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Book Review of “The Sherlock Syndrome: Strategic Success through Big Data and the Darwinian Disruption,” Eric Hunter

4 Mar

bookby David Hobbie, Litigation Knowledge Manager, Goodwin Procter LLP

Eric Hunter is a legal knowledge management colleague and recipient of ILTA’s 2010 Knowledge Management Champion Distinguished Peer and Innovative Member awards. He is Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Technology Strategies at Bradford & Barthel, LLP (a California law firm focused on worker’s compensation) and also Executive Director of the Spherical Models consultancy.

His wide-ranging report (available at Amazon, Ark Publishing or Amazon Kindle) puts business analytics and the insights it offers at the core of wide-ranging potential changes in legal and other industries. Though future-oriented, it spends most of its time on developments whose beginnings are firmly entrenched, such as video search, wearable tech, big data, and data visualization.

Through my own work I have come to believe that legal organizationss – and perhaps organizations in general – can obtain significant competitive advantage by leveraging analytics and technologies and taking better advantage of our increasing connectivity and ability to share inside and outside the organization. Hunter’s report provides more substantiation for those beliefs, and also projects ahead to suggest how to prepare for the increasingly rapid changes that are coming. I appreciate that Hunter is “walking the walk,” talking about increased sharing while doing so himself through this book and his many presentations at Ark and ILTA conferences (referenced throughout the report).

Sherlock Syndrome

The title’s “Sherlock Syndrome” concerns our increasing ability to observe, sense, cross-reference, and analyze information and trends much more comprehensively than before through data analytics and Big Data. The trend is one of massive increases in the ability to recall, analyze, and leverage information. Hunter posits that, at least with respect to personal preferences and search patterns, “everything is becoming predictable (and therefore marketable) through analytics.” Particularly striking to me is the thought that not only are the abundance of data and power of our computers increasing rapidly, but also the sophistication and availability of easy to use analytics tools are making this information actionable in ways that were never before possible.

I have seen this myself in my firm’s exploration of the Tableau data visualization tool. Business use-cases for Sherlockian advanced perceptions include forensic (criminal) investigations, insurance claim investigations, and, of course, targeted consumer advertising.

Darwinian Disruption

Hunter also believes that “Darwinian data disruption” is affecting the entire business world. It is not simply data—though the scope of data is increasing dramatically every year—but also computational and analytical capacity that is growing so dramatically. Hunter’s disruption is Darwinian because leveraging these changes provides a clear competitive advantage and those organizations and business leaders able to adapt to the new environment will survive. Businesses that cannot adapt to and take advantage of these technologies and changes may not survive. It may have been said many times before, but it is true: as Hunter observes with many examples, we are seeing accelerating levels of market disruptions as companies learn to innovate faster.

The (Edward) Snowden Effect

Hunter spends a good deal of time digging into the “Snowden” effect (not David Snowden the KM guru, but Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor). In Hunter’s view, Snowden’s revelations of widespread government capture of vast amounts of personal information in pursuit of national security encapsulate the inevitable tension among privacy, the right to share, and the (security and other) benefits of access to others’ information. Snowden demonstrated that cross-border information sharing is happening and will happen more and more. The NSA, US government agencies, and other governments that capture and share personal information are in his view just taking to an extreme and for different ends what corporations like Facebook and Google already do to target advertising to consumers.

The Predictive Orchestra

A skilled jazz and classical bass player, Hunter hits my sweet spot with an extended metaphor of a “predictive organization” as symphony orchestra, all playing from the same music and not simply following a leader, but also anticipating the melodies and entrances of other sections. (I would promote leaderless orchestras like New York’s Orpheus chamber ensemble as a better fit for his progressive view than the hidebound, intensely hierarchical traditional symphony orchestra. For instance, in a traditional orchestra, the musicians within a section are positioned on the stage by rank according to purported ability!)

Legal Industry Impacts

Hunter does not neglect the implications of these much broader developments for the legal industry. Within law firms, Sherlockian advanced perceptions aid pricing, methods for doing legal work, internal communications, and understanding and addressing client needs. The new technology, analytics, and cross-border flow of information have the potential to greatly enhance law firms’ understanding of their clients and clients’ understanding of legal issues. The technologies increase the capacity for clients and firms to build “targeted relationships” and provide a continually expanding set of opportunities. And, the same data collection and predictive analytics that Facebook and Bing use to identify our consumer interests also identify our business needs. Analytics technologies can be applied directly to some types of legal issues, such as the likely extent of exposure from a given worker’s compensation claim.

Another example is law firms’ new ability to bring transparency to matter work, including data analytics around pricing and profitability, staffing models, and project models. Hunter spells out how the concept of “velocity billing” combines client-specific account managers, predictive analytics driving client- and firm-appropriate fee arrangements, and social collaboration around matter and client work has affected his firm. In combination, these processes and technologies lead to very efficient and client-targeted legal work.

Another instance of these technologies manifesting in law firms is his own firm’s adoption of Google Plus (“G+”). While much-maligned as the place where only Google employees “hang out,” Hunter sees G+ as a great example of a system that is both inward- and outward-facing and combines search with a designed social platform. Creating a G+ circle is the kind of fluid, effective, searcheable content and process management Hunter sees in the future of legal work. For Hunter’s firm, G+ is both an internal- and partially external-facing social network and platform. He notes that social network implementation and internal change management, like the pricing and client management projects he has had so much success with, involve different change management dynamics needing different approaches.

For law firms and the general corporate world, the technologies, techniques, analyses, and insights gained and shared so rapidly can be applied to not just readily quantifiable attributes of work such as hours, effort, and outcomes, but also leadership and change management at the levels of self, team, and organization as a whole. Hunter’s exhortations on leadership are very similar to what you might hear from many an Eastern-philosophy or martial arts- influenced business leadership book; what differs is the tie-in to his Sherlock/Darwin analysis.

Hunter suggests that people, teams, and organizations should be reinventing themselves through these enhanced perceptions and abilities every 18 months.

Complaints, Conclusions, and Inspirations

One concept that could have been more clearly elucidated is Hunter’s “spherical analysis/spherical modeling.” Google search suggests that these terms are not widely used in the business intelligence or data analytics communities—references to spherical analysis or models typically relate to variogram models that address how distance effects correlation between variables or a method of modeling magnetic forces (see the spherical models Wikipedia article.)

Much of the report is fairly abstract; I would not go to this book for an introduction to business analytics or Big Data. Nor was it entirely easy to read, with a fair amount of repetition and some extraneous quotes from Ghandi, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Hunter’s martial arts instructor. Finally, the size of the book’s print is too small (at no more than 10-point font) and somewhat faint. Perhaps the book is easier to read on-line (admittedly an appropriate production strategy given the book’s topic).

Overall, I found Hunter’s report an intriguing and inspiring application of broad industry, technology, analytics, and behavior trends to the ground level of the key interactions between law firms, legal work, and clients. His predictions about predictive analytics and more are in some cases not predictions at all; he shows how these can play out and have an impact on a legal practice area. They should not be ignored. I would not be at all surprised if many of his other predictions are soon borne out more broadly in our industry.


The Evolving Outward-Facing Role of Knowledge Management (Part 2 of 2)

24 Jun

Guest Post by Corinn Jackson and Karen Sundermier, Littler Mendelson

In our previous post, we discussed how we see the KM role evolving from inward-facing support of practicing attorneys, to direct client services geared towards in-house attorneys.

Here, we consider how KM can successfully approach this changing role and answer the question we posited earlier: WDIHCW?  What do in-house counsel want?


In-house counsel are busy, intelligent, multi-tasking attorneys fielding questions from and advising many business units within their organization.  They want something at their fingertips that keeps them up-to-date on a wide range of areas of law.  Dependable publications from their outside counsel can serve as a first stop for in-house counsel when they have a general question about the law.  Whether these are large legal compendiums that cover multiple areas of the law in a variety of jurisdictions, or smaller more narrowly-focused guides, reliable publications of any variety can be an invaluable resource for in-house clients.

In this vein, publishing shorter online articles is a way for a KM department to provide in-house counsel with to-the-point summaries of legal developments, new cases, and new laws. In providing brief, timely legal publications, we should ask ourselves, WDIHCW?

Clients want the bottom line: “How does this affect my company?  What does it mean for our business?  Do I need to do anything?”  By their nature, online articles are not only timelier and less labor-intensive than more in-depth treatises, but they comprise a strategy any KM department—regardless of firm size or specialty—can employ to keep clients up to date on emerging legal developments.

Our ASAP articles, which are concise analyses of up-to-the minute legal developments by region, are distributed based on client-identified industry and legal areas of interest.  Likewise, Littler’s 11 different legal blogs on a variety of subjects allow clients to subscribe based on their specific area of concern.  For example, a large retail client that employs primarily hourly workers in a number of different states may be more interested in our Wage & Hour Counsel blog, while a smaller tech company might be more interested in our Workplace Privacy Counsel blog.

Subscription Expert Systems-GPS

In-house counsel are also looking for quick solutions to those “fires” they are called to put out.  Take the company with operations in several states that needs to know plant closing and layoff laws of six states immediately, lest they inadvertently break those rules by not providing enough notice of a major business restructuring happening in 61 days. While in-house counsel could call on the law firm attorney, who likely will draw on KM resources to answer the question, a KM department adds value (and pleases clients) when it offers topical legal research that in-house counsel can access from their desks, without picking up the phone and incurring a charge each time.  At Littler, we offer A Guide to Policies by State, or GPS, which is a subscription service that offers clients a continually updated database of select employment regulations for every jurisdiction in the country.  While some may argue it is not KM’s job to answer legal research questions, providing a technological platform to deliver research answers to clients is exactly what KM should be doing.  KM’s success comes when it can move outside the walls of the law firm and extend the invaluable service it has been providing to firm attorneys directly to firm clients.

Matter Management And More–Littler CaseSmart

A central goal for any successful KM department is to continually monitor new technological developments to employ cutting-edge platforms to deliver the resources necessary to most efficiently answer clients’ needs—sometimes before they know they have them.  Clients do not want to pay a law firm to continually reinvent the wheel.  One significant way that law firm attorneys can retread the same ground is processing employment charges (filed with an administrative agency) for the same client, a process which can in many ways be rote.

By developing a support system for employment charges filed with state and federal administrative agencies, which involves customized work-flow, assignment tracking, and document automation—we call it Littler CaseSmart—we have drastically streamlined the time it takes for our attorneys to respond to administrative charges.  Beyond merely streamlining the process for firm attorneys processing these charges, Littler CaseSmart provides a client dashboard showing the status of each charge and capable of creating customized reports based on the specific data the client is seeking, such as the regions where charges may be on the rise, whether certain supervisors are being repeatedly targeted, or how different state agencies may approach and resolve charges.  Clients may also monitor the dashboard to make efficiency determinations regarding how the work is being processed.  Indeed, such aggregation of data and resulting comprehensive view for in-house counsel is typically well beyond what companies have the means to create and maintain on their own.

Client Self-Help

Further value-add from KM can include automated documents, secure client extranets, customized e-newsletters, and web-based training programs to provide directly to clients.  One new platform Littler offers clients is the Healthcare Reform Advisor, a free, web-based, interactive online system that helps employers determine whether they are at risk of having to pay a penalty under the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) “pay or play” mandate and estimate what those penalties may be.  After employers complete the online evaluation, Littler’s Healthcare Reform Consulting Group offers a brief consultation to discuss the results and potential risks for penalties under the ACA.


Every KM department is different and the key to determining what components work best for your firm’s clients is to not only help provide traditional legal services, but to focus on applying the expertise of your attorneys delivered through the latest online technologies.

KM is moving beyond its original audience of firm attorneys and the corporate organization and now communicates directly with the purchasers of legal services.  KM can answer WDIHCW and respond to client needs in innovative ways that stretch far beyond the traditional attorney-client relationship.

Ark Conference on Knowledge Management In The Legal Profession

2 Oct

Post By David Hobbie, ILTA KM Blogmaster

Win a full pass at Ark Group’s 8th Annual Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession conference – Courtesy of Ark Group and ILTA’s KM Steering Committee.

The formal conference theme is worth quoting:

As the legal profession bends and begins to adapt to the needs of a new economy, many law firms find themselves in transition—recalibrating for innovation in an effort to ensure that the firm is not merely a survivor, but a leader.

More than ever before, clients are focused on how legal work is going to be done. Law firms need the tools and processes that drive true efficiency in service delivery and this is not a one-dimensional problem as it includes pricing, planning, matter management and reporting—as well as execution of the work itself. For KM to remain a vital function for firms (as it should) it will need to be focused on solving the core challenges facing firms today—versus the litany of needs described by the past.

Ark Group’s 8th annual Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession conference will challenge the entrenched orthodoxies—dissecting the standard practices and processes that law firms assume they must do (because this is the way they have always done it)—confronted by rationalized business processes (i.e. the ones that every other industry has adopted).

The challenge ahead of us isn’t as much about making the case for KM leadership as it is about finding the right skills to pioneer new initiatives. Some KM practitioners may have these skill sets—and some may not. Regardless, law firm leaders must start rethinking the “just in case” model of precedent and research collection—and find ways to marshal their resources to provide the necessary infrastructure to make course corrections, change business processes, and improve decision-making frameworks enabling law firms to deliver unparalleled breakthroughs in agility and efficiency.

This year’s conference (taking place this October 24-25 in NY) is premised on a business background of increased client attention on how legal work gets done.

Speakers include keynoter  Toby Brown (of Three Geeks) on The Economics of Law and the Future of KM,  ILTA KM Steering Committee members Scott Rechtschaffen, Patrick DiDomenico, Chris Boyd, Andrew Baker, and the author, along with KM luminaries such as Risa Schwartz, Jeff Rovner, Oz Benamram, Tom Baldwin, and Mary Abraham.

To enter a raffle for a free pass, simply submit your name to – Make sure to put “ILTA’s KM Blog/Conference Pass” in the subject line.

The winner will be chosen at random on Friday Oct 5th and their name will be posted here.

Book Review: The New Edge in Knowledge

5 May

Post By ILTA KM SC Member David Hobbie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected other reviews:


2010 KM Survey

13 Apr

Post by David Hobbie, ILTA KM SC
Survey Managed By Mara Nickerson, ILTA KM SC

The 2010 KM Survey was released as part of the June 2010 White Paper, and again as a separate document (with breakdowns by firm size) in December 2010.  It was the second survey conducted by ILTA’s Knowledge Management peer group, the previous one was done in  2008.

The survey gives us the opportunity to look at trends and hot topics in the KM legal space.  You might even want compare and contrast those listed here with Ron Friedmann’s March 2011 “What’s Hot In KM” post.

It also provides members of  the peer group with information against which to measure their own KM initiatives. For instance, I’ve used the list of the primary areas of KM responsibility, as indicated in the survey for firms of my size, as background for an assessment of my own firm’s knowledge management program.

The survey suggests that primary areas of KM program activity are:

  1. Portal creation or development
  2. Enterprise search
  3. Strategy development
  4. Document management system implementation
  5. Email management
  6. Precedents work (what I call “substantive KM”)
  7. Matter management
  8. Supporting alternative financial arrangements
  9. Enhancing internal collaboration.

Looked at from a high-level perspective, such surveys of activity help point the way towards a competency framework, the subject of a subsequent post.   Because it looks a wide range of activities in a variety of law firm sizes, it is a uniquely broad look at the state of legal KM.

The full survey results, with a summary of additional responses to some questions, and an indication of changes in trends from the 2008 survey, are provided in this report. We hope you find them useful.



Our Blog–A Third Channel for ILTA KM

7 Apr

Post By David Hobbie, ILTA KM PG SC*

*acronym translation:  I’m on the International Legal Technology Association’s Knowledge Management Peer Group Steering Committee.

The first post of a blog is not normally much of an occasion. After all, in this egalitarian, social world, blogs obtain importance and visibility not because of their authors’ identities but because the content is creative, thoughtful, timely, and relevant to its readers. And how can you tell that from one post?

I have a good feeling about this blog, and this post, though, because (unlike you, dear reader,) I already know that many smart, creative legal knowledge management enthusiasts will be providing many creative, thoughtful, timely, and relevant posts over the next few months and beyond.  I also know that this blog will be able to draw on the energy, passion, and excellence of a wonderful peer group and a strong organization.

The peer group is comprised of ILTA’s knowledge management colleagues, a diverse group of lawyers, librarians, technologists, and other legal practitioners.   This peer group has contributed a vast array of content through a strong annual White Paper and through many educational sessions at the amazing annual conference.

The organization is the International Legal Technology Association, whose purpose is to be “the premier peer networking organization, providing information to members to maximize the value of technology in support of the legal profession.” ILTA is the largest, most widespread, peer-driven legal technology association, period.

This blog aims to be a third outlet for public content for the ILTA KM community, particularly from people who may not want to go to the effort of setting up and regularly contributing to their own blog, but who may have an idea or topic they want to share.  I will be leading the effort on this blog, along with Patrick DiDomenico of LawyerKM and iPad4Legal.

Our plan is to have weekly contributions from a combination of the two of us, members of the ILTA KM Steering Committee (PGVP Catherine Monte, Chris Boyd, Janis Croft,  Mara Nickerson, and Ali Shahidi), and other members of the ILTA community including guest KM practitioners who are ILTA members.  Since vendors are an important part of the ILTA community we also plan to have posts by or about KM-related vendors or vendor events.

Upcoming posts include:

  • A Legal KM Competency Model
  • Introduction to KM Challenges
  • The Future of Professional Technology is Personal Technology
  • KM In Law School
  • Starting A KM Program

If you are an ILTA member interested in contributing on a KM-related topic, please let one of us know.  Come join the conversation!