The SharePoint Swiss Army Knife

Swiss Army KnifeLove it or hate it, you can’t ignore SharePoint.  Thanks to the might of Microsoft, SharePoint has become part of the technology and knowledge management conversation at law firms all over the world.

While not every law firm has deployed it, most I’ve talked to are thinking about it.  Unfortunately,  all that thinking is giving them a headache.  Some don’t understand exactly what SharePoint does.  Others have read the marketing materials, but are disturbed by the mixed reports they are hearing from colleagues at other firms.  At a recent meeting I attended, a colleague from another firm summed up SharePoint rather succinctly: (i) SharePoint is a pretty decent Portal and provides a convenient platform on which a firm can gather and display information from a variety of silos, (ii)  it has aspirations of being a document management system which when fully realized could make it a powerful player in this space, and (iii) it provides some workflow tools that are much needed by law firms.

One of the biggest problems with SharePoint seems to be that it has been marketed like a Swiss Army Knife: capable of doing lots of things.  However, the tools provided aren’t always up to the job.  A case in point is SharePoint’s social media tools.  For example, in one recent listserv conversation someone asked about the experience of others in deploying SharePoints blogs and wikis.  The uniform response was that those tools were rudimentary at best and ultimately proved disappointing.  In fact, each respondent said they were looking for a better, more functional third-party tool that they could plug into SharePoint.  What nobody discussed was the opportunity cost of using SharePoint first and leaving their user group dissatisfied.

Initially, I thought the concerns about SharePoint and social media were more about the user interface and lack of full functionality.  However, while attending a webinar this week on using taxonomies in SharePoint, I heard something that gave me pause:  one of the experts on the panel said that while SharePoint appeared to offer the ability to have both top-down taxonomies and bottom-up folksonomies, you really could not (and perhaps should not) deploy both.  That struck me as wrong-headed so I consulted with the father of folksonomy, Thomas Vander Wal.  In an exchange on Twitter, he told me the following:

  • SharePoint’s understanding of folksonomy is really poor and really mangles some things.  Data structures are right. Others not so.
  • In folksonomy the co-occurence of terms works in similar fashion to hierarchy, but SharePoint doesn’t make that easy.
  • The folksonomy should identify gaps in taxonomy and help inform it, but SharePoint didn’t grasp that so it doesn’t work there.

These statements might at first strike you as succinct (or perhaps cryptic), but that’s a function of the size limitations of Twitter.  Regardless, the message comes through loud and clear:  while purporting to provide social media support, SharePoint appears to have misunderstood some basic things about how social media work such that the underlying SharePoint structure seems to resist or hinder full social media functionality.  As a result, firms that are relying on SharePoint to provide a full social media experience may well be disappointed.

To be fair, you may be able to open a wine bottle and slice a piece of cheese with your Swiss Army Knife, but are you actually able to use it to prepare a nutritious and delicious meal?  It seems that the SharePoint Swiss Army Knife suffers from similar limitations when it comes to social media.

[Photo Credit: AJ Cann]


Falling in Love Again

It’s Valentine’s Day. Do you remember the pleasure of a new love — the excitement, the giddiness, the joy? So tell me, when was the last time you felt that way about your office technology? To be fair, it’s rare to have an elevated pulse when thinking about over-burdened workhorses, but that’s a shame. Do you take them for granted because they are merely functional or do you undervalue them because they are largely annoying??

What would it take for them to delight you?

These are the questions I’ve been asking myself as I consider the technology workhorses I’ve been using for years. And, they are questions I ask myself when planning new systems. While I’m not suggesting that we should always be defending the Maginot Line, paying attention to lessons learned isn’t about fighting the last battle all over again. Rather, it’s about ensuring that we don’t institutionalize mistakes because “we’ve always done it that way before.”

Most importantly, seeking to delight rather than merely deliver sets you apart from the crowd. And, it creates wonderfully loyal customers. It’s a great strategy for success.

[Photo Credit: Ron Doke]


SharePoint Collaboration [LegalTech 2011]

SharePoint Collaboration Across Your Team. Panelists: Meredith L. Williams (Director of Knowledge Mangement at Baker, Donelson) and Steve Fletcher (Chief Information Officer at Parker Poe).

[These are my notes from LegalTech NY 2011.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Agenda — Best practices for leveraging SharePoint across your firm; serving clients and adding firm value; what they’ve learned NOT to do; design and development option.
  • Using SharePoint for Practice & Industry Teams — Baker Donelson is using SharePoint 2007, but are moving to SP 2010. They have 30 practice & industry teams. Each team appoints knowledge management lawyers who assist with KM projects, including maintaining the resources for the SharePoint site. (Each team has a SharePoint site. The sites are different, depending on the needs of the relevant team.) The sites provide acess to a bank of standard form documents, sample work product search (via West KM), sample clause & defined term search, and practice guides.
  • Cross-Department & Practice Group Teams — While not every Parker Poe practice group was interested in building and maintaining an SP site, several teams have found SP sites to be powerful tools. (Teams are multidisciplinary groups focused on a particular issue (e.g., health care reform, green buildings, etc.)
  • Efficiency Tools — Baker Donelson uses Deal Builder/ Contract Express to put together document drafting packages, They have also created expertise location tools that allow lawyers to identify their own expertise and locate other experts. They also have created a training platform that provides training materials (including podcasts, slides, case law, practice guides, additional resources) to lawyers within the firm and direct to clients. These materials are created and maintained by the lawyers themselves.
  • Staffing — Baker Donelson does not have a large dedicated SP staff. Instead, the small KM group teams with the three web developers in the It department to create materials that can be maintained by the lawyers themselves. One of these web developers is entirely dedicated to creating and maintaining key SP workflow. Parker Poe’s SP deployment was their first experience of portala. To begin, they created a cross-department team to create and the SP site. This team included IT, Marketing and the Library. Marketing helped with the look and feel and planned the formal launch of the portal. They worked with XMLaw to plan and carry out the initial deployment. Parker Poe now has a dedicated SP administrator
  • Information Governance — the Baker Donelson KM team is responsible for governance. All materials are housed in their original silos to ensure security, ethical walls, and accessibility for legal holds.
  • Client-Facing Sites — Parker Poe started with their Resort Hospitality team site. The site includes tips for clients, info on new Portal resources, industry news and events, information on new client matters, they included links to 10, 000 documents in an iManage folder. Once they heard that lawyers in the team were showing it to clients and getting rave reviews, they created a related client-facing site that provides information on a location-specific basis. For example, a location-specific site includes information on local resources, weather, news, legislation, local contacts, documents relating to that location. They gave HubbardOne XMLaw OneView Extranet 60 days to create the client-facing site.
  • Client-Team Sites — Baker Donelson has automated workflow whereby the moment a new matter is opened, that triggers the creation of an internal SP site that includes every piece of information they have relating to the client and matter. Sample content: client contact information (drawn from Interaction), working with Monitor Suite; they provide a live feed of public information showing the practice trends of that client. The client-facing view of the client service team site shows: a real-time view of the matter calendar; information on external experts involved in the case; Baker Donelson created a litigation hold management system for the client and mapped the client’s data workflow (each node on the map is linked to a wiki that is populated by Baker Donelson lawyers, thereby creating transparency into matter documents).
  • Management Dashboard — Baker Donelson has created a dashboard to provide an overview on top clients and top prospective clients.
  • Legal Project Management — Baker Donelson is using their SP portal to help run their LPM effort. They have a project management office to run their administrative projects AND a Legal Project Management Office that helps manage legal matter. They created a template that helps generate a project site that integrates models, samples, budget information (including actuals) using the Budget Manager tool,
  • External Toolkits — Baker Donelson has created toolkits for clients: Board of Directors toolkit, IPO toolkit. Among the resources, they provide access to model and sample documents, as well detailed legislative resources. Many of the resources are populated by wikis maintained directly by lawyers within the firm. These are built in basic SP (like the internal sites) and are sold to clients on a subscription basis.
  • Lessons Learned — Assemble the right cross-departmental team to plan, deploy and maintain the portal; create diverse test groups and use them; test before release and then test again; don’t force adoption — pull them in with relevant information that’s quick and easy to find; identify your authoritative source of data (e.g., Active Directory) and make sure the data is clean and reliable; make sure the content is refreshed frequently — especially on the home page; start with critical low-hanging fruit to drive traffic and usage (e.g., HR data and financial data)
  • Design & Development — interview users and create pilot groups to guide the design process. They in turn will become portal advocates. Many users are now looking for more personalized interfaces — this presents new design challenges. It is also a departure from the cookie cutter SP sites many firms provided before.
  • Metrics — Be sure to monitor everything down to individual links. It’s important to know what is being used, when it is used and by whom.

Internalizing & Off Shoring Information Management

Lessons Learned from Internalizing and Off Shoring the Management of Information [Internalizing means moving information management responsibilities inside your in-house legal department. Off shoring means using vendors who handle the work outside the US. While this session was primarily focused on eDiscovery and document review, the lessons are useful if you are rethinking how to handle information management more generally for your law firm or law department.]


  • Theresa Beaumont, Global Policy on eDiscovery, Google
  • Cathy Hasenzahl, Assistant GC (Document Review), JPMorgan Chase
  • Stacie Neeter, Huron Consulting Group (Moderator)

[These are my notes from LegalTech NY 2011.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Discussion Topics — (1) steps to manage information after the program is in place; (2) how an internalizing or off shoring program affects staff; (3) what works and what doesn’t with respect to reducing costs?
  • Off Shoring — What should you consider first? Be sure to vet the process of the vendor — how do they manage confidential information, who is on the project team, what is their work process, how do they ensure quality? Ask for customized reports from the vendor so that you don’t have to struggle to determine if your cost/risk/benefit balance is appropriate. If possible, go to India to meet the team and inspect the facility. Alternatively, be sure that the vendor’s senior project management team meets you in person here.
  • Internalizing — What should you consider first? Take a close look at some prior cases with a variety of vendors to get a good handle on the process and cost. Understand the extent to which your external law firm has brought efficiencies to the process. To help keep internal staff engaged, collect metrics that show progress (or lack of progress).
  • How to Ensure Quality of Off Shored Work? JPMorgan Chase has senior attorneys who review the work of the vendor. They regular sample and test work product during the course of the project. They also provide a sample set to outside counsel as a means of calibrating the review. In addition, make sure you understand exactly what the vendor does to ensure high quality work product. (Thus far, they have found the quality to be excellent.) Make yourself a key part of the vendor’s team and process. Be available for questions from the team. Don’t just “throw documents over the wall” and then wait for the final work product.
  • Ensuring the Quality of the Internal Review Team — compare the results of the internal group against the results of closed cases. In addition, try to keep external counsel engaged. They can help assess quality and provide guidance.
  • What’s the Business Case for Using Internal Review, External Review or a Hybrid? Theresa Beaumont believes that most companies use a hybrid model where some of the data is reviewed internally and some externally (either by vendors or outside counsel). She did not think there were many (or any) vendors who could do it all. The decision to use internal versus external resources is situation specific — it depends on time, effort and cost constraints.
  • Role of Outside Counsel — Be sure you know the major players among the vendors and what technologies are most effective. Clients look to their counsel for advice. Equally, clients have a greater level of comfort working with law firms that are conversant with the process and how to adapt to the client’s preferred way of working.
  • Establishing Cost Savings — Metrics are key. If you are able, assign an analyst on your team to scrutinize the vendor reports to ensure the cost savings are materializing as promised. To the extent necessary, ask the vendor to customize reports to make this easier for your team.
  • Budgeting for Individual Matters — JPMorgan Chase has developed a spreadsheet that allows them to track the costs of each matter. This helps them balance costs against probable risk and encourages them to respond in a proportional matter. Some companies use a cost dashboard so that in-house counsel have a quick overview of each matter.
  • Have a Plan B — be sure you understand the possible contingencies related to your off shore or internal program and have a Plan B to handle each contingency should it occur. You should assume that you will need Plan B.
  • Optimal Vendor Relationships — the most important factor is TRUST. The vendor should communicate clearly and well. This is particularly true when problems arise. In the event of a mistake, the vendor should communicate promptly both with respect to what happened and how they are going to fix it. In addition, it is important that vendors are clear about their limitations so that the client understands when additional resources will be necessary. Other key factors are TRANSPARENCY with respect to the bills and clear ACCOUNTABILITY for delivering services as promised. Of course, all of these relationship factors apply to outside counsel!

Efficiencies for Your Bottom Line

Efficiencies for Your Bottom Line: Five Steps to Reducing Costs in the Next 6 Months


  • Joy Saphia, Huron (Moderator)
  • Mary Pape, Director of Global Complex Litigation, Dell
  • Gary Nelson, Medtronic
  • Ellen Rosenthal, Chief Counsel, Pfizer Legal Alliance
  • Lani Miller, Litigation Department, Bank of America

[These are my notes from LegalTech NY 2011.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Dell — they have created a system of online auctions in which tasks are unbundled and put out for bid by outside counsel. This is particularly useful for non-litigation work. (They also use it for class action administrators and eDiscovery service providers.) In addition, it allows Dell departments to have access to a wider range of counsel at better price points than they could negotiate by themselves. The psychology of the auction often encourages service providers to offer better rates.
  • Medtronic — they hired Huron to help them create a system for managing costs. They have formed a network of preferred providers that includes the outside counsel with whom they regularly work.
  • Pfizer Legal Alliance — Pfizer sets flat ANNUAL fees with 18 preferred law firms. These tend to be firms with multiple high quality practice areas. The Alliance system allows these firms to grow their relationship with Pfizer in a natural way. This Alliance accounts for 75% of Pfizer’s legal work. (They don’t include certain local counsel work.) Each firm receives 1/12 of their annual fee each month, regardless of actual costs. This means that Pfizer lawyers are relieved of the burden of reviewing and approving monthly bills. At the end of the year, there is a bonus process to reward superior performance. The Alliance system includes narrative feedback and opportunities to evaluate the teamwork between client and counsel, as well as the quality of the work product. This is a 360 degree process — Pfizer lawyers rate each of the firms; each firm rates Pfizer and each other to assess quality of work and quality of collaboration. The Pfizer Legal Alliance is jointly governed by Pfizer lawyers and outside counsel.
  • Bank of America — is moving from 100s of firms to just 30 to handle defensive litigation. (They haven’t included corporate/transactional work yet.) They also have put in place some alternative fee arrangements with their outside counsel.
  • 1st Step to Reducing Costs: Identify who does the work — Who is doing the work? Should it be done internally or externally> Who should be doing the work?
  • 2nd Step: Assign (and pay for) external matters based on the value of the work
  • 3rd Step: For work sent outside, unbundle tasks and reasssign as appropriate.
  • 4th Step: Find the Right Firm — the right law firm staffing leads to the right rates.
  • 5th Step: Leverage Your Experience & Data — Use what you’ve learned to negotiate rates an evaluate alternative arrangements such as fixed fees
  • Managing Outside Counsel — improper management can lead to unnecessary costs. Dell stays closely involved with their matters — they often attend depositions and hearings. Bank of America has created a database of subject matter experts across the country. These are the outside counsel they rely on. Most of Bank of America’s high volume low risk cases are handled on a fixed fee basis by 13 of the their 30 preferred firms. This caps the costs for the Bank and encourages firms to improve efficiencies.
  • Firms Don’t Always Behave Rationally — Pfizer anticipated that their law firms would revise their internal processes immediately to accommodate the new flat fees. Instead, many retained their hourly billing mentality and processes, and then came back to Pfizer when the law firm exceeded its budget. Pfizer said that meeting the budget was the responsibility of the law firm. Further, while Pfizer may recommend use of its preferred providers, it ultimately is the choice of the law firm since hiring excessively expensive service providers will cut into the law firm’s margins.
  • Flexible Fixed Fees — Pfizer builds some flexibility into its fixed fee arrangements to take account of fluctuations in case load. If a firm ends up handling more work than expected, the fixed fee will be adjusted accordingly.
  • Unbundling Services — Dell has unbundled eDiscovery, document review, research work, appellate work. With respect to research, for example, Dell may give research to a particular subject matter expert even though that expert’s firm is not handling the entire the matter.
  • eBilling Data — Initially Medtronic used eBilling as an invoice processing machine. Over time, they have learned to use the eBilling system for data mining. They can now determine law firm staffing efficiency, whether the work is dispersed too widely, etc. This allows Medtronic to have a productive conversation with outside counsel to help improve efficiency and reduce costs.
  • How Pfizer Sets Annual Fees — Pfizer uses a combination of a bottoms approach (asking each Pfizer practice group to say what they expect to spend in the following year) plus a top-down approach whereby Pfizer determines at a strategic level which firms it wants to encourage by giving them more work. In addition, they are in regular conversation with their outside counsel.

I had to ask the panel: Given how much time and effort in-house lawyers spend monitoring and arguing about outside counsel bills, why wouldn’t every company’s legal department want to follow the Pfizer approach? After some slightly rueful laughter on the part of the panel (and audience), one panelist said they felt they needed more eBilling data before they would feel confident enough to move to a fixed annual fee system. At this point Ellen Rosenthal of Pfizer interjected and said that while they had some financial data before starting the program, it really began on the strength of a strategic and pragmatic decision on the part of their General Counsel who was convinced that the hourly billing system was not working for Pfizer and that they needed a better way. In other words, the main prerequisite for this is COURAGE.

What’s the proof of the system? After Pfizer and Wyeth merged, the workload of the combined in-house legal department was much larger than that of the Pfizer lawyers pre-merger. Despite this, their legal expenditures have declined by 15%.


Alternative Fees and Value [LegalTech 2011]

Leveraging Technology to Achieve Quality and Competitive Excellence. This session is focused on how lawyers provide “value” to their clients. The presenters are Brad Blickstein (Principal, Blickstein Group, Inc,) and Kimberly Townsan (Senior Manager, Legal Administration, United Technology Corporation).

[These are my notes from LegalTech NY 2011.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Value, Like Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder — The ONLY beholder that matters is the client. The key for outside counsel is to focus on delivering to the client the outcome desired by the client. Don’t focus on the means of production. The panelists quoted David Cambria of Aon who once said that when you hire a gunslinger, you don’t pay by the bullet.
  • ACC Value Challenge — Every firm that is interested in providing value to clients should study the ACC Value Challenge. The panelist recommended the blog post exchange on the ACC website between Seyfarth Shaw and Wolverine.
  • Leveraging Data — How can we use data to more effectively price and bill for legal services and manage outside counsel? These are the challenges that clients and their lawyers face. Seyfarth Shaw, as a preferred provider to United Technologies Corporation (UTC), spent considerable partner time and effort to review their matters and accurately price the work they were proposing to provide to UTC. (As part of this effort, they examined and revised their work processes.) UTC believes that each provider needs to determine its own costs and margins and then make a proposal; this is preferable to the client dictating the AFA.
  • UTC’s Experience with AFAs — UTC started requiring alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) with intellectual property work, but are now asking for it for more types of matters. At this time, approximately 50% of their matters are priced on an AFA basis. They are trying to reach a balance whereby both UTC and its law firms prosper. Their experience is that firms tend to start the AFA conversation by proposing a price based on a historical average. However, these prices often prove to be unreliable. UTC prefers to set a banded price. This sets a cap on the ultimate price, plus it gives outside counsel an incentive to improve efficiency and thereby improve margins. UTC has coupled these AFAs with detailed arrangements concerning what UTC will or will not pay for and which preferred providers UTC wants their outside counsel to use.
  • How Do Clients Evaluate Outside Counsel? — AON has a series of detailed lawyer dashboards that show how outside counsel have performed with respect to a number of criteria determined by AON that cover everything from efficiency to quality of advice received. UTC analyzes several areas of outside counsel performance including the extent to which counsel provide sufficient review and comment time to UTC lawyers, and whether outside counsel treat senior UTC personnel differently than junior UTC personnel.
  • Process and Efficiency — How can we leverage technology and process to improve efficiency and get more “bank for the buck”? UTC works with its preferred legal providers to ensure both eBilling by outside counsel and the efficient payment of bills by UTC.
  • Knowledge Transfer Inefficiencies and Matter Management — UTC has 270 lawyers in-house posted around the world. These lawyers supervise thousands of matters. UTC implemented matter management in the late 1990s, but it was initially for housing information on legal costs rather than a means for actually managing their various matters. Since then, UTC has been looking for ways to integrate outside counsel in the matter management system (LT Online) rather than making the UTC lawyers work with different extranets provided by every outside firm. UTC tried to minimize “rework,” which involves taking information from outside counsel and reworking it so it can be added it to UTC’s matter management and knowledge repositories. They have 30 US firms that access their matter management system directly. This accounts for about 85% of UTC’s US docket. UTC provides training to their outside counsel to ensure they can use the system efficiently. The system includes staffing information, legal documents, matter updates, etc. The matter management system is not intended to capture all matter information, just critical information about each matter. UTC’s experience is that providing matter management system access to outside counsel has greatly diminished the need to rework data from these lawyers. In Townsan’s view, this is one of the best efficiency enhancers they have.
  • How Legal Project Management and Quality Programs Help — applying quality improvement techniques (e.g., lean six sigma) may involve significant investment of time, money and effort on the part of a firm and may not always be absolutely necessary. However, every firm can benefit from creating project plans or doing after action reviews. (Interestingly, very few members of the audience said that their firms did either.) Consider using a battery of tools to cut your costs, and then price matters so that the law firm improves its effective hourly rate (its margin), while reducing the client’s overall expenditure.
  • Is the Recent Focus on AFAs a Fad or the New Normal? — In Townsan’s view, the AFAs introduce reliability and predictability into their budgeting process. This keeps the legal department and finance department happy since both of them hate surprises (especially unpleasant financial surprises). Further, during times of corporate belt-tightening, companies remain contractually bound to comply with their AFA arrangements. By contrast, they can always trim the number of hours they are willing to pay for. As a result, she thinks that AFAs are here to stay. Blickstein, on the other hand, is a bit more cynical about this. He believes that once the economic pressure is off, firms (and inside counsel) will revert to the familiarity and relative comfort of hourly billing. He noted that we’ve been talking about the importance for AFAs for decades, but they haven’t yet become the norm. Nonetheless, he observed that any firm that finds ways to provide its work product more efficiently at a thoughtful price will always flourish.