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Embracing Change: Lessons from an Immigrant

6 Aug

By Milena Higgins, Founder and Innovation Coach, Audacious Legal

Reposted with the author’s permission. Ed.

I was a 12 year old in Poland when the communist regime was in full force. People could not openly speak their minds for fear of being caught not obeying the communist rule. My parents would often meet with their friends in private, carefully selecting participants to avoid communist sympathizers, to discuss their political views and concerns for the country. Meetings like that is how an underground social movement called Solidarity got its roots in my home town of Gdansk.

I still vividly remember passing by the striking shipyard workers behind a tall metal fence with their families and supporters just on the other side. A strike in a communist country was a rare sight indeed. I felt proud of my people for taking a stand, but also felt afraid for their safety. Years later, the Solidarity movement eventually led to the fall of communism, but at the time the country was going through much political upheaval. The future was uncertain.

The winter of 1981, my mother decided to make a bold move and flee the country with my younger sister, leaving me and my dad behind. Somehow, we would figure out how to join her later. But things were not easy during this transition. Between 12 and 14, I had to adjust to dramatic changes, ultimately living with my grandmother in a city away from my home, school, and friends. After a long, turbulent two years, including a separation from my dad when Poland declared a police state with martial law, I finally re-joined my family in the suburbs of Chicago to start a new life.

In order to get through those turbulent two years, I had to learn how to embrace change. Multiple times. That experience changed me forever and influenced who I am today. I view change as a positive force that propels us forward. And leads to better things. The pace of change in the legal market is accelerating, yet lawyers in general have a hard time adjusting to change. Here are five strategies I have honed that will help you embrace change and lead your organization into the future.

  1. Focus on the ultimate goal. For me the ultimate goal was a new life in a new country. I didn’t know which country we would end up in, but I knew that wherever it was it would be better than communist Poland. I always kept that as my guide post, no matter how hard things got. Whenever anyone starts a new project or initiative, there is always a goal, a positive outcome that we expect as a result of the change. The more you focus on that result, the easier the change becomes. If you keep thinking about the old way of doing something, that will only get you to gripes and complaints about the new way. If you keep reminding people that the reason you are doing X is so that your organization can be better at Y, which will ultimately lead to Z, people start feeling good about the changes they are being asked to make. Even if the changes are temporarily painful, the ultimate goal makes the pain worth it.
  2. Measure and report milestones along the way. My family’s journey was full of unexpected twists and turns, but each twist and each turn, brought us closer to the ultimate goal. If your change effort is a three-year process that involves multiple steps, be sure to stop along the way and look back at the progress you’ve made. I advocate measuring your progress before, during, and after a change. While you’re in the midst of a large change initiative, it may feel like all you’ve experienced is pain, but when you actually look at the metrics you might discover you are actually making progress. Don’t forget to celebrate those incremental wins. Shout them out to your team. Celebrate them! They will give you the fuel to keep going.
  3. Don’t forget the silver lining. It sucked for me to be stuck in war-state Poland with my parents in another country, but having some newly-found freedom and reduced constraints as a teenager was not such a bad thing. In any change situation, there are bound to be negative side effects. But usually nestled among them are some good things. It might take a bit of extra effort to see them at first, but when you stop to think about what is going on, you can usually find them. Seek them out and shine a light on them.
  4. Look for role models. We knew of other families who made similar journeys before us. You may have done another change project five years ago. And you may remember the pain and the reward. Remind yourself and your team about that success. Or you may have a colleague or a competitor who implemented a new initiative that turned out well for them. Look to those examples for inspiration and a reason to keep going.
  5. Keep a positive attitude. I am an optimist. I see the glass as half full. At the end of the day, it all boils down to your attitude. If you are leading the change effort and you are the one grumbling and complaining about it, be sure that your people will follow your lead. If you are positive they will be positive too. And that circles right back to point #1— focus on the ultimate goal. There is a reason you decided to make a change in the first place. That reason is positive. If it weren’t you wouldn’t have started going down this path. So brush those Negative Nellies and Debbie Downers aside and keep on marching forward.

Change is a good thing. Really. Use these strategies to guide your law firm, legal department, or legal team through change to new or improved legal services. Change may be temporarily painful but it ultimately leads to better things. And all of our clients want that!

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

9 Jun

By Ron Friedmann, Partner, Fireman & Company

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

KM Evolves from Documents to Experience

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

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

Need for Experience Data Expands

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

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

Approaches to Managing Experience Evolve

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

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

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

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

Rise of Modern Tools and Processes

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

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

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

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

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

How to Survive Complex Projects, Part 3: Chunking to Completion

21 Mar

By Andrea Alliston, Partner, Knowledge Management, and Nicola Shaver, Director of Knowledge Management, Stikeman Elliott LLP

In part 2 of this series, the authors examined how to develop requirements and focus on them throughout complex projects. Ed.

Now that you have your business and functional requirements in hand, how do you to turn them into reality? It is time to start tackling the practical aspects of the project.   While it may be tempting to jump in and just get going, spending some time up front on planning is well worth it.

Get Past the Fear Factor

Where do you start?   With high-stakes, complex projects, the pressure to get it right is daunting and thinking about all of the tasks that need to be accomplished can be overwhelming. In considering the challenges that lie ahead, you may feel too many hurdles will impede implementation. You may also wonder if you have sufficient resources to tackle all parts of the project or worry about the change management required after the platform is implemented.  How to do you go about rationally planning under these circumstances?

One approach is to start your planning by looking first at your desired outcome and working backwards. Ask yourself what needs to be done to achieve your goal?   Another approach – our favourite – is to break the project into chunks – components, phases, and finally detailed tasks.

Identify the Moving Parts

Think about each major component of the project and set these down on paper. We like to use something visual like a process map or post-it notes.   For the search project we developed a visual setting out the various components of our project, the main phases for each component and the dependencies between them. Each project component was colour-coded and each phase was numbered.  This was less about the detail (that is what the plan is for), and more about keeping a big-picture perspective on the project.

The major components of our enterprise search implementation included the following.

  • Taxonomy Management Tool
  • Taxonomy Development
  • KM Content Management Tool
  • Technology Development
  • Content Migration
  • KM Content Clean-up
  • Launch and Roll-out
  • Within the broad components of any project lie many phases and discrete tasks. You need not identify all of these at the beginning, so create a project plan that allows you to add detail as the project develops. If you have no preferred vendor at the outset, your project plan will likely include demonstrations of various products and a proof-of-concept before a purchase decision is made and implementation can start.

Assign a Project Manager

Your plan is nothing without a strong project manager at the helm throughout a complex project.   If you do not have project managers at your firm, consider asking your vendor for assistance or hiring someone on contract.  You can also look within your own team for someone with good organizational skills who could perform basic project management, like plotting the tasks of each phase of the project against a timeline and keeping track of what has been completed.

The project manager should attend the project meetings with your team and take notes, adjusting the timeline as needed and acting like a human “tickler system”, sending reminders as particular tasks come due. Becoming embroiled in the project’s details and losing sight of the bigger picture is all too easy. An effective project manager can prevent you from getting lost in the weeds by reinforcing your original strategy and perspective; this will help keep your team focused.

Expect the Unexpected

In any large project, issues inevitably arise that push back the project timeline. Knowing at the start where delay will come from is nearly impossible; but, be ready for hurdles and, if possible, build some flexibility into your timeline.

We found that the key to dealing with delays is to communicate, among not just the project team, but also the stakeholders. If the original launch date no longer looks feasible, try to set a realistic new launch date and strive to meet that goal. Adapting as issues arise allows you to keep moving forward, rather than being knocked sideways by every complication.

Lesson Learned

Plan, plan, and plan: The importance of planning cannot be understated. Remember Henry Ford’s words: “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” Have your project manager hold regular meetings with the core project team so everyone understands what they need to be doing. During major projects, we meet inter-departmentally at least biweekly and more frequently if we enter a particularly intense phase of the project. We also hold weekly meetings with the KM team to keep the project on course.

Take pleasure in small successes:  We used our diagram of the project to keep us engaged.  We felt a sense of great satisfaction each time we could cross off one of the task bubbles as completed. Celebrating the small successes along the course of a project helps keep your team motivated for the long haul.

Communicate: Any complex project involves stakeholders from multiple departments, raising all kinds of communication challenges. We have found it critical to ensure that the information coming from our own team is consistent. In our enterprise search project, we met as a team before but on the same day as our meetings with IT to ensure were all on the same page before reporting to the other department. By maintaining our lines of communication and ensuring that the messaging coming from KM was clear, we were able to improve the flow of information between departments. Having said that, we know we still have some way to go. We can only hope that our next major project will be the one where we get the balance right.

Coming in part 4: In our next post, we look at the development and implementation phase of a complex project. Rest up.  You are going to need it.

How to Survive Complex Projects, Part 2: Commitment to the User Experience

7 Mar

By Andrea Alliston, Partner, Knowledge Management, and Nicola Shaver, Director of Knowledge Management, Stikeman Elliott LLP

In part 1 of this series, the authors discussed how to decide whether to pursue a major project and convince leadership of its value. Ed.

With decision making and project approval behind you, the next step is to start work on the design and detailed requirements.   In our enterprise search project, the research from the decision-making stage made it clear that we had much work to do to improve our user experience.  As a result, the theme we wanted to capture in our design and requirements was a relentless commitment to user experience.   The underlying theme for your projects may be different.  The point is to understand your theme and focus on it throughout the project.

Design for Success

The design phase of a software development project can be defined in many ways. In KM projects, design usually is about matching your users’ needs with the applicable technology’s functionality (and constraints).  Our strategy of putting the user experience first required us to engage a UX expert to help us to create user journeys, identify desired outcomes within the limits of our technology platform, and make tough decisions about our KM content and its management.  Do not underestimate the value of specialized expertise at this point in a project.

In addition to seeking expert advice, now is the time to engage your users and have them get their hands dirty. We used two techniques with our users.

  • We held card sorting workshops for lawyers to determine the system’s structure from a content perspective.
  • We convened focus groups to gather feedback on our wireframes and proposed functionality.

A set of design principles that set the tone of the project should come from the design exercise, along with the details needed to prepare the requirements. As one designer notes, “Design principles articulate the fundamental goals that all decisions can be measured against and thereby keep the pieces of a project moving toward an integrated whole.”  Your design principles should reflect your particular project; ours were the following.

  1. Keep the interface simple and intuitive
  2. Restrict filters to a maximum of 7, plus or minus 2, per page
  3. Avoid customization where possible
  4. Allow for flexibility in accessing content
  5. Provide a bilingual interface
  6. Include all filters as part of the search snippet

Business and Functional Requirements

Projects are more successful when a clear set of business and functional requirements are documented; they ensure that the business stakeholders, the internal technology team and the vendor are on the same page. Where do you start?

Some of you will be fortunate enough to have a business analyst in your firm. Indeed, engaging business analysts in law firms either on a contract or permanent basis seems to be on the rise.  But, what if you are not so lucky? Not having a business analyst role, we used the KM/UX consultant we were working with and our internal KM resources to create the needed documentation.

Our business requirements were comprised of annotated wireframes, descriptive narrative, and spreadsheets (see screen shot from one of the pages).   However, depending on your project, you will also need detailed functional technology requirements for the developers.  Once a draft is ready, the requirements should be circulated and reviewed in detail with both your technology team and vendor.

Lessons Learned

Stick to the design principles: We needed to simplify various aspects of our search implementation to be responsive to user feedback.   Our mantra became “less is more.”  While it sounds easy, it was very difficult to give up certain content management practices we had used for years.  We constantly second guessed ourselves and worried about making a mistake, getting it wrong, and losing what we once had.  We needed to be quite disciplined with this part of the project and, so far so good.  No one misses anything we took away and the benefits of sticking with our design principles are paying off.    

Discuss with the vendor: Once we had a sense of our desired design, we had early discussions with the vendor to explore options for some key functionality and get the vendor’s input on design elements we were considering.  The goal was to tap into the vendor’s expertise and address any potential issues early on in the project.

Get into the details:  Our business and functional requirements were developed when we had time to be thoughtful about what we were trying to achieve.  Being able to go back to those requirements when we were later under pressure gave us confidence about our decisions and the right path forward.

Coming up in part 3: In our next post, we look at project planning as a critical step in putting your design and requirements into action.

How to Survive Complex Projects: Search, Intranet and Beyond (a Multi-Part Series)

27 Feb

complexBy Andrea Alliston, Partner, Knowledge Management and Nicola Shaver, Director of Knowledge Management, Stikeman Elliott LLP

So, you are ready to tackle the big one – enterprise search, an intranet, an experience database, a client portal, a collaboration tool – or, in other words, a highly visible, costly project where the pressure on you to get it done right is daunting. In this series, we look at surviving and successfully implementing a complex technology project in a law firm.  We have leveraged our experience with our own enterprise search (STELLA KM), but the discussion throughout the series is both project and technology agnostic.  We have also strived to share some lessons learned that apply across a range of projects and technology implementations.  In this first post, we look at the critical decision making stage.

Part 1:
How Do You Know If You Need It?

KM practitioners have a gut instinct about what tools and resources would work well in their organization. This is based on a deep understanding of what they have today, their users’ needs and their firm’s culture.   Unfortunately, most of us would have a difficult time selling management on a significant investment in people, processes and technology based solely on our “gut.”  So, you need to do the work – researching, analyzing and developing a business case.  The question we faced was whether we needed to upgrade or change our existing platform.

Researching User Behavior

To start, you need to understand what your users are currently doing, whether they are using your platform and, if so, how they are using it. In our case, we also wanted to understand if they were using work-arounds or other means to find information. Three research methods were used.

  • Analytics: While the analytics were rudimentary, they enabled us to gather information on overall usage, top users and behavior following a search.
  • Surveys: These allowed us to gather information from users on a range of questions, including what they would change if they could.
  • Interviews: These provided a deeper understanding of how people were actually using search. We reviewed the search logs at night to find unsuspecting subjects for interviews the next day about their use of STELLA KM.

Using all three techniques gave us a nuanced view of our current users and what they were doing (and not doing) and how they really wanted search to work.

Creating a Picture from the Analysis

What does your research tell you? Reviewing the information with an internal group or data expert or someone from outside your firm can provide insights that you may not otherwise see.  We did the latter, engaging a KM consultant to provide the objective critical view that we needed.

The key to analysis is distilling your research into core themes or messages that will enable you to make a decision about the direction you want to take. They should be framed in a way that will resonate with your users if you decide to push forward.

In our case, the result was two-fold: users reinforced the importance of search, many of them citing it as an integral part of their practice; at the same time, there were aspects of search that they wanted improved.  These improvements included the ability to find content more easily based on practice area and separation of precedents, research, CLE and marketing content. Other feedback highlighted a need to simplify.

Crafting a Compelling Business Case

The final stage is preparing and presenting the business case.   We would like to point you to the perfect template but (confession) ours vary depending on the project and circumstances.  Generally they include background information, the objective or rational for the project, use cases, the impact on lawyers and other stakeholders, the technology approach and an estimated timeline and budget.  In situations where we are considering a new initiative or technology we do not currently have, a competitive analysis is also critical to answer questions like, “who else is using it?” and “what are our competitors doing?”

For the search upgrade, we presented the results of our user feedback at the opening of the business case as it was the most compelling reason for the project. We also highlighted the project’s benefits and the technology risks of not proceeding.

Lessons Learned

Keep an open mind: As noted above, many KM practitioners will have a good idea about what their organization needs from a KM tools perspective.  However, it is critical that you put that aside and have an unbiased look at the results of the research to guide your next steps.  Our research made us realize that the upgrade and improvements were more critical than we had anticipated.

Leverage your data:  No matter how poor you think your data is, it is data and you can use it.  Even a rudimentary statistic like how many searches are run can be turned into a statement such as, “this means that each associate runs approximately X searches a day.”

Tell powerful stories: As important as statistics are, storytelling and personalization are even more powerful.  We used quotes gathered from the survey questions to populate the business case.  We also made the information personal to decision makers by using stories and anecdotes from their colleagues and peers.

Coming up in Part 2: Now that you have the green light, what comes next? In the second post in this series, we look at the design and requirements phase.

 

The Evolution of IT Geeks into KM Geeks

10 Feb

evolutionBy Kathryne Valentine, Knowledge Management Solutions Manager, Dentons US LLP

As a Knowledge Management (KM) Solutions Manager, I am often asked what I do and how I arrived where I am today. Like many of my generation, I fell into information technology (IT) accidentally.  Particularly on the IT support-side, people suddenly found themselves in this new role simply because nothing came before.  It wasn’t until people with no background in technology were told to use computers to do their customary work and were expected to somehow know how to do so that new support roles began to emerge, roles for trainers, documentation writers, service desk analysts, interface designers, and all around IT geeks.  Remember, this was in a time long before Google and YouTube videos were around to help interested people quickly learn how to perform discrete tasks.

I believe IT people fall into two groups. The first group is the IT machine-people; these are the engineers, programmers, network geeks, and many others who relish the mechanics and general geekiness found in machines.  We really need these people, but often they are reserved and prefer talking to other people – especially end-users – only if and when necessary.  If they could or would articulate it, they might say something like this, “Please don’t make me explain this to a user; we don’t even speak the same language.”

And, this is where the second group of IT people comes into play. The second group, which includes me, is the IT people-people.  We are those who now fill the new roles that sprang up in the late 1990s and early 2000s as people in all work environments were permitted and then encouraged to interact directly with computers to do their job.

I remember seeing the first IBM PC on the floor of the large insurance company where I worked, standing out there all alone, and wondering, “What would you do with that thing?” No one knew.  We had to figure it out.  At about the same time that machine rolled in, I happened to be looking for a change from the training I had been doing on the sales side of the business and the company sought someone who knew that side of the business but could learn about computers.  So, for the next three years, I travelled around the country talking to the salespeople about how they could use computers to help automate much of their manual work and become more efficient.  Of course, the salespeople were receptive because greater efficiency means more productive, which means more money in their world.

After this program was introduced, the company next needed a system for tracking and managing support calls from the field and – voila – the first help desk was born. In those days, most of the calls had nothing to with things not working; rather, the calls came from people looking for ideas on how to better manage and use the information they were generating.

I next became an entrepreneur and entered the completely different real estate development and construction project management industry. We too bought a computer and printer, as well as a new miracle technology – the facsimile, or fax, machine.  Again, we had to figure out how to incorporate all of these new gadgets into doing business.  In this interlude, I needed to teach myself how to use the programs we bought to run our business, including the likes of WordPerfect, Lotus 1.2.3 and Quicken.   We weren’t learning the programs to become proficient in the programs. Instead we were trying to learn how to use them to solve real business problems and manage our growing business.  This taught me the most valuable lesson that I have carried throughout my IT career: IT people in support roles need to focus on how people work and the specific tasks they need to accomplish.  I also learned to quickly identify the most tedious tasks in people’s work and ask, “Is there a better way to do that?”

Fast forward several years and I found myself developing classroom training for federal government agencies in Washington, DC, which led to working with law firms in training, help desk support, and overall problem-solving for impatient and frustrated lawyers whose primary complaint was, “I just want to practice law; I don’t want to have to become a rocket scientist to use this computer.” There, I learned a very simple lesson that I have applied ever since: find out what the person wants to accomplish, ask questions, and listen.

By asking questions and listening closely to the answers, you learn the business that you support. You simply cannot be effective in technology support if you do not understand the business the people you support are immersed in every day.  Fortunately, this is precisely where IT people-people shine. We like communicating with our end-users, we like solving real business problems, and we like discovering new ways to perform tasks.  And in the practice of law, the observation made earlier about working in sales rings equally true:  more efficient means more productive, which means more money.

So 1000 or so words into this post, you may have noticed that KM hasn’t reappeared since the first paragraph. Where and how does KM come back into the story?  Many years of approaching IT support from the perspective of analyzing and understanding how people work to help them solve real business problems made for a natural and seamless transition into KM.  When the large firm I was working in combined with another large firm, team and role realignment opened the opportunity for me to move from IT into KM – another field that hadn’t existed and sprang into prominence at some point while I was out there in the working world minding my own and other people’s business.

In KM, the same rules apply. Doing your job well requires focusing on and getting to really know the business, what it does, how it makes money, and what its goals and visions for growth and sustainability are.  You need to know how all of this translates into the needs of the people doing the actual work. And, you need to remember that these people generally have no background in either IT or KM and likely have no interest in necessarily learning much about either.  They simply want to get their work done well.  Once you know and understand this and find out what their current problem or need is, you can identify better ways to accomplish the task at hand and explain the benefits of doing the task differently.  When approached this way, IT support and KM make their end-users happy and productive. And, they will return to us again and again with more tasks that need to be done in a better way.

Are You Ready to Go Paperless?

1 Feb

paperBy Ginevra Saylor, National Director, Knowledge Management, Dentons Canada LLP

If you still have not settled on a New Year’s resolution for 2017, you may want to consider making this the year to take your practice, law department, or firm paperless. The benefits of ditching your dependence on paper are many, and the obstacles have dwindled to a surprisingly surmountable few.  So, if you are thinking of making the move, here are few quick tips for getting started.

  1. Consider the benefits

Over the years, the content of clients’ matter files has changed from primarily paper to digital. Even so, many organizations have not fully adapted their record-keeping practices to reflect this reality.  For many, files have become a mix of paper and digital records, with neither alone telling the full story.  Of course, lawyers and firms need access to complete matter files to answer clients’ questions quickly and accurately and perform their work properly; when matters close, lawyers must secure, preserve, and sometimes transfer accurate files.  The obvious solution is to create and maintain one complete record of every matter, and doing so digitally makes sense given that most documents start out that way. Going with the digital brings many benefits, including providing remote and multiple access, eliminating redundant tasks (like printing and filing paper copies of digital content), reducing risk, freeing space, and decreasing physical storage and labor costs.

  1. Define paperless

The concept of a paperless office means different things to different organizations. For many, if not most, it does not mean purging all paper once and for all. Rather, it more likely means instituting a policy or practice of creating, storing, backing-up, and retaining operational and client files in digital format only. At least for the near future, many people will continue to find reading, revising, and proofreading content easier and more effective on paper, rather than on screen.  Some will also prefer printing material to read while commuting, in meetings, or in other places where computer access is inconvenient, uncomfortable or unavailable.  While paper continues to be a reality (and an expense, albeit a much lower one) in many paperless offices, the difference is that paper becomes a temporary convenience that is destroyed as soon as no longer needed. So, when taking an office or department paperless, decide how much paper you will continue to support.  Weaning people off paper can take time and making clear from the outset that paperless will not mean no paper goes a long way to assuage fear; however, being too permissive can cut into the benefits.  For instance, continuing to file both digital content and multiple paper copies and sending hard copies of digitally stored material to and from off-site storage facilities wastes time and money.  But, treating paper as a temporary convenience can strike a good balance.

  1. Assess your readiness

You will also want to make sure your practice is ready to shift to completely digital records; this will help you select a realistic target date and identify the processes, applications and hardware you may need to put in place beforehand. Make certain the office has an effective solution for converting the few materials still received (the occasional posted letter or fax) or created (handwritten notes and marked-up documents) in non-digital format to digital.  Depending on the size of the office, this could mean investing in or retooling centralized scanning services, multifunctional scan/print/copy devices at assistants’ work stations, or portable hand-held devices.  Consider how the office will ensure relevant voice-mail, any hard documents that must be kept, and physical objects are connected to the digital record.

To ensure that finding material in digital files will be as easy, and ideally far easier, than in paper files, make certain that digital files have been well-maintained and organized. In firms and law departments that have invested in a document management system, particularly one designed around clients and matters, digital files probably have a structure similar to or better than paper files that most people already are accustomed to; even without a document management system, most offices will have developed a system for organizing and sharing matter files on their network. However, keep in mind that everyone may not have been equally vigilant about moving relevant email into the proper place or refraining from saving documents locally.  Taking time to review and fine-tune your structure and ensure everyone is following established practices before transitioning to a paperless office is prudent.  If you have invested in advanced search technology, finding anything digitally should be much faster than even the most meticulously kept paper system; however, depending on your office’s uptake of your search engine, you may want to spend some time refreshing and upgrading people’s search skills.

  1. Do your research

Your planning process will also involve researching or updating research on your legal, professional, and ethical requirements for maintaining client matter files. In many jurisdictions, nearly every document in a lawyer’s file now may be kept in digital, rather than paper, format.  However, each jurisdiction is different, so legislation governing evidence, electronic records, lawyers, and the specific areas of law practiced, as well as bar and law society regulations, must all be researched carefully.  In some jurisdictions, original hard copies may be required in specific circumstances and for other scenarios no clear answer may exist.  For instance, gray areas may surface for environmental, real estate, trusts and estates, and tax matters.  When considering what, if any, material must be retained in hard copy, be careful to distinguish between what lawyers are required to keep as part of the file and what lawyers traditionally have kept as a service to their clients.  Each organization will decide for itself how much – or if – it will choose to retain as an added service beyond what it must.  And, even if no longer required by legislation or professional regulations, the firm may have agreed to preserve certain materials for clients either expressly or by implication; so, before destroying those hard copies, the clients’ agreement would likely be needed.

  1. Craft a policy and procedures

After completing all of the above preliminary steps, if you decide your organization is ready to go paperless, you will be well-positioned to start a project; two of the key deliverables will be a policy and procedures. A detailed look at what might go into that policy and procedures is far beyond the scope of this post and best left to those with expertise in records management.  But, as you may want to take this on in stages, some key points to think over before diving in include:

  • whether your paperless approach will focus only on records opened after the policy’s and procedure’s implementation or will also address conversion of records back to a specific point in time;
  • whether the policy will address both retention and destruction of digital files;
  • who will own and enforce the policy;
  • how any paper that must be kept will be retained, and
  • how and by whom gray areas in the law will be addressed.
  1. Set the stage

Depending on the size of your organization, change management may be your biggest challenge. In larger organizations, you are likely to encounter a mix of people who have been operating paperlessly for years (and wondering when management would catch up) and people who remain quite comfortable working amidst tottering paper towers.  Identify and start working with both groups early and throughout the project.  The former will be your champions and, as with any project involving behavioral change, will be critical to your success, supplying you with their own best practices and providing practical counter-arguments to the skeptics’ objections.  Your early adopters’ practical success stories about how they are working more efficiently and effectively, with reduced risk and stress and more satisfied clients, will speak far louder than the theoretical business case.

Anticipate and be prepared to counter inevitable objections from those who remain wedded to paper. One of the most common concerns will likely be access to documents if the system goes down.  Surprisingly, people seem to forget about all of the access issues – much more common than a system failure – associated with paper in the case of, for instance, fire, flood, blizzards and other emergencies that can keep us physically separated from our paper.  In all of these cases, we would likely have remote access to our digital files and no access to our paper.  Undeniably, systems do go down preventing access to digital content.  However, these tend to be infrequent, of relatively short duration, and mildly disruptive.  And, most organizations have set up their systems to reduce and mitigate this risk.

As we depend less and less on paper in our working environments, it seems inevitable that we will all go paperless at some point. Yet, until paper truly becomes a thing of the past, there will be those who object, focusing on the risks associated with the unknown.  For me the most compelling argument for going paperless came in the form of a New York Times photograph of confidential papers strewn across a city street that ran under the headline, “Fire at Brooklyn Warehouse Puts Private Lives on Display.”  It serves to remind us that even what is known and familiar has its risks – we have just learned to live with them.