populate the data. Reluctance to hire staff to do this has fallen as firms respond to the need to pitch, price, and analyze profitability. Many Marketing Departments already invest heavily in capturing this type of data. Finance and new business intakes often contribute and KM departments happily contribute given that they can ride on the experience system’s coattails.

These systems rest on more accurate matter typing. Depending on the nature of the legal work, accurately characterizing matters may be possible only well into the life of the matter. Marketing or KM typically chases down the information at suitable points in the matter, which can be days, weeks, or months after inception. Some leading firms, however, are building tools based on role and time entry with phase and task codes as triggers that add a controlled workflow component to capturing information over the lifecycle of a matter. That lifecycle integration holds real promise.

As a Fireman & Company partner, I have worked with several leading providers of experience management systems, including Prosperoware, Neudesic Firm Directory, and Foundation Software Group. Each offers its own spin on experience management. Regular readers know that I do not review products or even compare and contrast them. I mention brands to illustrate the general point – and to disclose business relationships. Fireman & Company’s partnership with Foundation Software Group, announced on May 31 (here), is the most recent partnership with a leading legal tech provider. As with all of Fireman & Company partnerships, we gained experience with the platform through our clients.

Through Foundation (and we can extend this thinking to experience management information in general), we began to see the exponential value of experience data when run through machine learning and AI tools and combined with document management, time narratives and entries, and other content. Auto-classification, analytics and entity (including clause) extraction are more dependable and effective when trustworthy experience data is available. As we move forward into an integrated information environment, experience management has become a core component of a firm’s service delivery infrastructure.

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2 Responses to “A New Era for Managing and Finding Experience in Large Law Firms”

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  1. A New Era of Managing and Finding Experience in Large Law Firms – All-In Live News - June 14, 2017

    […] published under the same title by the ILTA KM blog on 9 June […]

  2. A New Era of Managing and Finding Experience in Large Law Firms – All in World News - June 14, 2017

    […] published under the same title by the ILTA KM blog on 9 June […]

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