Archive by Author

Report from Tableau Conference: 13,110 Data Enthusiasts Descend on Austin

3 Jan

tableau_conf_pic_2016By David Hobbie, Senior Manager, Knowledge Management (Litigation), Goodwin

Along with a small team from Goodwin, I (pictured at far right in photo) attended Tableau’s massive “Data16” conference in Austin, Texas from November 7 through 11, 2016.  The conference focused on the broad uses and deep technical functions related to only the Tableau data visualization program, which I have written about here.

Like other tech conferences, this one has many different benefits for attendees, including obtaining hands-on training, meeting peers facing similar issues, hearing about product innovations and developments, and learning strategy and adoption techniques from other organizations that have implemented a data-driven culture. And make no mistake, legal KMers, there is such a thing as a data culture, one that values insights and knowledge gained from data but that also enjoys a good muddy wrestle with a data cube, relational database, or clustering algorithm.

I went to build my hands-on skills developing Tableau dashboards and visualizations for my firm and to better understand how to enhance data-informed visualization-based decision-making.

From my perspective, key events were the product keynote, the Iron Viz competition, and the many training sessions.

The event hashtag was #data16.


One of the most important events of the week was the main keynote Tuesday morning, attended by all people at the conference as well as 10,000 online. It was conducted by many different Tableau company product managers and executives.

The keynote saw multiple product development announcements, covered by Gartner and Interworks.  Typically the announcements referred to future releases; the expectation from the community appears to be that the announced improvements will be in place, roughly speaking, before the time of the next conference, although formally the announcements pertain to developments in the next few years. The past has seen some grumbling about product announcements not met with actual releases. Regardless, Tableau is a very successful and innovative analytics and visualization platform that is a “Gartner quadrant leader” and also has a large user community that continually suggests improvements and helps each other. For instance, two of the Tableau resources I find myself returning to again and again were not published by the company, but address “string calculations” and “case statements”.

Probably the most intriguing developments from a knowledge management perspective was an announcement concerning the introduction of natural language querying and machine learning for database discovery. With natural language querying, instead of needing to manually manipulate filters or click into visualizations, users will use natural language to adjust a dashboard’s views in Siri-like fashion by, for instance, asking a precipitation database “where the highest rainfalls in July 2015 were.”

Another feature will also be machine learning that will aid identification of databases related to the users’ current visualization. This feature will apparently leverage both popularity of other databases and the other databases’ similarity to the current one. Similar suggestion algorithms can be found in any decent shopping website, and also in Westlaw/Lexis research tools.

Other very impressive, if more technical, developments promise to greatly increase the speed of ingestion and analysis of large data sets (“Hyper Data Engine”), and aid the extraction, transformation, and loading (“ETL”) of data before it gets into Tableau (“Project Maestro.”) These developments show that the company is seeking to extend its capabilities beyond the visualization and analysis of data, and into the ETL that is essential for effective use of data within businesses.

Iron Viz

The Iron Viz competition is a crowd favorite, not to mention a truly impressive spectacle, at least for those who have tried their hand at creating effective data visualizations.

Three teams, consisting of a visualization creator paired with a Tableau company “assistant,” receive the same dataset one day before the competition. In front of a live audience who can see every move projected on big screens, the teams start from a blank workbook and create one or a small series of visualizations of the data in just 20 minutes. A panel of judges (Tableau executives and consultants) and the audience (through twitter) then vote.

This year the dataset consisted of 150 million rows of data about New York City taxi rides. The wrinkle was that contestants were permitted to pull in public external data if they so chose.

Without going into any gory details, the winning visualization was Curtis Harris’ Yellow Taxi, which highlighted the long hours and constant work of New York cab drivers. While all contestants were of course Jedi-level visualization developers  – and I do not take lightly their level of learning and years spent developing the skill level required to do what they did – the competition highlights one of the key benefits of Tableau: it is designed to allow users without programming or technical skills to quickly develop visualizations, learn from complex data sets, and effectively communicate their insights.  In other words, it is a platform for knowledge acquisition and transmission.

Educational Sessions

The sessions were generally quite packed. To give some sense of the scale here, each hands-on training room had rows of tables with laptops, at least 150 and often as many as 300 per room. Finding your level within the sessions wasn’t entirely straightforward; I went to a few labeled “advanced” that I didn’t get much from (the levels are Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, and Jedi). I learned this newbie tip from colleagues who had been before: it is very important to register for any hands-on sessions through the mobile app the week before the conference. There were typically lines of people waiting to get in on “stand-by” outside the hands-on sessions.

I went to sessions on calculations, user-centered design, building a Tableau community at Staples, and leveraging data visualizations across a large mid-Atlantic health care company.

No sessions addressed legal risk or legal visualizations specifically. An intriguing session from Grant Thornton, however, suggested that large accounting firms may leverage data analysis to create systems that highlight risky transactions. One example involved the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the idea being that large transactions involving the children of government officials or labeled a “facilitation payment” should be looked into by clients’ risk management teams. This type of service requires extensive access to client data.

Aphorisms and Takeaways

    • The joy of discovery is key to science and to data visualization—Bill Nye.
    • To convince others to change you have to go beyond data to speak the others’ language.
    • A great viz will, however, inspire conversation.
    • Don’t try to cram it all into a single viz; you won’t get sustained engagement that way. (Brian Stephan)
    • Data visualization and data analytics are making a difference with climate change, supply chain optimization, emergency response, education, medicine, drug development, and more.
    • Applications of data visualization and data analytics are continuing to grow and add value to many organizations, leading to significant investments in data and data analytics people, processes and technology.

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!

ILTA KM Peer Group Steering Committee Opportunity

5 Aug

Guest Post by Chris Boyd, Peer Group Vice President

ILTA’s Knowledge Management Peer Group Steering Committee has an opening and we’re looking for an interested volunteer to fill it. The KM peer group works with ILTA, fellow peer groups, and regional leadership to deliver programs and publications on how law firms and law departments can use KM to help their attorneys and other professionals be more effective and efficient and ultimately deliver more value to their clients. We enjoy working together to develop conference sessions, put on webinars and local meetings, encourage the use of the e-group, publish an annual white paper, post on this blog, collaborate with vendors on peer-focused programming, and otherwise capitalize on ILTA’s excellent resources to facilitate peer knowledge sharing and champion KM.

Our steering committee has eight people, and one of our long-serving members has decided to step down, so we are looking to fill that slot. Our departing member is from Washington D.C., and because we collaborate with local KM groups and each have an assigned regional ILTA group to work with, we are especially interested in applicants from ILTA’s Middle Atlantic region (Delaware, D.C., Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia), but that is a preference rather than a firm requirement.

Click here to learn more about Steering Committee member qualifications and responsibilities, as well as to submit your application. Please also feel free to contact me at or 650-354-4195 if you have any questions.

ILTA Conference KM Track Preview

25 Jul

Imagine Guest post by David Hobbie, KM PG Steering Committee, Conference Committee Liaison

The amazing annual conference put on by ILTA in Nashville, Tennessee is less than a month away!  This post lays out the speakers and substance for the six sessions on the “formal” km track, that organized by the KM Peer Group itself–although, as in other years, numerous other sessions are being organized by knowledge management professionals, address knowledge management concerns, or are otherwise of interest to the knowledge management community.  I’ve already located a few time slots when I would like to clone or perhaps “bi-clone” myself, so I could be in two or three places at once.

This year the KM track is grouped early in the week, with four sessions Monday August 18 and one each on Tuesday August 19 and Wednesday August 20.

The KM Peer Group is also hosting a reception on Tuesday evening at 4:30 PM in the Governor’s A Foyer, in the time between the last session of the day and the annual Distinguished Peer Award ceremony (the reception is generously sponsored by HighQ.)

Tweeting during the sessions can leverage the #ilta14 hashtag (already seeing significant amounts of vendor traffic) and the session hashtags, which are #kmpg1 through #kmpg6 and will be announced at the beginning of every session.  Please note that twitter searches on the session-specific may reflect previous years’ information, for a while at least.

1. Expert Systems, #kmpg1

Title:  The Rise of Expert Systems: Threat or Opportunity to Traditional Legal Services?  


It is no longer necessary to build technology that “bakes in” legal wisdom to deliver fact-based advice. Instead, expert systems for delivering legal advice are coming more into play, led by providers, client-facing document assembly products and budget wizards. What types of legal market needs do these kinds of products meet, what opportunities are ahead for law firms and legal departments, and how can law departments best harness the collective wisdom of their and their law firms’ lawyers?

The first session after the keynote, Monday at 11 AM in “Governor’s B,” features an innovative technology, “expert systems,” which has only recently made the transition from laboriously developed custom one-off creations to mobile or intranet applications, developed on an expert system platform (read more about expert systems on my Caselines posts here and here.)

Speaking at the session are Neota Logic President & Chief Strategy Officer* Michael Mills, whose company Neota Logic created the platform for creating expert system apps, Scott Rechtschaffen, CKO at Littler Mendelson, who has already publicly leveraged expert systems with the Health Care Reform Advisor, and Professor Tanina Rostain, who runs the Georgetown Law’s Iron Tech Lawyer competition that also leverages expert systems technology for the benefit of legal services. The panel will be moderated by Ginevra Saylor.

2. Security, #kmpg2

Title: KM, Security and Compliance: Fist Fight or Compromise?  


Clients demand compliance with strict information security guidelines vis-à-vis protection of legal work product. But the “need to know” security model could hinder information access and collaborative KM processes, including, but not limited to, accessibility of enterprise search. Clients are under regulatory pressures and are cracking down on what they consider lackadaisical law firm security. Is there a right balance or compromise that can address the concerns of all involved — clients, KM and security officers? Come watch the fight unfold!

The next KM session, after lunch on Monday at 1 PM, in the same room, “Govenor’s B.” Security is an increasing concern for law firms and legal organizations. Pressure to enhance security has flowed from federal and state regulators to corporations and to corporate legal service providers such as large law firms.  Many approaches to security directly or potentially conflict with knowledge management practices and goals, such as the ability to search across client matter files. We’ll hear about this issue from the perspective of key stakeholders on all sides.

Speakers include moderator Tim Golden of McGuireWoods, James Tuvell of Fox Rothschild, Dawn Radcliffe of TransCanada Pipelines, and Jim Higdon of Vendor Direct Solutions.

3. Experience, #kmpg3

Title: Leveraging Experience To Enhance the Bottom Line: New Information and New Tools


Firms are under pressure to collect more information about firm experiences and new kinds of information that relate to estimating the expected costs of new matters. New processes, information systems and staff are needed to meet this challenge, which will ultimately result in accurate pricing, effective business development and the efficient provision of legal services. Come hear more about how experience management can enhance your firm’s pricing, budgeting and KM efforts.

Next up, in the same room at 2:30 PM, is a session highlighting new uses for what is in some firms old technology and business process.  Come hear how some firms may have found a way to uncover the “gold” hidden in the firm’s experience and financial information.

Speakers will address key requirements for effective experience databases, when used primarily for pricing purposes rather than marketing purposes; discuss new technology that is being leveraged for experience management; and have a robust discussion about different approaches that different organizations have taken to this old area of inquiry and work that has new meaning in today’s legal industry.

Speakers include Toby Brown of Akin Gump, Andrew Pauluhn of Bryan Cave, and Matt Laws of Crowell & Moring.  I will be moderating.

4. Failure #kmpg4

TitleIt’s a Failure Party! How To Celebrate These Learning Opportunities


Embrace productive failure! We’re not celebrating failure itself, but rather the ability to learn from it. While some tend to be reluctant to acknowledge or follow up on their mistakes, we know this is not an ideal strategy. Come listen to several successful legal information management professionals tell stories about their least successful projects, what they’ve learned and how to turn your last failure into an opportunity for future success.

Same room, 4 PM.  Learning from past experiences, good and bad, is an essential component of knowledge management and project  management.  Experienced panelists will offer perspectives on learning from failure from the military (Col. Scott Reid (retired), formerly leader of the Army JAG Corps KM, now of Littler Mendelson), and KM (John Gillies of Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP and recent conference co-chair Rachelle Renegal of  Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler), moderated by Scott Rechtschaffen.  Do not fail to attend or you might regret it!

5. Gamification #kmpg5

Title: Gaming the Lawyers: Driving Adoption, Contribution and Change 


Motivating people to change their behavior often comes with KM territory. Can gamification help change behavior by making the change competitive and fun? With gamification moving beyond a fad in the corporate world, this session will explore a few examples of successful gamification in aid of KM programs inside legal organizations. Join us to see if we can motivate you to brainstorm and share ideas on how to apply gamification in the context of legal KM. Competitive ILTAns may race to chime in!

The next KM track session is an extended Tuesday morning session at 11 AM in Governor’s C/D.  Rather than offer my own gloss, I link to moderator Milena Higgens’ recent ILTA KM blog post on the session.

Speakers are Raul Taveras of Fish & Richardson,  Pamela Woldow of Edge International, Scott Reid of Littler Mendelson, and Rubsun Ho of Cognition LLP.

The KM Peer Group reception is Tuesday evening, 4:30 PM, in the Governor’s Foyer.

6. KM and Advertising #jnog6

 Title:  Upselling KM:  What Would Don Draper Do? 


What would Don Draper do if he were put in charge of a legal knowledge management program? In other words, what points must be made to firm leadership to start or reinvest in KM initiatives? How can you “sell” the value of KM in the current market? We’ll present insights from knowledge management professionals who have successfully “sold” KM in their organizations. 

This charismatic panel of experienced and successful knowledge management practitioners has repeatedly made the pitch for knowledge management within their legal organizations.  Come hear some of their secrets in what is sure to be an entertaining and educational session.

Speakers include the handsome Tom Baldwin of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, the beautiful Meredith L. Williams-Range of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, and the dapper Joshua Fireman of Fireman & Company, moderated by talented KM Distinguished Peer Patrick DiDominico. Cigars and Scotch optional.
*Earlier version of this post had an incorrect title.



Can It Be “Just The Facts”? Uncertainty and Verification in Litigation and Our Organizations

7 Apr

Just The Facts Ma'amBy David Hobbie, Litigation Knowledge Manager, Goodwin Procter LLP

I recently read David Weinberg’s Too Big To Know (2012), which investigates the changing meaning of knowledge in our age of ever-increasing connectivity and collaboration. (The full title is “Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.”) In the opening to Chapter 2, “Bottomless Knowledge,” Weinberg digs into the pre-internet days of obtaining answers and, at the same time, points out an unavoidable feature of information gathering and use that I had not thought of in the same way before — the need to weigh the amount of certainty to which we need to know facts.

Weinberg takes us back to 1983 and asks us to suppose that we want to know the population of Pittsburgh. To find out, we would not conduct our own census; instead, we would likely go to a library and find a (paper) almanac with a population list. We would comfortably rely on that figure for nearly any purpose, particularly if the almanac relied on US census data.  Weinberg notes that our need for some degree of validity continues in the internet age, even though our sources and techniques, not to mention the speed of retrieval, are radically different. Nowadays, we would likely start with Wikipedia, and follow links in the Pittsburgh article to online US Census data if we wanted greater certainty. His main point is that the internet has changed even this fundamental aspect of gathering and assessing information — we no longer need to rely on the one source before us; we can follow or find the direct  source on our own.  This changes the nature of fact-finding and knowledge.

With this simple example, Weinberg raises the idea of factual uncertainty and verification, an idea well worth following into the context of our litigation system and dealing with our legal organizations’  internal information.  Simply put, we need to establish facts and collect knowledge with varied degrees of certainty.  All kinds of standards for certainty exist, for instance, that needed to establish mathematical facts, scientific facts, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or simply that something is more likely than not to be true.

The US Litigation System and Verification

The US court system reflects our varying need for certainty for different types of decisions. We perceive our system of statutes, regulations, and case law as an essentially unvarying set of rules. The facts of a given case, combined with the case’s procedural posture, control which standard should be applied and the outcome (e.g., when a judge rules on a motion or a jury gives a verdict). Many cases are won or lost as a result of a court’s determination of precisely which legal standard applies to a given set of facts.

By way of example, under the civil procedure rules, the standards for surviving dismissal, or to put in Weinbergian terms, the degree of certainty with which a plaintiff needs to establish facts, increases as a civil case proceeds. The following discussion is a gross oversimplification, does not relate to any particular US jurisdiction, and should not be taken as my (or my firm’s) position on the legal standard of proof with respect to any particular case.

Civil Litigation Stage Verification Standard
Motion to Dismiss Facts plaintiff pleads (states) are assumed true
Motion for Summary Judgment Facts plaintiff can put at issue or contradict by affidavit, document, or discovery statement can lead to denial of summary judgment
Trial Plaintiff must prove facts with admissible evidence that establishes that a fact is, more likely than not, true

Motion To Dismiss

A defendant can attempt to avoid liability very early on in a case, before even obligated to respond to a plaintiff’s complaint, through a Motion to Dismiss (called a demurrer in some jurisdictions). In that procedure, a plaintiff need do no more than “plead” the facts,  meaning state the facts as the plaintiff reasonably believes (and sometimes merely hopes) they are. Courts generally must accept all facts pled in the Complaint as true (with a few exceptions, such as facts in the guise of legal determinations and facts pled that are contradicted by unquestionable documents associated with the Complaint). To avoid liability and obtain dismissal the Complaint’s dismissal, the defendant essentially need only establish that even if everything the plaintiff claims to be factually true were true, as a matter of law the plaintiff has no valid claim and is not entitled to recover anything from the defendant. The court needs no factual certainty at this stage.

Summary Judgment

Later in the case, perhaps after losing a Motion to Dismiss, a defendant may challenge a Complaint through Summary Judgment, which usually comes after gathering facts through the discovery process.  Summary Judgment can lead to dismissal of all or part of the plaintiff’s case in the same way a Motion to Dismiss can.  At this stage, the defendant may contradict the plaintiff’s alleged facts bysubmitting alternative facts by affidavit, documentary evidence, or the plaintiff’s own responses to discovery, such as interrogatories.  If the plaintiff cannot rebut the defendant’s proposed facts through its own affidavits or documents, the court may take them as true for purposes of the Summary Judgment motion. If, however, two incompatible accounts of a conversation, document, or other fact exist  (if it appears as “he-said she-said”), the court will not choose whom to believe and will not grant reasonable inferences in the defendant’s favor;  the facts are determined to be in controversy and Summary Judgment is not granted (assuming that the facts in dispute legally must be established for the defendant to avoid liability). At this stage, the court requires uncontroverted facts to make a ruling.  However, the plaintiff need not prevail in a credibility fight; the plaintiff merely needs to have a credibility contest.


By the time they arrive at trial,  the parties have incurred great expense and intensively investigated the facts. While the plaintiff generally has the slight disadvantage of needing to prove the facts by a preponderance of the evidence (meaning just barely more likely than not),where facts are controverted or uncertain the decision-maker (either a judge or a jury) chooses whom to believe and essentially determines the facts. Even here, the system tightly controls how likely a fact or reliable an opinion must be to be introduced. This is a key aspect of our system of evidence, particularly expert evidence. The plaintiff can simply plead facts, or submit an affidavit or document making it possible that a version of the facts is true; but, it needs to introduce acceptable factual evidence that the decisionmaker believes more than the defendant’s version to prevail.

As the stages of litigation progress, in parallel with fact development over the course of the case, the plaintiff must prove the facts underlying the legal claims with more and more certainty and receives the benefit of the doubt as to certainty less and less.

Knowledge Management: Uncertainty and Verification Within the Enterprise

Working within the extensive constraints of this system  inclines lawyers to very low tolerance for factual uncertainty and risk compared with other businesspeople (see, “I’ve Got You Under My (Thin) Skin: Personality and Motivation in Lawyers”).  So, three of Weinberg’s lessons should be considered in creating and developing legal knowledge management resources.


One fairly obvious point is that our systems should be designed to clearly identify the underlying sources and  provide other  indicia of reliability, or at least indicate why the information is thought to be reliable. For instance, a system providing a firm’s judicial appearance information should identify the attorneys directly involved, along with information or links to the matter. Better still, the system could provide a way to quickly contact the attorneys. Lawyers are used to linking or citing authority; in principle, the whole common law system requires citation to previous authorities who have considered an issue, forging new ground only where none exist.

With work product (samples and forms), no single sample or form will consititute the “correct fact.” In that sense, factual reliability may be less important than proper context. Is the asset purchase agreement a buyer-friendly exemplar relating to a $100m+ Florida real estate? Or, is it a California biotech startup with two promising products in the pipeline? Is the Summary Judgment motion from a trademark dispute in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts or a contract dispute in the New York Supreme Court?  Accurately portraying the context increases the work product’s utility.

Forms and samples should also readily identify the date to help attorneys quickly assess how likely they are to be accurate on the law. The “expiration date” on work product varies significantly depending on the area; for instance, contract law changes very slowly, while the law concerning noncompetition agreements and data security and privacy changes more quickly.

Generally, I am not a big fan of disclaimers (“Don’t use this work product unless you are a real expert or have talked to partner Jane Smith!!”). I find them both ineffective and condescending to the intelligence of our work force (in that we do not hire stupid law school graduates; if any made it through somehow, they should be fired).   On the other hand, providing the context or origin of a resource or sample set can help the attorney determine the resource’s reliability (for instance, “This information is drawn from our matters database, which contains matters with time billed after 2005 and is updated monthly”).


Weinberg points to the dramatic change in the nature of knowledge resulting from the move away from the printed word to interconnected information. Legal knowledge management systems also should make use of interlinking. Are you creating a custom set of  SharePoint lists and pages to manage unique information about a particular group of products liability cases; why not tie that system into your existing matter portal, document management, and communication systems? Are you setting up a work history report that shows the hours particular people have worked over time; why not tie into your matters database and experience systems?

Internal information can be linked through not only hyperlinks and related information, but also search. Enterprise search can pull together information about firm experience, work product, and attorney expertise linked only by a client/matter number and display it in one portal. A document management system search similarly can pull in information from the finance system to provide richer context for work product search result grids.


Another lesson from the internet age is the need for our internal systems to allow for extensive attributed contributions by people inside the firm. Lawyers’ need for certainty and risk avoidance have led them to disparage enterprise social networks and other systems where anyone in the firm can contribute knowledge; except in instances where lawyers feel secure in their expertise or are sharing “neutral” information, those same characteristics have tended to dampen the degree of internal sharing. But, there is no going back to an era of less connectivity, and the aggregate wisdom of a firm can be most efficiently and effectively shared through systems where many attorneys contribute and make their opinions known. Imagine the net effect of multiple endorsements of a given form or litigation checklist by a range of senior legal practitioners.

In other professional organizations, these  kinds of systems increase the ability to find content and experts. They also lead to increased retention, as staff engagement from being able to contribute increases.  We need to other attorneys’ ratings and knowledge of the experience and seniority of the contributing attorney lead to proper weighing of the certainty and relevance of contributions. Working with the internet or sophisticated intranets requires a different, but not inconsistent set of lenses with which to view the certainty of information.


We will never be less connected than we are now. That is normally viewed in the context of people-to-people connection, for instance with respect to mobile and remote access. It certainly is also true now with respect to accessible, verifiable information—a person in a rural area in 2014 with a handheld smartphone has access to more and better information in many ways than government leaders did fifty years ago. And, it is also true with respect to internal information and information outside the firm. Showing why we think something is true or useful within the firm can help us improve our legal organizations’ capability to leverage its collective wisdom.

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, 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.

Working Together To Work Better: Aligning Professional Development and Knowledge Management

18 Nov

Working-Together-738577Guest Post By Mara Nickerson, Chief Knowledge
Officer, Osler

Knowledge management and professional development (PD) serve closely aligned objectives at law firms – while knowledge management tends to focus more on legal substance and legal technology, and professional development more on skills and capacity development, certainly both help lawyers gain the information and knowledge needed to practice efficiently and effectively. In most law firms these two departments are not connected and often operate in silos.  However, as professional development departments start developing on-line, just-in-time, training, there are more opportunities for them to work together and ensure lawyers have access to integrated topical resources.

Videos & Podcasts

What are these on-line trainings? At their most simple form, PD provides videos of live programs, usually synchronized with the PowerPoint. But many PD groups are also now creating short podcasts, video or audio that can be downloaded to a mobile device. These podcasts might be a short lecture or set of practice tips focused on a specific topic and ideally aimed at a particular role. Working together KM and PD can package these videos and podcasts with links to the relevant model precedents and other related resources in the KM system, including matter pages, legislation, research, firm commentaries or blogs. Depending on the topic, PD may also have pulled together other resources such as background articles that should be included.

Even if the firm has enterprise search that would enable a user to find all of the KM and PD resources, it can still be more efficient for users if KM and PD have packaged the most useful resources together, filtering out some of the “other stuff” that comes up in search. And at the very least KM should work with PD on taxonomy to ensure PD is applying the same metadata to its PD content to ensure that when a user does use enterprise search, the best content is delivered.

Web 2.0

PD is also starting to leverage Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis and discussion forums, for learning purposes. Consider the implementation of a major new piece of legislation. A live program, or even a podcast, will be a static tool, reflecting the presenters’ knowledge at the time the program was held or created. But with a new piece of legislation much of the learning will come over time as lawyers start to interpret it in the context of real client issues, and as they see the courts and regulators apply it.

Working together, PD and KM can integrate PD’s program resources, KM resources and a discussion forum in which the lawyers can discuss the issues they come across. Perhaps include a wiki page to create an on-going live, flexible summary of what has been learned, linking to articles and commentaries as they come out. The page becomes a live learning environment.

Interactive Training

Some PD teams are also starting to create more interactive on-line programs in which users are required to answer questions and interact with the program, either throughout or as a quiz at the end.  This format could be a useful tool for training juniors and perhaps legal assistants on using the KM systems.

Better Together Than Apart

Some KM teams are doing these things without the involvement of PD as they switch their focus from pulling information together, to enabling the creation of knowledge.  However, I still encourage KM to reach out to PD see what they have and are doing and ensure, as an organization, that the two groups are efficiently working together in support of the lawyers, and not duplicating efforts.

Farewell and Welcome

9 Oct

torchPost from ILTA KM Blogmaster and KM Peer Group Steering Committee menber David Hobbie, Goodwin Procter LLP

I am pleased to announce that I will be passing the torch on this blog to Andrew Baker, a fellow member of the KM Peer Group Steering Committee and Director of Seyfarth Shaw’s Legal Technology Innovations Office.

This blog was launched in spring of 2011, around two and a half years ago.  While initially Patrick DiDomenico and I were to be co-blogmasters, Patrick’s other obligations (like serving on ILTA’s Conference Committee and doing the work that led him to be this years KM Distinguished Peer) took him away.

What have been the most popular topics / posts?

The top 5  posts are … (drumroll please) …

What is this blog’s purpose?  

As it still says on the About page, this blog aims to “share thoughts about legal knowledge management, whether contributed by a member of the KM Steering Committee, or by another member of the ILTA community…mak[ing] it easy for members of that community to contribute, without having to start up their own blog.”

How have we measured up?

The traditional way to measure a blog’s success is by counting pageviews.  On that front, this blog has had just over 19,000 page views total.  Another way is to look at subscribers; there are 127 people who receive an email or other notice every time a post is published.  That isn’t the Huffington Post, but it’s more than respectable in my opinion.

There have been over 60 posts, and I’ve proud to note that we’ve had 20 different authors, from almost as many different firms, ranging from knowledge managers to chief knowledge officers to journalists and consultants.  I think that’s a good indication that we’ve provided a valuable platform, and I know that the range of guest authors will be a continued strength of this blog.

What’s Next?

I’m leaving this blog in Andrew’s capable hands.  I’ll continue blogging at Caselines, and be on Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ as before.  See you online!

Promoting KM: What’s Your Elevator Pitch?

19 Sep

1-elevatorPost By Ginevra Saylor, National Director of Knowledge Management, Dentons Canada LLP

At law firms, and most likely every other business, you hear Marketing people urging those in the front lines to have their elevator pitch ready to go whenever and wherever they run into potential clients –  at a party, on the golf course, at a conference, or, naturally, in an elevator.  The elevator pitch is meant to be a succinct, pithy, and above all compelling statement of your firm’s value proposition that explains what you do, why the listener needs what you do, and why the listener needs you – and not someone else – to do it.  Most importantly, the pitch must be rehearsed for smooth delivery that, at a minimum, leads to an exchange of business cards within one minute or so, that being the duration of the average elevator ride.  A slew of literature and websites even offer step-by-step instructions for crafting the perfect elevator pitch, with some rating the strength of your draft pitch on factors ranging from word count to how long it would take to utter to amount of jargon and hackneyed phrases used.

So, it strikes me as odd that many KM professionals haven’t developed their own elevator pitch for ready access at chance meetings with their firms’ leadership and members at events, in the lounge, or in the elevator.  I will admit to having found myself at impromptu encounters and, on being asked, “what do you do,” coughing and sputtering before either blurting out that it is hard to explain or launching into a philosophical dissertation on all the permutations and possibilities associated with law firm Knowledge Management.  And, hey, it is not just me – I have seen the same from other seasoned KM professionals.  So, what gives?

In many firms, Knowledge Management grew organically over the years, evolving into whatever best-suited the particular firm’s needs and culture at the time and often filling gaps in areas where attention was needed that fell within no department’s mandate.  Though many firms have since adopted structured KM initiatives or departments with a formal strategy, many of those in KM leadership roles never took the time to develop an elevator pitch that distinctly and powerfully states KM’s value proposition for that firm.  Given how easy it is for firms to forget KM’s intrinsic value as new trends pop up, busy lawyers get pulled in dozens of different directions, initiatives jockey for priority status, and belts get tightened, reinforcing the KM message at every opportunity with a solid elevator pitch could go a long way toward keeping KM top of mind.

Taking this a step further, devoting some time to creating an elevator pitch for each major KM project might be equally wise; particularly for projects requiring heavy change management, imagine the power of being able to turn every ad hoc meeting with colleagues into a venue for sparking interest and planting the seeds for change with a tight, strong statement that gets to the heart of the project and hits home.

Fellow ILTA KM Peer Group Steering Committee Member, 2013 KM Distinguished Peer, and prolific blogger Patrick DiDomenico, Director of Knowledge Management at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, makes a very compelling case for investing time in this exercise in the April 28, 2013, post “Communicating Knowledge Management to Busy Lawyers” on his KMLawyer blog.  Patrick has not only developed some excellent pitches for his own work, but also designed a card that he hands out with a graphic clearly depicting the value he brings to his organization. The card’s graphics cleverly illustrate people being connected with information and other people to keep the organization’s cogs running smoothly. According to his post, Patrick couples this with a pitch that characterizes KM as “connecting people with people, connecting people with knowledge and information, and the processes, procedures, and technologies required to make those connections.”

A few other ILTA KM Peer Group Steering Committee Members also shared their thoughts.  Chris Boyd, Senior Director of Professional Services with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC, uses the following to explain KM to lawyers at his firm: “KM can help you deliver more value to clients by putting the essential expertise and experience of all WSGR attorneys at the fingertips of each attorney.  KM tools can help you sell, deliver and collect more effectively and efficiently.”  Chris refines this core pitch for different lawyers’ practice groups. Chris’ approach makes sense given that KM typically covers a broad range of activity and what resonates with one practice group or administrative department may fall flat with others.

With his more specific KM role, David Hobbie, Litigation Knowledge Manager at Goodwin Proctor, offers this: “I serve my firm the same way that a librarian does, but I work with the content and experience that our lawyers have created, rather than information outside the firm.  So I help people find firm work product like briefs or contracts; locate the firm’s experience on legal matters; figure out the best way to do their work efficiently and effectively.  I tell people that all of these tools should be leveraged primarily to find the right people to talk to, so they can do their jobs better, not just faster. I have ended up acting as an intermediary between the IT group and the legal business.”

Over the years, I have tried different approaches with varying degrees of success.  Inspired by my colleagues and recent reading, I decided to try to come up with something new, turning first to the sites offering free pitch-builder tools.  After all, isn’t one aspect of KM about not re-inventing the wheel? Though the ideas and tips on the sites are useful, I found my results from the pitch-builder tools amusing, but not particularly helpful. So, I decided to try my hand at free-form drafting, seizing on the one tip that rang most true for me: one site advised starting with a value proposition coupled with a story your listener can relate to and finishing with how you can help.  Here is what I came up with:

“My job is to give a big part of your life back to you and help you bring more money in at the same time.  Years ago, I overheard two partners talking on an elevator; one had just made partner and celebrated the birth of his first child.  When congratulated, the new partner quipped, ‘Yes. Great news all around, but I guess I won’t be seeing my son again until he graduates university.’ This might have been funny if it weren’t so close to the truth. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  By incorporating the right technology, tapping into our collective wisdom, and re-thinking how you work, KM can build more time back into your day and make you more effective, accurate, and productive.”

The key lessons I have learned from this exercise are:

1.             We need to devote time to critically examine the value proposition of every aspect of our work and each project.

2.             We need to write a separate elevator pitch for each of our varied client groups (for example, partners, associates, firm leadership, and administrative people), each component of our mandate, and each project.

3.             Given the nature of our work, we need to re-evaluate and rewrite our pitches fairly often to keep them fresh, compelling, and relevant.

For those of you who want to give it a try, the following sites might be helpful:

KM Reception and Sessions at Conference

15 Aug

Post by David Hobbie, ILTA KM Blogmaster

For those of you attending the ILTA Conference, held this year in Las Vegas, Nevada, we hope that you will attend and participate in the six sessions organized by the Knowledge Management Peer Group.  You can search for them with “kmpg” in the “Session Desc” field.

We also hope that you will come meet us and other KM peers at the KM Reception next Tuesday at 4:30 PM.  We appreciate the sponsorship this year of West KM and Thomson Reuters.