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Directing Traffic: Delivering Content through Roadblocks and Highways

1 Oct

Picture1By Jessica M. Hackett, Litigation Knowledge Management Attorney, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.

The project started simply enough. I got a call from the Advocacy Department Chair inquiring whether we could create an intranet site to combine the resources of the department’s more-than-ten practice groups and subgroups. We needed an area to house the department’s meeting minutes and a list of helpful links to commonly used resources, among them library, marketing, client relationship policies, and, of course, KM. Out of habit, I asked, “Is there anything else KM can do to help?” He responded, “Well, I know you all do these great forms and practice guides, but I can never find them.” Ouch.

These legal-knowledge resources, known as precedent in some circles, are housed on the various practice groups’ intranet sites. Our firm is not alone in housing precedent on practice group sites. Indeed, I conducted an unscientific poll of legal KMers and found that this is the norm; precedent is kept by the group who creates it.

But, Can They Find It?

This begs the question: how hard could it be to find an automated form? Just go to the practice group site, look under forms, and there, you will find it! Surely you will find it there. Right? For our firm, the answer is yes – so long as someone has placed the content on the correct page of the correct site and your practice group actively participates in posting content. Also, I am sure you can even find some, if not most, of these items by using our not-so-brand-new enterprise search.

During my meeting with the Advocacy Department Chair, we devised a plan. We would put links to all of the practice groups’ precedent (for instance, forms, practice guides, and exemplar documents) in one location. We would let the groups that own the content keep their materials; we would simply have a global links list of every resource for every group and subgroup. Each link would have metadata regarding the source practice group, jurisdiction, legal topic, and format – indicating form, practice guide, or other resource. The goal was to direct all groups to one source that allows them to see everything that is available. We would remove the barrier of not knowing whether you are searching for a form, an exemplar document, or practice guide. One group would no longer hoard its stellar brief on recent developments in personal jurisdiction for federal courts. Knowledge would be exposed. It would be shared by all.

Which Came First?

Tackling one practice group site at a time, a large endeavor for a firm that has been open for more than 125 years and has had a formal KM department for more than a decade, one thing became clear: some groups have been more active than others in using their practice group sites. Then I made another discovery: the more active the group, the more content on the site. This makes sense, but I wondered whether the lack of content caused the lack of traffic or the lack of traffic caused the lack of content. It became an exercise in the classic question of “which came first: the chicken or the egg?”

I set out in search of answers. In her article “Another Look at Precedent Management” published in the July 2013 Digital White Paper “Knowledge Management: Intelligent Business at Its Best,” Marybeth Corbett observed that “[t]he demand on billable attorney time is the biggest barrier to robust precedent collections.” Baker Donelson attorneys do get billable and hourly credit for contributing to the production of precedent. This program is available to each practice group without preference. With this consideration off the table, I could not help but wonder what other barriers cause a lack of participation and content. How can I encourage more participation causing or caused by (the jury is still out) more content?

We will soon debut the global list on the brand new Advocacy Department site. I suspect that seeing side-by-side where each practice group stacks up against the others will drive participation and content. This will also give KM the opportunity to formally reeducate every attorney in the department on the topics of practice group sites and precedent management.

To disrupt the status quo, our KM department will purchase gift cards to be used as raffle-type prizes for some of our less active practice groups. The cost of entry will be one item of content. An attorney increases the chances of winning for each item submitted. Of course, in true KM fashion, content will be vetted before the attorney gets credit.

What Do You Think?

ILTA KMers would love to hear from you. Can you solve the riddle of which came first: content or traffic? What is your firm doing to encourage the creation of content? How is your firm directing traffic to content? Do you have any innovative ideas for encouraging traffic and content?

Why Sharing Is Power

13 Jun

headsBy Peggy Lahammer

In the January BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review 2014, we learned that corporate counsel spending for outside counsel is flat and that competition for “primary” or even “secondary” law firm status is highly competitive. However, firms that can deliver consistently superior client service will win the hearts and pocketbooks of their corporate clients and be able to grow their business, outstripping the legal services industry’s current flat growth trend.

A firm’s knowledge base, both physical and intellectual, is one of its greatest assets and, when leveraged well, can create a competitive advantage that will result in a superior quality work product in less time. Central to the development of a knowledge base is the need for attorneys to share information. In my experience, those firms that are able to gain attorney buy-in and then develop KM initiatives that effectively leverage that knowledge base tend to be the most successful over time.

The Sharing Problem

Attorneys must be willing to share their relationships, their expertise, their forms and templates, and even their bits of insight on their clients’ needs. Unfortunately, this is where the problem lies—attorneys as a group have personality traits that make sharing not intrinsic to their natural way of functioning. To make matters worse – and perhaps in part because of those personality traits – many law firm compensation structures do not adequately reward attorneys for sharing.

Dr. Larry Richard, an attorney and psychologist, has explored attorney personality traits for over 20 years using the Caliper Profile. His research shows that, as a group, attorneys score far higher than members of the general public for a personality trait known as skepticism. In fact, they tend to have an average score in the 90th percentile for this trait. “People who score high on this trait tend to be skeptical, cynical, judgmental, questioning, argumentative and somewhat self-protective” and have a tendency not to trust others. Although skepticism may serve attorneys well in representing clients, it can detract from a collaborative working environment.

Indeed a climate of trust is essential to delivery and effective use of information capital at a firm. If attorneys are skeptical of the value of sharing their information, they are less likely to share it – even if it may benefit the firm and result in improved client results. If KM professionals have to spend much of their time and energy defending the need to share information, rather than organizing and creating easy access to it, they may waste considerable time “making their case” instead of proving its value through improved shared resources. In my experience, potentially beneficial KM initiatives dependent on shared information will wither and die in a firm climate that does not support sharing.

Compounding attorney personality tendencies are attorney compensation models that may not reward sharing activities. Financial rewards must be given to attorneys to engage in non-billable activities that deliver information. Without financial compensation, there simply is little incentive to take time away from billable or revenue generating activities for important KM initiatives. Firm administrators must expect that attorneys will share their intelligence, and KM professionals must make it quick and easy for them to do so, so that they can effectively leverage it for the benefit of all firm members.

Examples of Success

In my many years of working with firms, I have been fortunate to learn of some great examples of effective sharing programs at law firms. For example, I know of one practice group that is highly dependent on form documents for its practice; the group carefully creates and regularly updates templates through a committee process. No changes are made to the templates without review of the necessary changes by those who are most familiar with changes in the law. Also, the documents are secured so that only members of the team have access to the templates, and any use of those documents results in a financial credit to those who created those forms.

Another successful content sharing program I have seen is the use of dynamic public Outlook folders mapped to a legal taxonomy. Each folder contains the top node of the legal taxonomy, with sub-folders for categories of content. Each document is placed in an appropriate topical sub-folder, with the document name displayed through a single click drill-down. Locating this content in Outlook is ideal given that Outlook is where most attorneys live for much of their time in the office. The browsing capability through the familiar click-through tree format is understood and easy for attorneys to use. The documents all have security so the templates cannot be modified without approval and the public folders are displayed only for those who should have access to those documents. All attorneys who contribute to this document repository are rewarded at compensation time for sharing their content.

Although many other examples of effective KM programs that reward attorneys for sharing exist, we all have colleagues who hoard their intelligence hoping that it will garner them exclusive power and future revenue opportunities. They hope that by retaining exclusive control over key client relationships, intelligence on client needs, and valuable work product they will have a competitive advantage over their colleagues. That way of thinking is from the old world where knowledge was power and where collaboration and sharing were not essential to the growth of all business, including law firms.

This old perspective is one that I would have expected from the US military intelligence establishment, which is why I was surprised to hear Stanley McChrystal’s recent TED Talk on sharing. He describes why US military leadership decided to embark upon a cultural shift from the old “knowledge is power” intelligence strategy to a new “knowledge is shared” policy. McChrystal sought to give intelligence to not only those with a demonstrated need to know, but also those who should know and could make positive use of it. McChrystal notes, “[I]t was [a] fundamental shift, not new tactics, not new weapons, not new anything else. It was the idea that we were now part of a team in which information became the essential link between us, not a block between us.”

In the US security context, the risks associated with sharing information with those who may do us harm are high and must be thoroughly assessed because failure can be catastrophic. Unlike the military environment, however, the risks associated with oversharing in the law firm context are low and largely preventable. Concerns over sharing information with colleagues who may not be experts in the use of a template, may want to undermine the client relationship, or do not fully understand the nature of the work or relationship can all be mitigated by reasonable KM policies and financial rewards for productive sharing behaviors.

I believe there is a compelling business need to share intelligence within law firms to deliver better client service and work product, and those who are able to effectively leverage shared intelligence will become the most powerful and profitable firms over time. If the U.S. military can change its ethos, I believe law firms – even with their lot of skeptical lawyers – can change as well.

Storytelling in Legal Knowledge Management

28 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Legal KM Can Learn From Helmets and Seatbelts

22 Jul

Sky DiversGuest Post by Evan J. Shenkman of Ogletree, Deakins

 Can legal KM initiatives actually increase attorney carelessness and risk-taking? Risk compensation, an interesting behavioral phenomenon that has time and again been highlighted in our species, may lead to this odd result.  According to a study by Canadian psychologists, school-aged kids tackling an obstacle course engaged in far more reckless behavior once they donned safety gear. A similar correlation has been observed in drivers (seatbelts embolden drivers to speed), skydivers (advances in parachute safety cause more high-risk maneuvers) and ahem, lovers.

The experts call this phenomenon “risk compensation” or “risk homoeostasis.” In a nutshell, the theory suggests that people tend to engage in riskier behavior upon introduction of improved safety systems, jeopardizing (or even negating) the intended benefits of the improvement.

So how is this relevant to legal knowledge management? Exemplar documents are the prized “best practices” of the firm – gold-standard legal templates promoted by KM for ready, efficient use by the firm’s attorneys. They are the helmets and seatbelts of the KM world. When KM promotes exemplars it must anticipate some degree of risk compensation and expect ordinarily risk-averse attorneys to rely upon them blindly, without their ordinary degree of professional judgment and review. A few critical safeguards are therefore in order:

1.      Set Up a Periodic Exemplar Review Schedule

 What’s worse than an attorney relying on an outdated form? Hundreds of attorneys blindly relying on your outdated, KM-blessed form. Laws change; exemplars become stale. A structured review schedule for any KM exemplar is a must, with a minimum review cycle of every six months.

2.      Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew. 

Keeping high quality exemplars up to date takes time and KM resources. It’s better to have a manageable few dozen exemplars of the most valuable documents than hundreds or thousands of exemplars that cannot be properly maintained and updated. Remember: attorneys will often accept and use these exemplars without substantive review; if you’re going to have them, they all better be good.

3.      Add “Last Reviewed” Dates to Your Exemplar Documents

All exemplars should prominently display a “Last Reviewed” date in the header of the document, in bold, red typeface. Attorneys will quickly ascertain whether updating is necessary before use – and can ignore misleading “last saved date” metadata.

4.      Add a Prominent Disclaimer

Finally, despite the best of intentions and much like seatbelts and safety gear, no exemplar is fail-safe. A prominent disclaimer (again, residing in the header) can remind attorneys of their obligation to exercise their professional judgment in connection with the use of any exemplar (and at a minimum, will require the attorneys to pause and take the affirmative action of deleting the disclaimer before using the document). The disclaimers should stress that despite their potential usefulness as a template, the exemplars may be outdated, inapplicable or inappropriate under the circumstances or in any particular jurisdiction.

Microblogging Lite: A Brief How-To

29 May

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

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

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

The Opportunity

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

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

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

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

The Solution

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

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

Custom webpart living on our intranet homepage

Custom webpart living on our intranet homepage

Custom webpart living on our intranet homepage.

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

1-Microblog 2

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

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

1-Microblog 3

Digest email sent out at the specified interval.

LeanStreams Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technical Details

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

1. Enabled incoming email settings in SharePoint Central Administration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evolution of KM from Content to Tools to True Productivity

23 Jan

Guest Post by Ron Friedmann,  Prism Legal and Fireman & Co.  

What is knowledge management today?  Recent developments in the legal publishing world provide one path to answer this question.  And the answer may not be what you think.

Early in January, I was struck when Thomson Reuters (TRI), owners of Westlaw and other primary and secondary legal content, acquired the Practical Law Company (PLC).  Legal KM professional know that PLC, with its precedents and legal updates prepared by very experienced and specialized lawyers, substitutes for much of what professional support lawyers do.

I can say the same about Reed Elsevier’s Lexis Nexis.  For example, see my August 2012 post, LexisPSL – Automating and Standardizing Practice Support , which describes a product that I suggested competes with PLC.  In it, I took special note of additional tools for lawyer such as checklists, forms, and calculators.

At minimum, we could conclude that two major legal publishers “are getting more into KM.”  That’s true, but rather limited.  The bigger conclusion is that legal publishers are moving from providing content to solving problems.

As I was contemplating this blog post in mid-January, I read about a blogger meeting convened by TRI.  The reports make clear that TRI is explicitly shifting its focus.  Jean O’Grady, at her Dewey B Strategic blog, wrote on 17 January 2013, Thomson Reuters Legal Announces New Strategic Direction: Content no Longer King, Shift to Client Centric Platforms.  She reports that “TR Legal was evolving from a content company to a software company focused on providing integrated platforms supporting total workflow, collaboration and mobility.”  Ryan McLead, at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, wrote on the same day On the Tendency of Vendors to Release New Products and then Seek Publicity.  He reports “Thomson now sees itself as primarily a software and solutions company, rather than an information and news provider.”

Those of us in legal KM should not be surprised.  After all, we are undergoing a very similar transition ourselves.  For much of the 1990s, legal professionals did not even use the “KM word”.  Instead, we talked about work product retrieval and precedents.  That continued into the new century when we finally realized how hard it is to find work product and to write, maintain, and organize precedents.

Moreover, we realized that “content is not enough”.  We broadened our focus to finding experienced lawyers and finding relevant matters.  Both of these have value in their own right and lead to relevant content.  Of course, we were aided by the development of software that automated much of the effort to accomplish all this.

More recently, KM has shifted again and I choose “shift” carefully.  Many KM professionals today focus on legal project management, alternative pricing arrangements, and process improvement.   In my view this reflects more a discontinuity or abrupt shift than ‘evolution’.

Legal KM, like legal publishers, sees the light: content is only a means to an end.   Even software is only a means to an end.  The real end, the real goal, perhaps the Holy Grail, is improving lawyer productivity; is solving real problems.

At one time, we thought it sufficed to make it easier to find cases (Lexis or Westlaw) or to find work product or precedents (KM).  Today, anyone who supports lawyers, whether in firms or provider companies, sees the need to do more.  The “more” is improving how lawyers work and serve clients.  The “more” is improving how law firms operate as businesses.   I think we are making good progress and that our progress will continue.

The bigger question may be, will lawyers see the light and embrace what we are doing?  I have no doubts some will and some will not.  In the 1990s, the answer turned out not to matter.  In these challenging economic times, in these times of price pressure, in these times of profit pressure, I think we will see that the answer indeed matters.

Using Your Document Management System for Knowledge Management – Conference Session

16 Aug

Post by Patrick DiDomenico, ILTA KM Steering Committee

For anyone attending the upcoming ILTA conference in Washington, DC and interested in learning about ways to further your firm’s KM initiatives by using the Document Management System (DMS) and other tools you may already have in place, I’ll be moderating a session on “Using Your DMS for Knowledge Management” on Monday August 26 at 2:30 pm.  The hashtag will be #kmpg3.

The session will first present an analytical framework showing how common KM challenges — such as managing and accessing model and sample documents, finding internal and external experts, and finding precedent deals and cases – can be addressed via a DMS alone or by combining the DMS with a different front-end user interface or back-end database.  The four panelists will then present case studies of how their firms have addressed KM challenges in these ways.  The four panelists–Chris BoydApril Brousseau, Eric Hunter, and Rick Krzyminski–will then present case studies of how their firms have addressed KM challenges in these ways.

Both the framework and the case studies should provide helpful guidance for anyone seeking to harness existing firm resources to further their KM goals.  I encourage you to attend if interested!