Making Lawyers Behave Nicely With Each Other

Reading to the Kindergarten Students The Florida Supreme Court wants lawyers to behave nicely with respect to their opponents.  Here’s how the court’s recent action is described in a press release by the American Board of Trial Advocates:

Commenting that `concerns have grown about acts of incivility among members of the legal profession,’ the high court noted ABOTA’s efforts to stress the importance of civility in the practice of law.  The Supreme Court emphasized to Florida lawyers old and new that practicing law is an honor that comes with responsibilities, paramount among which is civility, an often overlooked cornerstone of the legal profession.  The Court added to the Oath of Admission the following: `To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.’

It’s well and good that some lawyers will show their kinder and gentler sides to their opponents, but what about colleagues within their own firms?  The hard truth is that law firm knowledge management faces some rather particular challenges based on the population we serve.  If you doubt this, take a look a some of my earlier posts on lawyers and lawyer personalities:

Now, let’s consider some specific challenges that all knowledge managers face.  Jack Vinson has done a terrific job of gathering in one place some things we know to be true about how people share knowledge.  In Rules of Knowledge Management, Jack starts with a summary of Chris Collison’s amusing take on Tom Davenport’s “Kindergarten Rationale” for sharing:

  • You share with the friends you trust
  • You share when you’re sure you’ll get something in return
  • Your toys are more special than anyone else’s
  • You share when the teacher tells you to, until she turns her back
  • When toys are scarce, there’s less sharing
  • Once yours gets taken, you never share again

These observations of kindergarten children are entirely consistent with what we know about “mature adults” operating in a work context.  In fact, the lack of trust coupled with some nasty lessons learned about the downside of sharing can lead to an epidemic of information hoarding within an organization. If this is what happens in the general working adult population, what can you expect from a lawyer population? Given their natural skepticism, high degree of autonomy, low sociability and resilience, and adversarial natures (see What Makes Lawyers So Challenging?), this group may find it even harder to share than your typical kindergartener.  While I’m not sure it is possible to change anyone’s fundamental nature (and that certainly is well beyond the capabilities of a knowledge management group), we can work with senior management to change the environment in which lawyers operate. Taking guidance from Fighting the Knowledge Hiding Epidemic, I’d suggest the following strategies:

  • Build trust — emphasize positive relationships among employees
  • Demonstrate the mutual benefits that result when colleagues share information
  • Treat all workers fairly and respectfully, thereby reducing feelings of injustice and the need for retaliation

At the end of the day, perhaps we are really about trust management rather than knowledge management (to the extent either trust or knowledge can, in fact, be “managed.”) [Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy]


What’s New in Legal KM?

Sun and clouds Is it true that there’s nothing new under the sun? Given my fondness for innovation, I always find myself hoping there are at least a few exceptions to the rule.  In this spirit, I went to several knowledge management sessions at the recent International Legal Technology Association Conference looking for something new in KM.  I’m not sure I found anything that completely fit the bill — lots of interesting things, but not much that was truly startlingly new.  Now, to be clear, this is not in any way intended to be a criticism of ILTA.  By all accounts, the conference committee did a great job organizing the conference. [Disclosure: I was honored to be a member of that committee.] And, it’s not in any way intended to be a criticism of the terrific legal KM folks who made presentations at the conference.  Lots of them are engaged in useful and interesting projects.  However, I was left with the persistent feeling that what I was seeing was largely more of the same.

So if this was not the year of massive legal KM breakthroughs at ILTA, what could we take away from the KM sessions?

  • Legal KM is maturing.  Most firms I heard from seem to be focused on improving and upgrading incrementally rather than on doing something radically new.
  • I don’t remember hearing about any provocative new technologies. However, there was lots of interesting news about vendors in the legal vertical.
  • People are trying really hard to make SharePoint work for them.  Some have gone so far as to customize SharePoint heavily in order to make it user-friendly.  Meanwhile, other firms have decided that they will NOT use SharePoint because it doesn’t provide the flexibility and support they need.  Still others are concerned about Microsoft’s commitment to the legal vertical.  These are discussions that need to be held more openly.  We could all learn from them.
  • A few firms are doing some interesting work with respect to providing clients with legal resources and, above all, access to their legal teams.
  • While some firms are “playing” with iPad apps, others have decided that the key is to provide full mobility of data to their legal teams. (I heard from attendees at this session that the highly innovative team at Mallesons is working on some wonderful tools to help clients and lawyers on the go.  However, I didn’t have a chance to see this presentation. (For information on their impressive Mallesons Connect tool, see my earlier report.))
  • Alternative Fee Arrangements are providing an interesting place of engagement for some legal KM folks.  However, it sounds like many are still trying to figure out how to crack the code.
  • Balancing information sharing and data security is becoming tougher, especially in light of increased regulatory and client demands for data protection.
  • Kingsley Martin (President and Founder of KIIAC) has made a fascinating and potentially very powerful tool available for free.  His contract analysis website can help the smallest firm undertake detailed analysis and rapid document assembly.  If this gains widespread adoption, it could be an interesting way to crowdsource legal knowledge sharing.

Even if we didn’t have many presentations on innovations, there were hints about the next new thing.  Here’s what I heard:

  • Firms are struggling with email filing and management.  Look for announcements about firms that believe they have cracked this puzzle.
  • The legal process outsourcers are growing in strength and penetration of the legal market.  Some firms are looking for ways to use this trend for their benefit.  Perhaps by co-opting the LPOs?
  • Social media advocates have been promising big wins for organizations that can harness the “power of social” behind the firewall.  While some firms have internal blogs and wikis, I didn’t hear of many firms that had a well-integrated, well-utilized social business platform for legal work.
  • Some believe that the next big win will result from conquering the Electronic Matter File Challenge. Do you know of any firm that has done this yet?
  • The presentation on Future-Proofing Your Law Firm spawned lots of hallway conversation during the conference.  What concrete steps are firms taking to ensure their viability? How do IT and KM play a role in this?
  • One ILTA session that was definitely forward-looking focused on Transformation Through Emerging Technologies.  (See David Hobbie’s report on the discussion.)

Finally, if your firm or KM department is committed to innovation.  I’d commend to you the keynote presentations on innovation by Chris Trimble and Tom Koulopoulos.  In addition, take a look at the three nominees for ILTA’s award for the Innovative Member of the Year. There is lots of food for thought there.

Based on what I saw and heard at the ILTA conference, my sense is that most of the legal KM community is consolidating past gains rather than forging ahead in new directions.  This may be a reflection of the recent tough economic times.  Hopefully it’s not a sign that law firms are investing less in their knowledge management systems.  Perhaps next year we’ll see some real innovation.  In the meantime, please do let me know if I’ve missed some noteworthy innovation in legal KM.  As Ambrose Bierce said, “There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.”

[Photo Credit: wili_hybrid]




Counting Pennies

Spare PenniesIs your firm or law department still counting its pennies? Or is your firm or company so optimistic about its prospects that you’ve been given a large budget to spend freely on knowledge and information management projects?

The headlines in the legal technology press often feature impressive, state of the art, large-budget projects. However, what if you don’t have a large budget? What if your firm is maintaining a tight control on costs? How do you undertake effective KM and IM projects?

At this summer’s ILTA Conference, we’re hoping to provide practical advice and real life examples of law firms and law departments that have found frugal ways to meet ambitious KM/IM goals. To that end, we’re looking for legal technologists who have implemented successful and cost-effective KM/IM programs. Specifically, we’re looking for legal technologists who have done so using free or very inexpensive resources. Perhaps they have found helpful open source software. Perhaps they have found a way to partner with vendors, clients or business partners to reduce or share costs. Perhaps they have found ways to use standard law firm tools like Microsoft Office to improve their KM/IM activities. Perhaps they have taken basic steps like creating a firm-wide taxonomy or ensuring that information flows smoothly without unnecessary duplication of effort.

If you are a successful frugal innovator or know someone who is, please let me know.  We’d love to hear your stories and learn from your success.

[Photo Credit: smackfu]


Times Are Changing — Are You?

For the last few Sunday nights, my family has been completely absorbed by the upstairs downstairs drama of Downton Abbey. This English import provides a glimpse of life in an aristocratic home just before the First World War. One very poignant moment occurs early in the series when a man trained to be a gentleman’s valet realizes that the skills he has spent a lifetime perfecting are no longer needed.

I found myself thinking of that valet as I read some recent posts on the shifting boundaries of law firm knowledge management. There are some who seem bewildered to find themselves in a world where the traditional things they have done don’t seem valued anymore. Meanwhile, there are others who are finding increasingly inventive ways to stretch their job descriptions.

If you think we are not in a period of flux, you would do well to read some of the posts below. Taken together, they present a picture of law firm life and the role of the knowledge manager that is rather unsettled and unsettling. In the face of these tensions several law firm knowledge managers I know are looking for ways to ensure their continuing relevance. As is so often the case, the interests and innate abilities of particular individuals lead them to explore avenues (and hidden alleys) that may not have been within the traditional territory of knowledge management. I expect this will only accelerate. No matter what our views are on these developments, it’s hard to ignore the pace of change around us. The question for each of us is how are we going to reshape our jobs before the oncoming revolution does it for us?


KM and The Future of the Legal Profession

What’s the future of the legal profession? And what role do technology and knowledge management play in the development of that future? These are the questions I’ve been pondering since I heard that Stephen P. Younger (President of the New York State Bar Association) had formed a Task Force to seize “an historic opportunity to shape the landscape of the legal profession.” The announcement of the Task Force describes an ambitious goal:

A panel of top legal minds comprising a diverse range of legal practitioners, including managing partners, law school deans and general counsel, will study and recommend ways to create a roadmap for the future use of technology in the profession, to improve legal education and training, to establish proper work/life balance for attorneys, and to reform the billing structure in law firms.

If there remains even one Rip Van Winkle lawyer who believes that it is safe to ignore technology, I’d rush them to the nearest litigator for a crash course on eDiscovery. Litigation has been changed in a fundamental way because of technology.  What about non-litigation areas of practices?  Have they undergone a similar change or are they due for a change? And what do these changes indicate about the future role of technology in the practice of law?

Knowledge management’s role is a little less clear cut.  While law firm knowledge management personnel are fond of saying that lawyers have been “doing KM” since the beginning of the profession, I suspect there are many lawyers who haven’t spent enough time thinking about how to embed good knowledge management practices in their legal practice.  Further, I suspect that there are some lawyers who feel that KM is a luxury that only large firms can afford. Against this backdrop, what role can or should KM play?

I’m writing this post in the hope that it will elicit your ideas and thereby enrich the public conversation about this important issues.  What should the technology and KM roadmap look like? What recommendations would you make to the legal profession with respect to its future use of technology and knowledge management?


Conversations that Count

Some advice to the lovelorn I read many years ago suggested that the best way for a young woman to reel in a young man was to ask him lots of questions about his favorite topic — himself.  From the vantage point of the 21st century, there are any number of objections one might raise regarding the assumptions underlying that advice, but even so there is something there that I’d like to explore further in the context of law firm knowledge management. Namely, the connection between conversation and relationship.

The best law firm knowledge managers build relationships with their lawyer and non-lawyer colleagues that develop over time into something rich and productive, yielding mutual benefits and, often, benefits for their firm.  This means relationships that involve good communication, cooperation and collaboration.  And, it all begins with good conversation.  However, a law firm isn’t always the easiest place in which to hold a conversation. In an environment conditioned by hourly billing, we all tend to be extraordinarily time sensitive.  As a result, our electronic and in person exchanges are often rather transactional – designed to achieve a limited (usually urgent) business purpose.  This can make it difficult to initiate and sustain conversations that don’t necessarily have a direct bearing on immediate client needs.  Yet, it is precisely the conversations with a perspective that reaches beyond the urgent and immediate that can have the greatest beneficial impact on client and firm.  Equally, sometimes a quick conversation held as you pass each other in the hall can surface key facts that shed new light on an old problem or help move a project forward.  Not every conversation needs to be heavy, but knowledge managers should work hard to ensure that every conversation is meaningful.  In other words, they should focus on conversations that count.

So what are the hallmarks of conversations that count?  Here are some suggestions:

  • They are smarter conversations: They  focus on something that matters. As Hugh MacLeod has noted, taking a leadership position on something that matters is critical to success.  So why waste your time and talk on the ephemeral or the immaterial?  Make a commitment to yourself to hold smarter conversations.
  • They enable a two-way exchange: They don’t follow a social script — “Hi, how are you?” “Fine.” <end of conversation>.  They are not data dumps.  Rather, they provide and elicit useful information.
  • They move understanding forward: They are powerful tools for learning.  (And this means learning more in a conversation than the sad fact that your interlocutor is a self-referent bore.)
  • They are strategic: Jo Haraf has written on how to use conversations strategically to discover unmet needs.  She provides a guide to structuring these conversations so that they yield tangible results.  Best of all, if your conversations are strategic (and well-executed), they often leave the door open to another conversation.  In other words, doing this right allows you to do it again.
  • They are not self-referent. They are not focused exclusively on … YOU.  Enough said.

To be clear, this post is ABSOLUTELY NOT advocating more meetings.  In fact, meetings are sometimes inhospitable environments for meaningful conversation.  This post is advocating a focus on smarter conversations — conversations about things that matter, conversations that help build productive relationships. In fact, these are the relationships that make your work as a knowledge manager possible AND enjoyable.  So make your conversations count.

[Hat tip to Greg Lambert for reminding me to revisit Hugh MacLeod’s blog.]

[Photo Credit: Hugh MacLeod]


Flat KM

Back in the 1960s, the world was introduced to Stanley Lambchop.  As you may remember, an unfortunate meeting between Stanley and a bulletin board rendered poor Stanley flat as a pancake.  As a result, he became known worldwide as Flat Stanley.  The books Jeff Brown wrote about Flat Stanley provide detail on what it might be like to live in one dimension. Nearly fifty years later, it appears that Stanley Lambchop’s approach is alive and well in some law firm knowledge management quarters, as evidenced by a preference for Flat KM.

What’s Flat KM?  It’s KM constrained to a single dimension and a limited purpose.  It’s KM that focuses on traditional activities, perhaps with a slight technological boost.  It’s KM that provides incremental improvements in quality and efficiency, but rarely makes fundamental changes to the way we do business.

To be honest, Flat KM is not uncommon.  There are law firms and KM personnel for whom Flat KM is the form of KM with which they are most comfortable.  In fact, when I read Greg Lambert’s report of a recent knowledge management conference we attended, I wondered if his concept of “traditional KM” might be a bit uni-dimensional:

I was a little disappointed with the direction that many of the law firms are taking with the idea of Knowledge Management (KM). Some of the presenters were showing products that were very `flashy’ and useful, but weren’t really what I would consider `KM’ resources.

Many of them were `Client Services’ products… or were fancy dashboards attached to accounting or time and billing resources, but not really what I would think of when it came to capturing `knowledge’ at a firm. Don’t get me wrong, these projects were very cool, they were very useful for getting information in the hands of clients or attorneys, but to call them knowledge management resources would be stretching the truth a little bit because they didn’t really capture and reuse existing firm knowledge in the traditional meaning of knowledge management.

Although Greg does not define traditional KM in his post, I suspect he had in mind some of the following tasks:  creating model documents and precedent banks; providing current awareness; and implementing search technology. In other words, KM activities closely related to the core of the craft of law that focus on “managing” legal knowledge. These activities are more concerned with documents than processes.

While Flat KM may bring with it certainty of mission, I don’t believe it is adequate for the way lawyers practice law today.  Perhaps once a upon a time it was possible to be a successful lawyer simply by being a good legal craftsman who produced excellent documents and provided wise counsel.  However, the practice of law has moved on.  Today, lawyers know that being good at the craft of law is necessary but not sufficient.  Now they also need to be good at the business of law — the developing of client relationships, the winning of business, the hiring and nurturing of excellent talent, the running of an efficient, humane firm, etc.  Any one of these tasks would be a challenge.  Facing all of them together at once can seem insurmountable.  Thankfully, there are lawyers and firms that are finding ways to meet these challenges every day.

Given the scope and depth of these challenges, can law firm KM afford to slide by as Flat KM much longer?  I don’t think so. Knowledge managers need to provide support to their firms for both the practice of law and the business of law.  In most cases this will mean, at a minimum, finding more realistic ways to provide the annotated models, practice guides, market precedents and current awareness lawyers need in a timely fashion.  However, there is much more KM can do.  (For a fuller discussion of the purpose of KM, I commend to you Mark Gould’s commentary on the “breadth of possible (and justifiable) KM activities.”) Just as we help uncover and deliver information useful for the practice of law, we can help uncover and deliver information useful for the business of law. This may involve information in our time and billing system, our client relationship management system  or our competitive intelligence system.  It may mean bringing KM principles to bear to make business processes within the firm more sensible. It may even require the occasional cool user interface.

Some firms don’t have the resources necessary to achieve even Flat KM.  Others lack the will to go beyond it.  In either case, knowledge managers need to suit their activities to the abilities and aspirations of their firm.  That said, if you are at a firm that understands that knowledge management principles can make a material difference to both the practice of law and the business of law, then you can move past Flat KM to the richness of working in multiple dimensions.  This opportunity may well involve significant challenges — but it certainly beats living a flat life.

[Photo Credit: Dena Williams]


KM as an Intelligence Tool

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.


Using KM in Fixed Fee Pricing

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.


The Role of KM in Legal Project Management

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.