Archive by Author

You Haven’t Heard? Knowledge Among Multi-Offices

12 Feb

black and white blackboard business chalkboardBy Lisa Gianakos, Director of Practice Technology Solutions, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

It is an age-old problem, getting practices to share across offices. The reasons are many but commonly the result of a merger, where there is suddenly more than one group of attorneys specializing in the same area, but in different physical locations.  But when I was asked if I could write a short entry on ways to tackle this problem, I decided to focus on whether there really is a problem to be solved!

Ultimately if there IS, it is due to either people, process or technology.  And while it’s possible a firm does have some technology issues making sharing across regions difficult (slow network speeds across the WAN, outdated technology, technologies not yet integrated in a merged firm scenario, etc.), what I have observed is the problem is most often People and/or Process; in essence, the culture of the practice, and the firm more generally.  I recently spoke with KM leaders at 5 other large firms, and they agreed with this summary.

But let’s start with what I consider the easy-stuff – technology. (OK – not simple at all but perhaps easier than herding cats).  If you need technology upgrades, consolidation or similar issues resolved in order to enable better knowledge-sharing, there’s not much I can offer here that you don’t already know.  People are not going to share, collaborate, whatever you want to call it, if the technology impedes the steady flow of work or is too disruptive to handle. Attorneys will find a workaround even if it’s no more efficient. In some cases that feels easier if it avoids dealing with change.

Assuming the technology issues are not the network infrastructure itself, but your firm simply doesn’t have tools that enable or improve the flow and sharing of knowledge, consider research and investing in platforms such as Microsoft Teams or SharePoint TeamSpace, or even Yammer! I list these because most firms are Microsoft-based and likely to have licensing for these examples.  There are tons of non-MS options out there. Slack or DMS add-ins seem to be among popular options.  Note that I’m assuming your firm HAS a DMS and that it is relatively up-to-date. This tends to be the starting place for building out KM, since attorney work product is most often in written form (documents) and already needs to be managed for the client’s sake, and the firm’s risk protection.  If you are a smaller firm without a DMS, many KM or Collaboration solutions include the ability to store documents too, though bells and whistles (or gavels?) may be limited.

If you are a KM-minded person like me, or have a PM or library science background, you can’t imagine why people would simply NOT want to be organized and use consistent methods.  At Pillsbury, we created a separate library/cabinet in our DMS (NetDocs) for knowledge collections.  This separation was made during our migration from a prior platform, to NetDocs, many years ago, to intentionally raise the visibility of Know-How and providing a central location for it.  We also hoped to entice usage by making our Know-How cabinet searchable in our enterprise search, which goes beyond what is natively possible in NetDocs.  Further, because we license Lexis Search Advantage (LSA) and layer it atop our enterprise search (OpenText’s Decisiv), attorneys receive the added benefit of having additional metadata (meaning more filters) automatically extracted from these documents.  So in my mind, why wouldn’t you want to benefit from following a standard practice?

I believe I was relatively successful in identifying and migrating all of the one-off collections from our old DMS, to the new DMS’ Know-How cabinet.  Many of these were previously in a location designated by both practice and office.  Essentially, it was an office-centric culture that I was trying to lead to a practice-centric approach, at least as far as KM is concerned. There were a handful of practices that already had a single multi-office location for Know-How.  In other cases, I was able to identify “niche” collections and have those moved as well. (By niche, I mean one attorney’s person/private collection).  I did my best to provide taxonomy advice but mostly focused on those that were interested in KM (the enlightened few).

All of that said, there isn’t necessarily much advantage to attorneys practicing in different locations. For example, having Know-How stored in the same location, for real estate attorneys in California and Virginia may not add much, if the forms, precedents, and other stored knowledge is unique to or only specific to that region. Also, when two groups of attorneys in the same practice area, came from different merged firms, it may be difficult to get them to agree on how/what a consolidated library (and/or workflows) should be.  That’s a much harder cultural problem and not one that I try to tackle.  At the end of the day, I have expertise and experience in legal KM, tons of it actually. I love talking about, helping, giving advice and suggestions; I will do just about anything for a practice that is bought in.  But for those not interested in having a single sandbox of friends, I can only offer my advice, and not worry about whether or not they take it, agree with it, or are even interested in what this non-attorney “expert” has to say.  In the end, the idea of sharing across offices as being necessary, or the lack of it a problem, is not necessarily true.  As always, it DEPENDS!

 

Collaborating With Clients: Why is it Increasingly Important and What are the Benefits

10 Feb

people near tableBy Melanie Segraves, Knowledge Management Solutions Analyst, Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP

Chances are, this won’t be the first blog about collaborating with clients that you’ve read. The legal industry is known for its buzzwords (ahem, innovation) and right now collaboration is having a moment.

How important is collaboration in a legal setting? When Law360 interviewed the leadership of several global law firms last year, leaders said that a “collaborative spirit” was one of the four most important traits they look for in a partner.

You may agree that collaboration is important and still find it a challenge to pinpoint your role in encouraging attorneys and clients to collaborate. Writing this blog allowed me to think through some of the things our KM department is already doing and how we might use our team’s strengths to move the needle on collaborative client projects.

Here are some of the concepts that came to mind:

Ask Questions

One common trait of most successful collaborators is that they’re also good listeners. Active listening takes practice and it’s most effective when you learn what the right questions to ask are. For example, one question I might ask a client at the beginning of a project is, “What processes or technology have you used for “X” type of matter in the past? Was there anything you liked or disliked?”

It’s a simple question, but the answer will hopefully provide insight into a client’s workstyle, their aptitude for technology, and if they’re having any hesitations about the collaboration. For example, if a client is accustomed to managing certain processes via a master spreadsheet that’s never left their internal DMS before, they’ll want reassurance that collaborating with your firm will elevate their capabilities without straying too far from what they are accustomed to and comfortable with.

Don’t Oversell the Tech

Many attorneys want to show clients that their firm is on the cutting edge, but beware of the oversell when it comes to technology. If you spend a lot of time talking to a client about the most advanced features of a product because you think they’re exciting, it may send the message that you don’t really understand their needs. Worse, it could seem like you don’t really understand the technology either.

Something else to consider – other firms your clients work with likely have the same or comparable technology available to them. Instead of positioning your firm as cutting edge, try showing the client how little training they’ll need to get started or how easily your technology can be integrated into their current processes.

Clients want to know that you’re making technology choices with them specifically in mind. No matter how great a system is, if you can’t explain how it’ll ultimately make the client’s life easier, you won’t get buy-in from the group. Or as an attorney at our firm once explained it, “That dog won’t hunt.”

There’s No Replacement for Human Connection

Human connection is important to the practice of law and even more crucial to sustaining collaboration with clients. Whether you think that sounds mushy or not, it’s true – most of us would prefer to work with people we like and in order for collaboration to take place, there has to be mutual trust.

Certain technology can help attorneys form closer client relationships, which may lead to natural collaborations occurring more often. The most obvious example of this is probably video conference technology with the benefits of a video call mimicking those of an in-person meeting.

But some ways that we’re able to connect with clients are less evident. Consider doing a quick, informal “audit” of your existing legal tech. Which products have collaborative elements? If collaboration isn’t the main purpose of that software or platform, are attorneys actually using the collaborative features?  Are there ways you can build awareness of collaboration tools within the firm? One idea that we’ve discussed is hosting a CLE workshop where we invite clients to learn about technology in a face-to-face setting alongside our attorneys.

The main takeaway from all of this is that collaborating with clients is a win-win for everyone involved. But to make it happen, we may need to develop new strategies that are more intentional in encouraging collaboration between attorneys and clients.

Knowledge Management for Newbies

31 Jan

young game match kidsBy Nikki Shaver, Global Director of Knowledge Management, Paul Hastings, LLP and Adam Dedynski, KM Project Manager, Reed Smith, LLP

This post is the first in a series ILTA will run over the course of the year, entitled “Foundations of Knowledge Management.” Upcoming posts will discuss the pillars of KM, evolving roles in KM, and how to measure the value of KM. First, though, we start at the beginning, for those new to the field.

What is Knowledge Management (“KM”)?

Defining KM has always been challenging, and it’s only become more so as the legal industry has evolved. [1] Generally, however, most traditional definitions of KM revolve around knowledge as content – collecting and creating useful content, curating it, organizing it, and surfacing it in a way that makes it accessible to lawyers as and when they need it. Knowledge managers have always been stewards of critical content.

Over the past years, the KM department in many law firms has expanded to include functions that no longer sit quite so neatly within conventional definitions of KM. The development of precedent forms and collection of good sample documents was once core to KM, and though it still is, this activity may now sit with just one of the many functions that fall under the KM umbrella. While knowledge managers generally deal with the internal knowledge and content of a firm or organization, it is now common for library or research functions dealing with third party content to similarly report in to KM. Although the capturing of key information about a firm’s matters can rightfully sit within a business development function, the organization skills of knowledge managers and their familiarity with taxonomies and metadata means that such a project is often ideally administered by the KM department. Over time, it has also become increasingly common for KM departments to include functions responsible for: the selection and administration of legal technology that is directly related to legal practice; process optimization; legal project management; alternative timekeepers; litigation support; practice management; and even pricing. In some firms, KM has become a client-facing function, carrying out AI projects and generating secondary revenue streams around subscription products and the commoditization of legal knowledge.

It is now perhaps less accurate to define KM purely in terms of knowledge or content, and more accurate to talk of it as a field dedicated to streamlining legal practice, enhancing firm-wide efficiencies, improving realization and increasing client value. In addition, because knowledge managers are often more directly related to practicing lawyers than other business professionals at a law firm (either because they were once lawyers themselves, or because they have to deeply understand practice in order to work with the content and associated processes), they are ideally situated to gather user-requirements from lawyers for major technology projects, and are often tasked with staying abreast of developments in the legal technology world so that they can match the right solution to a particular use case or practice pain-point. In short, firms and organizations that have a strong KM function are more likely to operate effectively, with greater productivity and better profit margins that those without one.

KM in Context

The core work of a KM department will differ depending on what jurisdiction you’re in, and what kind of firm or organization you work for.

In the United Kingdom and Australia, the traditional definitions of KM set out above might still accurately reflect much of what that department does within a firm. The new functions that often sit within a KM department in the United States might be gathered together in a new area that is called “legal innovation,” or they may be dispersed across the firm’s business units. A PSL or KML (practice support lawyer, knowledge management lawyer) in the United Kingdom is generally more content focused and more likely to be embedded in a practice group than the equivalent KMA (knowledge management attorney) in the United States. KMA roles are less likely to be assigned to a single practice group, and instead one KMA might support multiple practices. A PSL/KML is often tasked with drafting precedent documents, delivering legal training, or answering queries on specific areas of law and must, therefore, retain significant subject matter expertise in their practice area. In contrast, a KMA might coordinate the drafting of precedents by associates, and will spend as much time promoting new tools and processes as they will on content-related tasks.

Context also comes into play in relation to the size of the firm or organization in which a knowledge manager works. For example, the tools that are useful to practicing lawyers in a large firm are quite different to those that are useful in a small firm. In a large firm that is well resourced, knowledge managers are more likely to be tasked with finding discrete tools that improve efficiency for particular practice areas – for example, AI-enabled contract review tools that allow for faster and more precise due diligence review in the context of a large-scale corporate transaction. In a small firm, practice management tools that can perform multiple functions and are applicable across all of the practice areas of the firm will be more useful.

How to Get Started

If you are new to KM and you are hired by a firm or an organization that has an existing knowledge function, it won’t take long before you get a sense of what your department’s priorities are. Indeed, during the interview process it should already have been clear whether the function is one that is more clearly aligned with conventional definitions of KM or a modern, expanded one.

If you are new to KM and seeking a role, it would behoove you to sit down ahead of time and map out the kind of function you would prefer to join. This will likely depend on your desired career trajectory. Spending some time before applying for jobs to determine what you want your KM career to look like will help you decide which roles to apply for, and which firms or organizations to target.

If, however, you are new to the field and you have been tasked with establishing a KM function, that is a different situation entirely. Whether you moved into KM from another position at the same firm, or have been hired new to the firm for the purpose, you will want to spend some initial time understanding the way the organization works at a broader level. For a KM initiative to be effective, it must be supported by senior leaders and partners at the firm. Further, it is essential that the KM function be genuinely collaborative, not just across the firm’s practices but also across its business departments. Many KM projects rely on close working relationships with IT, Business Development, Learning and Development, and so on. KM will succeed best when it is in the process of breaking down silos; it will fail when it becomes territorial. Spending time understanding the way the business departments interact with one another, and building key relationships, will prove invaluable. Once you understand the network of power and influence across your firm or organization, and after receiving guidance from senior management and heads of practice groups about what kind of KM function they want to establish, it’s time to perform a KM audit. The notion of an audit and the priority building blocks that go into setting up a KM function will be explored in more detail in the next post in this series.

The organic evolution and diversity of the KM field makes it a highly rewarding and intellectual endeavor. Whether you are considering a career in KM, have taken the first steps in that career, or are an established KM practitioner looking for a refresher and renewed inspiration, we hope you will stay tuned for the rest of our series on the foundations of knowledge management.

[1] Ten years ago, Richard Susskind described it as a system of “organizing and exploiting the collective knowledge of a business.” Patrick DiDomenico, in his seminal text Knowledge Management for Lawyers (recommended reading for anyone starting out), lists many definitions of KM from different sources, each one valid and no two the same. The ISO Knowledge Management Standard (ISO30401) also set out definitions (and provides guidelines for establishing, implementing, maintaining, reviewing and improving a knowledge management system in organizations).

Buy or Build? Evaluating Options for KM & Related Technologies

23 Jan

typewriter

By Caitlin Peters, Senior Manager of Business Operations, Ropes & Gray and Stephanie Godley, Senior Manager of Knowledge Management & Library Services, Ropes & Gray

Once you have identified a pressing need for a technology solution to a knowledge management, marketing, or practice support issue, often the question arises – should we buy or should we build?

The first step is to outline your core requirements. Once these are identified, take time to research third-party solutions. Then it is time to go through the exercise of considering whether to build your own custom solution. Even if there is a product out there that you can buy or lease, thinking through the pros and cons of building your own solution will help you better understand your needs. Do not forget to look at products your organization already owns. With a little ingenuity, could those be modified, combined, or re-engineered to solve your current problem? Whether you are looking at an experience management system, a knowledge base, a workflow tool or something else, conduct your due diligence before proceeding. Time spent up front evaluating your options will pay off in the long run. Below are some key considerations and questions to ask when determining whether to build an in-house solution or pursue a third-party option.

Bespoke Versus Out-of-the-Box. If there is no vendor tool available, you may have no choice but to build your own solution. Alternatively, if there is a product that does just what you need, don’t reinvent the wheel. Since it is rarely that cut and dry, you will need a highly detailed requirements list and the stamina to put third-party products through a close review. Match your requirements to what the tools on the market offer. Where are the short-comings? How critical is the functionality that the third-party product does not offer? Are there one or two functions you could do without? Take a hard look at how important and unique your needs really are. Would a vendor build them into the product for you?

Best Practices & Consultations. Keep in mind that experienced vendors have often developed products or features based on customer needs and feedback. Vendors can provide recommended best practices, benchmarking, and other guidance based on their work with other clients through implementations and user support mechanisms. Plus, you get the benefit of other customers’ enhancement requests that you may not have even considered. Ask to speak to other customers who have implemented the product.

Control. Is the vendor established and likely to support the product for the foreseeable future? How often does the vendor release updates? Do they allow for customizations? How do they handle enhancement requests? What are their support hours and what is their service level agreement? What are the remedies for outages? Be sure you understand what the relationship with the vendor is going to be and how responsive they are going to be to your needs.

Cost. Adding up all the costs associated with buy or build options is not an easy feat.  Buying means purchase and annual maintenance costs; leasing means annual subscription fees; and don’t forget to calculate any implementation, integration, or customization costs, whether directly with the vendor or through consultants. Watch for contract clauses that raise costs significantly based on an office expansion or increased lawyer headcount. Building in-house eliminates the purchase, maintenance and subscription fees. However, internal teams must often be supplemented by new hires, consultants, and temps. Internally, there is also the very important question of opportunity cost: If your IT team builds your tool, most likely something else gets pushed down their priorities list or your solution ends up at the end of a long list of projects. Where does your need fall into the bigger picture?

End User Documentation & Support. If you pick a third-party solution, make sure to understand what the vendor will provide by way of marketing materials, tutorials, training, and call support for both in-house administrators as well as end users in your organization.  If these are well done, they can save you countless hours of drafting your own materials, providing training, and meeting the need for on-demand support. Putting time and effort into building a system is great, but getting the adoption and usage is essential to have a successful product. What will your support look like during and after launch from either your in-house or vendor team? Can the assistance be maintained?

Internal Bandwidth & Expertise. Legal organizations have relatively small IT departments and an unending pipeline of projects. Is your need a priority? How quickly can your internal team develop a solution? Will there be a project manager to ensure that development stays on pace, on budget, and in scope? Does your team have the necessary skills to build the product?  How agile are they with making fixes and changes?  Will they develop a tool that can easily be maintained, scaled up, and integrated with other core systems?  If the developer leaves, will others be able to step in? Make sure you understand the full extent of the time, expertise, and effort required.

Security. Your IT security team will want to vet any third-party options, whether these are on-prem, cloud or hybrid tools.  Make sure security is reviewed early in the process to address any potential concerns. Don’t let security issues be overlooked and become a road-block at the end of your project.

Speed & Urgency. Are people clamoring for a quick start? If so, third-party tools are often faster to implement unless they require a great deal of customization or integration with your other internal systems.  On the other hand, they may be slower to add features and enhancements.

Build or buy decisions need to take into account a number of factors. Weighing the pros and cons including cost, support, and time can take a fair amount of time. Putting the time and effort in upfront to answer these questions will help you make the best decision for your firm’s needs.

Knowledge Management Round-Up for 2019: What Isn’t KM?

28 Dec

close up of eyeglasses

By Gwyn McAlpine, Director of Knowledge Management Services, Perkins Coie LLP

Merry new year!  Please enjoy this fourth annual catalog of International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) programming of interest to Knowledge Management (KM) professionals.  Because we all get busy, I assume that you might have might have missed some of ILTA’s 2019 peer-powered programming.  Plus, let’s be honest, it can be difficult to know what is out there when the content is spread among podcast and blog platforms, magazines, conferences and recordings.  In this post, I gather all those links together and organize them by topic.

Each year, I make judgment calls on what is relevant to KM professionals.  KM is a varied and evolving discipline that seems to have a hand in a lot of parts of the business.  Thus, I include a broad range of topics, focusing on programming within those topics produced by or targeted to the KM community.  It’s a bit subjective and not a comprehensive catalog of content produced by ILTA in 2019.  I encourage you to do your own exploration.  Know that there is much more content in the ILTA archives, particularly if your area of interest is one adjacent to KM, such as adoption, data analytics, information governance, litigation support or project management.

In developing this list, particularly for four years running, some themes emerge for me.

  • Each year, the topics become broader. This year, we also see many new contributors alongside industry leaders. This growing variety highlights for me the continuing evolution of KM, the expansion of its scope and its integration into more business processes.  As the reach of KM grows, more people join the community as both contributors and consumers.  We are taking over the world, or at least legal tech.
  • We continue to see a lot of interest in big, abstract topics like innovation and artificial intelligence, but like last year, the emphasis is on how to apply these concepts and technologies rather than the theory. In addition, the programming reflects a practical bent with project management, adoption and change management content increasing.
  • I was surprised that there was relatively little programming on more traditional aspects of KM, such as practice resource collections, search and document automation. Last year, we saw renewed focus on these topics with a more strategic approach.  Does the reduced programming reflect a shift in focus or simply that we don’t need training and discussion about it?  Based on conversations throughout the year, I believe that focus is still strong among the community, but perhaps we feel comfortable enough with our approaches that we are using our learning time on thornier topics.

Some links below require ILTA membership to access.  Be sure to log into the ILTA website as a first step. It’s a long list this year, so refill your beverage and grab a comfy chair before digging in.

Adoption & Change Management

Artificial Intelligence

Bots

Competitive Intelligence & Research

 Collaboration

Data Analytics

Search & DMS

Experience Management

ILTACON

Innovation

 Intranets

KM Strategy & General

Leadership & Professional Development

Marketing Collaboration

Matter Profiling

 Other Software

 Project Management

There will undoubtedly be much more programming on these and other topics in 2020.  To receive notifications about future programming, go to your Member Dashboard to select the topics for which you would like to receive virtual event alerts.  Also join the Knowledge Management community (among others), if you have not already, to see announcements of publications and events.  Lastly, add the ILTA KM blog to your blog reader so you don’t miss a post.  And if you have ideas or requests for programming you would like to see, click on the light bulb in the upper right to submit your suggestion.

If you want to review past years’ programming, click on the links for the 2018, 2017 and 2016 round-up posts.  Altogether, these blogs posts represent hundreds of hours (or pages, as the case may be) of programming to scratch that learning itch.  Enjoy!

Buying Intelligence: Navigating the AI Supermarket

28 Oct

person holding compass

By Amy Monaghan, Practice Innovations Manager at Perkins Coie LLP

There are numerous options for artificial intelligence (AI) products in the legal technology marketplace and more options are being added on what seems like a weekly basis (2019 has already seen a $1.2 billion explosion in legal tech investment). With the prevalence of options, what do you need to know in order to be an informed customer? The blog post will help you ask questions to identify the problem you are trying to solve and guide you through considerations when evaluating AI solutions.

Identifying the Need

Defining your business problem is the most critical task when determining whether AI is the right solution and, if so, which products meet your needs. Without a clear understanding of your firm’s or legal department’s needs, you cannot make an informed decision and could wind up wasting time and money. Potential business problems include: streamlining large volume transactions, particularly reviewing and analyzing documents; researching and drafting more efficiently; automating routine legal analysis or documents; or analyzing data, including predictive analytics. Talk to your stakeholders to identify what their specific needs are and prioritize accordingly. Once you have done so, gather formal requirements from the ultimate consumers of the solution (this can be the users and the consumers of the output), separating them into two categories: “must have” and “nice to have.” Create a matrix or checklist of these requirements for use when interviewing vendors and evaluating demos of products. Your nice-to-have’s might be on a vendor’s roadmap so including them in your matrix can help inform your product selection.  Be sure to build flexibility into your requirements for future needs—talk to your stakeholders about their business and strategic plans so you have an idea of what solutions they will need in the future.

If your need is to “try out AI,” I urge you to keep digging into that request to uncover the root issue. Similar to the recommendation to not go grocery shopping without a list, do not go AI shopping without a clear need or strategy for how you will use it. That being said, sometimes you do need to test out a technology to know what’s possible before identifying what’s necessary. In this case, your requirements will be more flexible and your exploration will likely inform your ultimate needs.

Going Shopping

With your requirements in hand, it’s time to evaluate your options. You’ve likely done some research already and have an idea of the vendors you want to speak with.  Given the rapid change in the marketplace, do a second pass to see if any newcomers have viable options. Reach out to your peers to ask about their experiences with different solutions. There is a wide range of potential solutions, from open source options to full-service, ready-to-use products.  Be sure you understand what you are evaluating and the flexibility or complexities that come with that approach. (For a wonderful analogy to brownies, see Gwyn McAlpine’s contribution to this ILTACON panel recording at about the 9:30 mark.)

When reviewing the capabilities of a product, ask vendors to tailor their demo to your specific use case. On a panel at the recent Emerging Legal Technology Forum in Toronto, Al Hounsell from Norton Rose Fulbright shared that, when evaluating no-code platforms, his firm gave each vendor the exact same use case and requirements.  As a result, they were able to hold an objective bake-off. Similarly, I participated in an initiative where we gave machine learning contract analysis vendors the same data set and asked them each to train models using the set. We then evaluated the models’ performance on test data. This approach may not be applicable for all scenarios but can be a useful way to objectively evaluate how well as solution meets your requirements.

In addition to planning use cases to direct the demo, educate yourself about the different flavors of AI and which are applicable to your scenarios.  Unsupervised AI largely deals with classification and clustering, whereas supervised AI is used for more targeted tasks like language extraction. Expert systems can use if-then-else logic along with relevancy or inference prioritization, which is ideal for expertise automation or guided interviews. A few vendors are starting to combine machine learning with other forms of AI, like expert systems, to provide multi-tasking solutions, which can be helpful for more complex use cases.

Be sure to evaluate both technical and non-technical considerations related to products and vendors.  Below are some examples of questions to ask vendors to determine if your requirements are met.

Technical Questions

  • What type of machine learning is used? Supervised? Unsupervised? Both?
  • Does the product come pre-trained with ready to use models? If so, what is the best use of the models? How often are they updated? Who are the trainers? What training data is used? Where sourced? How are the models QA’ed?
  • Do you have the ability to self-train models? If yes, do you understand the process for training models and the data and skills that are needed? Depending on the type of models you need to train, you may need very different sizes and types of data sets. Note that most products that offer pre-trained models or pre-configured templates largely rely on publicly available data, which may not be appropriate for your needs. In this case, you will want a product that allows for customization or self-training.
  • Does the vendor offer best practices or other guidance on model training?
  • Can you collaborate on model training with others outside of your organization? This is a developing request we are seeing in the industry.
  • What technical skills are needed to build applications that use logical reasoning for application building or document automation?
  • Does the vendor have an open API? This is necessary if you will need to leverage multiple solutions to solve problems.
  • Does the product directly integrate with other products? If so, how are product updates handled? Do the vendors coordinate and QA prior to updates?
  • Does the vendor offer a user acceptance testing (UAT) environment or other test environment where you can preview new features prior to release?
  • For cloud solutions, where does the data reside? Do they offer encryption keys? Who holds the keys?
  • What technology resources are needed to assist with implementation?

Company Questions

  • Always ask for the roadmap. This will give you an idea of where the company is headed and if it will be a good partnership.
  • What is their primary revenue source? Is it their product(s) or professional services? Or a split between the two? If the latter, this could indicate complexities in implementation.
  • What is the maturity of the company? Established? Startup? Working with startups might involve greater risk, but the product and company could be a great partnership. For example, I began using Kira Systems (back when they were Diligence Engine!) not too long after they came to market. It’s been a great experience working with them and their product and they have now grown to be a market leader in the machine learning for contract analysis space.
  • Do you feel good about the relationship? This will be a partnership so it will be critical to get along and trust the vendor.
  • Ask the vendors for references and talk to those references about their experience, including support.

Implementation and Support

  • Will the vendor help with implementation and rollout or provide change management guidance specific to their product? Do they have best practices and help resources? If not, preparing your own materials and programs can be very time consuming so plan ahead.
  • Does the provider offer a trial period or proof of concept pricing? This is often the best way to determine whether the product is right for your needs.
  • If subject matter experts/ultimate consumers of the product were involved in the vetting process, ask them to share their impressions and use cases for your rollout materials.
  • Consider asking your early adopters to co-present with you during rollout or provide a testimonial in another form of communication. During our Kira rollout at Perkins Coie, I asked a senior counsel to co-present with me at a firmwide M&A meeting on how he was using the product and provide guidance to his peers. His insight resonated with his colleagues and alleviated their concerns about incorporating AI technologies.
  • Will you and your users have regular opportunities to provide feedback to the vendor? What will the format be? How will the vendor use your feedback?

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many considerations when choosing and implementing AI products. Many of the current offerings come with a steep price tag.  By doing your research and knowing your use cases, you can avoid an impulse purchase at the register!

 

Introducing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Into Your Organization

15 Oct

high angle photo of robot

By Berys Amor, Director of Technology at Corrs Chambers Westgarth

My first encounter with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) was through an introduction in early 2018 to a Melbourne start-up (Ci-Gen) who were providing intelligent automation services to businesses in the Asia-Pacific region. While the banking and insurance sector had seen rapid interest and uptake of RPA, I didn’t really understand how it could be utilised in a law firm.

At the first meeting I asked the Ci-Gen directors to talk to me about some use cases that they had been involved in. They described how a large hotel chain were using software robots to analyse expenses overnight, looking for any anomalies or unusual expenses. The aim was to capture any incorrect or unusual charges immediately, to avoid any disputes or unhappy guests.

This example made me think about how we analysed timesheet entries on a daily basis – this involved a finance team member running reports from the practice management system each morning, extracting the data to an Excel spreadsheet and then sorting and analysing the data to look for any unusual entries, as well as missing timesheets. Maybe this was something a robot could do? We identified three other processes that we could automate and worked with Ci-Gen to scope a Proof of Value (PoV) initiative. We wanted to demonstrate that software robots are able to accurately access and interact with various nominated applications, accurately capture input data, reformat/repurpose the data where required and pass data between applications as directed.

The objective of the PoV was to ascertain if RPA would be an effective approach to reducing effort in areas where there is sufficient volume and repetitive processes, with an end goal of increasing efficiency, accuracy and timeliness.

The four processes that we identified for the PoV were:

  • Client WIP Reporting – run WIP report using our BI tool and then upload the report to the client portal site for client access.
  • Timesheet Analysis and Reports – look for missing timesheets and send alert to the fee earner.
  • Non-Billable Timesheet Analysis – analyse non-billable time entries to search for narrations such as matter, client, or research to verify non-billable.
  • Partner Profitability Report – run BI profitability report for each individual partner and send via email.

The PoV was performed over a three-week period – if the project failed the investment was small, but if successful the project could scale up and be converted to a production-ready system.

The PoV was a clear success and the automation of these processes demonstrated that the software robots could interact with a range of applications, data types and data sources, and also assist with sorting and identification of mass data sets (150,000+ lines).

Fast forward 12 months and we have a fully functioning Corrs Automation Services team, made up of our Data and Automation Manager, a Process Automation Business Analyst and our two robots, Robbie and Dexter! It was really important to launch the automation services with a dedicated business analyst and this was factored into the business case for RPA. If the task of looking for processes to automate was part of our already busy team of business analysts, then we would not have achieved immediate results, quick wins and the project could have floundered.

Since the implementation of RPA the Corrs Automation Services team have analysed and automated numerous business processes. We created an RPA Evaluation form to determine whether a process is a good fit for RPA. It has questions such as: is the process documented, what systems are involved, what inputs are required and what frequency, and what are the perceived benefits of automating that particular process. It is also important to measure improvements by documenting the before and after results.

The team have worked closely with the finance team to automate many reports and processes, for example we created a workflow template for a robot to run utilisation reports for each partner from our business intelligence application. Each report is bespoke to the partner and is distributed to them automatically with 100% accuracy. This robot template is also a being used to compile and distribute many different reports to various groups

While RPA is typically used for back office processes and functions, we were keen to let our robots work within the practice groups themselves. Our first opportunity came early in the project when we were migrating our conveyancing service from an on-prem SQL database to a cloud-based e-conveyancing platform. We estimated that it would take a paralegal six to eight weeks to re-enter the existing property developments into the new platform – a tedious task with lots of room for error.

The first step was to populate the cloud platform with 8,000 solicitor records. The team then programmed a robot to read an Excel file, validate each data field and then log into and input this data into the new cloud application.

The second step was to migrate over 400 property lot records for the first development, which  involved the robot logging into the old database, extracting all the records and inserting them into a spreadsheet, validating the format and performing a split and merge, before logging into the new platform and entering each record. The migration was completed by the robot in 12 hours with 100% accuracy. This workflow is now being used to migrate other projects.

The RPA project has allowed Corrs to transform roles rather than replace them, giving employees time to invest their talents in more engaging and interesting work. Robots are extremely accurate and consistent – they are much less prone to making mistakes or typos than a human worker and operations can be performed 24/7 as robots can work tirelessly and autonomously without requiring manual trigger. As a result, process cycle times are more efficient and can be completed at a faster speed compared with manual process approaches.