Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss

image002If you ever have the opportunity to hold an off-the-record conversation with law firm knowledge management personnel, ask them if they are delighted with their intranet. Many will confess that they are not. Equally, they will tell you that they did not have much choice about the software because their IT colleagues did not believe there were credible alternatives, and everyone agreed that it would be too expensive and time-consuming to build an intranet from scratch. Consequently, they defaulted to the standard law firm approach to software.

Law firms generally use three types of software:

  1. Purpose built: Software that was created specifically for a legal practice. Examples of this would be Diligence Engine, Exemplify and KM Standards. These applications were created by lawyers to address specific challenges that arise in the practice of corporate law.
  2. Client preferred: Software that law firms use because doing so makes it easier to share information with clients. The leading example of this would be the Microsoft Office suite of tools. There is nothing about those applications that was created specifically for the practice of law, but we use them because the results are in a form clients recognize.
  3. Herd default: Software that was not created for the practice of law, but we use in the legal industry because other firms use it. This is software that was not designed to address the challenges of legal practice and may present its own challenges to lawyers and law firm administrative staff, yet we contort ourselves to make it fit. A perfect example of this type of tool is Microsoft SharePoint.

Using the first two types of software makes sense: In the first case, because it makes the lives of lawyers easier and, in the second case, because it makes the lives of clients easier. So what is the rationale for using software that was not created for law firms and is not required by clients? In the case of SharePoint, there seem to be several reasons that, taken together, can make the decision nearly inevitable in some firms:

  • No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.
  • Some firms received SharePoint “for free,” in that it was bundled into the enterprise Microsoft license for no additional cost upfront.
  • A survey of IT colleagues indicates that SharePoint is “industry standard”.

If everyone else is using it, how bad can it be? An honest conversation with knowledge management colleagues working in firms in Australia, Canada, England and the US suggests that it can be pretty bad. This does not mean that they are unable to create something that works, more or less. However, few truly are delighted with the results. And even fewer are happy with the actual costs of implementing and upgrading SharePoint, much less the logistical challenge of finding and keeping experienced developers and administrators to maintain the resulting intranet.

So why do we adopt the herd default? Often it is because we simply lack information about alternative options. This would be excusable if information about intranets was hard to find, but the reality is that a simple search online will turn up many credible alternatives. In fact, the Nielsen Norman Group (who are leading intranet experts) reports that there are lots of credible alternatives to SharePoint:

Many organizations are happy to report that a variety of tools, including open-source tools, are catching up to their needs. Everyone cannot necessarily afford to integrate and support large, complex intranet portal solutions such as SharePoint. But as technology matures, the barriers to entry are lowered, and more portal technology options become available.

This is not a new concept for intranet portal design. In 2000 when we first began studying intranets, open source was used heavily. Not until 2008 did we see SharePoint taking a strong hold. Even that year, our 10 Intranet Design Annualwinners used 41 different products for their intranet technology platforms. In our most recent (2014) Intranet Design Annual, 5 out of 10 winners used SharePoint. In our intranet behavioral-research studies, organizations used about 20 different portal-software tools. So there has never been a paucity of intranet portal technology that can produce worthwhile portals. What’s different today is that technology has advanced to a point where a fairly nontechnical team can create a highly functional portal without an advanced design team in-house.

Here’s the rub: according to the Nielsen Norman Group, it should be possible today to implement an intranet without significant technological expertise. Tell that to the law firm KM departments that struggle daily to modify and maintain their SharePoint intranets. It would be their dream to be able to create, modify and maintain an intranet without any intervention by their IT staff once the active directory was hooked up. Sadly, they consider this to be an impossible dream.

In fact, this dream is not only possible, but the reality for organizations that have chosen intranet software that does what good enterprise or consumer-facing software should do: it does all the heavy lifting so that the user can work more productively without getting bogged down in development challenges.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about one of the alternatives to SharePoint. It is intranet software created by Interact. The folks at Interact retained me to learn about their software and then write about how software like theirs might be helpful to law firm KM departments. I have done that and the resulting white paper will be available within the next few weeks.

While I don’t want to steal a march on the white paper, I must confess that seeing the Interact software in action made me sad for my colleagues in law firm KM departments. When I compared the sheer ease of implementing and administering Interact’s intranet with the stories my colleagues told about their own intranets, it was clear that many were struggling unnecessarily. Given the general approach of law firms to software, I realize that moving away from Microsoft may be a challenge. However, before following the herd, do yourself and your firm the favor of investigating the alternatives. It would be a crying shame to resign yourself to unnecessary struggle just because you did not know there were better alternatives within reach.

Intranet ignorance is NOT bliss.

[This blog post was cross-posted on the Interact blog.]

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What Scares Law Firm Knowledge Managers?

halloween-150363_1280We’ve all heard the “what keeps you up at night” question. Nonetheless, on a day devoted to terror, it seems appropriate to ask again: “What scares you?” If you’re a law firm knowledge manager, here are some things you ought to be considering:

  • Serious Security. Security is a good thing, no? Not if a concern for security significantly encroaches on the free flow of information across your firm. This is precisely the conundrum facing law firm knowledge managers who see clients driving their outside counsel to lock down information on a need-to-know basis. When these hyper-restrictive measures are in place, how do you ensure that the work of each lawyer represents the collective wisdom of the entire firm? This is the scary side of security.
  • Moldering Models. You may be in a KM department that has done an outstanding job of creating the model documents that the lawyers in your firm believe they need to work efficiently. But have you been equally successful in keeping those models updated? If not, how do you keep lawyers safe from errors that can occur when they rely on an outdated model?
  • Fewer Tech Toys. In the early 2000s, there were lots of technological advances to drive KM programs. Law firm KM personnel could keep themselves well-occupied by implementing client extranets, SharePoint portals and enterprise search engines. Recently, however, there have been few if any shiny new tech toys. This means that law firm knowledge managers must move beyond working for their vendors to actually considering a more strategic approach to KM. For some, this will be a daunting if not downright scary challenge.
  • Stagnant Career Path. Have you assessed the professional development of your KM staff recently? How many have been expanding their skills? How many have been assuming additional responsibilities? How many are ready for a new, more senior position? Can your firm provide them with a satisfying career path? In these days of reduced budgets, few firms are creating new positions. So how will you keep your best performers engaged and growing?
  • Competition from Financial Services Firms. In Snacking on Big Law’s Crumbs, I reported on how some accounting firms were doing work that looked an awful lot like legal work. In fact, they came close to competing with law firms. Competition from the financial services industry has now spilled over into law firm knowledge management.  While law firm KM jobs do not come up all that often, recently a few firms have seriously considered KM personnel from the financial services industry for senior roles in law firm KM departments. If you thought you could make steady progress up through the ranks to claim your law firm CKO crown someday, think again. It may not be all that easy if there is competition from law firm personnel AND financial services personnel. Are you ready to compete?

So what scares you? And what are you going to do about it?

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After Ark: Notes from the Legal KM Conference

ark-logoAs I discovered at last week’s Ark Legal KM Conference, one of the benefits of being a conference co-chair is that you have an opportunity to provide some closing remarks. Eager to take advantage of this opportunity, I prepared my remarks and a slide deck before the conference started. However, by the end of the first day of the conference it was clear to me that I would have to toss my materials and start over again. Why? Because the speakers took the conversation into some new areas that I had not heard discussed at recent Ark conferences.

How nice to be surprised!

Among the themes that emerged during the conference were the importance of trust, strategy, knowledge flows and alliances:

  • Trust. According to psychologist Robert Plutchik, trust is one of the eight primary emotions. As Bruna Martinuzzi points out, it may be the most fragile of the emotions: Trust is “difficult to establish, hard to maintain and easy to break.” The challenge for knowledge management personnel is that without trust there can be little effective knowledge sharing. Yet how many of us intentionally focus our efforts on establishing and preserving trust?
  • Strategy. As I discovered in the course of my research for Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions, having a strategy is critical if you wish to optimize your KM department. While any number of activities may be worthy, they won’t be ultimately worthwhile unless they serve your firm’s business strategy.  Interestingly, while many of the KM personnel attending the conference said that their firms had a business strategy and that their KM program was aligned with that strategy, virtually no one in the room was willing to claim that they used metrics to track their progress against strategic goals. Do we have a fundamental problem?
  • Knowledge Stocks versus Knowledge Flows. Traditionally, law firm KM has focused on building up sizeable knowledge stocks: inventories of model documents, practice guides, clause libraries, etc. To be honest, far too many lawyers believe it is the role of law firm KM to create these knowledge stocks and then make them accessible via the firm’s intranet. During the conference, however, we talked about the value of switching focus from knowledge stocks to knowledge flows. This switch would mean shifting from capturing, organizing and classifying knowledge into databases, collections and websites, to sharing knowledge by convening and facilitating conversations. If we’re agreed that the firm’s most valuable and elusive knowledge is its tacit knowledge, then why are some of us spending the bulk of our time on stocks of explicit knowledge?
  • Administrative Alliances. Lori Reese Patton (Chief Learning Officer) and Bill Turner (Chief Knowledge Officer) of Womble Carlyle showed the conference attendees an inspiring example of how much more can be accomplished when heads of administrative departments reach across departmental boundaries and silos to create alliances for the benefit of the firm. In a time of reduced budgets and smaller staff, strategic administrative alliances can expand a KM department’s opportunities, resources and impact.

This is just one of my snapshots of the conference. Each attendee of the conference undoubtedly has their own snapshots of memorable moments and lessons from the presentations. I hope the conversations begun at the Ark conference continue. There is much for all of us to learn together.

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Working in Darkness

A striking new two-minute video entitled “NYC Dark” is a powerful reminder of the impact of the recent Superstorm Sandy. When the lights went out in lower Manhattan, something very fundamental changed.

I was talking today to a colleague who said his home had just had electricity restored after 13 days of cold and dark. Having had the experience of involuntary dark, he far preferred living in the light.

Consider that when you cannot find the information you want, the precedent you need or the expert who can help, it is as if your law firm is operating with the lights turned off. This kind of information darkness is exactly what good knowledge management practices are intended to counteract.

In the aftermath of Sandy, no one elected to experience a power failure. It was entirely involuntary. So why do so many of us disregard good KM practices, thereby choosing to work under the constraints of information darkness?

[Hat tip to John Bordeaux for pointing me to the NYC Dark video.]

 

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Legal KM Needs Social Contracts

CONTRACT Lawyers draft contracts every day. We know the rules. For a valid contract to exist there must be at a minimum an offer and acceptance, as well as consideration. Law firms and in-house legal departments enter into contracts of this type with new employees all the time and hope that the consideration (i.e., financial compensation) will be sufficient to motivate stellar performance.  Modern psychology indicates that this is a misplaced hope.

In Social Pressure Is a Better Motivator Than Money, Scott Keller says that we need to move “beyond the ‘market contract’ with employees and [forge] a stronger ‘social contract’.” What’s a market contract? It’s that arrangement I described in the first paragraph; the arrangement that assumes that money (plus a few sanctions/remedies) will motivate performance. What’s a social contract? Keep reading.

Scott Keller cites several examples of social contracts:

  • Dan Ariely in Predictably Irrational explains a social contract by first asking you to picture an elaborate meal that your mother has planned and served to you. If after the meal you ask her how much money you owe her, she’ll most likely be taken aback, if not outright offended. On the other hand, if you brought a bottle of wine to dinner, she would be delighted. Why? She wasn’t operating under a market contract that stipulated a fee for services. Rather, she was operating under a social contract with you that allowed the gift of wine as a contribution to the meal.
  • In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner discuss a daycare center that hoped to cut down on late pick ups by imposing a fee on parents who were late. To their surprise, the number of late pick ups multiplied. Why? Once the penalty was introduced, it became a simple business transaction and parents could discharge their responsibilities by paying the fee. Before the fee, they tried harder not to be late because they didn’t want the responsibility (or resulting guilt) of making their childcare providers late. However, introducing a fee changed the arrangement from a social contact to a market contract. And then it was no longer personal — it was just business.
  • Keller also provides an example from the world of lawyers. He recounts that when the American Association of Retired Persons asked lawyers to provide services to needy retirees at a deeply discounted price of $30 per hour, they declined. Yet when the AARP later asked them to provide those same services for free, those lawyers agreed. Why? On strictly business terms the market contract of $30 made no sense. However, on a no-fee basis, the lawyers recognized the social good inherent in the now purely social contract.

Now consider how things work in traditional knowledge sharing efforts. After years of watching people nag, cajole or bribe knowledge workers to contribute to the KM system, I’ve come to realize that the people who contribute most do it for reasons other than money or negative pressure. First and foremost, they do it because it satisfies an inner drive to learn, to master a subject and to share. Others share out of a sense of community obligation, ensuring that their colleagues have the information necessary to do good work and stay out of trouble. Still others share knowledge to garner recognition as a good citizen, or perhaps even as a subject matter expert.

So how can social contracts help knowledge management efforts in law firms and legal departments? It’s about giving your colleagues the right opportunities to share knowledge, as well as positive reinforcement so that they continue to do the right thing. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be sure to thank each person who makes a contribution. This means more than sending an email that says “Thx.” We’re talking heartfelt, sincere appreciation. It can make all the difference in the world.
  • If you can get the head of your firm or legal department to express thanks as well, that’s even better.
  • Find opportunities to provide public recognition to people who contribute.
  • Collect success stories and share them. This is another form of public recognition. Further, by layering anecdote over anecdote, you can change for the better the conversation within your organization regarding knowledge sharing.
  • If appropriate, focus the knowledge sharing within a team in which existing relationships of trust will reinforce sharing behavior.

The key to this is placing knowledge sharing within a social contract. When that happens, it is more likely that your colleagues will engage and it will be harder for them to walk away. If you can ensure that contributors receive appropriate social compensation, you should be able to create a virtuous circle that leads to even better knowledge sharing.

[Hat tip to Neena Abraham for pointing out Scott Keller’s blog post.]

[Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass]

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How KM Misses the Point #ILTA12

The speaker in this session is John Alber (Partner, Bryan Cave).

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2012 Conference 2012. 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.]

NOTES:

  • Law Firm KM is too detached from the Business. John Alber believes that KM is introverted, introspective and far too insulated from the business of the firm. To add insult to injury, he thinks that law firm knowledge managers have created and fostered this state of affairs by calling themselves something that is impenetrable for most people, and by never properly explaining what exactly they do every day and how their work benefits the firm in dollar and cents.
  • KM is a “felt” need. Law firms invest in knowledge management because they feel they ought to. However, when the rubber hits the road (e.g., during an economic downturn), KM headcount is sacrificed. John believes that well-managed businesses invest in functions that provide proven long-term value. He would argue that law firm KM has not always produced the evidence to prove their value.
  • Start by Renaming KM in a Manner that Declares a Better Intention. Start by understanding the function. What does it do? KM doesn’t just manage knowledge. It INCREASES knowledge. It helps us understand what we do best and how we can help clients. Good KM makes good decision-making by the firm almost automatic. Most importantly, good KM is profoundly connected to profitably. John believes that if you are profoundly connected to profitability, you will not be laid off during a recession because you are critical to the firm’s financial well-being.
  • The Accenture Example. John Alber suggests Accenture is very similar to a law firm. In fact, he says they do exactly what we do: they work with incredibly busy professionals, they deliver technology, they train, they manage knowledge. What’s Accenture’s tag line? High performance delivered.
  • Key things to notice about Accenture. From the beginning, INNOVATION was at the core of their efforts and they have repeatedly been willing to take extraordinary risks in order to innovate. With respect to training, they ran that function like a business: they cut the training budget in half, but had to show measurable improvement in training results without relying on “squishy” metrics like user satisfaction. Further, they had to achieve a quantifiable return on the investment in their training business. To achieve this, they focused on increasing customer value and managing relationships with senior leaders and sponsors
  • Six Decisions IT Employees Should Never Make. John recommends that we read this Harvard Business Review book. (For a preview, see this slide deck.) It helps readers differentiate between strategic decisions the business should make and the operational decisions IT should make on behalf of the business.
  • Applying the Lessons. Rather than teaching how to use specific applications, teach people to work in the most efficient way, which will happen to use specific applications in a recommended way. In other words, don’t provide a training session on MS Word. Rather, provide a training session on how to draft a legal document using key aspects of MS Word properly.
  • Ask the Right Questions. Don’t start by asking what everyone else is doing. Rather, start by asking top firm executives what the firm is trying to achieve in the fiscal year for which you are planning. Take their concrete objectives and bring your KM efforts to bear to help make those objectives a reality. He says that asking that question led his firm to investment significantly in systems to rationally support alternative fee arrangements and project management.
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Why IT Doesn’t Matter and KM Matters Even Less to Clients #ILTA12

Why IT doesn’t matter and KM matters even less to clients: how to align services with expectations. This title is what John Alber calls “”a sharp stick in the eye, which is the shortest path to the brain.” The speakers are Sally Gonzalez, Risa Schwartz and Felicity Badcock. They will focus on what clients want and then look at some case studies that delivered to clients.

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2012 Conference 2012. 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.]

NOTES:

  • KM Pre-2000. The original focus for KM was collecting intellectual capital and professional training. The main benefits were risk management and efficiency. From 2000-2007, law firm knowledge management shifted to knowledge about people and clients. The benefits were to enhance marketing and business development. (CRM systems were knowledge management systems, although not every law firm marketing department understood this.) After 2008, it shifted from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market for legal services. This has resulted in client demands for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Clients are now demanding alternative fee arrangements, which shift the risk from the clients to their law firms. So now, while risk is still a driver for KM, it’s business risk (cost) rather than legal risk. In the current phase, knowledge managers are focused on legal project management and legal process improvement. The benefits of KM are now reduced costs, improved margins and increased profits.
  • KM:Commerciality and Organizational Structure. The threshold question is “what do clients want?” They want you to KNOW THEIR BUSINESS. Felicity Badcock showed the results of an Australian survey of buying patterns in the Australian legal market. In 2005, the biggest drivers were reliability and leading expertise. Since 2009, the top client concern is the business relevance of the legal advice outside counsel is offering.
  • Sector Teams. How do you address this driver of client buying? How does this get reflected within a firm? By restructuring operations to put the client at the center. At King & Wood Mallesons, KM now reports to the managing partner in charge of clients and markets. They have also tried to put the client at the center by organizing around industry sectors and also by legal practices. All clients are associated with sectors, as are KM efforts, professional development efforts, KPIs and business development. Since these sector teams were new creatures, not all the lawyers within the teams knew each other well. To facilitate communications and build relationships withint these new teams, the firm provided a social network to allow communication via status updates.
  • After Action Reviews. King & Wood Mallesons already has in place the practice of soliciting client feedback at the conclusion of a matter. They are now piloting a facilitated internal after action review. They are implementing a systematic method of interviewing members of the team to capture insights, report those insights and share them as knowledge assets fo the firm.
  • How to start the conversation with clients?. Risa Schwartz suggested that the law firm knowledge management personnel contact KM personnel at clients to jointly carry out a needs assessment. Risa says that once you ask the question you’ll find that the client is more than willing to share.
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Don’t Harm the Humans

Robot baby quilt top In the midst of a lively, thoughtful discussion, one of my friends and colleagues asked for a moment’s silence to take note of the fact that Mary Abraham had just endorsed automation over human action. This led to gales of laughter. Why? Because over the years I’ve become reasonably well-known in legal knowledge management circles for repeatedly reminding people that technology won’t solve every problem (note the banner of this blog) and that we might get further if we spent at least as much time and attention on people and processes as we do on the technology.

That remains my position, but with time and experience it has become slightly more nuanced. While I still don’t think that technology is the silver bullet, I also don’t believe that simply throwing more people at a problem is the best path to a solution either. Further, given the advances in technology today, it could arguably be abusive to humans NOT to adopt appropriate technology.

Not convinced? Think about the many processes within law firms that to this day still are not automated. They haven’t been studied, standardized or streamlined to improve efficiency and efficacy.  Rather they depend on a variety of people operating consistently at their personal best to ensure good results. In fairness, these folks have probably been doing a good job for many years.  But what if someone becomes ill or disengaged? What if they retire?  Where’s the safety in this system? There’s also the problem that you’re asking human beings to do work that a properly equipped machine could do. How demoralizing is that?

In the 1940s, Isaac Asimov introduced the Three Laws of Robotics (see video below). The first of these laws was:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

It’s helpful that he identified this way to reduce the likelihood that a robot might harm a human. However, that still leaves the human race very much at risk of harm from members of its own species.  With this in mind, consider what would change if law firm IT departments and KM departments adopted the following variant of the first law of robotics:

An IT department or KM department may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

What would the practical implications of this be?

  • We would have to spend much more time upfront considering user interface and user experience.
  • We would have to pay closer attention to HelpDesk inquiries and customer complaints — what keeps going wrong?
  • We would have to think harder about the “unintended consequences” (or, as Bruce MacEwen writing at Adam Smith Esq states more accurately, the “unanticipated consequences“) of the innovations we introduce.
  • We would have to stop asking our colleagues and our own staff to do things that more properly should be done by machines.
  • We would have to be willing to review and revise what we’re doing to ensure the humans we serve are not harmed.

As you think about your work and its consequences, can you honestly say that it does not harm humans? If not, what will you change?

[Hat tip to Michael Mills of Neota Logic for reminding me of Asimov’s Three Laws.]

[Photo Credit: Chelsea Wa]

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KM for the Obese Lawyer

Baigneurs Obesity in America is a problem of gigantic proportions. In fact, ABC News reports that “almost two-thirds of adults and almost one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese.” Unfortunately, it’s getting worse:

…according to a new study out Monday, the number of overweight people in the U.S. will grow to almost 42 percent of the country by 2030, and cost a whopping $550 billion in obesity-related health care costs per year.

Clearly we have a consumption problem. But that’s not all. JP Rangaswami, one of the brightest lights in the knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0 firmament, recently gave a TEDx talk in which he suggested there were parallels between food and information. In fact, he suggests we should think about our information production, preparation and consumption like we think about our food production, preparation and consumption. Who is producing good quality information?  How can you identify good quality information? How do you set limits on your information consumption?  Do you need an information diet or even an information fast?

Now, consider lawyers in America.  Many of us have an extremely unhealthy lifestyle: we work long hours, get little sleep, eat a poor diet, get insufficient exercise, and suffer high levels of stress. This could make us prime candidates for obesity. Lawyers are equally bad about their information consumption — we don’t always pay sufficient attention to the quality of what’s coming at us from the information fire hose.  Further, our orientation to service leads us to allow far too many interruptions in the name of staying on top of the situation or being responsive.  If JP Rangaswami were here, he’d say that when it comes to information consumption, lawyers snack all day.

In light of the obesity epidemic with respect to both food and information, what can law firm knowledge management do?  Well clearly, knowledge managers cannot cut off the supply of information so we’ll have to help our colleagues make better choices.  In the realm of physical health, doctors will recommend more exercise, smaller portions of food and longer nights of sleep, among other things. With respect to information obesity, how do we turn the situation around? We need to teach ourselves and our colleagues a healthier approach:

I’d strongly recommend you take the eight minutes required to watch JP’s talk. (I’ve embedded the video below for your convenience.) Then think about what changes KM can bring about to help colleagues adopt a healthier approach to their consumption of information.

Hat tip to Luis Suarez who pointed out JP’s excellent TEDxAustin talk and also shared how he has made changes in his own life to avoid an unhealthy weight gain and information obesity (see the video below).

[Photo Credit: Romain Pittet]

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What Clients Want

What are the key factors that lead to a successful long-term relationship between corporate clients and their outside counsel? LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell (in association with The Global Legal Post) have just released a report of a 2012 survey of in-house counsel in Western Europe that seeks to answer that question. The report examines the following issues:
  • Selection factors,  reasons for reviews of panel firms, and the frequency of those reviews.
  • Factors influencing the retention of firms for future work.
  • Top reasons for the removal of firms from preferred panels/lists.
  • Approach taken by in-house counsel to evaluate law firm performance and common themes in feedback.
  • Value-adding elements of relationships.

Of the 219 in-house lawyers who participated across 16 countries in Western Europe, the results were very clear:

  • To be successful, a law firm must demonstrate that it understands its client’s business needs.
  • A guaranteed way to end a client relationship prematurely is to provide poor service.
  • Cost is a factor, but it can be outweighed by the high quality of the firm’s service and the extent to which the firm demonstrates its understanding of client needs.
  • Clients appreciate value-added services such as free training seminars and lawyer secondments.

Be a Trusted Advisor

Clearly, knowing the law is necessary but not sufficient. Clients aren’t looking for an erudite legal lecture, they want the assurance that you understand their situation and have the legal sophistication to apply the law appropriately to their facts.  Beyond that, clients want to know that your understanding of their business is so deep that you can anticipate their needs and be active in helping manage their legal exposure. In other words, your client wants you to be a trusted advisor, not just a technician for hire.

How can KM help deliver what the clients want?

If your knowledge management program has focused primarily on legal documents thus far, now would be a good time to think about adding some current awareness programs.  In addition, consider partnering with library and training professionals to provide opportunities for lawyers to learn more deeply about client industries: What are the economic drivers? What are the pressures? Where are the opportunities? Look for ways to passively capture KM resources from these training programs and from the related conversations within client service teams.

Focus on Feedback

Lawyers are notoriously thin-skinned, so they sometimes shy away from asking directly about client expectations and satisfaction. As a result, they can find it difficult at times to understand how best to serve their clients. The report addresses this issue squarely:

Most respondents were also very happy to participate in feedback programmes conducted by their law firms, although less than half had received an invitation to provide this. However, law firms appear to be even less committed to using customer insights to help strengthen their relationship. Only 28% of survey respondents said that their law firms came back to them to share the results and communicate improvements or changes that would be made as a result of feedback received.

Thanks to this report, we now have some insight into exactly what clients are looking for.  Although the report relates to a study of in-house counsel in Western Europe, I have a hard time believing that their North American counterparts have materially different expectations of their lawyers. Put another way, I think a North American law firm would be foolish to disregard these results.

The client has spoken.  The rest is up to us.

 

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