Turning KM from a Cost Center to a Profit Generator

Mara Nickerson, Meredith Williams-Range, and Evan Shenkman discuss how law firm KM can generate business for law firms. (A more detailed session description is at the end of this post.)

  • Mara Nickerson: Chief Knowledge Officer, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
  • Evan J. Shenkman: Director of Knowledge Management Counsel and Research, Ogletree Deakins
  • Meredith Williams-Range: Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer, Shearman & Sterling LLP

[These are my notes from the 2018 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.]


  • Direct Revenue KM. This involves client-facing tools and services that generate review for the firm.
    • Oslers Subscription service for clients
      • Osler’s AccessPrivacy provides a knowledge hub on privacy matters. The information is organized by topic, mainained by a KM lawyer. Oslers lawyers consider this their own knowledge hub as well.  In addition to the knowledge hub, Oslers organizers a monthly call for subscribers. This allows clients to serve themselves on the easy issue
      • Lessons learned
        • focus on fee-sensitive practice areas
        • be clear upfront about the ROI
        • Be  honest about the total cost of ownership: the cost of development, the cost of maintenance, the cost of recruiting subscribers, etc. And be equally honest about the revenue potential, which may exceed the base subscription costs.
        • Solicit client input from the first stage and keep them involved in the development
    • Ogletree Deakins
      • Their subscription services:
        • Arbitration Agreement builder tool
        • OD Comply: a subscription suite of client services to stay on top of labor &employment law resources and services
        • EEO Advantage Program: an expert and efficient way of handling EEO claims, supported by dashboards
        • Learning Solutions: customized for clients
        • FMLA Edge: helps employers comply with the Family & Medical Leave Act
        • 1-9 Secure: helps clients with immigration matters
      • Lessons Learned:
        • follow the TurboTax model — may it easy to use without training
        • provides dashboards that are easy to read and act on
        • recruit a shareholder champion
        • who need full collaboration with attorneys — they need to be involved throughout the development process
        • you need to spend money to make money
        • be prepared to pull the plug if the product/service is not a success
    • Shearman
      • Don’t start a direct revenue project unless there is a clear market demand for that product/service.
      • Start by looking at where revenue is being lost — a place where there are slim margins and a lot of write-offs is a good candidate for a KM solution.
      • Their subscription Emerging Company Formation App will help increase margin by 10-11% simply by speeding up the process and increasing efficiency.
      • Their international stock benefits work involves high write-offs of associate time. It involves canvassing local counsel for updates in local law. They are using Neota Logic to substantially reduce the time and effort involved in gathering the updates. Then they make the results available through their subscription International Stock Benefits App.
      • The key is to make the product/service once and then sell it one thousand times.
      • Lessons Learned
        • Create the right culture that finds the opportunities and learns how evaluate those opportunities properly.
        • Create a rigorous application development process.
        • Upkeep and support are huge burdens. Partner with good technology providers as much as you can. Don’t assume the entire burden.
      • Market Evaluation Process:
        • Are you going after new market share? (Getting new business from new clients.)
        • Are you going after new wallet share? (Getting more business from existing clients.)
        • Find a way to track all the direct and indirect revenue you are generating
  • Indirect Revenue KM. The number one reason lawyers/law firms are left behind is because of lack of efficiency.

    • Everything we can do to improve efficiency increases client stickiness.
      • Enterprise search
      • High-quality model documents and templates
    • Shearman
      • offers a variety of online services that are loss leaders and intended to create client stickiness.
      • Shearman Merger Matrix — they created an internal application using Neota Logic. It speed up the process and increases revenue opportunities.
    • Ogletree
      • ODConnect: their intranet
      • ODSearch: enterprise search
      • OD Blueprint: their legal project management offering
      • Lessons Learned:
        • these services must be a collaborative effort among a variety of departments. It’s not a solo job for KM.
        • clients are interest in what’s behind the curtain — they want to know how their lawyers work more efficiently
        • attorneys are more willing to share than ever — even subject matter experts are more willing to share
        • cilents are increasingly expecting these tools to be free
    • Oslers
      • Osler Code Detect
        • this idea came from an associate. It analzes the open source code clients are using and identifies potential licensing issues.
          • this tool has generated new business for this innovative associate. (This associate often does hackathons.)
      • Oslers merger notification tool
      • Oslers helps clients map their own processes. The lawyers involved always leave with new business.
  • The staffing model is changing. Even the biggest firms are shifting work away from the billable hour model. So these firms are increasing their focus on efficiency. KM is critical to improving efficiency and reducing write-offs.
  • How to promote law firm KM
    • Get involved in the RFP process. Ensure that KM efficiencies are included in our RFPs.
    • Get involved in the pitch process. When your firm includes you in a client pitch, the firm is making a major statement about the importance of KM within the firm.

Session Description:

Many firms shortsightedly think of KM as a cost center, rather than a revenue generator. This discussion will illustrate different ways that firms have successfully turned the script by using KM to bring in meaningful firm business—both at the pitch stage, and as a revenue-generator with KM client-facing service offerings. Learn how these successes increase KM buy-in internally, help justify KM headcount, and illustrate that KM is a differentiator between firms that have it ? versus firms that do not.

For more information: see Ron Friedman’s post on this session.