Baker Donelson takes a holistic approach to firm strategic planning. In this keynote segment, attendees will hear from Jennifer Keller—Baker Donelson’s new President and COO. Taking the position in April, she is the first woman in this role and brings a unique perspective to the function of knowledge management in pursuit of the firm’s strategic goals.
Speaker: Jennifer P. Keller, Firm President & Chief Operating Officer, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC
[These are my notes from the 2015 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession. 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.]
- KM Development at the Firm. Baker Donelson’s KM efforts started in 2002. In 2004, they instituted “KM Dollars” (now called the venture fund — see below) to provide incentives to lawyers to participate in KM projects. In 2005, they launched their first KM strategic plan. In 2010, they moved to their second KM strategic plan. Now they are working on strategic efforts for the 2015-2019 period: KM Consultancy work, KM Technology and Product Development, and KM Department Reengineering.
- Holistic Approach to Strategic Planning. Baker Donelson has a strategic planning body that involves departments, practice groups, KM LPM, Marketing executive management, and the Board (i.e., management committee in strategic planning. This strategic planning body studies, plans and recommends courses of action for the firm.
- The Venture Fund. The venture fund is the way to “pay” attorneys for working on non-billable projects, including KM and other research and development projects. This fund is a “significant amount of dollars” that are put in the budget and used to compensate attorneys with billable hour credit for strategic projects that are otherwise non-billable. They have a rigorous application review process that requires each application include an approved plan. Then, when the lawyers apply for funding, their claim must be substantiated by an audit by the KM department to ensure the work done through this fund is of strategic value to the firm.
- 5 Keys to integrating KM into the Firm.
- Understand the psychology of the attorney of 2015. There is pre-2008 lawyer life and post-2008 lawyer life. Now lawyers are operating under greater scrutiny with respect to efficiency and value for the client. Now the new focus is: lower cost, more profitability, productivity.
- Have a seat at the table. To be effective in KM, you need to understand the firm and its people. This means being at the strategic planning table, and having a foot in administrative management and practice management. If you cannot get a seat at the table, have a relentless advocate who does have a seat at the table.
- Focus on client value. This does not mean the same thing to everyone: lower cost? Higher predictability? Better outcomes? More transparency? The definition of client value is set solely by the client. So you need to have some core agreement with your clients as to what constitutes client value to them. If you do a client survey, make sure that the KM department sees the results to that they can tailor their work accordingly.
- Don’t forget the importance of Support Staff and Administrative Departments. Assistants are integral to the work of attorneys and their practices. These assistants can be important allies when converting lawyers to a new workflow or behavior.
- Identify and help remove obstacles. Look at what is working. Look at what is not being used. Then ask “Why?” When you find the answers, you will be a hero. As you do this work, remember that good communication is critical. Don’t fall back on email for everything. Baker Donelson uses a great deal of one-on-one training to help people in the firm engage with KM and its efforts.
- Have a great KM team.