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Storytelling in Legal Knowledge Management

28 Apr

Picture1 Guest post by Flyn L. Flesher, Knowledge Management Counsel, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Storytelling is one of the evolutionary traits that set humans apart from other species. Other animals can learn by experience or direct observation, but only humans seem capable of learning from stories about others’ experiences. Since the first cave people huddled together in groups, recounting successful hunts and drawing pictures on cave walls to help preserve those stories, humans have relied on storytelling to capture otherwise inaccessible tacit knowledge and pass it along to other group members.

Not surprisingly then, storytelling also has a place in legal knowledge management. Personality studies show that many attorneys may have “a tendency to distance themselves from others and become uncommunicative.” Such a tendency can hinder the spread of knowledge throughout a law firm: if lawyers distance themselves from other lawyers in a practice area, they likely do a poor job of passing along the lessons they have learned.

Fortunately, most lawyers love telling their “war stories.” When pressed, even the most reserved lawyer may have difficulty resisting the temptation to recount past legal victories, innovative litigation strategies that ultimately succeeded, and unusual allegations and fact patterns. Trial lawyers know that weaving multiple pieces of evidence into a compelling narrative can make the difference between winning and losing a jury trial. How can we tap into lawyers’ inherent appreciation for storytelling to capture inaccessible tacit knowledge and pass it along to other members of the law firm?

One effective way of sharing tacit knowledge is to gather around a conference table telling stories over cups of coffee. For example, lawyers in my office meet every Friday morning to discuss hard-won legal victories, difficult legal issues faced and overcome, recent decisions, upcoming legislation and gossip about local attorneys, mediators, and judges. Like the cave people’s gatherings around the fire, these meetings are an opportunity to share in a communal treasure trove of lawyers’ tacit knowledge. Sometimes the old ways are the best.

Sharing experiences within one law office is a good start, but technology enables lawyers to share their experiences with lawyers in other offices across the globe. Encouraging the use of wikis is an effective way to foster enterprise storytelling. Wikis provide a central location for employees to recount success stories, cautionary tales, and project histories. Since all users with access can modify them, wikis support both individual and group storytelling: individuals can recount their experiences, which can be woven into a greater tapestry of stories and viewpoints from different people about similar issues and fact patterns.

Interviewing subject-matter experts can be equally effective for capturing inaccessible tacit knowledge for posterity and the organization’s benefit. For example, our firm has implemented an exciting effort called “OD Emeritus” to capture senior attorneys’ tacit knowledge. The OD Emeritus project involves interviewing our firm’s senior attorneys about their specialties on video so they can pass along their strategies and tips to our next generation of attorneys. The edited videos are used in attorney training and development. Through this program, our firm continues to benefit from the wisdom and experience of top-notch attorneys, even after they have retired from the practice of law.

When lawyers share their war stories, they inevitably impart helpful knowledge that others can apply to their own practices. What is your firm or legal department doing to encourage lawyers to share their stories and tacit knowledge? Do other modern equivalents to fireside chats and cave paintings exist? If your firm isn’t tapping into enterprise storytelling to benefit others in your organization, you may be missing out on a real opportunity.


Microblogging Lite: A Brief How-To

29 May

Guest Post by Andrew M. Baker, Director of Legal Technology Innovations Office (and member of the ILTA KM PG Steering Committee) and Mark Soriano, Manager of Application Development, both of Seyfarth Shaw

We probably all have a list of projects we would love to tackle, but we are not sure if we will get the chance or see a fitting opportunity.

Social Networking for the Enterprise, in the style of a Facebook or Twitter, falls into that category for us. Though we are bullish on social networking generally, we both see challenges with a full-blown solution and its fit within today’s large law firm. Most of our hesitation stems from concerns such as those Oz Benamram described in his article, “Why most law firms’ internal collaboration systems are doomed to fail.” Specifically, without the “semi-automated” solution seeding the medium from enterprise content, we see the road as awfully bumpy and fairly steep.

The Opportunity

Nevertheless, last year, we were presented with an opening for a “lite” solution. We took it and it has worked out exceptionally well. The basic business premise was this:

Our SeyfarthLean program was (and is) bustling. We needed a way to get timely news out to a moderate-sized (but growing) population of folk that were neck-deep in Lean waters. Developments were happening so fast that any real editorial process would have discouraged participation or crumbled under its own weight. Further, the people most interested in contributing were the most busy – often in airports or otherwise out of the office for a significant portion of their week.

When we heard “timely,” “raw” and hints of “mobile,” we both thought microblogging. But, we had some constraints. The need was acute and a solution would have to come fairly quickly. The budget and stomach for a full solution wasn’t there – and we wouldn’t have advocated for it, if it were.

In response, we created our own “easy” microblog called “LeanStreams.” We talked the concept through with our SeyfarthLean Steering Committee, and some scoffed (a few rather loudly), worried that it wasn’t the right approach. But, after some healthy discussion, the group acquiesced.

The Solution

LeanStreams merges native SharePoint features with somewhat straight-forward development efforts. Here’s how it works.

A custom webpart on the homepage of our intranet is visible only to certain, selected people. If the user “subscribed,” the webpart would expand and each post, or “LeanStream,” could be seen. The post shows up almost in real time, as it’s updated every two minutes. From the webpart, users can page through all past posts or unsubscribe from the digest, if desired.

Custom webpart living on our intranet homepage

Custom webpart living on our intranet homepage

Custom webpart living on our intranet homepage.

New posts enter the “stream” from a link on the webpart or via an email to the specified address. Only the text in the subject line of the email is used as the post. Anything in the body of the email is ignored. By default, Outlook and Blackberry devices limit the text to 255 characters. An iPhone will let you type more, but we have warned everyone that only 255 characters count toward the post. It’s more than Twitter, but not enough for a novella; probably right for an attorney’s  “raw” post.

1-Microblog 2

Email generated after clicking ‘add entry’ on our webpart.

Each night, LeanStreams creates and sends a stylized digest of posts. Under each post is a “mailto” link to the author of the post’s email address. That way, folk can reply on a topic fairly easily (which happens regularly).

1-Microblog 3

Digest email sent out at the specified interval.

LeanStreams Lessons

LeanStreams has been running for almost a year.  We now have over 500 people subscribing, and new posts are submitted daily – with hundreds having already been sent. The tool has been promoted primarily through our Yellow Belt trainings. As we have trained attorneys from across the Firm, LeanStreams has been positioned as a “keep the dialog going” idea at the end.

Best of all, the posts are great. People almost always read their daily digest, and it has caused a lot of cross-practice dialog from follow-ups. It’s now a mix of Lean happenings, Lean wins, client sentiments and ideas for innovation.

We see the simplicity of the tool as a large part of its success. A significant portion of LeanSteams users are not frequent Twitter or Facebook users. Profiles, hashtags and the like are great when you have a lot of content. It’s a bit different game here – in terms of content shared and user persona.

With that said, when first describing the application, we usually talk in terms of “microblogging” rather than “social.” Though our users may not send large batches of content into the Twitterspehere, they find the “microblogging” term more descriptive than the blanket “social” moniker.

Nevertheless, we readily acknowledge that the solution isn’t perfect. We have heard people want threaded replies, profiles and the like. But, in a pinch and on a shoestring, it definitely met the challenge and has already paid dividends to the Firm.

Will we move on to a bigger solution? Probably. But, not until our activity stream is feeding posts. That’s underway, actually, but a few steps out.

Technical Details

For those a bit more technically inclined, here’s a high-level overview of what we had to do to launch LeanStreams:

1. Enabled incoming email settings in SharePoint Central Administration.

2. Created a SharePoint announcements list and set the incoming email settings to have the specified list email address.

3. Created a contact object in Exchange and set the SMTP address of the contact to be the list email address of the newly created announcements list.

4. Created a custom webpart to display the items from the announcements list that are created by incoming emails.

5. Designed a custom webpart to refresh every two minues using jQuery.

6. Designed a custom webpart that allows users to subscribe to daily or weekly emails by storing the their preferences in SQL.

7. Created a console application that will send an email digest of items created in the announcements list. A scheduled task will run this console application every morning and will send a daily or weekly email based upon the user’s preference stored in SQL.

8. Created a list Event Listener to check for auto-reply emails and delete them.

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!

Social Networking In The Enterprise–Conference Session

10 Aug

Post By David Hobbie,  Member of ILTA KM PG

Social networking within the firewall, as an improvement on email and as a method for improving efficiency, effectiveness, and engagement, is increasingly in the news and in the blogosphere, as demonstrated by two recent posts in the Three Geeks (How One Company Banned Internal Email and How and Why LAC Group Successfully Eliminated Internal Email), Mary Abraham’s It’s Time To Get Serious About Social, and the E2 Conference most recently held in Boston that I blogged about on Caselines here and here.

I’ll be presenting on building a business case for an enterprise social network as part of the second panel on the ILTA KM Peer Group’s six-session track at ILTA’s annual conference (“conference”), this year to be held in Washington DC.  It’s just a few short weeks away, and will last from August 26th to 30th.

Specifically, the second session of the track will feature three stories about enterprise social networks in legal organizations.  As mentioned I will be discussing early-stage work on developing a business case at a large law firm;  Ann Hemming will be addressing her UK law firm’s use of enterprise social network platform Yammer for idea generation, marketing coordination, and more; and Col. Scott Reid, Chief Knowledge Officer of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, will be telling the story of the Army JAG’s milnet and its successes in increasing knowledge sharing and transfer.

The formal session description:

What’s the business case for Facebook in the office and Twitter inside the firewall? Some organizations have already demonstrated the benefits of sharing knowledge through in-house social networking. Others are beginning to experiment with it. Hear how legal organizations can add value to their traditional KM offerings with internal social networking as a panel draws from their experiences with implementing various social networking programs. They will explain their strategies, implementations and user adoption challenges.

Mary Panetta will moderate this session, which she and Andrew Baker developed.

The session hashtag is #kmpg2; written tips for evaluating enterprise social networks will be provided; and it will be 1 PM on August 27th in National Harbor 2.  We look forward to seeing you there!

What Makes ILTA Social? Sharing At Conference And Implications For Knowledge Work

22 Dec

Post By David Hobbie, ILTA KM Blogmaster and Member of the KM PG Steering Committee

One of my favorite aspects of the annual ILTA conference is the willingness of peers to share information with each other.  The learning imparted in the many educational sessions is truly amazing, and while people are in general perhaps more restrained in this era of bloggers and instant dissemination of key points via Twitter,  I have heard presenters remarking  on several occasions that they have shared more than they perhaps intended in advance.  Thinking about why that is so made me realize that ILTA leadership and the collective efforts of its dedicated members have figured out a number of ways to make ILTA conference attendees social.  In other words, conference is a community where social connections, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing among members is valued and encouraged.

Without being too Kumbaya about it, legal enterprises, which at their core sell knowledge and advice, could benefit from comparable sharing and trust inside the enterprise, between lawyers.  Greater willingness to share experience, and perhaps even participate in knowledge-generating activities, could greatly enhance many a legal KM program.

So how does ILTA do it?  I don’t think there’s any one thing ILTA does that does not occur in other places, but I’ve identified here a few distinct approaches that have an impact.


Dale Carnegie‘s advice on making friends and influencing people include the point that “a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  A name badge is an easy and obvious method of enabling people to get to know and say each others’ names.  Saying someone’s name makes them feel significant and valued, albeit in a small way.

At ILTA badges have at least seven functions.  The picture above is, obviously,  my somewhat abused ILTA badge from the 2011 conference.  It has my name.  It has room for “bling” (the next social approach); ribbons are typically attached at the bottom of the badge; and it lists my title, employer, and location, allowing for affiliations and connections to be uncovered (and for e-discovery vendors to mistakenly believe that I can help them somehow).  Functionally, it allows conference workers to make sure that you are appropriately accessing the sessions and services to which you are entitled, and by virtue of the database-linked bar code it also serves in the vendor hall as the modern replacement for dropping a business card in a glass bowl.  Finally, it’s where you store meal and, yes, drink tickets.

What can we do to use the concept of badges in knowledge work?  Today’s online knowledge and information systems have badges in the form of intranet people profiles.  In more advanced collaboration systems, such as wikis, blogs, and internal social networks, every piece of activity is tagged to the person, usually with a hyperlink to some kind of profile where you can learn more about the person.  In any knowledge-based information system, being able to “pivot” on a person and uncover both contact information and more about what that person has done is absolutely critical.


“Bling” is the little circles and other pieces of cloth backed by sticky material stuck on a badge or the badge’s straps (though my daughter charmingly has absconded with a KM badge and has it on one of her dresses).  Bling indicates  interest and affiliation with subject areas like knowledge management (the keys), social media (a little twittery bird), information management, and so forth.  When I was in the ILTones chorus, we had a little piano bling too.

Bling in theory shows interests and skills.  In practice, however, it is also really fun to share and trade, and provide an opportunity for people in leadership roles to do a little something for people they meet.

Doing even apparently trivial favors for someone is a great way to build trust and enhance knowledge-sharing.  What favors can you do?   How can you have your lawyers build trust with each other?

And, what bling is on your profile?  How do lawyers share their interests and expertise in your organization?


The ribbons attached to the bottom of a badge typically identify something about person’s relationship with ILTA.  They are color-coded, and let you tell at a glance whether someone is a first-time attendee, a speaker, a peer group leader, or conference chair.  To some degree, ribbons are a status indication, but they also provide an opportunity to start a conversation (“How are you finding your first conference, newbie?”).  Ribbons are also a way for ILTA to provide recognition for various kinds of volunteer activities.

How do you recognize participation in your organization’s knowledge-sharing efforts and culture?


ILTA is a peer-driven organization.  It wouldn’t survive if it didn’t do a good job recognizing and showing appreciation for its members, who do much of the work that actually leads to conference.

Part of the appreciation is expressed through consistent messaging at formal events such as conference opening and closing sessions.  I’ve noticed that ILTA Executive Director Randi Mayes always singles out the ILTA members who support the JAG Corps and the courts, as they serve the public good as well as benefiting conference.

More recently, ILTA has established a formal recognition program, the Distinguished Peer Awards, which culminates in a black-tie dinner and Oscar-style awards presentation (admittedly, without a live orchestra, awkward thank-you speeches, or closeup shots of tearful runners-up).  I was honored to be on a short list for the KM Distinguished Peer Award this past year, and was thrilled at the opportunity to be recognized for my work, as I know all the nominees and award-winners were.

Appreciation is especially important for people working in the legal industry.  Lawyers by nature are not well-versed in working with others (see What Makes Lawyers So Challenging?), and as less sociable perfectionists are not always best at expressing appreciation or providing effective feedback.  Providing consistent, formal appreciation and recognition for our KM workers and champions can keep the KM team strong.


ILTA enables connection through surfacing affiliations any number of ways at conference. There are regional meetings, receptions by peer group, CIO meetups, meetings for social media fans, different arrangements at meals, ways for new attendees to meet, etc. etc. Each different slice brings you in contact with a different set of peers and new opportunities for connection.

This rich approach to sets of groups contrasts with the relatively simple formal structures seen in law firms. An attorney will typically major in one practice area and have a minor in another, but type of work is only one (albeit admittedly very important one) of the potential affiliation slices. What other affiliations can you leverage or encourage at your organization?


I am brought back to Larry Prusak’s wise admonishments in the Forward to “The New Edge In Knowledge” (reviewed here):

  • “Although technology surely has its place, working with knowledge is primarily a human activity needing human organization and understanding.
  • Knowledge in organizations is profoundly social and best managed in groups, networks, communities, and practices.”

People will share more where there are rich and varied opportunities to uncover and connect over shared interests and affiliations, do each other  favors, and recognize and reward team member contributions.  Extensive peer connection and structures that support communities also provide a vital support for our challenging knowledge work and for optimally functioning organizations.



Knowledge Management Sessions At ILTA Conference

17 Aug

Post By ILTA KM PG Member David Hobbie

As announced in some detail on the main ILTA blog. the conference schedule and detailed session agenda are available.  There is also a session overview that lets you compare what’s happening at the same time (so you can agonize over which of  two excellent sessions with great speakers you should choose.)  The main conference site also has such goodies as an #ilta11 twitter stream, information about the venue, and so forth.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent mobile app, available for iPhone, iPad, and whatnot (yes I have an Apple bias when it comes to mobile technology).

(By the way, in ILTA-speak, one simply omits the “ILTA” in “ILTA Conference,” along with the definite article–it’s assumed that you must be talking about the conference, with this years’ taking place in Nashville, Tennessee from August 21-26.  This is an ILTA blog, so I’m going to follow that practice.)

The theme this year is “Rev-Elation,” which, leaving aside the odd spelling, definitely invokes the high energy and insight that I’ve come to associate with conference.

Conference has both a “formal” KM track (which means those 6 sessions managed by the ILTA KM PG) and  many other sessions that may be of interest to knowledge management professionals or that even cover topics in what I consider “core” KM, such as enterprise search.

This post will briefly describe and map out the six sessions on the formal KM track, in chronological order as they appear at conference (two on Monday August 22 and four on Wednesday August 24).  You may want to “follow” the hashtag comprised of the session “codes”, e.g., #kmpg1.

1. KMPG1, Advances In Document Assembly–Monday at 11 AM,  “Canal C”

This session will address new technologies and advances in this area, which in the past has been reserved for niche legal practice areas such as trusts and estates.  They’ll cover strengths and weaknesses of different vendors and approaches.

Speakers include Peter Krakaur of Orrick, Ayelette Robinson of Littler Mendelssohn, Michael Tominna of DLA Piper, and Yvonne Willis of Pilsbury, Winthrop, Shaw & Pittman LLP.

2.  KMPG2, “Social Networking In The Legal Industry,” Monday at 1 PM, “Canal C”

Speakers are Beau Mersereau, Director of Applications, Development, and Support at Fish & Richardson, Katrina Dittmer, Practice Support Manager at Baker Daniels, and me, David Hobbie, Litigation Knowledge Manager at Goodwin Procter LLP.

“Law firms, like virtually every other business today, are discovering the benefits of social networking collaboration. Learn about the use of collaborative tools such as wikis, blogs and discussion forums, and networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.”

Amen.  Heads up for attendees–this session will focus largely on internal application of social media tools, not on the (potentially significant) marketing aspects of external-facing law firm social media activity.

3. KMPG3, “It Takes A Village To Deliver Effective AFAs,” Wednesday at 9:15 AM, “Delta C”

“Learn how KM professionals and key players from finance, IT, professional development, legal project management, records and other areas can collaborate to help law firms implement successful AFAs.”

Tom Baldwin, Toby BrownPamela Woldow headline  the outstanding panel.

4.  KMPG4, “How KM Supports Innovative Service Delivery,” Wednesday at 11:30 AM, “Delta C”

“KM isn’t just precedents anymore. Hear how some true innovators in the field have tied sustainable KM processes and tools to specific legal services in ways that show clear increases in value delivered to clients.”

Howard Nichols of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey; Scott Rechtschaffen of Littler Mendelson, P.C., and Brynn Wiswall, Baker Donelson.

5.  KMPG5, “Creating an Optimal KM Strategy,” Wednesday at 1:30 PM, “Delta C”

"A sound KM strategy is essential to success. Whether you are just starting a KM program or you've been at it for years, you'll take away insight into how your colleagues have formulated or refreshed their KM strategies to optimal levels, and what did and didn't work."
Legal KM guru Sally Gonzalez of HBR Consulting joins Steven Lastres of Debevoise & Plimpton and ILTA KM blog contributor John Gillies of Cassels Brock in this panel moderated by Patrick DiDominico.
6.  KMPG6, "KM Helps Meet the ACC Value Challenge," Wednesday at 3:30 PM, "Delta C"
"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."

I'm moderating this session, the last of the track, which I previously posted about.  Panelists include  Mary Panetta of Crowell & Moring, Jeffrey Brandt of Clearspire, and Thomas Wisinski of Haynes Boone.
I look forward to seeing many ILTAns there! 


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.


Clearspire–A New Legal Business Model And A Leading Instance of Technology-Enabled Legal Collaboration

11 May

Post by David Hobbie, ILTA KM PG  

Clearspire, a combination of a traditional business and a law firm, is an innovative legal startup, which has invested a lot of effort in developing advanced enterprise information systems.   It first received coverage in the Washington Post on Monday May 9, with additional reports in the ABA Journal and the Law Practice Management Advisor, but apparently has been open since October 2010.

At present it is more a platform for legal work than a fully functioning general law firm, as they appear to have no more than 10 lawyers.  Attorneys do most of their work at home, and are not responsible for a billable hour quota or for generating business.

Their basic plan is to hire former Amlaw 200 attorneys, strip out the costs for office space and partner compensation and charge half of typical AMLaw 200 rates, still under a billable hour model but with detailed budgeting and project monitoring.  The ownership structure is unusual in that Clearspire co-founder Bryce Arrowood,  the founder of the LawCorps contract legal staffing firm, runs Clearspire Service Company, which provides knowledge management, IT, business process engineering, and other support, while co-founder Marc A. Cohen, a very experienced trial lawyer and former AUSA, runs Clearspire Law Company, which provides all legal services.  These are not babes in the woods.

From a legal knowledge management perspective, the founders and investors have definitely spent some money (and are highlighting their work) on creating a cutting-edge enterprise collaborative legal technology framework, which they were able to build from the ground up without regard to integration with older legacy systems.

The IT and KM team–which includes CIO Eyal Iffergan,  KM Director Joshua Capy and former ILTA board member Jeffrey Brandt as “Community of Practice Manager”–have done some thorough thinking about legal enterprise information needs.  KM practitioners at existing firms might well benefit from thinking about what one might do if one could “start over” and build something from scratch.

Clearspire claims that their “Coral” Community of Practice system “integrates and packages the best of Web 2.0, social networking, advanced unified communications and legal management technologies.”

Coral include the following elements:

  • Fully capable Enterprise 2.0 / web 2.0 – type intranet platform, including integrated IM, video, and wikis;
  • News feeds of information related to each attorney and their practice;
  • Knowledge management capabilities including search, internal wikis, blogs, and tagging;
  • Transparency to the client including full client access to that client’s documents, with matter dashboards and visibility into attorney availability;
  • After-action performance evaluations including discussions of possible process improvements; and,
  • Social networking including detailed profiles, presence, and chat.

I know of no firm or law department with a comparably sophisticated and comprehensive set of of internal collaboration technologies, and only a few that provide a comparable level of access to attorney availability and work product.

In a whitepaper Clearspire claims that, taken together, these technologies and activities allow “enhanced connection” and”self-determination,” and even, rather than depersonalizing the work environment, let “individual personalities” and “collective energy” come to the fore.

I believe that collaborative technologies and innovative communications can certainly enhance internal knowledge-sharing and enhance employee engagement.  Certainly part of Enterprise 2.0’s promise has been to allow employees to author content, connect and share regardless of geographic location.

It remains to be seen whether the technology, as used by the Clearspire attorneys and staff, will suffice in an environment that decidedly de-emphasizes face-to-face meetings.  Without seeming too much of a dinosaur, I don’t think there’s any substitute for that, as a means for getting to know a person and for building trust.

From the perspective of enterprise information flows, Clearspire also seeks to integrate project staging and management and financial tracking into its offerings.  It is attempting to be transparent to clients about how teams and matters are constructed, with a goal of no “invoice surprises.”  Clients have access to dashboards and a rich array of information about their matters.

The strengths and weaknesses of systems such as Clearspire’s are not entirely apparent from what is publicly available.  Their aspirations and reported capacity for enhanced collaboration and knowledge sharing are impressive, however, and their marketing’s emphasis on the benefits to potential attorney employees and clients of effective internal processes and efficiencies may be a harbringer of changes to come.


Book Review: The New Edge in Knowledge

5 May

Post By ILTA KM SC Member David Hobbie

The American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), a leading KM nonprofit consultant organization, has released a new book, The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management is Changing the Way We Do Business, co-authored by  APQC President Carla O’Dell and APQC Executive Director Cindy Hubert. The book has its own web site at  In my view, this book is a significant development for the field of knowledge management.  While it does not address the legal industry, any legal knowledge management practitioner will obtain tremendous value from this new resource.

It does not focus on any one narrow part of knowledge management activity, such as developing communities of practice; rather, it is a look at strategy, tactics, and execution for enterprise-wide knowledge management efforts.

It moves well beyond old-school KM in that it includes lessons from the related fields of Enterprise 2.0 and e-learning.  In fact, many of the KM successes noted in this book, from companies such as IBM, Mitre Corporation, ConocoPhillips, and Fluor, include use of collaborative technology such as wikis, internal blogs, social networking, social tagging, and micro-blogging.

A work of this scope and scale that fleshes out the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 technology for knowledge management is most welcome (dare I say overdue?).  The authors call this activity “social computing” and suggest that it is valuable because it increases the number of content authors, decreases the time it takes to share information, and greatly enhances intrinsic motivation for valuable knowledge activity through providing employees more control and, yes, more fun.

A wry forward from my favorite KM Guru Larry Prusak lays out three principles of the early knowledge management efforts that in retrospect were flat wrong:

1) Instead of knowledge as a static, measurable resource, it is better understood as a dynamic flow;

2) Working with knowledge is not primarily about technology, but instead is a primarily human activity requiring human organization and understanding; and,

3) As a result, early KM’s focus on the individual practitioner was misplaced, and organizational knowledge should be treated and understood as social, and social and community practices should be a key component of knowledge work.

I appreciate that the authors acknowledge some of traditional KM’s failures in the business world, but still argue forcefully that “organizations still need to get information and knowledge from the employees who have to those who need it.”

The book is based on two decades of KM research and details how to develop a meaningful and measurable KM strategy, starting with 90-day cycles of strategy development, project development and execution. I found particularly helpful the detailed discussion in ch. 2 of how to have a strategic discussion about your organization’s knowledge.  I hadn’t encountered another resource that spelled out what questions one should ask in such detail.

You should ask your attorneys questions such as, what knowledge is critical for your firm’s current competitive advantage?  What knowledge might improve your firm’s position in the future? As they note in the book, getting KM focused on what will provide the most value has the dual benefits of helping establish buy-in (the cart will have horses) and starting projects that will generate meaningful, measurable results, measured through usage, increased efficiency, and enhanced effectiveness.

While there are stretches when the book can be a little abstract, the authors have enough real-life examples of knowledge management solving real-world business problems to keep it concrete, and the steps they propose are sufficiently definite to be immediately actionable, in the way that they advocate all information should be.

In sum, I agree wholeheartedly with one reviewer on Amazon who writes, “I wish I had this book years ago when my program [read:  KM career] was first ramping up.”

Selected other reviews: