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The Secret to Addressing Your Clients’ Real Problem

13 Nov

readmindby Melissa LaFlair, Principal, LaFlair Legal and Project Management Services

Once a problem is identified – and I mean the real problem, not the symptoms – identifying the relevant solution usually is fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, when it comes to running the business part of their practice and managing client expectations (rather than solving legal questions), at best many lawyers unwittingly fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between addressing the symptoms and addressing the underlying problem.

This is readily seen in the context of lawyers’ responses to the ever increasing RFPs from clients. Many lawyers and firms view preparing RFP responses as something their administrative or management team should address with little or no lawyer involvement. While I am quite confident that many talented professionals fill these administrative and managerial roles, most times these professionals do not have relationships with the client and need the lawyer(s) actively involved in the response process to provide the context needed to identify the real problem triggering the RFP.

In hope of helping those administrative and managerial professionals who struggle to get their lawyers interested and actively engaged in reviewing and responding to RFPs (or any client relationship efforts for that matter) and those lawyers who mindlessly respond to RFPs,  I am sharing some examples of what this spectrum looks like and the impact on results.

The worst symptom-approach example I know of concerns a firm that assumed that a long-standing client’s RFP was a formality that need not be taken seriously – after all, the firm was the clear incumbent. The firm invested little deep thought in preparing its response; in the end, the firm’s submission missed the mark and lost the very large (as in lots of zeros) repeating client business to another firm. I heard about this one after the fact.

Conversely, the best real-problem-approach example I have witnessed was a firm that took an unexpected RFP from a key client (regarding services the firm had been providing for the past ten years) seriously, despite being undisputed experts in their area of practice and the client’s go-to provider. The result? The firm earned a spot on the client’s final list of approved vendors moving forward. That two other firms were added to that list confirmed that the RFP process was real, with no guaranteed outcome. Full disclosure – I know because I helped the incumbent firm prepare its RFP response.

Whether a symptom- or underlying-problem-approach was taken, in each example an initial question and answer about the RFP likely went something like this:

“Interesting, we just received an unexpected RFP from our client. Has the client issued an RFP before?”

“No, this is the first time and this is odd. We were introduced to them ten years ago by a mutual contact they trust, we are specialized in their main area of need, and they have been really happy with our services so far.”

My guess is many firms (including the unsuccessful firm in the first example) stop asking themselves any more questions as long as everything looks pretty straightforward and they have many precedents to pull from in answering the RFP’s questions. From what I have heard and seen, many of these automatic RFP responses do not end well for incumbent firms.

Those interested in maximizing their probability of success will dig further to understand the motivation and context behind the RFP. Using the second example described above, additional questioning might go something like this:

“Why would the 10 year client issue an RFP at this time?”

“I don’t know. They aren’t able to discuss the RFP, but I think it’s because our main client contact now has a new boss.”

“Why can’t they discuss the RFP?”

“Because they are a government-related entity and want to be sure there is no bias or unfair advantage at play when selecting vendors.”

“Why would the new boss trigger an RFP request?”

“I’m not sure, but it may be because the new boss wants to confirm that the law department is complying with the organization’s requirement that vendors be reasonably priced and selected by way of an open bidding process.”

“Why would their relationship with your firm be a concern?”

“Well, we started working with them 10 years ago from a word-of-mouth introduction. The requirement was introduced 2 years ago and, at that time, we were already regarded as a well-established, cost-effective supplier in a specialized area where there are no other real competitors – so no RFP was issued.”

“Why did the client introduce the requirement?”

“I would think it’s because a few similar governmental organizations have been found to be working with vendors who hadn’t been selected by a bidding process and were charging higher than market rates. So, they needed to demonstrate that they were prudently spending the public’s money.”

As you can see, asking “why” five times (a classic approach to identifying root causes to issues, symptoms, and problems) and considering the answers revealed that the main client contact needed to issue an RFP to:

  1. comply with organizational requirements in place for 2 years,
  2. establish that the main client contact’s historic decision to retain the firm was (and remains) wise (thereby looking good to the new boss and not looking foolish for having neglected the RFP requirement for two years), and
  3. demonstrate that the public’s money is being spent prudently.

Keeping this context in mind, the firm answered each of the many RFP questions in a way that demonstrated their understanding and responsiveness to the organization’s needs and sensitivities, expertise in the field and how that expertise specifically benefitted the client in the past and would continue to do so in the future, and overall cost-effectiveness. While not expressly asked, the firm also identified the main types of work that the client relies on the firm for, areas where retainer and fixed fees may be appropriate (providing cash flow certainty for the firm and cost certainty for the client), and alternative fee approaches for more specialized work (again to provide the client with more budgeting certainty).

Notably, while the firm was not able to ask their client for background, self-posed questions needed to identify the client’s underlying problem helped the firm piece together the most likely reasons behind the RFP. The firm could answer its own questions based on general information from the firm’s existing relationship and public knowledge to craft a relevant, meaningful, and competitive response.

Even with imperfect information, trying to understand why a client has put out an RFP (or included questions on topics like budgeting and project management capabilities) goes a long way to helping you identify and address your client’s real, underlying issue. And that is what client service is all about. So if you are not already, I strongly encourage you to ask these sorts of questions and have these internal discussions. Your clients (and your bottom line) will thank you for it.


Getting Your Mobility Up to Speed

18 Feb

bedby Dan Hauck, CEO,ThreadKM

Mobility is nothing new to the practice of law. Attorneys have travelled to courts, client meetings, depositions, and countless other places since long before the digital age. As workflows became more electronic, lawyers adapted by doing things like checking emails on a phone and editing documents on laptops.

Those early steps are wearing thin and expectations to work outside of the office are growing. Lawyers today demand a richer, more satisfying experience than what they have grown accustomed to so far. If your IT department is busy clamping down on private Dropbox usage and other “shadow IT” applications, you can bet it is because attorneys on the go are more comfortable using consumer apps than firm-approved options.

Higher Demands

Attorneys face extreme challenges. While “traditional” mobility scenarios like courtrooms and boardrooms still occur as often as ever before, preparing to go to these places can be overwhelming without the right tools. Here’s why:

  • More documents and data. The materials lawyers need to bring along rarely fit into a briefcase any more. Not only would there be too much paper, many items never even make it to paper these days; videos and databases are two good examples. If your firm does not offer simple, searchable mobile access to information, your attorneys could end up walking into critical situations woefully unprepared. 

And, the key here is simple. A huge gulf separates that which is theoretically possible from what a partner will actually do in the real world.
  • Changing client expectations. Gone are the days when clients would overlook an extra associate or two tagging along to shuffle through boxes searching for papers. Indeed, the very idea of carting box after box of expensively prepared binders into meetings can make some clients see red. These clients are comfortable working on the road in a paperless environment; seeing their highly paid counsel unable to do the same is frustrating at best.
  • More specialized knowledge. If your firm is building a knowledge management database, it must be mobile-accessible. No one can be an expert on everything, but many firms have expertise that spans countless subjects. Knowledge management and collaboration tools can deliver vital information directly to attorneys in the field. Pulling up relevant insights from the firm’s knowledge base and getting real-time research updates during client meetings both impress and demonstrate your firm’s expertise.

Changing Workflow

When I started practicing, I heard attorneys talk about endless hours at the office. It was a badge of honor I would also earn. Given that all of our tools were at the office, it was the best place to get work done. But the story has changed. Workloads today are higher than ever, but most attorneys find they can be just as productive elsewhere, even preferring other locations to the office and its many distractions. Face-time is giving way to better indicators of productivity, like responsiveness, output, and hours billed.

So, much of the work is being done at the “home office.” Whether just an hour or so in the morning or several hours at night, lawyers are squeezing significant billable time out of their homes. This is not telecommuting. It is just working. The more time attorneys spend working at home, the better that mobile environment needs to be. If it takes lawyers more than a minute or two to log into a remote desktop, that is a bad sign. Many attorneys will decide to work directly out of email, generating a trail of chatter messages and attachments along the way.

Working across time zones also demands that lawyers be proficient working from home. Everyone understands that they may be inconvenienced at times for the sake of scheduling, but few are eager to go into the office for a 5:00 a.m. conference call. The call will be a bust, however, if an attorney cannot access key documents from home.

Re-Evaluating Mobile Solutions

As we jump into 2015, law firms need to take a hard look at the state of their mobile solutions. Start by asking whether your attorneys are just as capable working at their clients’ offices as they are working on-site. Are negative trade-offs driving attorneys to less secure solutions? Consider the following ideas for improving your mobility and KM strategies:

  • Find apps with flat learning curves that empower users. When thinking about mobility tools, ease-of-use is paramount. If attorneys run into problems outside of the office, they probably will have neither the time nor patience to call deskside support. The app simply must work and be effective or it will be tossed aside.
  • Consider device and screen size. An effective mobile strategy is adaptable to any device. Pulling up a remote desktop on a tablet, for example, can be a bad experience. Applications should be built to accommodate or respond to the size and inputs of the device. Equally important is a solid multi-monitor experience, since many attorneys like to plug their laptops into an external monitor at home. Test out each of these scenarios, and try using the same applications that attorneys use to see where the problems are.
  • Use “shadow IT” to identify areas of improvement. Attorneys often use cloud storage, private email, and personal to-do trackers for client work. You may see it as a problem, but it is also a cry for help. Actions speak louder than words. So, never ignore what your users are doing. What they do is the best feedback you have on what they need.

The Evolving Outward-Facing Role of Knowledge Management (Part 2 of 2)

24 Jun

Guest Post by Corinn Jackson and Karen Sundermier, Littler Mendelson

In our previous post, we discussed how we see the KM role evolving from inward-facing support of practicing attorneys, to direct client services geared towards in-house attorneys.

Here, we consider how KM can successfully approach this changing role and answer the question we posited earlier: WDIHCW?  What do in-house counsel want?


In-house counsel are busy, intelligent, multi-tasking attorneys fielding questions from and advising many business units within their organization.  They want something at their fingertips that keeps them up-to-date on a wide range of areas of law.  Dependable publications from their outside counsel can serve as a first stop for in-house counsel when they have a general question about the law.  Whether these are large legal compendiums that cover multiple areas of the law in a variety of jurisdictions, or smaller more narrowly-focused guides, reliable publications of any variety can be an invaluable resource for in-house clients.

In this vein, publishing shorter online articles is a way for a KM department to provide in-house counsel with to-the-point summaries of legal developments, new cases, and new laws. In providing brief, timely legal publications, we should ask ourselves, WDIHCW?

Clients want the bottom line: “How does this affect my company?  What does it mean for our business?  Do I need to do anything?”  By their nature, online articles are not only timelier and less labor-intensive than more in-depth treatises, but they comprise a strategy any KM department—regardless of firm size or specialty—can employ to keep clients up to date on emerging legal developments.

Our ASAP articles, which are concise analyses of up-to-the minute legal developments by region, are distributed based on client-identified industry and legal areas of interest.  Likewise, Littler’s 11 different legal blogs on a variety of subjects allow clients to subscribe based on their specific area of concern.  For example, a large retail client that employs primarily hourly workers in a number of different states may be more interested in our Wage & Hour Counsel blog, while a smaller tech company might be more interested in our Workplace Privacy Counsel blog.

Subscription Expert Systems-GPS

In-house counsel are also looking for quick solutions to those “fires” they are called to put out.  Take the company with operations in several states that needs to know plant closing and layoff laws of six states immediately, lest they inadvertently break those rules by not providing enough notice of a major business restructuring happening in 61 days. While in-house counsel could call on the law firm attorney, who likely will draw on KM resources to answer the question, a KM department adds value (and pleases clients) when it offers topical legal research that in-house counsel can access from their desks, without picking up the phone and incurring a charge each time.  At Littler, we offer A Guide to Policies by State, or GPS, which is a subscription service that offers clients a continually updated database of select employment regulations for every jurisdiction in the country.  While some may argue it is not KM’s job to answer legal research questions, providing a technological platform to deliver research answers to clients is exactly what KM should be doing.  KM’s success comes when it can move outside the walls of the law firm and extend the invaluable service it has been providing to firm attorneys directly to firm clients.

Matter Management And More–Littler CaseSmart

A central goal for any successful KM department is to continually monitor new technological developments to employ cutting-edge platforms to deliver the resources necessary to most efficiently answer clients’ needs—sometimes before they know they have them.  Clients do not want to pay a law firm to continually reinvent the wheel.  One significant way that law firm attorneys can retread the same ground is processing employment charges (filed with an administrative agency) for the same client, a process which can in many ways be rote.

By developing a support system for employment charges filed with state and federal administrative agencies, which involves customized work-flow, assignment tracking, and document automation—we call it Littler CaseSmart—we have drastically streamlined the time it takes for our attorneys to respond to administrative charges.  Beyond merely streamlining the process for firm attorneys processing these charges, Littler CaseSmart provides a client dashboard showing the status of each charge and capable of creating customized reports based on the specific data the client is seeking, such as the regions where charges may be on the rise, whether certain supervisors are being repeatedly targeted, or how different state agencies may approach and resolve charges.  Clients may also monitor the dashboard to make efficiency determinations regarding how the work is being processed.  Indeed, such aggregation of data and resulting comprehensive view for in-house counsel is typically well beyond what companies have the means to create and maintain on their own.

Client Self-Help

Further value-add from KM can include automated documents, secure client extranets, customized e-newsletters, and web-based training programs to provide directly to clients.  One new platform Littler offers clients is the Healthcare Reform Advisor, a free, web-based, interactive online system that helps employers determine whether they are at risk of having to pay a penalty under the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) “pay or play” mandate and estimate what those penalties may be.  After employers complete the online evaluation, Littler’s Healthcare Reform Consulting Group offers a brief consultation to discuss the results and potential risks for penalties under the ACA.


Every KM department is different and the key to determining what components work best for your firm’s clients is to not only help provide traditional legal services, but to focus on applying the expertise of your attorneys delivered through the latest online technologies.

KM is moving beyond its original audience of firm attorneys and the corporate organization and now communicates directly with the purchasers of legal services.  KM can answer WDIHCW and respond to client needs in innovative ways that stretch far beyond the traditional attorney-client relationship.

The Evolving Outward-Facing Role of Knowledge Management (Part 1 of 2)

17 Jun

Guest Post by Corinn Jackson and Karen Sundermier, Littler Mendelson 

Some artists say they make art for themselves and not for their audiences. Such artists’ accountants are likely frustrated (not to mention owed money). To ignore one’s audience is generally rude, short-sighted and bad business. At most law firms, the primary audience is in-house counsel: busy, intelligent, multi-tasking attorneys fielding questions from and advising many business units within the organization. A law firm’s KM department’s usual audience is the law firm attorneys, striving to provide excellent client service. But how broad could KM’s audience be? Could it go beyond law firm attorneys?

KM’s traditional role is to develop and build systems, processes, and culture to encourage capturing and sharing information within a firm. As Michael Koenig, Professor and former and founding dean of the College of Information and Computer Science at Long Island University, describes, KM is very organizational, very corporate. Legal KM has its roots in helping attorneys practice more efficiently and effectively, by drawing on colleagues’ prior work product and through sharing information, expertise, and documents within the firm. Historically, much of this sharing happened without colleagues realizing it—KM was at work behind the scenes finding and organizing resources created by individual attorneys and providing searchable, efficient access to that product to all attorneys.

For example, when it comes to the production—and reproduction—of certain standard documents, KM can lead attorneys to a more efficient and compliant process throughout the firm. Employment attorneys often are asked to create documents— including employment related letters, forms and agreements—many times over, with little customization for case or client details. Combining strategic development of template or master resources with document automation, KM can shift attorneys from the ancient practice of search/save as/edit to web-based questionnaires that generate a customized “best practice” final document, at a fraction of the time and cost it would take to start from scratch and without the propensity for errors inherent in editing an older document.

Firm attorneys often create and re-create more complex memoranda or briefing that may be too nuanced for automation. A KM department can increase its law firm’s efficiency by going beyond just providing a static set of documents for practitioners to consult the next time they need to draft a key document. At our firm, we provide organized, catalogued access to the best—and most current—of these resources. Our internal Litigation Center and Equal Employment Opportunity Center use pre-set, constantly-updating document management searches to pool timely and easily accessible resources for practitioners working on single-plaintiff, benefits, wage and hour, and employment discrimination litigation. These sites are accessible to litigators, paralegals, and litigation secretaries to enable them to quickly find consistently up-to-date sample documents and resources.

Based on the success of technological improvements like these and others within a law firm, KM departments have flourished and attorneys have grown more confident in KM’s ability to help locate resources. As a result, the client-facing role of KM naturally evolved. For example, an attorney would ask for a resource from KM, receive something on point at a fraction of the cost and time had the attorney created it himself or herself, and then turn around and provide it to the client at that reduced price.

Eventually, at least at our firm, the firm attorney asks its trusted KM department, can you just give this directly to my client? Efficiency begets efficiency, and attorneys should not mind cutting out their role as middle-person, especially when it means the client is happy with the service and information provided and the attorney can continue to focus on counseling and litigating.

The success of a KM department in its role external to the law firm may be measured by how well it is answering the question: WDIHCW? What do in-house counsel want?

They want, and need, answers. Real, practical answers, delivered quickly. They want not to have to pick up the phone each time they have a business question. They would like to look some questions up themselves, in tools provided by their trusted law firm, preferably in an easy-to-use, online, searchable format. And they want information before they ask the questions.

They want to know about changes that will affect their business. They want realistic predictions and practical guidance. They want to anticipate change to prepare their organizations for it.

Who should create such innovative tools? Most law firm attorneys, focused on practicing law and billing their time, are not ideally suited to tool development and implementation, but it is a perfect fit for an evolved KM department. The next post,  “KM Asks: WDIHCW (What Do In-House Counsel Want)? Part II” will address more specifically how KM can approach this evolving challenge.

Iron Tech Lawyer Competition–Budding Legal Engineers Innovate To Improve Legal Services

8 May


Post by Scott Rechtschaffen, Chief Knowledge Officer at Little Mendelson and member, ILTA KM Peer Group Steering Committee

To paraphrase William Gibson, the future of the legal profession has arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed. And that was demonstrated for anyone present at Georgetown Law School the second week of April for the second annual Iron Tech Lawyer Competition, where the future of law was on display, but, alas, only in one classroom.

If you are not familiar with it, the Iron Tech Lawyer Competition is the culmination (or “final exam”) of the Technology, Innovation and Law Practice Practicum taught by Georgetown Law Professors Tanina Rostain and Roger Skalbeck. At the beginning of the semester, students are divided into two- or three-person teams, assigned to work with a legal services organization and given access to Neota Logic’s expert advisor software. Their assignment is to develop an “app” that will enable the legal services organizations to more efficiently provide legal services to their clients. At the actual Iron Tech Competition, the teams present their apps, explaining the problem or need they set out to address, the legal issues the clients face – and the resource limitations the organizations deal with – and how their app provides enhanced access to legal services. At the end of the competition, awards are handed out for Excellence in Presentation, Excellence in Design and the Best Iron Tech Lawyer. (Georgetown Law has published an informative video about the first competition).

I was honored to serve as one of four judges for the second competition (with Georgetown Law Professors Peter Edelman and Robin West, and Doug Leeds, the CEO of Watching team after team demonstrate innovative technology solutions that could efficiently solve legal problems showed me the promise and future of our profession. Readers of Richard Susskind’s many books should know about his concept of Legal Engineers – not IT people who have worked with lawyers or lawyers intrigued by technology, but individuals who truly understand, and have been trained in, both law and technology. Well, I got to spend the afternoon with 23 budding Legal Engineers.

Judging the competition was much harder than I expected; I wish I could have given each team an award. Some of the teams developed apps that could facilitate determining eligibility for legal services. One team developed an app that could enable low income individuals to determine their eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “food stamps”) – the judges overruled the competition guidelines by awarding this team an Honorable Mention prize. Another team developed an app that would enable individuals with old criminal records to determine whether they could expunge their records. Other teams developed apps that could provide outreach and information to communities that otherwise might not know there were legal services available to them. One team developed a terrific app they called “Stop Bullying Me; I’m LGBT, But Just Let Me Be Me.” This app enabled students who have experienced gender-based bullying or harassment to determine whether their schools had responded to their situations under Title IX requirements.

For someone who has developed legal products, it was so impressive to see law students focusing on “user interface” and “graphic design” in developing their apps. One team developed an app to assist Medicaid recipients understand the community services available to them. Using user-friendly language and excellent graphics made me wonder whether these students were really law students (do you remember thinking about making the law accessible when you were in law school?)

The winner of the Iron Tech Lawyer Competition was a team (Jon Czas, Kyle George and Jung Hwa Song) that developed an app called “Could Bankruptcy Be My Lifeline?” This app – developed with the DC Bar Pro Bono Program – was designed for the up to one million Americans who could not afford to file bankruptcy during the Great Recession because they could not afford the filing and lawyers’ fees. Their app – developed in both English and Spanish – enabled individuals to understand the bankruptcy process, evaluate their financial situation and determine whether they should file for bankruptcy. Their software design was eloquent, intuitive and yet complex (the students had no prior experience with bankruptcy law). And, in my mind, they deserved bonus points for using Prezi for their presentation instead of PowerPoint.

I cannot thank Professors Rostain and Skalbeck – and the Georgetown Law School – enough for creating this class and using this format. It brought to mind the trial practice class of my legal education when, after one theoretical class after another, I finally got a chance to put theory into practice and put everything I could – including many all-nighters – into the class. As much as we once needed more trial lawyers, now we need Legal Engineers, lawyers who can make the provision of legal services more accessible and more efficient.

Kudos to John Lord and Michael Mills of Neota Logic for providing a grant – and their fabulous software – to make this competition possible. And, enormous kudos to Kevin Mulcahy of Neota Logic who taught the students how to use the software and worked tirelessly – and probably sleeplessly – with the individual teams to help them perfect their apps. The students were tremendously grateful for his knowledge, patience and enthusiasm. He is a terrific teacher and mentor.

Maybe, soon, other law schools will emulate the terrific program Georgetown has developed and the promise of innovation in the practice of law will be more evenly distributed.

Recap; ILTA Conference KM Sessions and Session Resources

4 Oct

Post by Chris Boyd, KM Steering Committee VP

I hope many of you made it to the ILTA’s recent “AC2DC” conference in Washington, D.C. and were able to attend some of the KM track sessions.  For anyone who wasn’t able to make it, or who was there and wants to revisit some of the sessions, ILTA has posted audio recordings from the sessions along with downloadable presentations and handouts.  The KM recordings and materials are listed below (unfortunately we cannot provide direct links); please note that they are for ILTA members and that you’ll need to log into ILTA’s website to access them.  Special thanks to Patrick DiDomenico, the conference liaison on the ILTA KM peer group steering committee, who was a key player in making these sessions happen.

  1. Beyond Extranets! What Clients Really Want.  Meredith Williams of Baker Donelson and Scott Rechtschaffen of Littler Mendelson presented their innovative client-facing KM resources, and Lynn Simpson of DuPont discussed what her company’s legal department would like to see in law firm KM.  The panel also provided a handout titled “Some Ideas On What Clients Want From KM At Law Firms”.
  2. Social Networking in the Enterprise.  David Hobbie of Goodwin Procter explained how to prepare a business case for social networking in the enterprise.  Ann Hemming of Thomas Eggar described her firm’s use of Yammer, and Scott Reid of the U.S. Judge Advocate General’s Corps presented the MilBook and JagConnect resources.  The JAG Corps later won ILTA’s Law Department of the Year award in part based on Col. Reid’s work in this area.  David also posted his slides on “Building a Business Case for Enterprise Social Networks”.
  3. Using Your DMS for Knowledge Management.  April Brousseau of Stikeman Elliott, consultant Rick Krzyminski, Chris Boyd of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Eric Hunter of Bradford & Barthel explained how their firms used document management systems to support KM resources. The panel also provided a handout with a matrix on ways to use a DMS for KM.
  4. New Benefits and Unexpected Pitfalls of Enterprise Search.  Phil Bryce of White & Case, John Gillies of Cassels Brock, and Sarah Stephens of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan presented their firms’ enterprise search implementations, along with lessons learned and next steps.  The slides from White & Case, Cassells Brock, and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan provide good visuals to accompany the recording.
  5. Data Warehouses, Dashboards and Data Integration: Delivering Actionable Business Intelligence.  Gina Lynch and Tracy Elmblad of Bingham McCutchen and Steve Lewis of Fried Frank demonstrated their firm’s intranets, focusing particularly on the dashboard-like features in them.  Gina, Tracy and Steve also described the design and rollout processes they used to revamp their intranets.
  6. AFAs + LPM + BPI = Opportunities for KM.  Michael Williams of eSentio, Rob Lipstein of Crowell & Moring, and Andrew Baker of Seyfarth Shaw discussed clients’ increasing interest in alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) and how firms are using KM to support legal project management (LPM) and business process improvement (BPI) to deliver effectively and efficiently on AFA matters.

Many other sessions, of course, addressed enterprise search, social networking, and other KM topics; the well-received sessions listed here were those organized by the KM peer group.

We’ve already started to plan for next year’s conference, so if there are specific KM topics you’d like to see addressed, please contact me or one of the other members of the KM peer group steering committee.  We’d love to hear from you!

Going In-House; Report From Former Canadian KM Lawyer

1 Sep

Guest Post By Kathleen Hogan

As I write this, I see that my new employer, BMO Financial Group, has
posted a Q3 earnings report and declared a dividend. As I’m participating in an employee share ownership program, I say this with certain smugness, of course. My real point, though, is that this was national news and key information for the Canadian economy, and it highlights the biggest difference, thus far, in moving from a law firm KM position to an in-house one: things are different, really different, at a public-facing company.

And I’m not at just any old giant public corporation – I now work at one of Canada’s so-called “big 5” banks. For my non-Canadian friends, this refers only partly to the fact that it’s one of the biggest five banks by size or earnings. It’s also because historically, Canada literally only had five big banks (there are actually many banks, including foreign ones, operating here very successfully).

BMO is so incredibly visible through the branch banking system all across Canada that it’s a part of the Canadian fabric (the same holds true for the other big four). It might even be fair to say that Canadians see the banks as quasi-Canadian property, and we are as offended by profligate bank spending as we are with government wastage. It’s a matter of national pride that Canada’s banking system is considered the soundest in the world.

Suffice it to say, then, that, unlike even large national law firms, banks have a fairly heightened sensitivity to public perceptions. Before joining the industry, I knew this as a Canadian. Now, this flows back to me on a professional level. Decisions involve not just cost and internal politics (nothing different from law firms there), but a consideration of what the shareholders and the public would think.

What does this mean for me? First, it was a huge professional adjustment. I worked mostly in law firms, with the exception of acting as a General Counsel to a group of small private companies. Joining the bank feels much more like joining a business than it does a law firm, even though the legal group I support functions as a captive law firm. We are all in this to support the bank’s business, as opposed to providing legal advice to a client. I really like this – I can see where KM efforts are helping the customer experience.

Second, the bank is a very large structure – 37,000+ employees globally. It will be months yet before I can accurately and reliably identify who does what, and which department is responsible for what. I often wonder if I’m asking the right person the right questions. This is a function of sheer size, and not of the more pejorative aspects of a quasi-bureaucracy. The bank is, in fact, very good at eradicating duplication and preserving ownership of functions and tasks.

Third, if you think law firms aren’t so crazy about technology change, try working in a bank. Again, size is a major factor. But there’s also risk, security, and compliance to worry about. There’s rollout across all those countries and employees. There’s cost on a much greater magnitude than firms deal with. Any new technology has to be considered from an enterprise perspective, and is generally planned as a long-term implementation. The sense I get is that change management issues are rooted in corporate responsibility and strategic planning, as opposed to personal resistance from individual lawyers, as at law firms. I idly wondered, for example, about implementing a DM search tool in the legal group. However, the bank does not typically purchase and implement software on a department-by-department basis. While a search function would be great for my group, it’s an inefficient and costly project from an enterprise standpoint.

I’m still settling in, and will update you in a few months’ time about my role and some specific projects.

Session Report–Innovative Member of the Year Contest

23 Aug

Post by David Hobbie, ILTA KM PG

These are my notes from the session where the speakers are seeking to win the “Innovative Member of the Year” Award. People present voted for the award, which will be presented on Thursday night at the ILTA Awards Dinner.

Bryan Cave

John Alber is presenting not on a particular innovation but on creating a process for creating innovation, “Creating an Innovation Factory.”  His session showed the innovation approach suggested by both of this week’s keynotes in action, moving structurally and profitably to change the way the law firm does its work.

Bryan Cave has set up three groups in a formal structure for creating innovation.

As addressed in the keynotes, innovation is at the core of the best companies in the world.  Lawyers are not known for innovation.  But there are opportunities to innovate in the legal sector.  Law firms are not structured to take advantage of innovation.  IT in many organizations is the source of innovation.  In law firms the focus on “utter reliability” of systems for capturing and storing the key legal knowledge work product detracts from their ability to innovate.

Law departments focus most of their innovation in reducing legal spend on fees to preferred counsel.

Bryan Cave has created three groups for innovating in particular areas relating to client legal spend, Client Technology Group, Accelerated Review Team, and the Practice Economics Group.

CTI was set up as a sanctioned “skunk works,” a sanctioned R & D laboratory within the firm, with web developers, business analysts, and content specialists.  It is independent of IT with a very different, change-focused mission (not reliability focused).  It is has had many successes such as online legal service delivery, social media knowledge platforms, and workflow management.

Accelerated Review Team created in 2010 to establish leading-edge streamlined review workflow problems, mainly in eDiscovery but also in review-intensive transactional work.

The third team is Practice Economics Group, set up to provide a new set of tools and techniques to help attorneys manage legal spend.  It’s already created tools to price engagements, track and manage engagements, reporting tools for commodity litigation, and give managers insight into the operations.  They provide support for AFAs and pricing.

There are 75 people in these three groups.  They are involved throughout the firm, very widely accepted, and support the highest dollar engagements.

Projects include:

  • Complex system to aid engagement teams of hundreds of lawyers on financial sector mortgage foreclosure crisis
  • Budgeting and dashboard app to develop detailed
  • Mobile pricing apps
  • Per-gigabyte pricing model, for lawyers work on document review
  • Claims management for client
  • Client-level & available dashboards for budget and project tracking
  • WIP and receivables monitoring system, aging etc.
  • Workflow management system for managing broker-dealing litigation, allowing it to be pushed down to more junior lawyers
  • AFA modeling tools

A client was pricing consumer financial litigation at half of what previous cost was going to be.  They developed a comprehensive management suite.  Intake captures essential data about jurisdiction, plaintiff’s lawyers, causes of action.  A management tab for every phase of litigation including risk-weighted assessment.  Tools facilitate production of work product.  A tool looks at a particular matter and helps attorneys identify that particular issues are active in that case, leading to a document assembly that generates a brief in support of motion to dismiss.  It was developed collaboratively with the case team, and the accelerated review team.  They looked for the best arguments among 80 different issues, and condensed into best practices, linked to a document assembly package.

Bryan Cave made a structural rather than an rhetorical commitment to innovation.

Margin on these innovations is estimated and projected to be in excess of $10 million.  John suggests that this innovation is leading Bryan Cave to where law firms will be needing to go.

Prioritization is based on “clients come first” and “look for the revenue stream.”

Fish and Richardson

My Social Media In Law Firms panelist Beau Mersereau is presenting on “OutLaw,” Fish and Richardson’s application that brings all the firm information attorneys need into Outlook.  He was assisted by another gentleman whose name I did not catch.

They already have high-definition videoconferencing and a lot of other custom applications.

They’ve found that attorneys live in Outlook.

Outlaw’s home page allows search of matters, documents, or contacts, view matters, worklist, and docket.

There is a tabbed view of those options.

He’s narrating a video, as the live demo would not work well.  I was impressed by how smoothly they handled the demo; they were very well prepared.

Internal and external contacts are searcheable.

Matter view shows user’s relationship to the matter (this is a good idea!) The worklist shows the matters worked on last 90 days (can be adjusted from 1-100 days).

Can do work such as time entry from a “power bar.”

In a document view, dragging them into a shortcut bar lets others access the document more quickly.  It’s a customizable Key Documents tab.  Anyone who works on the case can create their own tabs and documents.  It looks pretty easy to use, with drag-and-drop and right-clicks.

Outlaw also shows email drag and drop in a manner like FileSite, but it could also go into “Prolaw.”

It’s unique because it’s a unified interface within Outlook.  It’s captured a lot more time.

Seyfarth Shaw

“Transformation of Seyfarth Shaw LLP’s Project Management Office.”

Three women from Seyfarth presented.  I did not catch their names either.

Their PMO was founded in 2004, positioned outside IT, and had a diverse background in finance, IT, business operations, and telecommunications.  All are technically savvy and have an end-user perspective.

Projects focused on DMS, CRM, and employed traditional project management approaches.  They built relationships with “normal” IT.  They became known as the program that could “get things done.”

In 2008 they ran a first client-facing initiative in a compliance / employment matter.  The next transformation involved a camping trip (in a conference room).  They decided to change their internal-facing PMO to a client-facing PMO that would interact with lawyers to work with clients.  They decided to spend 70% of their time on the client-facing PMO.

No one else had a process they could emulate.

Their key word is “activate.”

INNOVATION; middle row of letters of Vision, Ingenuity, Brainstorm, Teamwork, Motivation, Creativity, Incentive, Inspiration, Development, Planning.

Firm has opened up a consulting branch that is delivering PMO services to existing clients and new clients, it’s been opening the door for provision to other services.  Seyfarth is trying for continuous improvement (kaizen), through process mapping and much more.  Clients are starting to participate in process mapping and fine-tuning.  Clients are asking Seyfarth to help them with process mapping.

Good communication is key to LPM.  They’ve had a more structured approach.  Project managers attend pitching.  They’ve doubled the size of the department.  77% of their time is devoted to client

They’ve received great feedback from the clients on their innovations.


For other’s comments on this very informative session please see the twitter stream for #award1.

To break the wall between reporting and participating, I will say that I voted for Bryan Cave.  All the presentations were excellent; John Alber, however, laid out in much greater detail the huge benefits to his firm’s legal business from his structural change of creating separate groups for legal technology and services innovation.

Report From ILTA Conference–Transformation Through Emerging Technologies

23 Aug

Post by David Hobbie, ILTA KM PG

The panel was comprised of:

  • Gerard Neiditsch, Exec. Director, Business Integration & Technology, Mallesons
  • Michael Mills, Neota Logic
  • Loretta Auer, CIO, Fish & Richardson
  • Sally Gonzalez, Senior Director, HBR Consulting

This enlightening session highlighted several thought leader’s forward-looking opinions on actual and potential transformations of legal work through emerging technologies.  They moved at breathtaking speed but touched on a number of areas of innovation that will or may impact the field.

Sally’s Introduction

What comes first? Technology change or organizational change?  When do you see external forces driving incorporation of technology change into the organization.

This is the wrong question.

Lawyers want to work at any place, any time, on any device, by 2020.  We keep getting there in baby steps.  Today we are in “hyper-information” mode.  We are in the cusp of hypermobility which will lead to hyper-communication.  We’ll need hyper users.

Virtual lawyering will require maturation in each of these areas.  What will the virtual lawyer look like?

We’re all dealing with lawyers.  Psychologists have run thousands of Hayes tests on lawyers.  Deviations from normal include high-end skepticism, leading to analysis paralysis, autonomy, and abstract reasoning.  They are low in sociability and resilience, meaning they are hyper-sensitive to criticism.  90% of people don’t share lawyers “sense of urgency.”

These personality traits are different from the general population.  Change efforts need to take into account these traits.

Michael Mills

These characteristics are matched with brains, skills, and speed, making lawyers interesting to work with.

Firms are drowning in data.  There’s more information available, it’s not delivered in useful ways.  Software for building data visualization is now reasonable and accessible.  Providing spreadsheets of data doesn’t provide the information lawyers need in a way they can use it to act.

“Basic” Visualization

He’s showing Actual vs. Forecast revenue by partner, with rows of partners.  Partners understand colors and spatial order.  Forward is better than backward, red is bad, yellow is less bad, green is good.  Another chart compares matter size by fee type and client industry.  Fixed / Hourly / Hybrid / Outcome-based; 0-$100K/ 100-200 K, etc., with colors showing industry.  You could also compare matters by client industry and region.

Radical Visualization

This new application provides visualize of legal rules, for instance, across jurisdictions.  Lawyers laid out the risks, qualifications, in a detailed memo; this can be reduced, for instance, to a “collateral directive” chart, showing no/ usually / uncertain / yes (with colors).  If you click on one of the sections, you drill down to the related substance.

Law is transformed from chunks of text to the same tools that client use to analyze other aspects of their business.  Visual interpretation of risk is much easier to digest.

Loretta Auer

Some providers of legal services to lower-income people are developing multi-media legal documents based on knowledge bases and rules.  The Maricopa County Arizona court system has set up kiosks that help citizens generate own legal documents for divorce, child support, landlord-tenant matters, and simple estates.  They’re expanding to 150.  These systems simplify law and make it more accessible.  It’s part of a large nationwide pro bono effort.  Law firms that participate in this effort are gaining an understanding

If it’s easy to find your reservation on JetBlue, it better be easy to find information from clients’ law firms.

Gerard Neiditsch

The background is Mallesons Connect (addressed in Caselines here).  Lawyers are accustomed to command and control system in which collaboration does not come naturally.  The new generation of clients and lawyers is expecting to operate in a network.  Our IT systems work from the top down.  We can pump out information from the top down but find it hard to aggregate and coalesce information coming in from the “bottom.”

Some of the lawyer’s children talk to them from time to time and share their experiences with social media (like FaceBook).  His lawyers reached out to him and said they wanted a way to reach out to people they work for.  He’s suggested social media and they seemed to get it.

“Springboard” will be rolled out in 2-3 months.  In one place it will bring in a prioritized view of what lawyers need to do, a view of social information.  The end goal is for every person at the firm to have a prioritized, aggregate, personalized dynamic view of information about work, client needs, and their social and information network.   Make the good important information float to the top.

Mallesons has a matrix organization with practice areas and (industry) sectors.  You can follow information that is tied to those structures.  Everything is dynamic.

His goal is to make information much more transparent.  Half of their pricing is fixed (informally or formally).  Transparency is absolutely more important.  Everyone on the team needs to see where you are.

He shows a dashboard that shows all the matters he’s working on, with schedule, popup window with detail on a matter; you can see others working on it including detail such as Invoiced / WIP / Total / Estimate / % Estimate.  People’s availability is shown dynamically, updated every 4 seconds.  They are focused on *very* dynamic information.  They need to hide static information because it’s not needed as much.  They are trying to highlight dynamic information.  SharePoint is unsuitable for such dynamic information (ask him for details).

They have developed a mobile app (sample shown was on an iPhone) with high acceptance among clients.  It allows clients to call, text, email, and show a lawyer’s colleagues.  It will also display project statistics and financials.  They have no time for training.  iOs native development is a challenge—Michael Mills is impressed that Mallesons has done it, and feels that it is worth the investment.  It has development tools that are as easy to use as Microsoft work.

Sally asks how they are driving acceptance.  Gerard replies that they are not expecting lawyers to go to training.  They are putting “liking” and “following” on their intranet.

Michael Mills on Mobile

He shows a chart laying out location of texting (place of worship, bed, during meeting); there are much higher percentages of texting among younger folk, not surprisingly.

A survey shows that users employ mobile phones/iPads 69% of the time to do work; the survey also shows that IT thinks users are only employing about 35% f the time.

The new iPad will likely be “the new iPad.”

Loretta on the Gestural Computing and the Post PC world

Pranav Mistry of the MIT Fluid Intefaces Group is working on “sixthsense.”  It’s a wearable gestural interface.  It projects a hologram.  Look at airplane ticket, it shows you that your flight is delayed.  With it you can use a blank sheet of paper as an iPad.  People don’t want computing, they want to get things done.

These are personal technologies.  Why would you go to an office where the technology is more primitive?

If bandwidth continues to improve, HD video will be much more prevalent.  GoTo Meeting is getting better; it’s not Cisco telepresence, but it’s a lot better than IM or phone.  Michael wonders if that will make us question what lawyers need all those offices for.

Loretta on Voice Recognition

We’ve had voice recognition tech but most people don’t use it.  We need to take it to a different level.

Dragon is the quickest way to start a search.  (Michael Mills is a convert.)  In a large law firm, where you can customize Dragon for a law firm, you can roll it out quickly.  There’s a lot of productivity value there.  Conceptualize the applications that would be meaningful to them.  Search for someone, drill down into financials, and so forth.

An audience member asked if there is a copy of each message kept on Dragon servers.  She said that fact kept them from rolling out Dragon to lawyers.

Lawyers in the UK appear to take dictation more seriously.  The return of voice recognition may happen; the skill of speaking in good sentences and paragraphs persuasively is a skill also useful in deal negotiations and in the courtroom.

Unified communications will greatly assist productivity.

Michael thinks that Microsoft Link is a good product—it gets a lot of things right.

Loretta on Avatar-Based Meeting Support

Go online and watch demos at IBM Virtual Unity Community where people are taking “Second Life” concept into workflow and collaboration.

The head of Microsoft’s research labs was saying that bandwidth will be a constraint for the next five years.  They are looking at system where body is an avatar but the head is “real” looking.  It looks odd but may become normal.

Loretta’s Social Media Work

iFish “I Create.  I Innovate.  Escape the Tank.  iFish.”  They are building an “Outlaw” application that will be highlighted in the next session.  

Sally on Managing Organizational and Individual Transformations

Will law firms “drive creativity out of the young folks”?  Younger lawyers tend to mirror the behavior of the senior partners.  There are senior partners who embrace these changes.  A transformational leader will pull along those who are ready.  You may not be able to make that leader, but you can find her.

Michael hypothesizes that we under-invest in leveraging partner’s capabilities.  Declare this the “year of the partner.”  Undertake every IT initiative just for the partners.

Virtual Lawyering

For firms, this means VMWare, virtualizing applications, and also mobility for lawyers.  Some examples of “invisible law firms.”  Axiom does substantive legal work on a disbursed basis, “Law firm on a diet.”  Clearspire does something similar, addressed on this blog a few months ago. VLP Law Group virtualized very high end work in a virtual way.  LawPivot participants are like a virtual law firm.  DirectLaw and Legalzoom are at the “small end.”  Legalzoom will raise money, clients will see this model.  Google invested in RocketLawyer.  These will impact the way we do business.  Consumerization of the way clients deal with lawyers will impact law firms.

In Fish & Richardson, different teams deal with substantive KM and also are changing how they want to work.  They are co-developing applications, self-service issues, and more.  They have a three-year window to ramp it up.  They have a sense of collaboration, and want to work with each other.  It’s a great place to be in IT when you are helping lawyers figure out better ways to do their jobs and live their lives.  Attorneys don’t have a lot of time to deal with this.

An excellent session, combining to an unusual degree some practical solutions that are happening now and some more theoretical changes that might occur someday.


Knowledge Management and the ACC Value Challenge: ILTA Conference Discussion

10 Aug

Post By David Hobbie, ILTA KM PG

Conference is just two short weeks away.  There’s been some great conversation on this blog following John Albers’ guest post on Making An Impossible Engagement Possible, about a crowdsourced session on Monday August 22, and a lot already happening on Twitter and, now Google+ as well.  There will be a few more posts here about KM track sessions before conference, this being the first.

The last session of the KM track, “KM Helps Meet the ACC Value Challenge,” is taking place Wednesday August 24th at 3:30 PM in room “Delta C,” immediately before a cocktail reception sponsored by Recommind that will be in the same room.  No ogling the beers during our session please.  The Twitter hashtag for this session is #KMPG6.

The formal description:

The Association for Corporate Counsel (ACC) has challenged law firms to better understand their clients’ business, be more efficient in their work, be more effective in training junior lawyers, and better budget and manage costs. Find out how knowledge management can help achieve these goals.

The panelists are Mary Panetta of Crowell & Moring, Jeffrey Brandt of Clearspire, and Thomas Wisinski of Haynes Boone.

I’ll be moderating, and providing an introduction to the ACC Value Challenge;  then, because this is such a potentially broad topic, we’ll be asking the audience to self-select into one of three discussion groups, which will carry on at the same time.  (This means you might have to move if you find yourself in a section of the room that will cover a topic you don’t care for as much as that in another section of the room.)

The three topics:

1.  Communication About Financial Information (discussion led by Mary)

One of the key values or goals of the challenge is enhanced communication between clients and firms about the goals and status (particularly but not exclusively monetary status) of matters.  What is KM’s role currently in enhancing client communication?  What should it be?

2. Communication Through Social Collaboration Tools (Jeff)

Another approach might be to “socialize” the work on the matter, such that activity like adding a document to a wiki platform kicks off a notification of a change.  Wikis also allow the team working on the matter to collaboratively develop status reports.  How can collaboration tools help internal teams add more value?  How can collaboration tools enhance communications and work relations between clients and law firms?

3.  “Core KM” and Enhanced Value (Tom)

The ACC Value challenge calls for the greater value to clients in part through creating greater incentives for more efficient legal work.  Substantive KM resources are an obvious way that matters teams can work more efficiently, but they can be hard (read:  expensive) to create and challenging to maintain.  How can firms overcome that challenge?  Is it possible to share the cost of value creation through “traditional” KM with the client?  When is the best time to invest in such resources?

After the three sets of discussions, we will resume “general session” and bring back to the whole audience the primary thoughts and lessons expressed in the sub-sessions.

I look forward to seeing you there and to your contributions to the discussion.