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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.