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

21 Mar

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

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

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

Get Past the Fear Factor

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

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

Identify the Moving Parts

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

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

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

Assign a Project Manager

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

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

Expect the Unexpected

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

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

Lesson Learned

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

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

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

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

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

7 Mar

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

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

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

Design for Success

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

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

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

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

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

Business and Functional Requirements

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

27 Feb

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

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

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

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

Researching User Behavior

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

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

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

Creating a Picture from the Analysis

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

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

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

Crafting a Compelling Business Case

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

 

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).

f4f5

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.

Conclusion

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!

The Super-charged Firm Directory: Identifying the Right Combination of Experience and Skills

8 Jul

By Ramin Vosough, Vice President Product Sales & Marketing, Neudesic
Part I of a three-part series*

Many firms with 200+ attorneys have arrived at some method for identifying which lawyers have which experience and skills.  Some firms have developed an in-house directory or profile solution residing on the firm’s intranet, which combines public and internal information and links to a public bio. In a larger firm, the tool may include a search solution that crawls through the firm’s documents and matters or a manual database that captures expertise by practice and industry. Common across these approaches, however, is the reality that all too often someone within business development, marketing or KM must field email and phone requests to identify the best lawyers for a project. So, while many sophisticated tools exist, a human resource still needs to match the right resource to any given opportunity.

Firms tell us that identifying the right resource involves looking at a combination of factors, starting with a vision of what “right” means for the firm and being flexible enough to capture a magical combination. Firms often ask us, “How can I find the right attorney with a specific, substantiated skill and experience combination, who is based in a particular location, and available to work on a project within a given timeframe?” Next, they ask what that would even look like: Is it a profile, a custom search, or something else entirely? Where does the information come from and how is it populated? Perhaps the most important question is, “Can I trust the information when I find it?”

Attorney profile information resides in various systems of record throughout a firm. Bar associations, court affiliations, and employment history are just a few examples of the information firms have at hand. Firm systems also house valuable experience-related data in documents, emails, and other client-matter related records. But, some firms are starting to realize that much critical information may not exist in their systems yet – attorneys understand the unique combination of skills and experience they bring to bear on particular projects and that understanding typically is never identified, published, or presented in ways that can be searched and located effectively. This is especially true with laterally hired partners with no activity history on record to turn up in an experience search.

Identifying and communicating that level of information, not to mention keeping it current, may involve formal initiatives using questionnaires or interviews. But, this raises important considerations for KM professionals who must determine how to weave the optimal combination of certified and self-declared information into a real-time, dynamic profile. For example, by combining self-declaration with layers of validation, a firm could capture new information about skills and experience directly from employees, while also validating the information before it is published and becomes searchable within the firm.

Internal comprehensive skills and expertise provide great value. A flexible approach that includes self-declared, validated, and certified information allows a firm to dive more deeply into the skills, experience, or other profile criteria than what can be shared in public-facing bios or on social media channels like LinkedIn. This approach enables business development and marketing professionals to slice and dice the unique, multifaceted skills and experience of attorneys in real-time for different pitches.

Your firm has its own goals and objectives. So, how your firm uses its lawyer directory should reflect those goals and objectives. But, all firms taking on this type of initiative need to do it right, with “right” meaning making it worthwhile, making it valuable, and making it useful.

*Look for part II on Surfacing and Validating Real Expertise in an upcoming post.