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All About Data

3 Oct

databy Amy Halverson, Senior Manager, Knowledge Management, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

The official 2016 ILTACON conference theme may have been “Embracing Change,” but the hot topic at the conference was data.

Two keynote presentations set the data-driven tone, starting with author and futurist Mike Walsh’s opening keynote on “Re-Imagining Legal Technology for the 21st Century”, in which he described how data is being used in real time by entities such as Walt Disney World to deliver customized, predictive services and products to visitors.  He anticipates a future driven by in-the-moment delivery of information that influences behavior in real time, in which law firm clients demand real-time data and visualization tools that augment their decision-making process around legal services and issues.

Chicago Kent College of Law Professor Dan Katz’s keynote on “Solving the Legal Profession’s Biggest Problems” positioned data as an essential to the success of legal practice going forward, stressing that a lawyer or enterprise must capture, clean, and regularize data in order to then offer the predictive services (substantive, procedural, risk management) that clients will expect and demand to receive in the next decade.  Other sessions applied data more specifically to legal knowledge management endeavors, including:

as well as several others.

The range of discussion points included the practical nuts and bolts of using data in law firms and legal departments: what data to capture, tips on how to represent data visually, and some “show-and-tell” examples of data dashboards and analytics.  Other sessions followed on the themes of the keynote presentations, such as current and potential use of artificial intelligence and expert systems in legal and predictive analytics.  Conference attendees could not help but receive the message:  Data is important, it is the future, and law firms need to capitalize on it.  Less clear, however, was exactly how to implement the data directive, what challenges a firm looking to build a data culture may face, and how to overcome them.

Winning with Data

A slim book published in May, titled Winning with Data, fills some of these gaps.  The book addresses many of the challenges organizations face as they evolve from data silos to data-driven enterprises that use data to operationalize their business processes.  At less than 200 pages, it is a quick read that cites real-world examples of how companies like Facebook and Zendesk are cultivating a data culture that empowers everyone in the organization to access data and perform their own analyses.  Authors Tomasz Tunguz and Frank Bien speak from their own experiences, the former having worked at Google and now a partner at a VC fund (and prolific blogger), and the latter an industry veteran with more than 20 years’ experience working with various database and BI companies.  (Disclosure:  My employer has had, and does have, relationships with certain of the authors’ employers and entities referenced in the book.)

Even though law firms and legal departments do not have the same business model as technology product and services-driven businesses, several observations and recommendations in the book about the progression of data-driven organizations should be relevant to most professional services organizations.

The authors identify several hurdles along the path to what they hold out as the ultimate goal of “operationalizing data” – meaning organizations using data in real time to enable immediate and predictive changes in operations. Uber is a clear example of a company that has operationalized data – unlike taxi drivers who had to guess where to find fares, Uber uses data to deliver customers to drivers in the most time-efficient way possible and even increase the fare when demand hits certain thresholds.

But organizations do not reach data maturity overnight. The journey to data maturity is difficult, and the authors quickly identify scenarios and stumbling blocks that are both recognizable and humorous.

  • The “data breadline.” Much as there were lines of people waiting for free bread during the Great Depression, data-poor employees wait at the end of data breadlines. Unable to directly tap the source of the data, they are dependent on data gatekeepers who are overwhelmed with requests for data from all departments.
  • Data obscurity. Once employees get to the front of the line, then they must be able to specify what data they need and where it is — using the same terminology as the data-gatekeeper. While routine requests may be well documented, the huge increase in the amount of data available to an enterprise, and the uses for that data, increases the potential for obscurity.
  • Rogue databases and shadow data analysts. Rather than suffer standing in a data breadline, employees circumvent chains of command and find data other ways. Data obtained through personal relationships or favors is then quietly hoarded by the employee or team and used for analysis as a substitute for “official” data, with obvious risk for misinterpretation.
  • The “bastardize an existing solution” phenomenon. While the authors use a different example, we might just call this SharePoint – or more accurately, the temptation to clone a SharePoint solution created for one team, and shoehorn different data into it.

So what are the building blocks of mature data teams and data-driven organizations? The authors cite three foundational elements.

The Building Blocks

The first building block is a culture of data literacy. Everyone within the organization needs to know what data is available, what it means, and how it is used internally.  New Facebook employees attend a two-week data camp run by the Facebook data team. AvantCredit, a growing lending institution, requires all of its employees to attend a two-week seminar on the data infrastructure and data tools the company uses.  Zendesk, a help desk customer service platform, has a 30-person data team that hosts weekly office hours for the 1,000 person organization.

Second, a functional data supply chain is needed. Eliminate, or at least shorten, the data breadline.  Allow direct access to as much data as possible.  Teach employees how, when and why to tap different data supply chains.

The third foundational element is a shared data language. Establish an institutional “Data Dictionary” that contains universal definitions of particular metrics within a company.  A data dictionary ensures that everyone within the organization speaks the same data language.  And perhaps more importantly, it requires that the organization clearly define its key performance indicators (KPIs) and the equations that define the business.

The book concludes with an appendix of revenue metrics, some of which are adaptable to legal, but which also provide concrete examples of what a data dictionary may look like.

Takeaways for Legal KM

While not all lessons from the start-up case studies provided in Winning with Data are easily transferred to law firms and legal departments, many are.  In particular, the descriptions of human behavior around data seem particularly apt.  Data access and supply chains likely need to be far more controlled in our organizations due to confidentiality concerns.  But taken in context with the aspirational ILTACON sessions, the book does highlight a few subtle but potentially significant aspects of successful data-driven organizations.

  • Develop a data dictionary for your firm or department — and make it widely available. Otherwise the “shadow data analyst” and KM may inadvertently be working from different numbers or with inconsistent formulas.
  • Learn, teach and encourage data literacy within the organization. This may be challenging, given it is a complex skill set, but look for ways to create shortcuts for users by making things such as Excel templates with pre-populated cells available for budget tracking and projecting.
  • Reporting dashboards are nice, but aim for operationalized data and that changes behavior. For example, by tracking and logging the types of requests a KM department receives from users from month to month or year to year, one may spot trends that will allow your department to predict needs and push the needed materials to users when they need it.
  • Impose discipline on how data is defined when exploring out of-the-box BI dashboards and reporting.   Does the proffered output address the equation that is most important to the business? Does the output inform your firm or legal department’s strategic decision making?

Be an Explorer

gartnerWhile the authors cite to Gartner’s Data Sophistication Journey, which diagrams the path from descriptive analytics (such as monthly budget reports) to prescriptive analytics (such as risk mitigation), they suggest that the diagram is missing an important step between the retrospective analysis (steps 1 and 2) and prescriptive analysis (steps 3 and 4). Exploratory analytics — using data to search for hypotheses — should occur at the halfway point of the ascending line.  Exploratory data analysis doesn’t seek to prove or disprove a particular idea using data.  Rather, it is the use of data to test a hypothesis for patterns observed in one’s business.  Exploratory analytics allows one to see what is happening in real time, and the authors suggest it is the key to reaching the ultimate goal of operationalizing data.

The Future of Legal Knowledge Management

16 Aug

future bohrBy Patrick DiDomenico, Chief Knowledge Officer, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

While no one can really predict the future, I can tell you that I’m scheduled to talk about the future of legal knowledge management (KM) in the near future. Barring any unforeseen, intervening circumstances, that will happen on Monday, August 29, 2016, at 1:00 pm at ILTACON in a session aptly called “The Future of Legal KM.” I’ll be joined on the panel by Rob Saccone and Sam Nickless. Steve Lastres will moderate.

In addition to talking about it in the future and blogging about it presently, I’ve also written about the future of legal KM in the past. Wait, that’s confusing. What I mean is I’ve written about this topic (the future of legal KM) before. It’s the topic of the final chapter of my book, Knowledge Management for Lawyers, which I wrote (and you may have read) in the past. Or perhaps you will read it in the future (or never).

I mention the book not as a shameless plug, but because some of what follows is reproduced from the book and the publisher (American Bar Association) made me tell you that. I do, in fact, feel great shame about the plug.

Anyway, back to the future…

At the aforementioned future ILTACON session, my co-panelists and I will discuss the future of legal KM in four main sections:

  1. the current state of KM,
  2. what drives change in KM,
  3. the role of KM professionals, and
  4. the role of technology in KM.

We also hope that the audience will have questions, and perhaps, some answers. The official session description reads:

“Knowledge management (KM) in law firms has been a key component to the successful delivery of client services. Thanks to recent advances in better analytics, less expensive start-up costs and a focus on empowering the next generation of workforce, KM of the future is shining bright. As law firms move quickly to address new client-first imperatives, they are leveraging knowledge management to support smarter answers, improved decisions and better outcomes. What does the future hold for legal KM? Come find out what’s next!”

I’m not sure the exclamation point is warranted, but we will do our best to live up to the hype.

I’m reluctant to make any predictions about the future of KM because in the worst case scenario, I’ll be completely wrong. In the best, we’ll all shrug and say, “Well, that was obvious.”

KM’s changing roles

One topic related to the future of KM that came up in our presentation preparation, and in my personal experience, is the changing role of KM professionals. But it’s not just the changing roles; it’s the ability and willingness to change. I believe that one reason for the longevity and resiliency of KM over the years – and the promise of the future – is the nature of the people who are drawn to the field. KM professionals are an innovative and entrepreneurial bunch. They seek out new and better ways to do things. They are not satisfied with the status quo. They seek constant improvement. As entrepreneurs, they search for change, respond to it, and exploit it as an opportunity. This is a fundamental reason that the future of KM is so bright.

Just one example of many that we will discuss in the ILTACON panel is the changing role of law firm librarians. Now, I know that this can be a touchy topic, especially among librarians, so, please understand that this is just my personal perspective. That said, when I talk to KM leaders at other law firms, I’m starting to see a trend. The trend is not to eliminate librarians or to minimize their value. To the contrary, the trend is to refine their roles to maximize the value that they bring.

In my 10+ years in legal KM (at three different law firms), librarians have always been an important part of the KM department. It’s a natural fit. But it was not until a relatively recent deep-dive analysis of librarians’ actual activities that I realized how much of a fit it is.

For example, take reference librarians, who primarily (though not exclusively) conduct legal research. One of their main activities, helping attorneys find information using third party resources, is really the “flip side of the coin” of what many professional support lawyers do – helping attorneys find information using firm-facing, internal resources. For my firm, it made sense to consolidate the reference librarians with the professional support lawyers under one manager. We similarly consolidated the library technical services staff with the KM firm solutions staff under a different manager. As this new consolidated structure matures (we’re only about eight months in), we are finding great benefits. The tighter bond between the previously-separated groups is creating more efficient workflows and increased collaboration. Lines of communication have opened, and our customers (the firm’s attorneys) are better served. I expect additional benefits in the months and years to come.

Clients’ role in driving change

There are many more areas of change ahead in the future of legal KM. The most significant driver of that change is client demand. It’s probably safe to assume that the legal industry will survive (and thrive) for quite some time in ways that are at least vaguely similar to its current form. That does not mean, however, that there will not be changes in what clients expect from their lawyers. We don’t need a crystal ball to know that clients will likely continue to demand more for less when it comes to legal services. For years, lawyers have heard the cries from clients demanding greater value for their legal spend. These cries are not likely to stop and will probably grow more intense.

Clients also continue to demand pricing options, such as fixed or guaranteed pricing. If a matter is based on a fixed price, the only way for a lawyer to make a profit is to spend less money executing the work than the lawyer received to complete it. KM’s role in ensuring that matters are handled efficiently can help ensure profitability on those matters. In fact, no greater direct relationship between increased efficiency and increased profits exists than when a matter is guaranteed to be completed at a fixed cost. If KM efforts can help a lawyer complete a matter in 10 hours that would otherwise have taken 20, then the profit margin more than doubles (assuming a profit margin was built into the 20-hour budget). Each minute saved as a result of the efficiencies gained from KM is pure profit.

KM’s bright future

This is another key reason that the future of KM is bright. The primary purpose of KM is to improve the efficiency with which lawyers do their work and deliver legal services to their clients while maintaining or increasing quality. Greater efficiency means more for less, and this means happier clients. But some might say that efficiency has its limits; you can only squeeze so much waste out of a process or activity before it reaches peak efficiency. That’s true, and that’s when the shift in focus must go from efficiency (doing things right) to effectiveness (doing the right things). As Peter Drucker noted, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”

So, in some ways, the future is not as much about finding a better solution to a problem as it is about eliminating the need to solve the problem in the first place. However, with new ways of doing things comes the opportunity to make the new ways we do them more efficient. There is always room for improvement, and KM can help.

I hope to see many of you at ILTACON. Please consider attending “The Future of Legal KM” panel. And as a thank you for reading this far, if you would like a PDF copy of “The Future of Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession,” which is Chapter 11 of my book, Knowledge Management for Lawyers, send me an email with “future of KM” in the subject line. Free, of course. No strings, no spam.

OpenText’s New Purchase: A Requiem for Recommind?

7 Jun

reqby Joshua Fireman, President & Founder, Fireman & Company

The enterprise search market is getting interesting again and that is a good thing for all of us. The big question this week is, “What does OpenText’s acquisition of Recommind mean?”

Why Did OpenText Buy Recommind?

I think we can safely say that, with a transaction purchase price of $163 million based on $70 to $80 million of annualized Recommind revenues, this deal was about eDiscovery revenue and not enterprise search. Recommind’s enterprise search market (for its Decisiv Search product) has been close to flat for the last couple of years, meaning that annual Decisiv Search revenue is based predominantly on support payments.

Verdict: This deal was about eDiscovery revenue, not enterprise search.

Will OpenText Add Resources to Decisiv Search?

I suggest that we look at OpenText’s historic behaviour with respect to acquisitions. Tony Byrne did a great job of summing this up last month: “The most important thing to understand, though, is that as a vendor OpenText is a financial construct in search of a technology rationale. The company follows a ‘roll-up’ strategy: purchasing older tools for their maintenance revenue streams, streams which — while not always large — are almost always very profitable.”

It is hard to feel optimistic about a long-term vision for Decisiv Search. OpenText would have to do more than add development resources to the product team – it needs to innovate in an era where basic search is becoming commoditized and innovation is being driven by data analytics and artificial intelligence companies.

Verdict: Decisiv Search will remain stable, but is unlikely to evolve.

I am a Decisiv Search client – do I need to switch?

In the short-term, you have no reason to panic. But, you should start planning for the future. I have no reason to believe that Decisiv Search will not be maintained and kept current with required operating systems and integrations. However, as recently observed, enterprise search can be a core system powering content management ecosystems and search-based applications. Moving in this direction means you should look at other search technologies.

Verdict: Decisiv Search should operate in its current state for the foreseeable future. But, an integrated information environment demands more flexible and sophisticated tools that turn search into an intelligent content platform.

Where Is the Search Market Going?

There is no question that basic enterprise search delivers results (no pun intended). But, the real value lies in leveraging the search index and publishing search results via practice-centric applications. Search can power staffing applications, support pricing analysis, and contribute to risk management programs. The right search tool for you is one that:

  1. complements your existing information infrastructure,
  2. integrates into portals and mobile applications, and
  3. delivers information based on multiple data points, including user personas, time entry task codes, application context – even the time of day.

We are also tracking the evolution of more advanced, analytical search tools. Very interesting models are emerging that can be implemented in combination, rather than to the exclusion of, other search tools.

Verdict: Viable search options are available to law firms. Currently available technologies support high-value search-based applications. This path can be pursued in parallel with the emergence of more advanced analytical tools.

Is That All?

Not by a long shot. Fireman & Company evaluates search technologies with our clients regularly and we believe that this is an area with untapped potential. Whether your firm owns Recommind’s Decisiv or another search tool or is still exploring search, you should look hard at the strategic uses of search.

Stop Limiting Your Ferrari to Grocery Trips: Using Enterprise Search for Deeper Integration

11 May

ferBy Joshua Fireman, President, Fireman & Company

The traditional view defines enterprise as a tool that allows attorneys to research and leverage work product in ways that generally are not possible with standard document management system (DMS) search. Documents are returned with contextual information, including matter and people-specific information, and results come back based on relevancy, a key advance over native DMS search. Matter profile pages are generated automatically, as are lawyer profiles based on specific expertise search criteria.

This is how enterprise search has been sold and implemented across the legal industry. The model allows firms to leverage documents, matter information and attorney expertise without the need for large non-billable time allocations and attorney content contributions, while making a firm’s entire corpus of work product available at their fingertips in a way that manual KM contribution models simply cannot scale to. Firms that have adopted enterprise search tools have, indeed, experienced measurable efficiency gains, reduced write-downs, improved internal cross-selling opportunities and produced higher-quality work product.

Counterintuitively, the success of the “documents, matters and expertise” model has led to a general innovation stasis in law firms that own search tools (with a handful of exceptions). The simple and depressing explanation is that it has been relatively easy to benefit from enterprise search – which led, also depressingly, to a lack of market desire to leverage the extraordinary brains (the search engines and indexes) behind these tools. It is similar to buying a sports car and using it for suburban grocery trips.

I see enterprise search as a powerful integration layer that can provide access to integrated and contextualized information within both standalone applications and integrated Intranets. Viewed this way, search provides much more business value than just delivering“Google-like” search results. Rather, it can be used to:

  • Push information to users, using pre-determined search criteria (“canned” searches), where users see content views, rather than search results and can subscribe to topics and request notifications.
  • Target users based on who they are (personas), what they are working on (via phase and task codes) and where they are working (by application or via contextual location in SharePoint).
  • Power search applications responding to a variety of use cases from administrative departments (business development, conflicts and others) and practice areas.

An enterprise search selection must account for strategic considerations that go well beyond the legal industry’s widely accepted definition of enterprise search.

Intranet Integration

Users expect elegant, simple design in their Intranets, to drive and optimize adoption. This extends to searching multiple systems & repositories; these types of search must be transparent and intuitive to the user. Award winning law firm intranets now feature an integrated user-facing search box that combines search options from multiple systems into a single, guided user experience (see the illustration below):

F1Unified search, however, is just the beginning of the value that search can deliver via an Intranet because search can be used as a content management tool within an Intranet. Any content indexed by the search tool can be published in an Intranet by combining pre-populated search criteria with web parts that display result content in an easily consumable form. In other words, the search tool should be capable of displaying search results in multiple display formats (like, for instance, grids and tiles) as a component of an Intranet page.

This opens up the possibility of using search in place of application-specific web parts. Simple examples include displaying recent matters and documents via search. A moderately more complex example would be the display of user-generated DMS content in ways that surpass the capabilities of native DMS functionality (for example, by displaying a working file view). Even more interesting possibilities emerge when search is paired with user targeting (as we discuss below).

User Targeting

Innovative search uses emerge when we take advantage of “audiencing” where content is tailored based on Intranet user persona and page context. For example, an associate working on a matter can have relevant KM material suggested on the basis of matter profiling and time entry information. Similarly, experience location can be targeted to suggest peers (such as lawyers within two years of the user’s bar call) with experience on similar, relevant matters.

The combination of search and audiencing presents an opportunity to facilitate user movement through the Intranet by programmatically anticipating knowledge management and other needs. From the perspective of the attorney, the Intranet becomes a highly personalized work environment enhanced by the serendipitous discovery of relevant knowledge.

One of the most high-value uses of user targeting is the application of audiencing on matter pages to generate electronic matter files. An electronic matter file can meet several objectives, including:

f2providing users with a more relevant view of DMS (and other source) content via filters and content views than is possible with a traditional DMS, and

f3leveraging time entry (particularly where phase and task codes are used) to “push” information based on matter type, role and matter phase (checklists, similar relevant matters, peer experience, etc.)

From a strategic IT perspective, the development of an electronic matter file provides an opportunity to plan its long-term document management application strategy. As the legal industry considers the evolution of DM into back-end infrastructure, a web-based electronic matter file provides the opportunity to transition to a new DM model without substantial “big bang” change management concerns – the back-end can change without materially affecting the web-based front-end seen by the firm’s users.

Search Applications

An enterprise search tool can also be the engine behind targeted applications for different audiences within a firm. The following are examples of search applications:

  • Matter Auto-Prediction/Classification & Budgeting: Predictive coding has been in place for almost a decade in the litigation document review space; some search tools could be used to predictively code matter types, and obviate the need for lawyers to code them when opening a matter. With better and more comprehensive matter types associated with more of your matters, you could locate matters of the same type to help create budgets from the data.
  • Matter Location: Locate relevant matters to leverage past experience for RFP responses and AFAs; support LPM.
  • Conflict Checking: Leverage dynamically joined data across repositories; reduce risk with concept searching (e.g. Pepsi = Frito Lay); issue alerts when conflicts arise mid-matter.
  • Staffing: Make more effective use of legal resources and matching the right people; leverage dynamically joined data across matter intake, HR, Time and Billing, finance repositories; locate people based on multiple factors (experience, billing rate, geography, realization).


The development of search applications is dependent on (1) access to the search index’s data layer, (2) the ability to present content in multiple view types (grids, multi-select tables, tiles, etc.) and (3) a categorization engine able to scale sufficiently to crawl all relevant repositories and be trained on your content. The right tool, integrated with the firm’s existing data and workflow infrastructure can lead to the development of extremely valuable, purpose-driven applications.


The enterprise search market is about to leap forward, as search vendors work with clients to realize the true potential of their tools. For years, clients asked for “Google for the law firm”. Today, we realize that this was the wrong question. Instead of trying to mimic other products, we needed to look at our interactions and relationships with information in the context of the practice of law. Building those use cases takes time, but the payoff is worth it.

Does Anyone Do Taxonomy Anymore?

27 Sep

taxonomyBy Andrea Alliston, Partner, Knowledge Management, Stikeman Elliott

In an environment of increasing enterprise complexity, integration of technology systems, desire for better data and analytics, and pressure to become more efficient in our delivery of services to clients, it is time to dust-off that old taxonomy and put it to better use. Let’s start by defining taxonomy.

Taxonomy is not the browse trees that once were the backbone of our old intranets and KM repositories. Today’s environment requires a modern approach to taxonomy, covering the full range of controlled vocabularies, thesauri, taxonomies, ontologies, and knowledge graphs. Think about your taxonomy as a holistic system of terms and concepts used to classify, manage and identify content in the law firm, enterprise-wide.

Facets in Search

Many firms have chosen search as the tool of choice for surfacing content and information. As a result, the taxonomy is primarily used as facets or filters rather than for browsing or boosting search results. It is a subtle, but critical change that affects how the taxonomy is developed and managed. Unfortunately, it is not simply a matter of turning a browse tree into facets. The purpose of the taxonomy is different and that needs to be taken into account.

Linking Information Across Systems

A uniform enterprise taxonomy is valuable for linking data between disparate technology systems. If we want to ensure that lawyers are as efficient as possible by having access to the content and information they need, our taxonomies should support that objective. By using consistent tagging in your KM, DM, HR, financial, experience and CRM systems, you can gather information from them around your taxonomy tags. Without consistent tags, you may have related data and information, but no easy way to extract it and present it to lawyers when they need it.

New Challenges

Newer activities, such as pricing and process mapping, also require support from an enterprise-wide taxonomy and should inform its development. Linking financial information to experience databases is not new; however, pricing activities may force us to rethink the taxonomy we use for that information. Pricing may also require new ways to tag data to extract the information needed to develop effective budgets and fee arrangements. The increased focus, use and expansion of the UTBMS phase and task code taxonomy is an example.

Similarly, process mapping will affect our taxonomies and the way we categorise content. Common outputs of process mapping exercises are checklists and precedents. To surface those resources at the right stage of the process, they must be aligned with that stage and one way to do so is through taxonomy tags that map to the stages of the process.

User Experience

An underlying theme to enterprise taxonomy is a desire for a consistent user experience.   Lawyers, other timekeepers, and assistants should not need to figure out how information is categorised and tagged within each system they use. The taxonomy in a closing book database should match that in an experience database and the file opening process.

Lessons Learned

All of this is top of my mind as my firm recently acquired a new taxonomy management tool. Here are a few tips I have learned from the journey so far.

  • Collaboration is essential. Working with your colleagues in other business departments is critical to any firm-wide taxonomy initiative; their perspectives and needs will differ from yours.
  • Understand your requirements. For my firm, taxonomy management is made more complex by the Canadian dual legal system and bilingual (English and French) requirements. Make sure you understand your firm’s particular needs.
  • Be prepared for fresh thinking. As observed, today’s taxonomies extend far beyond simple browse trees and are used very differently. So, you need to think about the taxonomy differently; making the shift is not always easy.
  • Take it one step at a time. Making changes to taxonomy lists and integrating them into systems can be complex. Now that a centralized tool holds our master taxonomy, we are integrating it into each technology one system at a time.
  • Get help. We had one chance to get our taxonomy tool set up properly in a way that would accommodate our requirements. We also needed help shifting from a browse tree to a facet approach and simplifying the taxonomy where possible. We have been fortunate to work with Joseph Busch and Vivian Bliss of Taxonomy Strategies who, together with Jim Sweeney of Synaptica, have set us on the right path. Goodness knows what mistakes we would have made without their help.

Organizations dealing with enterprise data, information and content management should be highly motivated to re-examine their current taxonomies, where they are used, how they are managed, and how they can support the firm’s objectives. It may not be the coolest thing a legal KM practitioner does, but it is a fundamental part of legal KM and if you get it right, your firm will thank you in the long run!

Lawyers: Jump Out of the Pot!

22 Jul

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

Fact: the legal profession is operating in a mature market undergoing significant change.

Fact: many lawyers think the change doesn’t apply to them (after all, while their colleagues and peers might not, they have great client relationships and provide unique services) or that clients don’t understand what is involved and are just seeking to pay less for something worth far more.

I wish these lawyers could see what I regularly see and hear what I regularly hear. Clients, under ever increasing pressure to provide integrated, practical legal input while reducing costs, express frustration due to the lack of data, innovation and partnership offered by their lawyers. The result is that many relationships either limp along on life support or are suddenly terminated after years of a lawyer being the go-to provider.

I know from working with consumers of legal services that while they are indeed often seeking to pay less in the aggregate for legal services, they are also often willing to maintain or even increase spend on certain must-have elements of services and are quite pleased to see changes in the nature and type of services received (from scope to product to process). As a result, change doesn’t need to be a zero sum game for providers.

Those clients who truly do want the exact same product for less are sending a clear message that they no longer see the work as unique or worth what they are asked to spend.  In that situation, lawyers have two choices; they can:

  • stick to what they know, continue as they always have, and eventually operate at a loss or lose the client’s business, or
  • figure out how to help their clients address the same issue (not necessarily with the same product) for less.

I also know from working with firms that many are frustrated by the lack of attention, input and appreciation they receive from their clients. Examples abound of firms receiving detailed RFP requests with no ability to ask questions or receive context regarding the underlying business objectives. In many instances, firms work hard to suggest complex alternative fee arrangement options, only to have clients select something from off the menu – a fixed reduction in hourly rates. More often than not these situations arise when clients don’t have the data or time required to provide the necessary context or assess whether the suggested alternative fee arrangements are reasonable.

While clients do bear some responsibility for addressing the current state of affairs, at the end of the day the lawyers are the service providers and the onus is on them to come up with viable solutions. Even with cooperative clients, no silver bullet will completely address a rapidly, ever-evolving operating reality. Given the complexity of forces and interests at play, I have yet to see a firm-client relationship that is above improvement or lends itself to a quick fix. You would think these attributes would make finding a solution right up most lawyers’ alleys. After all, what lawyer doesn’t love a nice juicy problem to solve? Puzzling then that many avoid this problem like the plague. While many reasons for this aversion exist, two particular qualities hinder many lawyers’ ability to successfully take the action needed to thrive in the long term.

The first is the pursuit of perfection. Not only does a quest for the perfect legal answer fly in the face of what most clients seek, but it can also kill relationships. I have seen lawyers steadfastly cling to their historical approach of producing their ideal legal product only to lose their book of business to lawyers willing to innovate and take new approaches to clients’ needs. The journey to innovative approaches is rife with missteps, dead ends, mistakes and imperfections. Recognizing that no one right answer is out there in this time of change, and that trial and error are part of the iterative development and change process, is required for lawyers to adapt and adopt an approach that works for everyone.

The second is the perception that lawyers need not be hasty in figuring out how to proceed – after all, plenty of time remains before they will (if ever) face a burning bridge. So, many observe from afar the myriad of existing technologies that can help lawyers adapt to the new market. They consider and often reject Legal Project Management (LPM) principles, processes, tools and techniques that support identifying and making the change necessary to adapt to the new market realities. They are apparently waiting for technology that is simple, intuitive, inexpensive and helpful enough to make adoption a no-brainer. They are waiting for a simple template that can be presented in a one hour LPM workshop, adopted the instant they leave the session, and allow them to address all their clients’ needs without changing their approach to practice. They wait until everyone else has accepted and adopted a new approach. As they wait, they fail to realize that they are the frog in the pot of boiling water. Sadly, it may well only be at full-boil when those lawyers realize the water is too hot because the bridge is burning.

Some level of data gathering, analysis, strategic thinking, decision making, hard work, risk-taking and failures are inevitable for lawyers to make the adjustments necessary to successfully continue to delight their clients, while living a life that doesn’t involve routinely toiling behind their desks until the wee hours of the morning for a sliver of an ever shrinking pie.   My money is on the lawyers, firms and organizations that are taking the temperature of the water and figuring out how to use technologies, LPM principles, tools and techniques to help them insulate themselves and – ultimately – jump out of the pot.

Lean matter management: a novel and practical innovation

10 Jul

k1By Gordon Vala-Webb, Principal at Building Smarter Organizations

Part two of a series about practical and novel innovations for law firms and legal departments.

There has been much ballyhoo regarding the use of LPM approaches – both the legal project and the legal process management varieties – in law firms and legal departments. Unfortunately, while some successes with both forms of LPM have occurred, neither approach has really lived up to the hype.

This is ironic given that, like Moliere’s M. Jourdain who was “speaking prose without knowing it,” most lawyers intuitively have been using some form of their own (light-weight) project and process management. However, when firms or departments formally implement either kind of LPM, it tends not to work for two reasons:

  1. the majority of lawyers’ work varies too much – both in the nature of the work itself and the day-to-day (minute-by-minute) priorities, and
  2. both formal project and process management run strongly against the grain for most lawyers who are typically task-oriented (“I don’t want to plan, I want to do.”) and value their autonomy (“Don’t fence me in.”); the result is strong (passive or not so passive) resistance when leadership attempts to apply LPM.

However, law firms and legal departments feel the pressure to be more efficient and effective and desperately seek ways to manage and improve legal work.  An alternative that I call “lean matter management” (LMM) does this by solving two fundamental problems that make firms and departments inefficient:

  • The work itself is invisible (unlike, for example, manufacturing widgets), making it difficult to
    • co-ordinate who works on what (especially as priorities constantly change) and
    • identify how the way the work is done could be improved (because inefficiencies and gaps are hidden).
  • The workers – primarily lawyers – inefficiently switch between too many different pieces of work (this switching-cost problem is a little understood, but substantial drain on legal productivity).

Also called kanban,  LMM comes from the lean (Toyota) production approach, but applied to legal work. The recipe for simple LMM is as follows:

  • Start with the “to do” lists lawyers already keep (either in their heads – the risk of error boggles the mind! – or in a notebook or electronic device).
  • Take each “to do” for a matter and place it on a shared board under one of three columns indicating status, namely To Do, Doing, and Done.
  • As work progresses, tasks move across the columns (consider adding another column titled “Waiting” for work that has been sent for client for review).

This can be done on a physical board, with each item of work – and the name of the person responsible for the task – on a separate Post-It (see image) or using software (many free or relatively inexpensive kanban software tools are available – Trello is any easy one to try).k2

With an LMM board, the work is visible and everyone immediately sees who is working on what, what has been completed, and what remains to be done. You can add information to the work items by, for instance:

  • colour coding for priority (for example, using red for high priority items),
  • including due dates (many software tools allow the board to be viewed as a calendar),
  • categorizing tasks (to allow for filtering by certain types of work, such as pleadings on a particular issue), and
  • using size (for example, small, medium, and large boxes) to indicate hours or complexity of work.

For larger matters, team meetings could focus on reviewing the board to co-ordinate work, identify where work might be stuck, and look for opportunities to do the work more efficiently or distribute it more evenly. You could even share a (perhaps restricted) view of the board with clients to provide up-to-the-minute information on the work you are doing on the matter.

Critical to the LMM/kanban approach is understanding that adding more work to a lawyer (or other team member) who is already fully committed to other work has four negative consequences:

  • A backlog of work waiting for that person develops.
  • Time is wasted as that person switches among the larger set of tasks now assigned (because reorienting deep attention on a task takes several minutes each time; so, the more tasks, the more time wasted).
  • The heavily tasked person becomes stressed worrying about all of the balls in the air.
  • Stress increases the possibility of errors.

The LMM solution for this is to limit the work-in-progress that each individual involved in the matter has at any given time (for instance, each person can have no more than a set number of hours of work in the “doing” column at any time). Placing limits forces individuals, the team, and leader to rebalance work and priorities realistically in the moment. The alternative is to pile the work on, have people work inefficiently, and be faced with some crisis as the deadline approaches.

Using software – with people and teams across multiple matters or projects – allows a team, firm, or law department to review work on a matter (or set of matters) for opportunities to improve the sequence and kinds of tasks, reuse a board for the next similar matter, balance workloads across a team or firm, and easily keep clients (whether internal or external) up-to-date on the status of work. You can also apply kanban to legal processes (for example, foreclosures) by setting each step in the process up as a column on a kanban board.

Applying our “practical and novel” test (from part one of this series), lean matter management rates as follows:

Test Answer Comment
Usable by both law firms and law departments Yes
Not widely in use Yes In use by only a small number of law firms (though widely used in other industries, such as software development)
Available now Yes
Track record to show the business results Yes Seyfarth Shaw LLP, known for LPM excellence, notes in the 2013 ILTA White Paper article, “Agile: A Non-traditional Approach to LPM” that “Kanban boards are an effective tool to track item backlog, work in progress and completed tasks. They are beneficial in visualizing and optimizing workflow in real time, and whether electronic or whiteboard with sticky notes, they often act as a centralized hub for team collaboration.”
Easy to adopt by most lawyers most of the time Yes Because it starts with what lawyers are already doing (and allows them to change what they like), it is easy to adopt
Can be started at a relatively small cost Yes Free and low-cost tools are available
Cost-effective Yes It is inexpensive per user and scalable (if using SaaS) and provides significant productivity improvement

LMM is a practical and novel innovation for law firms and departments.

Innovation Is Not a Dirty Word

23 Jun

censoredBy Gordon Vala-Webb, Principal at Building Smarter Organizations

It used to be that law firms simply looked at each other and made sure that they were neither too far ahead nor too far behind their pack of similar firms. In that world, anyone bringing an idea to firm leadership was immediately asked, “Who else is doing it?” Novel ideas were immediately suspect. Innovation was, in short, a dirty word. And, since law departments tend to be made up of law firm refugees and have far fewer resources, they too had little inclination and capacity to consider markedly new approaches (however desperate or overwhelmed they might feel).

However, law firms and in-house legal departments (now that many are keeping the work they once sent to outside counsel) are facing pressure to be faster, better, and cheaper. Sometimes that pressure can be intense – when, for instance, a firm’s revenues drop or a corporation applies restraints; sometimes the pressure is constant – more like boiling a frog. Either way, many managing partners and GCs are now looking for practical innovation that they can implement immediately.

Those leaders should also be looking for novelty, although that word may feel unsettling to them. Competition between firms is increasingly intensifying and competition between companies is already fierce. So, if everyone else is doing something, not much is to be gained by also doing it (unless that thing has become table stakes – in which case, doing that thing becomes necessary to stay in the game, but provides no basis for winning). In a series of posts about legal innovations that are both practical and novel (see my initial list), I will cover a wide range of approaches from practice efficiency to enhanced business development that may or may not require technology.

But what is novel? And what is practical? What test should be applied before bringing an idea forward? I suggest that ideally an idea should:

  • apply equally well to law firms and law departments,
  • not yet widely used (10% or fewer) by law firms or law departments – though possibly (or frequently) used outside of legal,
  • be currently available,
  • have some track record of positive business results (something leading, but not bleeding edge), evidenced by
    • improved efficiency,
    • reduced risk,
    • increased (internal or external) client satisfaction, or
    • attracting new work (or, for law departments, expanding the department’s mandate),
  • be easy for most lawyers to adopt most of the time (the tool or technique must build on or extend what most lawyers already do, rather than require them to do something entirely different),
  • can be started at relatively low cost (say, with a handful of lawyers in the pilot), and
  • be cost-effective when fully launched.

Let me know what you think of this proposed test for ideas and my initial list of novel and practical innovations – click here to review and rate the items on the list using the test. Also, let me know of any other ideas that should be tested and explored in this series. Together we can find identify the top ten innovations for law firms and law departments – and remove innovation from the naughty-words list.

What the Amazon Echo Taught Me About Knowledge Management

29 Apr

echoBy Patrick DiDimenico, Director of Knowledge Management, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak, and Stewart PC

Have you met Alexa? She is the voice of Amazon Echo,’s new artificially-intelligent device that listens to you and answers your questions. And with the latest software upgrade, it (she?) has entered the home automation arena and can perform some tasks around the house.

If you are still trying to wrap your head around this, think of Echo as Apple’s Siri technology inside a black cylinder about nine inches high and three inches in diameter, with a blue-green LED circle around the top rim. Unlike Siri (designed to be mobile on Apple’s iPhone and iPad), Echo plugs into an electrical outlet, connects to your WiFi network, and sits on a table waiting for you to ask questions or give commands.

Inside, Echo is a load of high-tech goodness, including two speakers and an array of seven noise-cancelling, omni-directional microphones. The microphones use what Amazon calls “on-device keyword spotting” to detect the device’s wake word – Alexa. Saying “Alexa,” followed by a question or command (for instance, “Alexa, tell me the weather.”), activates Echo (indicated by the LED light ring) and transmits your spoken words to the cloud where Amazon’s Web Services technology recognizes and responds to your request.

You can ask Echo all types of general knowledge and current events questions, such as “Who is Abraham Lincoln?”, “Who won the Yankee’s game last night?”, and “How tall is Mt. Everest?” Echo responds instantly in a soothing, human-like voice (that is not at all creepy) with the information you requested.

So what does this cool new device have to do with knowledge management? It cannot store precedent documents, organize institutional knowledge, help onboard new employees, or do any other classic KM functions. The answer is not in what Echo does, but how it does it, and what it does to us. Here is what Echo taught me about KM.

User Experience is Even More Important Than I Thought

I’ve written and spoken about user experience (UX) before, and I have always believed that it is a crucial and fundamental aspect of the support of knowledge management initiatives and efforts. User experience gurus Jakob Nielsen and Donald Norman define UX as “encompass[ing] all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with [a] company, its services, and its products.” UX is often confused with user interface (UI), which refers to “the space where interactions between humans and machines occur” – for most knowledge workers, typically on a computer or mobile device screen. UI is a component of–but not synonymous with–UX.

To get people to accept anything new – in KM or elsewhere – you must break down the barriers to adoption. Even if the new thing is amazing and will ultimately make users’ lives easier, better, and more enjoyable, users must get through the pain of change. Providing a quality UX can lessen that pain, and often, change it to pleasure and delight. This is important for knowledge management because we are constantly trying to get people to do things in better, more efficient ways. The problem is that KM professionals have not always focused on user experience when trying to make these changes.

The lesson from my experience with Amazon Echo is that people will change if the experience is delightful. I have experienced this previously (and repeatedly) with a whole range of Apple products, from my iMac to the iPhone and iPad (and probably soon, the Apple Watch). Think of the iPad, which early critics claimed would flop because the device solved a problem that nobody had. They were wrong. And, what makes the iPad so popular is the experience of using it. It is immersive and intuitive, convenient and connected. It is effortless in many ways. In a word, it is delightful.

The Amazon Echo is similar, and in some ways, represents the next level of that delightful experience. Setting up the Echo is a breeze. It looks elegant and almost luxurious, sounds amazing, and seems to work magically. When you interact with Echo you don’t think about technology or how to use it; you simply do something that comes naturally – you speak. The user interface is your voice.

Because of the delightful user experience, I adopted Echo for several aspects of my daily home life almost instantly. This video of how I now get ready for bed sums it up in about 25 seconds:

The Echo took an already convenient routine and made it more seamless by eliminating unnecessary steps. Years ago, I had to fumble with an alarm clock to ensure I got up on time. When I got an iPhone, I used its built-in alarm clock app and programmed it with a few swipes and taps. When the iPhone 4S came out with Siri, I pressed a button and asked it to set my alarm. Now, with Echo, the button is gone and I simply speak my command (as if talking to another person in the room): “Alexa, set an alarm for six a.m.”.

My lights are another good example of how Echo eliminates the unnecessary. In the old days, I had to get out of bed to flip my lightswitch. About two years ago, when I bought Philips Hue Connected Light Bulbs, I could control my lights with a few swipes and taps on on the Hue iPhone app. But with Echo’s recently added integration with the Hue light system, my hands-free command, “Alexa, turn off the lights” does the trick.

These are just a couple of pretty cool examples of elevated user experience. The more you use a device like Echo, the more uses you find for it (and the more you value the experience). For example, I no longer check the weather forecast on TV, my iPhone, or my iMac. I simply say, “Alexa, weather.” I no longer flip on the radio for my national news fix. I just say, “Alexa, what’s up?” and I get an audio “flash briefing” from NPR. I no longer use my iPhone to play a streaming radio station. I just say, “Alexa, play Tom Petty radio on Pandora” (the audio quality is surprisingly good). I have even stopped squinting my eyes to see the clock, and now simply say, “Alexa time.” The list goes on.

So, how does this apply to KM and what can we as knowledge management professionals do to harness the benefits of good UX? I don’t suspect that we will soon have Echo devices in our offices answering legal questions; but then again, maybe we will. A start-up company called ROSS is using IBM Watson technology to tackle legal research and it even has voice recognition that allows users to speak their queries. Maybe Amazon will partner with ROSS and make that a reality. More importantly, we can learn to acknowledge the importance of designing a superior user experience in our KM efforts. Remove the barriers to adopting KM tools and technologies. Figure out how to eliminate the unnecessary steps to connect our lawyers with the people and collective knowledge they need to do their work and serve their clients. (Can you design an Intranet that makes critical information available in one mouse click rather than three or four?) Design consumer-grade client-facing applications so that clients are delighted, rather than frustrated, when accessing your firm’s content. Develop clear, meaningful, and delightful programs and techniques to communicate KM to your lawyers.

In short, ask yourself: how you can replicate in your KM environment the seamless, delightful experiences that you enjoy with your favorite products and services.

On a related note, if you’re interested in the topic of user experience design in SharePoint, consider attending the ILTA SharePoint Symposium in Baltimore Maryland on June 9-10, 2015, where I will moderate a panel called, “Focus on the User Experience.”

Change, Lawyers and LPM

1 Apr

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

Change is a tricky thing for most. It seems to be particularly difficult for those in the legal industry. My theory is that the profession is so steeped in precedent and tradition (always looking back) that lawyers need to fundamentally rewire to look forward and figure out how to thrive in a new environment where the days of “hours worked equals pay received” are quickly fading.

In an effort to address clients’ rapidly growing demands for certainty and value, there is currently a flurry of activity as lawyers in both firms and organizations rush to adopt project management principles. But, what is project management for lawyers really?

At its most basic, legal project management involves understanding what the client needs, looking at the process of how lawyers create and deliver what is needed, and then identifying ways to improve the process to better support providing certainty and value. Certainty should be relatively easy to establish, at least regarding time and cost, once the need and desired scope/product has been determined. Surprisingly, most firms and organizations have the relevant time and cost information squirreled away in various nooks and crannies, but not centralized or in a readily accessible data format. This makes it tricky to determine time and cost parameters for their legal products or needs.

Gathering this data, even on the most general level, is in and of itself a valuable exercise for lawyers in firms and organizations alike. The tools, principles and technology available to support gathering the data are numerous and varied, from the basic to the highly complex. At the end of the day, though, some work is required on the part of the lawyers to group their product types and, ideally, provide a general outline of their process.

Interestingly, whether they realize it or not, all lawyers have some sort of processes to get from the initial client question to their final legal product. Some of these processes are more efficient than others. Sadly many lawyers are unintentionally inefficient as the billable hour neither promotes nor encourages efficiency (such that many have never thought about their practice from an efficiency perspective).

Unlike certainty, value is more subjective. So, madly creating processes and introducing technologies to establish certainty without understanding and identifying what value means to your clients and what your strategy for achieving certainty is, likely will not be the best use of your resources. For example, determining whether your clients value low-cost certainty, outcome certainty, or fixed-cost certainty and whether the answer is product-dependent will directly affect the approach you take to planning, process mapping and implementing appropriate change, as well as developing and introducing associated technologies in your firm or organization.

For firms in particular, making the effort to adjust to really serve your client’s needs often means being willing to take a short term hit in the pocket book (this does not mean the hit will actually materialize; but, you do need to acknowledge and be prepared for the possibility) as you identify and implement meaningful change that will delight your clients in the medium and long term. Surprising as it may sound to those in firm settings, clients want the lawyers they work with to be around for the long term as switching lawyers generally is a pain.

And there is the rub, financially. Firms in particular are not particularly well set up for implementing change that takes longer than a year to absorb financially because, among other reasons:

  • most lawyers include expected bonuses as part of their personal annual budgeting;
  • most firms annually disperse the bulk of the firm’s earnings;
  • most lawyers operate as individual profit centres with little incentive to take actions that benefit their group, department or firm as a whole, in the short or long term; and
  • most successful lawyers have highly portable books of business (surprisingly few clients were adversely affected by recent firm failures).

Yet the change involved with retooling to deliver certainty and value generally takes a number of years to master. In this context, it is no wonder the needed change is so slow and difficult in firm settings. I do not envy managing partners’ roles during these interesting times.

That being said, change is inevitable and client demand is growing exponentially. So lawyers, if you are in a firm setting, support your managing partners and your firms and get thinking about what you personally can do about your process for delivering advice to your clients and what specifically your clients value. Do not be fooled into thinking you can rely on past success – financial pressures are everywhere and jumping ship during these interesting times only delays the inevitable.

If you are a lawyer working in an organization, think not about the immediate budget pressures but about what your organization truly needs and values so that you can work productively with your firms to get legal services that support both you and your organization’s success.

Working together to address the new realities, firms and organizations have everything to gain.