Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • In a world of fierce competition, it’s marvelous to hear of instances of active cooperation and collaboration that make a positive difference in the lives of others. During this National Pro Bono Week, I’ve been learning more about the truly impressive work of a nonprofit organization call Pro Bono Net. This innovative, award-winning organization uses technology to increase access to justice in the United States and Canada. As effective as they are, the need for their services keeps growing. According to an American Bar Association study cited by Pro Bono Net, “at least 40% of low and moderate-income households experience a legal problem each year. Yet studies show that the collective civil legal aid effort is meeting only about 20% of the legal needs of low-income people.”

    By connecting and leveraging networks of volunteer lawyers and public interest groups with the millions of people who need legal services but can’t afford them, Pro Bono Net is transforming the legal landscape.  In existence for just over 10 years, it’s clear that the impact of Pro Bono Net is real:

    • Their oldest program, probono.net is a rich online resource of the materials volunteer lawyers need to provide effective legal assistance to their pro bono clients.  This program has a membership of 65,000 pro bono and public interest lawyers who use it to find and volunteer for pro bono cases, and then rely on the  educational resources made available through the site to ensure the representation they provide is effective.
    • LawHelp.org is the site Pro Bono Net has created for clients.  It is “an online resource that helps low and moderate-income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, answers to questions about their legal rights, court information, links to social service agencies, and more. This resource was built and is maintained in partnership with hundreds of legal aid, pro bono and court-based programs….” According to Pro Bono Net, LawHelp is visited by 4 million people each year.
    • LawHelp Interactive uses the power of document assembly to help unrepresented people create and complete legal documents without the need to hire a lawyer. Subject matter experts create interview templates that are then “used to assemble court forms and other legal documents based on a user’s input. The system increases opportunities for self-represented litigants to achieve justice on their own and improves efficiency for legal aid, pro bono and courts-based access to justice programs.” The documents focus on areas of real need such as child support, protection orders for victims of domestic violence, consumer debt and eviction. In 2009, LawHelp Interactive helped unrepresented clients complete 150,000 document.  In the first six months of 2010 alone, they have completed 100,000 documents.  This fantastic trajectory is part of the reason why LawHelp Interactive won the College of Law Practice Management’s 2010 InnovAction Award.
    • Pro Bono Manager is an innovative web application that helps law firms efficiently manage, support and expand their pro bono practice.  It replaces ad hoc, homegrown efforts within law firms with a thoughtfully-organized platform that “integrates content from the public interest legal community regarding training events, volunteer opportunities and news with powerful reporting, knowledge management and lawyer matching tools that draw on data from the law firm’s internal personnel, billing, time keeping and docketing systems.” To date, Pro Bono Manager is in use by 10 leading international firms and, through them, by the 7,200 lawyers within those firms.

    While there are many wonderful stories of lives changed for the better through individual instances of pro bono representation, I must admit that I was drawn to Pro Bono Net because it puts into practice what fortunate knowledge managers learn every day about the power of networks, collaboration and knowledge management.  Through the innovative use of enabling technology, Pro Bono Net puts people in touch with people, and then empowers all of them by providing a huge knowledge base.   In the process, they help lawyers achieve the high professional goal of acting in the public good and help the change lives of their pro bono clients.

    ***********************************

    I’d like to extend my thanks to Michael Mills (Vice Chair of the Board of Pro Bono Net) and Pam Weisz (Pro Bono Net’s Director of Corporate Sponsorship) for helping me learn more about Pro Bono Net. If you’d like to learn more, I’d encourage you to watch one or both of the informative and inspiring videos Pro Bono Net provides on its website.

    Finally, I’d like to thank Kate Bladow.  It was her campaign that led me to pledge to write a blog post about pro bono work during National Pro Bono Week.  Kate is gathering all the resulting blog posts on the technola blog.  If you read them you’ll find instant inspiration.

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  • Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession is the subject of the Ark Group’s conference I’m attending in New York City. Here are my notes.

    Piloting Lean Six Sigma

    Lann Wasson (Senior Manager of Knowledge Management at Husch Blackwell) is presenting how they created a pilot bringing the Lean Six Sigma methodology to a specific M&A transaction. By way of background, this firm is the result of mergers. The resulting need to integrate the staff and practices of the merged teams led to a deep focus on improving workflow. (The firm has a culture that emphasizes continuous improvement. In fact, lawyers in that firm would like to be market leaders with respect to adopting more rational workflows.)

    At the beginning of the project, they had to educate themselves on the Lean Six Sigma concepts, tools and techniques. They also had to gain a deep understanding of the process of an asset purchase transaction, as well as the asset purchase agreement (and its related documents).

    Their initial goal was to understand the drivers of cost and quality in a typical asset purchase transaction.

    Key Questions:

    - How important is measurement in the pilot? Is there any useful historical data?
    - How to overcome the steep learning curve? What is a cost effective approach to training?

    Cost-Effective Training:

    - Identify a core reading list (including The Starbucks Experience)
    - Iteratively practice with tools and techniques
    - Leverage a social network of Lean Six Sigma practitioners
    - Develop an in-house legal-centric curriculum over time to train others

    Forming the Pilot

    - The Team needed members who had experience of the subject transaction
    - They elected to act as a “working group” rather than following the purist method of Kaizen event format.
    - The elected to adopt a plan-do-check-act (PDCA) approach rather than the define-measure-analyze-improve-control (DMAIC) approach to project management

    How they Mapped the Transaction:

    – Transaction Planning >> Due Diligence >> Draft Asset Purchase Agreement and Ancillary Documents >> Negotiate Document Terms >> Approve Transaction >> Complete Ancillary Dcouments >> Close Transaction >> Handle Post-Closing Matters.

    How KM and Lean Six Sigma Benefit Each Other

    - Balance Lean and Six Sigma — “Lean” thinking seems to be more like KM thinking and should be balanced with the project management thinking of Six Sigma.
    - Keep technology in perspective — Lean is a low-cost, low-tech, creativity over technology approach. However, law firms are more virtual workspaces than are factories, you must maintain an appropriate level of technology.
    - Avoid sub-optimizing a part of the process — Lann Wasson suggests that search may be a sub-optimal approach, the better approach is to focus on process and that in turn will surface the knowledge and resources you need (without resorting to enterprise search).
    - Leverage the art of translation — KM folks can be invaluable since they speak the language of lawyers and the language of technology.
    - Build from experience and sustain results — knowledge managers who have experience in project management can be hugely helpful (and influential) in an effort like this.

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  • Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession is the subject of the Ark Group’s conference I’m attending in New York City. Here are my notes.

    Tom Baldwin (CKO, Reed Smith), Ali Shahidi (Director of KM, Bingham McCutchen), Meredith Williams (Director of KM, Baker Donelson) spoke about where business intelligence, competitive intelligence and knowledge management intersect in their firms.

    The speakers believe that providing business intelligence and competitive intelligence can be a very effective way to leverage traditional KM approaches and competencies.

    Ali Shahidi showed us screenshots of the various dashboards they have created at Bingham McCutchen to provide actionable information to partners. They have combined pull systems and push systems to collect and distribute critical business information. Importantly, they clearly spent a great deal of effort on created a graphical user interface that makes browsing easy and inviting. Bingham McCutchen has combined Autonomy search and auto-categorization from LexisNexis to find and deliver key business information.

    Meredith Williams is describing how Baker Donelson gathers key intelligence (business and competitive intelligence) and makes some of it available to firm management. They also gather intelligence that they provide to clients. For firm management purposes, they report on the types of activities they are carrying out for clients, the related budgets and bills, what competitive firms are doing, practice area trends as they relate to their clients’ businesses. For each client service team they have created client and matter sites that are generated automatically when a matter is opened. Clients can log into Baker Donelson’s website and see current billed and accrued amounts, as well as information on services currently provided by the firm to the client. In addition, at the request of the client, they have provided specific information and services that “help the client run its business.” For example, for one client they have created a platform that houses the client’s data and then provide a sophisticated search tool. As a result, the client comes to Baker Donelson’s platform to find the client’s own information. For another client, Baker Donelson has created an online product that helps the client’s board of directors understand and manage liability. Baker Donelson intends to make a product of this offering and sell it to other clients.

    At Reed Smith they have created extranet driven project management. The foundation of this system is a collection of checklists created for specific matters. Each checklist steps a lawyer through the tasks that must be completed. This is in contrast to traditional legal checklists that often focus on the documents that need to be delivered. Each checklist connects to relevant knowledge resources, including practice guides and model documents. These task lists are also broken down by phases (using the ABA’s phase codes). Within these phases, they show what’s billed against budget and the percentage of work completed to date.

    The speakers reiterated that creating these checklists can be critical work for knowledge managers who are or were practicing lawyers. This is a special niche that non-lawyers will have trouble filling.

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  • Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession is the subject of the Ark Group’s conference I’m attending in New York City. Here are my notes.

    Toby Brown is involved in Client Teams, Alternative Fee Arrangements and Knowledge Management at Fulbright & Jaworski LLP. He’s also a recovering economist. This presentation focuses on the strong role KM can play in establishing fixed fee arrangements (AFAs) within firms.

    #1. Analyzing billing data rarely reveals what you need.

    Analyzing time and billing records tends to provide limited useful data because until now billing practices have focused on creating a narrative a client will accept and have not been about providing data that help the firm understand the phase, task or type of work involved. Further, going back in time more than two or three years won’t be useful since approaches to legal practice have changed dramatically and continue to change. For example, today it is rare to deploy enormous teams of associates on matters. Finally, Toby’s analysis of the data from similar matters did not reveal the existence of easily identifiable budgets or even strong trends. In fact, he found that the greatest influence on fees came from the specific facts and circumstances of a each matter.

    #2. Firms need more knowledge about their work; KM can help provide this.

    KM approaches to aggregating knowledge, coupled with improved approaches to creating billing narratives, can help build a knowledge store that is suitable for analysis. Toby believes that KM tools for collaboration, search and analysis. This will help the firm gather the necessary data, which will allow the firm to establish prices with greater certainty. Toby uses Redwood Analytics to analyze data and create a pricing model for a particular matter. Use KM practices to learn from your experience of analyzing the data and creating models. What worked? Where were the proposed prices wildly wrong? What should we change?

    #3. KM can have a strong role in monitoring variance of cost to budget.

    Toby says this is the “hot thing” on his project list. He is focused on trying to figure out how to provide more effective monitoring, coupled with an early warning system to partners so that they know when they are about to exceed the agreed budget.

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  • Andrew Terrett (Director of Knowledge Management, BLG) and Joshua Fireman (VP and General Counsel, ii3) presented a full-day workshop on legal project management (LPM) at the Ark Group Legal Knowledge Management Conference (October 26, 2010). Here are my notes.

    The presenters ran out of time — after a busy, information-filled day. So we ended the day with a brief discussion about Change Management and the other challenges of legal project management (LPM).

    Change Management for LPM (courtesy of John Kotter)

    1. Create a sense of urgency
    2. Build commitment
    3. Develop a sense of urgency
    4. Communicate the change vision
    5. Develop an organization to effect change
    6. Deliver short-term successes
    7. Consoliate wins and produce more wins
    8. Institutionalize change.

    Eight Common Errors & Their Consequences (courtesy of Andrew Terrett and Joshua Fireman)

    1. Allowing too much complacency
    2. Failing to create sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
    3. Underestimating the power of the vision
    4. Under-communicating the the vision
    5. Permitting obstacles to block the vision
    6. Failing to create short-term wins
    7. Declaring victory too soon
    8. Neglecting to anchor changes in the corporate vision

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  • Andrew Terrett (Director of Knowledge Management, BLG) and Joshua Fireman (VP and General Counsel, ii3) presented a full-day workshop on legal project management (LPM) at the Ark Group Legal Knowledge Management Conference (October 26, 2010). Here are my notes.

    Your Knowledge Management Department and Legal Project Management

    It is not a given that legal project management (LPM) should automatically be handled by a law firm’s knowledge management department. In fact, there may be other departments in the firm that have an equal claim. Much depends on the kind of KM team you have — do they have the skill sets necessary to manage legal projects?

    Issues to consider:
    - Where is your KM team located?
    — are you part of IT? Part of professional development?
    - Who is on your team?
    — legal drafters?
    — legal researchers? librarians?
    — professional support lawyers?
    — content managers?
    — internal consultants?
    — change management experts?
    - Does KM have a good reputation within the firm?

    What are the economic drivers?
    - To save money for our clients
    - To improve law firm profitability
    - To use law firm resources more efficiently

    What does the future look like?
    - Is there (or should there be) a “unified theory” of LPM, Lean Six Sigma, KM and Professional Development?

    In the discussion that followed the presentation, it became clear that while KM can be useful in LPM, it’s not clear that KM would by right lead a firm’s LPM effort. At the end of the day, much depends on your firm’s structure and the KM personalities and skill sets involved. In most firms, KM can be very helpful to provide the materials and resources that help the lawyers meet a project plan more efficiently. However, unless your KM team includes the right legal matter expertise and the right personalities, you won’t be able to actually provide LPM services.

    One practising lawyer in the room asked why were having a “philosophical, rather abstract” discussion about KM and LPM. My response? That desperate knowledge managers are searching for
    a raison d’etre and hope that Legal Project Management will provide that.

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  • Andrew Terrett (Director of Knowledge Management, BLG) and Joshua Fireman (VP and General Counsel, ii3) presented a full-day workshop on legal project management (LPM) at the Ark Group Legal Knowledge Management Conference (October 26, 2010). Here are my notes.

    Typical Objections to Legal Project Management (LPM)

    #1. Issues always arise in the course of a matter that result in scope creep.
    - While this undoubtedly is true, LPM advocates say this highlights why it’s important to agree in advance what “done” looks like.
    - It’s also very important to agree with the client upfront on a process for changing the scope of the project – how can it be done to ensure project integrity and a reasonable commensurate increase in cost and time.

    #2. Legal matters don’t lend themselves to planning from beginning to end.
    - Don’t try to create a comprehensive plan that covers everything from soup to nuts.
    - Work with a much shorter planning horizon. For example, plan the work that must be done between now and the next milestone.
    - Create plans for phases of the work, based on the firm’s experience of this type of matter.
    - Be prepared to throw away the plan when the matter takes a sharp turn in an unanticipated direction.

    #3. We’re already doing a lot of this…
    - You may be doing all of this, but the planning process brings this to the surface. It makes implicit things explicit. In so doing, it eliminates the risk of problems arising from poor communication or training.
    - Planning adds structure to what you are already doing and provides a common vocabulary for participants.

    #4. Everything I do is unique… every deal is different
    - REALLY?????
    - As far as the presenters are concerned, this is a knee-jerk reaction from people who have not really spent enough time analyzing their work.
    - Even if every detail is not identical from deal to deal, there is a good chance that there are common tasks (e.g., due diligence or closing mechanics). Identify those common phases/tasks and make sure you have processes to document and manage them.

    #5. Project Management cannot be done int he context of a law firm/client relationship.
    - Consider whether your client is already using project management techniques. If so, they will understand (and applaud) any efforts by their outside counsel to move towards project management.
    - Find out if your client has an established project management methodology. That will help you understand better client work methods and expectations.

    #6. There’s no suitable project management software for lawyers…
    - Project management is not about the technology. In fact, there are lawyers who have successfully implemented LPM using nothing more than a series of Excel spreadsheets.
    - Some tools to consider:
    - MS Project, Primavera, Liquid Planner, On it, Swiftlight
    - Budgeting software – e.g., Budget Manager, Engage, Feesability
    - eBilling software – e.g., Serengeti
    - Matter Management – Needles, Prolaw, Amicus Attorney

    - “Use software as a tool. It should not replace critical thinking.”
    - “The Apollo moon landings didn’t have MS Project….”

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  • Andrew Terrett (Director of Knowledge Management, BLG) and Joshua Fireman (VP and General Counsel, ii3) presented a full-day workshop on legal project management (LPM) at the Ark Group Legal Knowledge Management Conference (October 26, 2010). Here are my notes.

    Key Legal Project Management (LPM) Concepts

    SCOPE:

    - Scope is the work that must be performed. And, the key challenge is managing scope so that it doesn’t expand without specific agreement from the parties involved. In identifying the scope, distinguish between the “must haves” from the “nice to haves.”

    - To identify the scope, start by breaking down the project proposed into its constituent parts: the phases/stages of the matter you’ve been engaged to complete. Then for each phase/stage, identify all the tasks that must be completed. And, importantly, identify those tasks that must be completed before other tasks can be started.

    - Be sure you identify and understand risk points arising in your project.

    TIME MANAGEMENT:

    - Using prior experience, estimate how much time is required to complete each task. Then build in a cushion since necessary resources are not always available at the point the task must start. As part of this process, chart the “critical path” of the project. This means finding the longest path from beginning to end, assuming all subordinate tasks are completed.

    COST PLANNING:

    - To create a budget from scratch:
    – Step 1: break the project into its component parts
    – Step 2: assign resources to the project (each resource has a cost)
    – Step 3: consider contingencies and then account for them

    - Be sure you can access to historical data, because it can provide guidance on how your firm, your lawyers work.

    - Be wary about providing “ball-park” estimates. They are notoriously inaccurate and lead to client unhappiness.

    COST MANAGEMENT:

    - Step 1: determine at what level of detail you will manage the budget.
    - Step 2: ensure timekeepers enter their time regularly and in sufficient detail. (You need to be able to identify the individual tasks.)
    - Step 3: compare estimate, cost to date, and remaining work.

    RISK:

    - Start by identifying the risks involved in the project.
    - Then determine the probability and severity of the risk.
    - In terms of risk planning, understand what must be done to mitigate, avoid, transfer or accept each risk.
    - Realize that some risks may be hidden or unclear because the project’s requirements are unclear. In this case, can you identify likely risk triggers?

    COMMUNICATION:

    - Start early to plan for good communication — not only good communication with the client, but also good communication within the client organization and within the law firm.
    - Understand upfront who needs to know what, when and how,
    - Ensure there is a project sponsor
    - Identify who is responsible, who is accountable, who needs to be consulted and who needs to be informed. Then, construct a communications plan accordingly.

    QUALITY:

    - There may be an inherent tension between how traditional project management defines quality (e.g., meeting requirements) and how lawyers and their clients define quality. What does this mean for LPM?

    - Project managers are bedeviled by the “Iron Triangle” or “Triple Constraint.” There are three factors that we have to balance in every project — Time, Scope and Cost. You can’t increase scope without having to increase time and cost. Impose upon this triangle the incidence of risk and varying (and perhaps poorly articulated) definitions of quality, and then it becomes even more difficult to balance Time, Scope and Cost.

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  • Andrew Terrett (Director of Knowledge Management, BLG) and Joshua Fireman (VP and General Counsel, ii3) presented a full-day workshop on legal project management (LPM) at the Ark Group Legal Knowledge Management Conference (October 26, 2010). Here are my notes.

    Definitions:

    Six Sigma = “a rigorous and disciplined methodology that uses data and statistical analysis to measure and improve a company’s operational performance by identifying and eliminating `defects.”"

    Lean = a set of principles, concepts and techniquest designed for the relentless pursuit of the elimination of waste. Toyota made this management approach famous.

    Lean Six Sigma attempts to identify an efficient way to complete a set of repeatable deliverables.

    It is very hard to apply these processes to an inherently unique task – although you can bring project management principles to bear.

    Project Managment = “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project objectives.” (Project Management Institute)

    The practice of law is part art and part science:

    - Art: people, management, negotiation
    - Science: scope, time cost, risk communications, quality

    Why doesn’t Project Management appeal to Lawyers?
    - they weren’t trained for project management in law school
    - lawyers feel that there are so many variables in the practice of law that it is hard to impose structure on it
    - lawyers have not traditionally looked to the business world to find best practices to adopt
    - lawyers enjoy the autonomy that comes with subject-matter expertise

    The drive to LPM is accelerated by several forces, starting with the client’s need for budgetary certainty. In-house counsel are getting increasingly concerned about costs. They want value and they want budgets that are agreed in advance and then met or improved. They definitely don’t want cost overruns. Further, as law firms shift their focus from revenue to profitability, LPM will be an essential tool to ensure client satisfaction with appropriate margins for the firm.

    LPM is not a magic bullet. Most projects do not meet the goals of on-time and on-budget delivery. However, without LPM the participants won’t know what exactly on-budget delivery means.

    Planning is key. However, it isn’t a one-time effort. You don’t plan once and then just execute against your plan. Instead, you create a plan, begin to execute, manage and monitor, and then use your monitoring data to improve the plan as necessary.

    At the end of the project, you produce not only the project deliverables to your clients, but also your project records, which become the project assets that remain after the client has moved on.

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  • Law firms in England were famous in earlier years for hiring armies of practice support lawyers to carry out knowledge management activities. By contrast, many North American firms have resisted doing this because of the personnel costs and management challenges involved. In lieu of armies, some North American firms have opted to throw technology at their practice problems. Even still, there are some functions that people can perform better than machines alone.

    Faced with this conundrum, at least one law firm has moved to a lower cost solution in the form of offshore knowledge management lawyers. This firm has established an office in a country that has many well-trained lawyers and a cost of living that is considerably lower than that of the major financial centers. As a result, they are able to accomplish some of their standard KM activities at a fraction of the cost they incurred before.

    A representative of this firm was honest about some of his early misgivings about this approach, but was pleased to report that the performance of their offshore KM lawyers has far exceeded even their most optimistic expectations.

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