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

9 Jun

By Ron Friedmann, Partner, Fireman & Company

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

KM Evolves from Documents to Experience

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

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

Need for Experience Data Expands

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

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

Approaches to Managing Experience Evolve

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

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

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

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

Rise of Modern Tools and Processes

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Keynote

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.

Book Review of “The Sherlock Syndrome: Strategic Success through Big Data and the Darwinian Disruption,” Eric Hunter

4 Mar

bookby David Hobbie, Litigation Knowledge Manager, Goodwin Procter LLP

Eric Hunter is a legal knowledge management colleague and recipient of ILTA’s 2010 Knowledge Management Champion Distinguished Peer and Innovative Member awards. He is Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Technology Strategies at Bradford & Barthel, LLP (a California law firm focused on worker’s compensation) and also Executive Director of the Spherical Models consultancy.

His wide-ranging report (available at Amazon, Ark Publishing or Amazon Kindle) puts business analytics and the insights it offers at the core of wide-ranging potential changes in legal and other industries. Though future-oriented, it spends most of its time on developments whose beginnings are firmly entrenched, such as video search, wearable tech, big data, and data visualization.

Through my own work I have come to believe that legal organizationss – and perhaps organizations in general – can obtain significant competitive advantage by leveraging analytics and technologies and taking better advantage of our increasing connectivity and ability to share inside and outside the organization. Hunter’s report provides more substantiation for those beliefs, and also projects ahead to suggest how to prepare for the increasingly rapid changes that are coming. I appreciate that Hunter is “walking the walk,” talking about increased sharing while doing so himself through this book and his many presentations at Ark and ILTA conferences (referenced throughout the report).

Sherlock Syndrome

The title’s “Sherlock Syndrome” concerns our increasing ability to observe, sense, cross-reference, and analyze information and trends much more comprehensively than before through data analytics and Big Data. The trend is one of massive increases in the ability to recall, analyze, and leverage information. Hunter posits that, at least with respect to personal preferences and search patterns, “everything is becoming predictable (and therefore marketable) through analytics.” Particularly striking to me is the thought that not only are the abundance of data and power of our computers increasing rapidly, but also the sophistication and availability of easy to use analytics tools are making this information actionable in ways that were never before possible.

I have seen this myself in my firm’s exploration of the Tableau data visualization tool. Business use-cases for Sherlockian advanced perceptions include forensic (criminal) investigations, insurance claim investigations, and, of course, targeted consumer advertising.

Darwinian Disruption

Hunter also believes that “Darwinian data disruption” is affecting the entire business world. It is not simply data—though the scope of data is increasing dramatically every year—but also computational and analytical capacity that is growing so dramatically. Hunter’s disruption is Darwinian because leveraging these changes provides a clear competitive advantage and those organizations and business leaders able to adapt to the new environment will survive. Businesses that cannot adapt to and take advantage of these technologies and changes may not survive. It may have been said many times before, but it is true: as Hunter observes with many examples, we are seeing accelerating levels of market disruptions as companies learn to innovate faster.

The (Edward) Snowden Effect

Hunter spends a good deal of time digging into the “Snowden” effect (not David Snowden the KM guru, but Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor). In Hunter’s view, Snowden’s revelations of widespread government capture of vast amounts of personal information in pursuit of national security encapsulate the inevitable tension among privacy, the right to share, and the (security and other) benefits of access to others’ information. Snowden demonstrated that cross-border information sharing is happening and will happen more and more. The NSA, US government agencies, and other governments that capture and share personal information are in his view just taking to an extreme and for different ends what corporations like Facebook and Google already do to target advertising to consumers.

The Predictive Orchestra

A skilled jazz and classical bass player, Hunter hits my sweet spot with an extended metaphor of a “predictive organization” as symphony orchestra, all playing from the same music and not simply following a leader, but also anticipating the melodies and entrances of other sections. (I would promote leaderless orchestras like New York’s Orpheus chamber ensemble http://www.orpheusnyc.com/ as a better fit for his progressive view than the hidebound, intensely hierarchical traditional symphony orchestra. For instance, in a traditional orchestra, the musicians within a section are positioned on the stage by rank according to purported ability!)

Legal Industry Impacts

Hunter does not neglect the implications of these much broader developments for the legal industry. Within law firms, Sherlockian advanced perceptions aid pricing, methods for doing legal work, internal communications, and understanding and addressing client needs. The new technology, analytics, and cross-border flow of information have the potential to greatly enhance law firms’ understanding of their clients and clients’ understanding of legal issues. The technologies increase the capacity for clients and firms to build “targeted relationships” and provide a continually expanding set of opportunities. And, the same data collection and predictive analytics that Facebook and Bing use to identify our consumer interests also identify our business needs. Analytics technologies can be applied directly to some types of legal issues, such as the likely extent of exposure from a given worker’s compensation claim.

Another example is law firms’ new ability to bring transparency to matter work, including data analytics around pricing and profitability, staffing models, and project models. Hunter spells out how the concept of “velocity billing” combines client-specific account managers, predictive analytics driving client- and firm-appropriate fee arrangements, and social collaboration around matter and client work has affected his firm. In combination, these processes and technologies lead to very efficient and client-targeted legal work.

Another instance of these technologies manifesting in law firms is his own firm’s adoption of Google Plus (“G+”). While much-maligned as the place where only Google employees “hang out,” Hunter sees G+ as a great example of a system that is both inward- and outward-facing and combines search with a designed social platform. Creating a G+ circle is the kind of fluid, effective, searcheable content and process management Hunter sees in the future of legal work. For Hunter’s firm, G+ is both an internal- and partially external-facing social network and platform. He notes that social network implementation and internal change management, like the pricing and client management projects he has had so much success with, involve different change management dynamics needing different approaches.

For law firms and the general corporate world, the technologies, techniques, analyses, and insights gained and shared so rapidly can be applied to not just readily quantifiable attributes of work such as hours, effort, and outcomes, but also leadership and change management at the levels of self, team, and organization as a whole. Hunter’s exhortations on leadership are very similar to what you might hear from many an Eastern-philosophy or martial arts- influenced business leadership book; what differs is the tie-in to his Sherlock/Darwin analysis.

Hunter suggests that people, teams, and organizations should be reinventing themselves through these enhanced perceptions and abilities every 18 months.

Complaints, Conclusions, and Inspirations

One concept that could have been more clearly elucidated is Hunter’s “spherical analysis/spherical modeling.” Google search suggests that these terms are not widely used in the business intelligence or data analytics communities—references to spherical analysis or models typically relate to variogram models that address how distance effects correlation between variables or a method of modeling magnetic forces (see the spherical models Wikipedia article.)

Much of the report is fairly abstract; I would not go to this book for an introduction to business analytics or Big Data. Nor was it entirely easy to read, with a fair amount of repetition and some extraneous quotes from Ghandi, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Hunter’s martial arts instructor. Finally, the size of the book’s print is too small (at no more than 10-point font) and somewhat faint. Perhaps the book is easier to read on-line (admittedly an appropriate production strategy given the book’s topic).

Overall, I found Hunter’s report an intriguing and inspiring application of broad industry, technology, analytics, and behavior trends to the ground level of the key interactions between law firms, legal work, and clients. His predictions about predictive analytics and more are in some cases not predictions at all; he shows how these can play out and have an impact on a legal practice area. They should not be ignored. I would not be at all surprised if many of his other predictions are soon borne out more broadly in our industry.

The Super-charged Firm Directory: Identifying the Right Combination of Experience and Skills

8 Jul

By Ramin Vosough, Vice President Product Sales & Marketing, Neudesic
Part I of a three-part series*

Many firms with 200+ attorneys have arrived at some method for identifying which lawyers have which experience and skills.  Some firms have developed an in-house directory or profile solution residing on the firm’s intranet, which combines public and internal information and links to a public bio. In a larger firm, the tool may include a search solution that crawls through the firm’s documents and matters or a manual database that captures expertise by practice and industry. Common across these approaches, however, is the reality that all too often someone within business development, marketing or KM must field email and phone requests to identify the best lawyers for a project. So, while many sophisticated tools exist, a human resource still needs to match the right resource to any given opportunity.

Firms tell us that identifying the right resource involves looking at a combination of factors, starting with a vision of what “right” means for the firm and being flexible enough to capture a magical combination. Firms often ask us, “How can I find the right attorney with a specific, substantiated skill and experience combination, who is based in a particular location, and available to work on a project within a given timeframe?” Next, they ask what that would even look like: Is it a profile, a custom search, or something else entirely? Where does the information come from and how is it populated? Perhaps the most important question is, “Can I trust the information when I find it?”

Attorney profile information resides in various systems of record throughout a firm. Bar associations, court affiliations, and employment history are just a few examples of the information firms have at hand. Firm systems also house valuable experience-related data in documents, emails, and other client-matter related records. But, some firms are starting to realize that much critical information may not exist in their systems yet – attorneys understand the unique combination of skills and experience they bring to bear on particular projects and that understanding typically is never identified, published, or presented in ways that can be searched and located effectively. This is especially true with laterally hired partners with no activity history on record to turn up in an experience search.

Identifying and communicating that level of information, not to mention keeping it current, may involve formal initiatives using questionnaires or interviews. But, this raises important considerations for KM professionals who must determine how to weave the optimal combination of certified and self-declared information into a real-time, dynamic profile. For example, by combining self-declaration with layers of validation, a firm could capture new information about skills and experience directly from employees, while also validating the information before it is published and becomes searchable within the firm.

Internal comprehensive skills and expertise provide great value. A flexible approach that includes self-declared, validated, and certified information allows a firm to dive more deeply into the skills, experience, or other profile criteria than what can be shared in public-facing bios or on social media channels like LinkedIn. This approach enables business development and marketing professionals to slice and dice the unique, multifaceted skills and experience of attorneys in real-time for different pitches.

Your firm has its own goals and objectives. So, how your firm uses its lawyer directory should reflect those goals and objectives. But, all firms taking on this type of initiative need to do it right, with “right” meaning making it worthwhile, making it valuable, and making it useful.

*Look for part II on Surfacing and Validating Real Expertise in an upcoming post.

Trends Driving Increased Need for Business and Competitive Intelligence

29 Oct

444px-Le_phonographe_Edison,_à_la_section_des_États-UnisGuest post by Peter Ozolin, CEO of Manzama, former Big Law CKO/CTO and founder of Legal Anywhere.

Current awareness – or, as I like to refer to it, “current understanding” – has been an evolving concept.  When I first became involved with Manzama several years ago, we saw it as the online “buzz” regarding law firms, specific law firm personnel and practice areas that a given firm might be heavily invested in.  Current understanding meant identifying potential threats so action could be taken and damages averted or minimized. In this respect, it was rather inward looking; a current understanding of the firm and its place in the continuum.  Today, it has come to mean learning as much about clients and client industries as possible so the firm is positioned to be wise and valued counsel. However you view the function of current awareness/intelligence, I think there are three (3) macro trends happening in the legal market place that suggest it is here to stay:

  1. Supply for Legal Services exceeds demand;
  2. Markets are becoming more micro in nature, requiring a different approach and skill set to capture the lion’s share of revenue in any given practice area or discipline; and,
  3. Business Development is becoming part of the core skill set of lawyers going forward (firms can no longer rely on one or two rainmakers for the firm or practice area, as this model is to concentrated and risky).

Let’s look at each of these trends separately and discuss where “current awareness” fits into the equation.

Macro Condition #1: Supply Exceeds Demand.

Today, the legal market for services continues to be very competitive and in many cases supply for legal services exceeds demand. This macro condition translates to law firms seeking new ways to be more competitive. We have seen the profession invest in business development tools, coaches, programs, and more firms are becoming engaged in equipping lawyers with better intelligence in and around their clients, prospects, legal issues and emerging markets. The objective here being, for the lawyer to be more informed about their client’s business, as well as more capable of finding ways to engage with the client.  Current Awareness is part of the business intelligence solution to help lawyers capture more market share in a competitive market.

Most firms have approached delivering marketing or competitive intelligence in a centralized manner.  That is, the resources are located either in KM, Library, Marketing or some combination thereof.  Typically, these groups have been tasked with helping drive and distribute content to the lawyers.  While this may not be a new function, what is new is the expectation that this information be “actionable,” and it’s in this area that there’s actually a wide discrepancy of skill sets among law firms.  I recently attended an AALL Conference where I had the pleasure of listening to some thought leaders in and around “current awareness”; one such person is Jean O’Grady, Director of Research Services & Libraries, DLA Piper.  Jean indicated that librarians can no longer be reactive, but need to be proactive with the information they share and to have an “opinion” about this information.  This is starting to sound a lot more like a “business analyst” skill set.  There’s little doubt firms are going this way.  Some law firms are already there with staff members carrying titles such as “Competitive Intelligence Manager,” “Business Analyst” or “Current Awareness Librarian.”  The titles all imply more a strategic type of thinking and corresponding expectations.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll refer to these types as “analyst.”  These analysts are sitting in the center of the action (or should be), because in their capacity they will be able to direct and drive the right type of information to their clients (which in most cases are their lawyers).

Macro Condition # 2: Micro Markets

Most firms can produce generic evidence of success in core practice areas: litigation, employment, merger and acquisition work, etc.  Hence, differentiating has become more difficult.  So, firms will either largely specialize (Littler Mendelson, Ogletree, Fish & Richardson) in a practice area or two or they will need to find ways to identify emerging issues/topics within larger practice areas.  Current awareness tools applied in broad strokes will not meet the needs of a micro market strategy.  Furthermore, information needs to be more timely, on-point and assessed on a relative basis.  For example, if I were tracking a broad area of current awareness, say labor & employment developments, I might learn that in the last week there were a number of discussions across blogs discussing the potential implications of the “Fair Credit Reporting Act.”  Perhaps discussions involve a modification in the legislation that may extend the reach of this issue to have greater repercussions on the broader market.  This is a micro market development.

To identify this development and put it into proper context, someone in the firm has to be able to exercise some judgment and have an understanding why a lawyer supporting a practice area might care.  Herein lays the challenge: who makes that judgment call?  This is where current awareness tools start to do some of the work for you.  By analyzing who is talking about the issue (peer firms, plaintiffs firms whose interest could be adverse to those of your clients if you are on the defense side, etc.) and identifying momentum (e.g., increased litigation), you can start to ascertain risk and exposure or potential thereof to the law firm’s client base…or better yet for potential clients where you’d like to get a foothold.  Bottom line – a lawyer that understands which risks may have implications for their clients and is proactive in his/her delivery of that information is in a better position to deliver better client service.

Macro Condition # 3: Business Development a Core Skill Set for All Lawyers.

The routine of a lawyer just doing good legal work and being left alone has all but gone away for the majority of practitioners.  Lawyers are being asked to learn business development and firms are investing significant amounts of dollars teaching their lawyers business development skills, whether they leverage internal resources/hires or outsource the effort.  This may be the toughest area for lawyers to understand where to focus, and is often not an area of natural interest or inclination.  It also requires some shift in thinking for law firms and how they typically have supported and provided market intelligence.  Simply put, the mode of “centralized command center” for the intelligence that lawyers need is not scalable, especially if you agree that micro markets are where individuals and teams can best differentiate their services.  I always ask my clients, if you ask ten partners what they need in terms of market and competitive intelligence; you are likely to get ten different answers.  The challenge: how do you scale to support 800 lawyers with a team of 10?

Now, all this said, I don’t mean to imply that centralized distribution and dissemination is going away; in fact, just the opposite is true.  The current awareness tools (if leveraged properly) actually create more opportunities where these keepers of centralized competitive intelligence can be perceived as “revenue generators” vs. part of the cost structure.  It’s potentially a great time to be on the KM or Library side of things!  However, since the trend is toward deploying a spectrum of use cases for the current awareness function, we need to be prepared to help individual players be empowered to act on his/her own.  Obviously, not all lawyers will accept these new responsibilities under the guise of “I am too busy.”  However, the savvy ones will know that intelligence drives relationships, and the better, actionable information they have, the more informed they will be…and their clients will appreciate it.  Finally, as an administrative team, why limit the options?  Empower, support and be flexible.

One last comment on the subject of current awareness–and this has more to do with how do we consume or absorb the information, and in what form.  While email continues to remain the primary manner in which lawyers consume information (at least in the context of current awareness), more and more firms are leveraging client matter or practice pages as a vehicle to drive information to their lawyers.  The trick is that the lawyer must feel that this information has been curated to the individual or team’s needs; whatever it is the firm is feeding or pushing into its portal or intranet had better align with the needs of that group, otherwise, the platform’s value will be discredited almost immediately.

The bottom line here is:  Make the information available to many and in many forms (portals, email, mobile, extranets).  Even if it’s the same information, everyone’s point of access might be different, and the timing of when they are likely to pay attention is likely to change.  I see firms trending toward using current awareness (often leveraging tools like listening platforms) to drive intelligence not only to internal systems, but to extranets and web sites.  Extranets, for example, suffer from adoption because they are often abandoned by the client once the specific task or project the extranet was created for is complete; clients feel there’s no reason for them to return to the law firm extranet…and the next project may require them to “re-learn” your extranet.  What if you were able to pipe in information you know your client would benefit from – legal issues, information on competitors (theirs), regulatory developments, curated newsletters, etc.?  Wouldn’t this be an excellent way to keep your client engaged, and your firm top of mind?  State-of-the-art current awareness tools are making this much easier to do.