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How to Survive Complex Projects, Part 5: Getting Your Testing Right

20 Apr

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

In part 4 of this series, the authors guided us through implementation and development. Ed.

Once your platform has been implemented and handed over to your team, you will need to make sure that everything works the way you want it to work. After all of the effort and time you have put in, the last thing you want is to fail now. This is where testing comes into play.

What is User Acceptance Testing?

Unfortunately, we know from experience that if KM does not conduct the testing, you can never be certain the product you hand over to your users will work as they expect it to. This is true regardless of how comprehensive the IT department’s quality assurance testing is. The hard truth is that IT professionals see things differently than most users. IT people are not lawyers and do not think like lawyers. As a KM professional, your job is to operate between the technical and legal realms to evaluate whether your users will be able to incorporate into their daily practice the new platform as designed. This crucial step is called user acceptance testing (UAT).

The form and quantity of UAT the KM team performs varies enormously from firm to firm and project to project. We have worked in firms where very little testing is done before launch and in firms where massive testing is done. In truth, the proof is in the pudding – the more effort you put into UAT, the better your outcome will be.

Where do you start?

Our first step in UAT always is to create a test plan. We find this so indispensable that we now create plans even for testing the most minor upgrades to a platform. When creating the test plan, return to your requirements and use cases developed for your business case. You should plan to test every element of functionality a user would touch, understanding the desired outcome based on your requirements. For example, in our search system we determined that ensuring that a filter worked when applied to a set of search results would not be sufficient. Instead, we also needed to check that the list of values for each filter was correct, we could both exclude and apply filter values, the “or” (rather than “and”) logic of the filter values was in place when multiple filter values were applied at once, and we could both scroll through and search for filter values.

Our test plans usually outline a process where each team member mimics a user’s journey through the platform based on our use cases. Depending on what we are testing, we may allocate roles to different testers, with everyone following a slightly different journey through the platform. For example, partners likely use most platforms differently than legal assistants and you need to ensure the functionality works equally well for both. Role-based testing helps you to confirm that your new technology is ready to be released to everyone in the firm.

People doing the testing should note failures in not only pure functionality, but also design. An IT professional testing a grid view may feel that clicking on a column heading and having the results sort is just fine. But, a KM professional will likely recognize that unless a symbol indicates that sort functionality is available, most users will not know the option exists. Your requirements likely included this need early on, but testers should be on the look-out for its having made its way into the actual build.

Because our firm is Canadian and has a major office in French-speaking Quebec, testing bilingual functionality is vital. Recognize and prepare for the fact that your firm may have its own unique jurisdictional requirements or other complexities that must be addressed through a customized UAT process.

Allow sufficient time for UAT

Depending on the complexity of your project and testing, UAT may take some time. In our experience, no test phase ever goes without hitches. Assume you will have multiple issues to report and some elements of the functionality will not work properly on first review. Also prepare for substantial back and forth with IT and the vendor as you work through the issues that testing reveals. During our enterprise search project, we completed several rounds of testing for each component of the project.

Improve inter-departmental communication

Perhaps the most important takeaway from our major projects has been the importance of communication. Communication is critical during testing and it is hard. Communication among team members and between KM and IT, the firm, and external vendor all are critical. Most communication challenges that arise between your team and IT likely can be improved through mutual empathy and understanding.

As observed, most IT professionals speak a different language than legal professionals and you must account for this in the communication style you adopt between departments. For example, during testing, it is tempting for individuals who find major issues to want to report them to IT at once to be addressed quickly. Of course, in some instances this may well be appropriate. But, we have found that waiting to report all issues together generally works better. One of our team members collects feedback from everyone else, consolidates it into a single spreadsheet, and sends it to IT. Every piece of feedback is numbered and, wherever possible, accompanied by screenshots. We have found that the words we used to describe the problems we find often are insufficient to communicate those issues to IT. In fact, we have been tempted to sit beside our IT colleagues and show them what we have experienced on our screens. This rarely is the best use of anyone’s time, nor should it be necessary as visual props should abate confusion and frustration.

Lessons Learned

Engage multiple testers: People have different aptitudes for testing and technical detail. In the same testing round, we have had someone report that everything looks great, while another person reports over 25 issues. So, you will need a team of testers for UAT. You simply cannot do this on your own.

Understand your team’s limitations: During our enterprise search project, the KM team tested the system’s ethical walls compliance. Even though we managed to do it, it was needlessly time-consuming and, in retrospect, this should more properly have been handled by IT. We would not take this on ourselves again. So be realistic – some things are better left to IT.

Know when to stop: After you have signed-off on a component of the project, stop testing that component’s functionality. It sounds simple, but letting go and trusting that the fixes really are in place can be difficult in practice.  Now, if in using the platform you stumble across new issues, these of course must be reported. Otherwise, encourage your team to trust your firm’s IT and the vendor and move on to the project’s next stage.

Coming up in part 6: In our next post, we get to the exciting part – how to prepare for launch and take-off.

How to Survive Complex Projects, Part 4: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

5 Apr

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

In part 3 of the series, the authors walked us through the key steps in planning complex projects. Ed.

With a plan of attack in place, it finally is time to start on development and implementation. The complexity of your project will depend on several factors; but, no matter whether you are implementing an out-of-the-box or highly customized solution, substantial KM technology projects usually involve an intensive period of technology development.   Enterprise search – aggregating information from multiple sources and presenting it in a user friendly way – is inherently complex.  So, we knew that implementing our project would not be easy.

KM Involvement in Development and Implementation

Even with an out-of-the box solution, you will have options for how different aspects of your project can be implemented. This becomes more complex if you wish to customize the solution.  In our case, we increased the complexity by deciding to implement a new taxonomy tool and KM content management tool in parallel with our search implementation.

In the throes of a complex project, forgetting what you have decided and why is easy to do.   Combined with developers bombarding you with questions regarding the functionality you want, this can quickly overwhelm you.  As observed in an earlier post, having documented detailed requirements was our saving grace in these situations again and again.

A difficult reality in development and implementation is making compromises. Even with the most careful planning, nothing goes perfectly and being told that the design you have envisioned cannot be achieved is frustrating.  What do you do?  You go back to your design principles.  You may recall that in our search project our overarching theme was a relentless focus on user experience.  So, we always chose options that would best support the user experience, even if those options were not perfect.

Data Integration

Because very few KM projects involve stand-alone technologies, a heightened demand for tighter integration across multiple platforms and data integration become key aspects of most projects.   In our implementation, we integrated as many data sources as possible into search, which proved critical to improving relevancy. Those data sources included our InterAction contact management platform, Aderant financial system, matters and experience database, website, blogs, document management system, and KM content management system.

But, integrating data from multiple sources brings its own challenges. In our case, data was sometimes populated from the wrong system or from the wrong field in the right system, which required a bit of detective work to sort out. Another challenge was working with the owners of some of the data to address inconsistencies that the search project revealed.   Enterprise search and other technology projects cast a giant magnifying glass over your data (and its warts). You need to be prepared to address issues that might arise.

Lessons Learned

Manage expectations:  Highly visible, significant technology projects often lead to high expectations.  Throughout our development stage, we managed stakeholders’ expectations with regular updates and early demonstrations.

Tune and tweak: Do not be afraid to spend time making small tweaks that have a big impact.  One of the most valuable efforts we put into our project was fine-tuning relevancy.  Although taking the time mid-implementation to focus on relevancy was difficult, doing so significantly improved the user experience.

Master your metadata:  One reason we were able to identify incorrect data was that we had prepared a detailed data map listing all of the metadata appearing in the search application, including what it should look like and where it was expected to come from.  We revisited this (and other) documentation throughout the development stage.

Coming up in part 5: In our next post, we look at the role KM can and should play in testing complex KM technology projects.

AI Round-up: A Guide to ILTA’s Artificial Intelligence Content

17 Mar

Joe Davis has graciously allowed us to cross-post his recent compendium of ILTA content on artificial intelligence.  So, don’t miss this second opportunity to catch up on some of the latest thinking on this hot topic. Ed.

By Joe Davis, Project Consultant, Prudential Financial, Inc.

OK, so Watson won “Jeopardy!” back in 2011. That’s ancient history in technology years.  ILTA provides a wealth of programming about the current state of affairs in Artificial Intelligence that will benefit law firms and corporate legal departments.  In the future, I’m sure we’ll have a bot to curate all this content for us.  In the meantime, below is a sampling of some of ILTA’s best AI-related content from ILTACON, Insight, webinars, white papers and Peer To Peer.

Webinars

Beyond the Hype: Artificial Intelligence in Legal Research
This webinar, sponsored by ROSS Intelligence, features ROSS CEO and co-founder Andrew Arruda discussing how the company was born out of a desire to get from questions to answers more quickly.  He points out that even though AI is still in its “Model T phase,” the Model T still beat the horse in many ways.  Bill Caraher from von Briesen & Roper talks about what made his firm interested in the technology, and shares with moderator Beth Patterson the kind of firm culture that is required for this technology to catch on.  Be sure to listen for the last question to hear about how ROSS is practical for small firms, solo attorneys and pro bono work.

Nothing To Fear: How Artificial Intelligence Can Benefit Law Firms
Peter Wallqvist of RAVN Systems offers this solo take on AI, including a look at which kinds of AI RAVN and other AI companies focus on. This webinar offers the most in-depth explanation of AI on this list, so be prepared for an academic, but very thorough, treatment of the subject.

Articles

Reframing the AI Question in Law by John Alber
ILTA Futurist and retired Bryan Cave partner John Alber makes the case that the legal world should focus on using AI (and technology in general) to improve its service model. Tame Regulatory

Chaos with Cognitive Technologies by Eric Laughlin
Sanctions for improperly managed compliance requirements cost corporations more than $20 billion per year.  Author Eric Laughlin of Thomson Reuters offers a perspective on using AI to manage regulatory complexities.

When Machine Intelligence Joins Your Professional Services Team by Mark Noel
Mark Noel of Catalyst Repository Systems provides a good introduction to the advantages of using Technology Assisted Review (TAR) as part of your e-discovery process.

Artificial Intelligence Systems and the Law by Andrew Arruda
ROSS Intelligence CEO/co-founder Andrew Arruda offers a primer on the different categories of AI, along with a brief introduction to the ROSS platform.  Also included in this article are 10 predictions excerpted from a 2014 ABA Journal article by Paul Lippe and Daniel Martin Katz about the way Watson will affect the legal profession.

Audio

The Exponential Law Firm: Unlocking the Growth Potential of AI and Disruptive Thinking
Technology isn’t necessarily the key to being exponential, according to Fast Future’s Rohit Talwar.  In this session from Insight 2016, Talwar talks about how the legal profession needs to focus on three things: what is vital in the next 12 months, where innovation will come from in the next 3 years, and the an “early warning system.”  Overall, he is confident that “there has never been more opportunity for the legal sector than there is being created by science and technology today.”

Legal Innovation: More Than Just Artificial Intelligence
As the name implies, this Insight 2016 panel session is about more than just AI.  Panelist Jan Van Hoecke, CTO and Co-Founder of RAVN Systems, outlines the challenges to innovation and discusses a case study in which the risk and compliance department of a top-50 financial services company leverages AI to reduce its risk.  Could this be a potential new line of business for law firms?

Choosing the Right Artificial Intelligence for the Job
Panelists Sylvia Leblanc, Dera Nevin, Noah Waisberg, Julian Tsisin and Peter Wallqvist cover a lot of ground in this ILTACON session, including weak vs. strong AI, the trailer for the film Morgan, getting rid of “the ugly bits of lawyering” and Sharknado.  One conclusion: it is rocket science.  Tip: check out this video and this follow-up before listening to the session.

The State of Play of Artificial Intelligence in Law?
Michael Mills of Neota Logic discusses the current state of affairs and the players within the Legal AI space.  Be sure to take a look at his slide deck, which contains some useful diagrams.

Face Your Fears: Embracing Change in the Legal Environment
Consultant Ann Gorr leads this panel featuring Dennis Garcia from Microsoft, Matt Blaine from Davison Eastman & Munoz, and Jim Merrifield from Robinson Cole in a lively discussion on “how to be a grown up law firm.” Along the way, they cover “conversation as a platform,” augmented reality, driverless cars and Pittsburgh vs. Scranton.  Two resources mentioned in this session: Klaus Schwab’s The Fourth Industrial Revolution and UC Hastings’ Disruptive Innovation: New Models of Legal Practice.

Grading Susskind: The State of Legal 20 Years After the “Future of Law”
While these panelists probably shouldn’t give up their day jobs to pursue a career in comedy, they do get credit for putting together a creative alternative to the standard panel discussion.  In the style of NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, this session evaluates the predictions Richard Susskind made 20 years ago in his book The Future of Law.  Host Ryan McClead of HighQ (now with Neota Logic) and panelists Susan Hackett of Legal Executive Leadership, Sam Nickless of Gilbert + Tobin and Dan Lear of Avvo discuss the present and future of legal technology.  You’ll also learn what three lawyers and three MBAs on a train, two lions, and one elephant may or may not have to do with the founding of the American Corporate Counsel Association.

Mutual Challenges and Successes: A Large Firms Discussion Forum
This session, moderated by Tim Golden of McGuire Woods, features three CIOs from large firms (Doug Caddell of Mayer Brown, Ash Banerjee of Hogan Lovells and Curt Meltzer of Chadbourne and Parke) covering a variety of issues that pertain to large firms.  The discussion turns to AI at the 17-minute mark.

Using the Right Data To Drive Your KM Program
Kingsley Martin and Karl Haraldsson examine the journey from Profiling to Search to Analytics to Predictive Coding and Machine/Deep Learning.  This session starts with a strategic view, but includes some very tactical ways to start quantifying legal practice.  Highlights include “don’t start with the Death Star,” “If I knew… I would do…”, buying a car (in four acts) and insight into the importance of data visualization.

Watson, I Need You! Augmented Intelligence for Legal

IBM’s Kyla Moran offers a broad perspective on Watson.  While this ILTACON session is light on legal-specific applications, it does offer insight into how Watson works.  Ginevra Saylor, National Director of Knowledge Management for Dentons, asks some interesting questions as moderator, including why the other Jeopardy contestants were able to answer any questions at all.

Are You Ready to Go Paperless?

1 Feb

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

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

  1. Consider the benefits

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

  1. Define paperless

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

  1. Assess your readiness

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

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

  1. Do your research

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

  1. Craft a policy and procedures

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

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

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

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

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

People-Finding: Achieving One of KM’s Three “P”s

5 Dec

crowdBy Chris Boyd, Senior Director of Professional Services, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

Our firm defines KM as “delivering more value to clients by putting the knowledge of all attorneys at the fingertips of each attorney” and includes within “knowledge” the following three “P”s:

  1. Work product: model and sample documents, how-to guides, checklists, and other practice aids.
  2. Project-related information: profiles of cases and deals.
  3. People-related information.

This post focuses on the third “P”: people-related information. KM projects that focus on the first two Ps typically get more publicity and recognition within firms, probably because the output is more tangible; it’s usually obvious if a practice group has forms and matter profiles, but less obvious if the firm has a way to locate expertise.  But connecting attorneys to the right people to answer questions and help clients achieve their goals can be the most powerful KM resource of all.

Below are some ways to achieve the third “P,” referred to from here on as “people-finding.”

Internal expertise.  This is a critical part of people-finding, and much has already been written about it by excellent authors.  See for example, the listing in Gwyn McAlpine’s November 23 ILTA KM blog post under Enterprise Search / Expertise Location.

External expertise. Clients frequently want referrals to attorneys in practices that a firm doesn’t provide or to professionals in fields other than law, such as accounting, banking, or consulting. A strong people-finding resource should help attorneys tap their colleagues’ referrals to find external experts.  The main challenge is deciding which referrals to collect and post, given that gathering every last name from every attorney is neither feasible nor worthwhile.  Our firm limits the scope by simply including in the referral tool only those attorneys and other professionals whom firm lawyers have recommended in response to internal requests for help.  This approach both limits the work and, more importantly, ensures that each referral is supported by a firm attorney who has recommended the name to a colleague with a client question.

Experience with judges, arbitrators, and others. Information about judges, arbitrators, mediators, and experts can be useful for litigators.  For example, when drafting briefs in support of a substantive motion to be heard by an unfamiliar judge, it would be useful for the litigation team to know that the judge does not take kindly to requests to exceed page limits and will not allow counsel to repeat at oral argument any of the points already set forth in the briefs. Similarly, if a litigation team is bullish about a client’s chances to defend a case at trial, the team will want to avoid using a mediator who is known to “split the baby” between the parties and instead seek someone who has a reputation for pressing for an outcome that is in line with the actual merits of the case.  And when retaining a testifying expert in a matter in which opposing counsel is known to be aggressive in deposition and cross-examination, the attorney will want to know how the witness has performed in similar circumstances – whether the witness can retain composure under pressure and testify clearly and persuasively.

A strong people-finding resource enables a firm’s litigators to quickly locate information about each of these key players in the litigation process. A judge’s profile should note the firm’s attorneys who have clerked for or appeared in front of the judge, the matters the judge has presided over, and perhaps even link to external profiles of the judge’s cases and decisions.  The resource should enable attorneys to search arbitrator or mediator names to find out which of the firm’s attorneys have experience with them.  And expert profiles should outline expertise, link to CVs, and note the cases they’ve appeared in.

Who-knows-whom. A final category of people-finding is providing attorneys the ability to find out who at a firm knows a specific person or knows people at a specific company or other organization.  Two ways to do this are (1) an enterprise search for the person’s or company’s name in documents or time entries, and (2) a search in ContactNet or similar tools to see if the name occurs in a colleague’s public contacts or the email addresses of emails sent to or from the firm.

People-finding is a critical component of a strong KM program. Enabling attorneys and other professionals to find internal experts is a great start; enabling them to find external experts, information about key players in cases, and who-knows-whom is even better.

For Your Viewing Pleasure…

23 Nov

catalogBy Gwyn McAlpine, Director of Knowledge Management Services, Perkins Coie LLP

Did you miss any of ILTA’s programming for knowledge management professionals this past year? Below is a catalog of what you may have missed.  Because programming is member-driven based on your requests and feedback, the categorization below gives you insight into what your peers think are hot topics.

But first, some background for those new to ILTA programming. ILTA produces KM programming in a variety of formats, building upon timely themes.  Each year, you can count on targeted articles and sessions in the Knowledge Management White Paper, typically published in June, and at ILTACON, held in August.  Throughout the rest of the year, the ILTA KM blog delivers a steady stream of thoughtful content approximately every two weeks.  Keep an eye out for articles in other places, such as the Peer to Peer magazine, and ad hoc sessions, such as webinars, virtual roundtables and vendor product briefings.  To facilitate open sharing and discussion, the latter are not always recorded, so be sure to attend those with topics of interest to you.  Lastly, the Connected Community Discussion Board features lively Q&A and announcements among an active, 1600-member community.

And because Knowledge Management can touch on many other areas, don’t forget to check out programming that may not be specifically targeted to KMers but is relevant to you nonetheless. Searches in the Connected Community will lead you to publications, recordings and discussions across a multitude of areas.  Also browse the ILTA TV page where you will find dozens of short interviews with thought leaders in fields that touch Knowledge Management directly and indirectly.

Note that you do need to be an ILTA member to access many of these resources. What are you waiting for?

Artificial Intelligence/Expert Systems

Collaboration/Tacit Knowledge

Data Analytics

DMS/Information Governance

Enterprise Search/Expertise Location

ILTACON

KM Strategy

Other Innovation

SharePoint/Portals

Upcoming Programming

In 2017, we have big plans for programing relevant to KM professionals. Look for a year-long focus on artificial intelligence and the changing legal market.  In addition, the biennial KM survey, which provides useful comparability metrics, is due to be published in July 2017. If you have suggestions for content you would like to see, respond to this blog post or feel free to contact me directly. Better yet, start a discussion amongst your peers on the Connected Community Discussion Board.

*For all the Blue Book die-hards out there, sorry. Just use the links. You’ll find it.

Evolution of the Contract: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

11 Nov

contractBy Lesha Van Der Bij, Principal, Optimize Legal

Contracts have been a key component of legal transactions for hundreds of years. Many lawyers, including me, began our careers reading Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company and learning the tenets of contract law – offer, acceptance and consideration.

For some lawyers, the process of drafting and reviewing contracts has remained largely the same since the days of Carbolic Smoke Ball. These lawyers begin working on matters by trying to remember a past file where they drafted a similar document, asking a colleague for sample agreements, or even reviewing first principles.

Over the years many, within and outside of the legal profession, have come to recognize that taking an ad hoc approach to contracts is suboptimal. Not only is it inefficient, it can lead to clients receiving varying quality of responses and work product from different lawyers within the same organization.  With clients expecting more from their law firms and the emergence of new technologies, the process of drafting and reviewing contracts has evolved.

Standardizing Language

The standardization of contract language began in earnest in the 1990s and early 2000s when many law firms created model agreements. Unlike sample documents pulled from past matters, which may vary in quality, a model is reviewed and approved by senior lawyers to establish an agreed upon standard.  Models tend to include best-case language that differs depending on the party (for instance, vendor or purchaser) the lawyer represents.

By developing models, law firms could take a consistent approach to each type of contract. Standardization also helped highlight boilerplate clauses that tend to not need negotiation, enabling lawyers to focus on more contentious and deal-specific provisions.

While model agreements promote consistency and efficiency, lawyers still spend substantial time creating first drafts and conducting side-by-side reviews that compare key clauses in their deal documents to those in their model agreement. Many law firms also have a difficult time maintaining and updating their vast collection of model agreements. So, after much initial hoopla, many model document collections start to languish.

Process Mapping

As interest in Lean Six Sigma and other process improvement techniques started to increase, a number of law firms began applying these approaches to contract work. Consultants or in-house experts would lead a group of lawyers through a typical transaction, mapping out the various steps to identify and try to eliminate inefficiencies, while documenting a more streamlined process in a checklist or project plan template.

Checklists setting out the key steps in a particular transaction are then used to instruct junior lawyers and ensure that important steps are not missed. Project plan templates outline a matter’s milestones, staffing, and time estimates – information that is then used to develop more accurate fee estimates and keep matters on budget.

While checklists and project plan templates help standardize and streamline contract drafting and review, much of the time-consuming drafting remains in the lawyers’ hands.

Process Automation

Standardizing contract language and workflow generated an excellent opportunity for enterprising individuals to automate contracts. Limited automation (for example, through mail merge macros) has existed for many years. More recently, sophisticated and easy-to-use document assembly tools have emerged.

Document assembly tools enable users to answer a questionnaire asking for information about the transaction, such as parties’ names, deal type, currency, and closing date, and with the click of a button the deal information is incorporated into the applicable template to generate a first draft. While lawyers still must massage their agreements to ensure that they accurately convey the particular circumstances of each case, these technologies significantly advance the drafting process. The time spent drafting massive agreements for complex transactions, often containing only slight modifications, is greatly reduced.

That said, one downside is that these technologies require much effort and time to create templates and questionnaires. While the end user’s experience is relatively simple and seamless, the logic required to create the underlying questions is not always intuitive. An understanding of the underlying law is needed to create the templates and most lawyers have neither the requisite patience nor time to code documents.

So, many law firms still struggle with how to automate their model document collections. And, once the models are automated, how will law firms maintain and update them? Will history repeat itself, this time with coded model agreements languishing?

 Boosting Technology’s Role

In the march toward greater efficiency, still more emphasis is being placed on technology’s role. Some of the newest technologies have moved beyond automation and into machine learning and artificial intelligence. Most notably, contract analytics tools that are learning the language of contracts are being used in a number of interesting ways.

Some businesses are using these tools to analyze their day-to-day contracts by, for instance, triaging routine contracts, identifying problem clauses, and highlighting when legal counsel should be called. Law firms have started using contract analytics tools for reviewing hundreds or thousands of documents as part of due diligence.

Even with the aid of a model agreements and checklists, reviewing key clauses in numerous contracts is labourious and time consuming. Contract analytics tools can quickly identify the contracts from the mounds of data room documents, classify the key clauses in them, and produce an easily digestible summary for the lawyer’s review – all within minutes or hours instead of days or weeks.

While these technologies remain a far cry from robots replacing lawyers, they do provide the information required for quick and effective issue spotting.

Peeking into the Future

Contract drafting and review has evolved from a seemingly bespoke practice into an increasingly automated, computerized, and commoditized process. So, where are we headed?

Standardized Technology. Using automation and artificial intelligence tools to create first drafts and initially review contracts will become routine as technologies become easier to use and better supported. Companies offering these tools may well consolidate or industry leaders may expand their offerings to include all-in-one, one-stop-shop contract management systems.

New Legal Skills. Lawyers will need to develop a solid understanding of these technologies as they become a standard part of the contract process. Law schools will offer programs to provide graduates with basic knowledge of and skills using the range of tools available. Law societies will also specify a minimum level of technical proficiency that lawyers must possess to practice law.

New Roles and Mixed Professions. Lawyers will work more closely with technologists and other professionals to optimize the contract process. As tools and practice evolve, new hybrid roles that combine law, technology, and process improvement will develop.

Fewer Lawyers Required. Smaller teams of lawyers will be able to complete larger and more complex contract-related work. For instance, teams of junior lawyers conducting due diligence reviews will be replaced by one or two lawyers overseeing a computer-based document review. The volume of day-to-day contract review will also be reduced as businesses use these new tools to conduct initial assessments and identify problematic agreements requiring legal advice.

Greater Access to Legal Review. For a subscription or fixed fee, smaller businesses and individuals will have access to tools that can provide them with basic advice on routine contracts, enabling these groups to obtain previously unavailable legal advice.

Of course, contracts are but a subset of the overall practice of law. That said, the evolution of contract law provides a useful case study that may apply to the legal profession as a whole.

The practice of law clearly is changing. As new processes and technologies develop at a rapid pace, these changes bring opportunities for lawyers ready to adapt.  Not only will lawyers have the opportunity to improve legal service delivery, but also to free themselves from much of the mundane tasks and focus their time on work that can add significant value.