Integrating KM into Practice Management #ArkKM

Session Title and Description: The Evolution of Practice Innovation:
Are We Successfully Integrating and Embedding KM within Practice Management Systems?
Law firms continue to re-examine traditional approaches to the practice of law, and along the way many have implemented a wide range of changes that enable firms to deliver client services more efficiently. These innovations touch virtually every aspect of our practice and the way our firms are run. Clearly, KM has not been left behind or subsumed into other support functions. However KM must continue to evolve in step with demands that are reshaping the business of law and redefining service delivery models. This discussion will seek to characterize the foundation of a true practice management platform, as well as the ever- changing issues and challenges that KM is trying to navigate. Is KM the cornerstone of a “post-silo” law firm strategy? Or is practice innovation squarely focused on “Business Intelligence” and financial data points, while missing the context in which KM solutions can be deployed?


Toby Brown, Chief Practice Officer, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Keith Lipman, President, Prosperoware

[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.]


  • What is practice management? Managing matters to achieve client satisfaction and firm profitability.
  • What is the goal? Revenue and Profits!!!  How do we do this? By lowering the cost of delivering services to clients. The answer is not just buying cheaper pencils. It means you need to push work down to the lowest-cost resource within the firm. You need become more efficient in the way you work.
  • What’s the strategy?
    • Few law firm partners are empowered to understand their own contribution to revenue and profits.
    • Far too many law firm partners experience “pro forma surprise.” They do not really know what their matters have generated in terms of maximum billable suntil they see the pro forma. If their team has not billed as much as expected, then their maximum billables are down.
    • You need to know your firm’s profit margin. And you need a clear methodology for achieving that profit margin. Profit measure must be clear, simple and understandably
  • State of the Legal Market: Hyper-competition and flat demand. Corporate Counsel have bigger budgets, but not spending on law firms.
    • Now outside counsel are just a vendor to be handled by the client’s procurement office. In Toby Brown’s words, we are just another toilet paper vendor. This leads to more RFP processes to try to standardize the process for purchasing legal services.
    • Corporate legal departments are growing. They are both controlling the spend and spending differently. In fact, they are moving legal work in-house.
  • How can KM Participate?
    • To quote Kingsley Martin, think about every KM project and ask how far from the bottom line.
    • Consider yourself the provider of “Knowledge Services” rather than a “knowledge manager.”
    • Help lawyers see that increasing their own mastery of KM tools will help them become more efficient.
    • An obvious place for KM concerns “the numbers.” This means providing information and context for numbers such as the cost of a matter: what goes into that cost, what are the variables, etc?
    • Toby estimates that only 10% of law firms actually measure true profitability rather than some proxy for profitability. When the audience was polled, most did not know if their own firms actually measured true profitability rather than some proxy for profitability.
    • Become the best friend of the pricing person in your firm. They will know where the pain points are and which partner is really in pain.
    • There is a great opportunity for KM to help manage outside counsel guidelines and then track performance against those guidelines. At a minimum, read these guidelines to get an early look at emerging trends (e.g., clients are less willing to pay for online legal research).
  • 2016 is going to be really hard
    • The M&A cycle is coming to an end.
    • There is no major litigation wave on the horizon
    • The prospect of significant bankruptcy work is poor.
  • KM needs to be front and center in making 2016 more tolerable (and even successful) for law firms.

Build a “KM Rapid Response Team” #ArkKM

Session Title and Description: Firm Mergers – How to Build a “KM Rapid Response Team”

When key groups join law firms, or when firm mergers occur, KM is often left standing on the sidelines. Finance, IT, Records, (etc) all spring into action—but what about Knowledge Management? Shouldn’t KM really be the ‘keeper of the playbook’ and able to ‘prep a program’ that can be triggered on a moment’s notice (see: cross-office training and team-building, professional development, experience capture and dissemination, systems integration, exposure of laterals to firm expertise and leadership)? This discussion will explore how firms can leverage KM to support rapid change initiatives in relation to mergers and acqui- sitions. How does a firm’s value proposition change following a merger? And who’s job is it to disseminate, redefine, and characterize the breadth of expertise at the firm? What tools and methodologies can be employed to help integrate new practices and/or resources—while maintaining a common sense of identity or culture?


Silvia LeBlanc, Director of Knowledge Management, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Vishal Agnihotri, Chief Knowledge Officer, Akerman LLP
Ginevra Saylor, National Director, Knowledge Management, Dentons Canada LLP

[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 has the benefit of broader perspective.  KM tends to operate across silos. It works with a variety of people and functions within the firm. This gives KM professionals diverse knowledge and the ability to connect the dots. This also makes KM the perfect group to create the law firm merger playbook or new hire onboarding resources.
  • Why involve KM? When the firm is in merger mode, the firm will call in marketing, finance, etc. They don’t think to call in KM. However, the KM department is one of the support functions that thinks about business problems the same way
  • Communication. Marketing is extremely good at external communication. KM needs to be just as good at internal communications. Focus on the concerns and anxieties of the people who are on the receiving end of change. If the people in the firm are unhappy or anxious, they cannot deliver great service to clients.
  • Getting a seat at the table.  Bully your way to a seat at the table. Then justify your place at the table by solving problems and getting things done.

Client and Matter Profiling through the Matter Lifecycle #ArkKM

Session Title and Description: Client/Matter Profiling Throughout the Matter Lifecycle

Imagine capturing context from the get-go and approaching matter intake as an opportunity to define the parameters of knowledge collection, and then building this into the workflow of every matter the firm takes on. When a new client or a new legal project comes to a firm, the priority is to create a new client and matter file in the firm’s accounting system as quickly as possible. However, establishing a record in the accounting system for billing purposes is just the beginning. Data at the client level (and related party level) and the matter level (legal project level) must be collected from the time of inception of the client/matter through the end of the engagement. It’s simply not enough to talk about what data should be collected, there needs to be a discussion about the limitations and difficulties. Where do you start, and what is a minimum feasible approach that can support the value of concept?


Chris Boyd, Senior Director of Professional Services, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati,
Chad C. Ergun, Director, Global Practice Services & Business Intelligence, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP,
Deborah S. Panella, Director of Library & Knowledge Services, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

[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.]


  • Why matter profiling is important. Matter profiling facilitates better marketing, understanding client needs, pricing, selling, RFPs/pitches, identifying expertise, delivering legal services.
  • Matter profile requirements.
    • Accurate. Ideally, matter profiles are accurate. However, too often this is not reality.
    • Comprehensive
    • Consistent — using an agreed taxonomy
    • Done within routine workflow.
    • Completed as quickly as possible.
  • Challenges to matter profiling.
    • Too many cooks — every department/constituency has different reasons for participate and different expectations for the outcome. They also choose different ways of participating. At the end of the day, all they share is the belief that cooperation with matter profiling is a good thing — at least in theory!
    • Timing — too often asking lawyers for matter profiling is a timing challenge. You ask them before they know or after they care. Both yield suboptimal results. (It is very hard to interrupt attorneys in the middle of a matter to get their insights for matter profiling. The attorneys are more focused on client deadlines than internal knowledge needs.)
    • Time & Effort — participants do not always believe that they receive results that are commensurate with the time and effort involved.
    • Quality Assurance — it can be hard to standardize approaches, because the approaches are the result of differing workflows and work beliefs. For example, it can be hard for marketing and KM to agree on industry codes. And that is only one data point.
  • Capture and Consume. As much as there are challenges to capturing the necessary information, there is an equivalent challenge in displaying it in a form that is easy to consume by lawyers and law firm support functions.
    • Automate as much as possible in terms of capture and display.
    • Skim the cream off the new business in-take process — leverage that system as much as possible.
    • Consider whether there are any bits of information you can extract from legal documents as they are being developed in the course of an engagement.
    • When you capture the data, put it at the right level: should it be associated with the client or with the matter or even a sub-matter?
    • Provide an alert system to focus KM on creating even a rudimentary matter profile at the beginning of the matter.
    • Wilson Sonsini uses a document assembly tool (contract express) to help lawyers profile the matters they are working on.
    • Wilson Sonsini “pays” lawyers with billable hour credit (up to a cap) for assisting with these profiles.
    • Wilson Sonsini also provides deal profile and fee information to lawyers, to help them provide ballpark figures to clients who are inquiring about the cost of new representation.
    • Another firm creates  a closed matter questionnaire. Before providing the questionnaire to the lead attorney on the matter, they complete as much of the questionnaire as possible from other internal and external sources. Then these completed questionnaires are indexed by Recommind to serve back to the lawyers information on precedents and expertise.
    • White & Case uses their process of creating electronic closing binders to capture additional matter profile information. This work is done in their Manila office.
  • Use external resources. Sometimes it faster to receive notification of deal closings from external resources than internal resources. (Lawyers don’t always remember to report closings.)
  • Collaborate.
    • Involve marketing, legal secretaries, practice groups, the records department, etc.
  • Show the results.
    • Find ways to surface the data back to the lawyers.
    • Use the data to identify legal expertise and then mash that up with individual lawyer skills (e.g., language skills).

Ed Walters Keynote on Why Data Matters #ArkKM

Session Title and Description: At the Intersection of Risk & KM — Using Data to Evaluate Business Intake – and More

The entire world is changing, as industries as diverse as advertising, stock trading, medicine, and sports are using analytics to achieve maximum results, often in unexpected ways. Law is no different. Although many people think of KM as document-based, it also is one of the richest repositories of the data that can and should drive Moneyball for lawyers. In this session, Fastcase CEO and data-geek-in-chief Ed Walters will explore the frontiers of these tools in practice, from contract drafting to forum shopping, and from case valuation to legal research. The session will discuss how KM can replace hunches and anecdata with metrics and measurement for strategic advantage.

Speaker: Ed Walters, Chief Executive Officer, Fastcase

[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.]


  • Data is the new oil. This is a bit trite nowadays. Nonetheless, there is much to be learned from the oil industry. In particular, Walters draws some powerful lessons from  John D. Rockefeller and  his experience at the dawn of the oil industry.
    • It helps to have a head start. Take the data that is easily available to you, squeeze some value from it, and then incorporate new data sets. Rinse and repeat.
    • If you are going to make data valuable, you must integrate vertically and horizontally. The important thing is to get out of your silo!
    • Data is not valuable in its own right. It’s useful for what it enables you to do.
  • Law firm decision making. Typically, law firm decision making is based on hunches (i.e., the experience and judgment of the senior lawyers of the firm). Data rarely plays a role. This must change. Continuing to rely primarily on hunches will soon constitute malpractice.
  • Learning from Uber. Uber is a data company that provides valuable information to riders — who my driver is, what car I will get, when it will arrive, etc. All of these data points are currently missing from the very broken traditional taxi industry. So riders operate in the dark. This is frighteningly similar to law firms and their clients.
  • If data is the new oil, drill baby drill.



Pope Francis on Law Firm Management

Pope FrancisPlease excuse the poor quality of the photograph in this post. I snapped it quickly as Pope Francis’ Fiat turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue, enroute to St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this evening. Despite the blurry photo, you can see the Pope in his distinctive garb and you can see his Fiat. And that’s good enough for the purposes of this post.

So what does the world’s most popular Catholic have to do with law firm management? It’s not that he has made any particular pronouncements on the subject. However, he does model behavior that would be very beneficial in law firm management:

1. He is unpretentious.

Pope Francis makes a very loud statement every time he steps into his Fiat. Aside from showing loyalty to an Italian product, he is shunning the trappings of world-class achievement. It is as if he is saying he has not forgotten where he came from. It is as if he understands the realities of life for the people he leads. This demonstration of empathy and solidarity makes it easier for devoted Catholics to accept his leadership. And it makes his leadership attractive to even disaffected Catholics and non-Catholics. In short, his lack of pretension makes his leadership extraordinarily effective and downright powerful.

Now, think about your firm’s leadership. Are they unpretentious? Have they stayed in touch with their roots? Can they still connect with the rank-and-file? Can they win over the disaffected?

2. He is accessible.

Aside from the considered ordinariness of the Fiat, its size puts him within reach of everyday people. He is not cloistered within a limousine. And then he stops the car to give a blessing to someone others might easily overlook.

Apart from his choice of vehicle, Pope Francis pursues accessibility to a degree that concerns his security staff. He is known to interact directly with visitors to St. Peter’s Square, “embracing and chatting with pilgrims, and kissing babies and children.”

This type of accessibility means that he is more likely to connect with people who have different perspectives than those of his inner circle. And it is more likely that he will meet people who are prepared to speak truth to power.

Is accessibility of this sort the norm in your firm? Does your managing partner find ways to be available to the people of the firm? What about your executive director or CXO? Can anyone speak truth to their power?

3. He does not cling blindly to past practices.

Over the millennia of its existence, the Catholic Church has had ample opportunity to develop and maintain traditional practices. Pope Francis, however, has shown a willingness to question some of those practices in light of modern realities. One cannot imagine him holding back change by using the favorite incantation of administrators the world over: “But we have always done it this before.” (Or its close cousin: “But we have never done it this way before.”) Given his mindset, it is easy to imagine the opportunity for thoughtful innovation within the Catholic Church.

Does a similar opportunity for thoughtful innovation exist within your firm? Or is innovation stillborn because of an unwillingness to examine and possibly put aside past practices that are no longer effective?

4. He is willing to adjust policy to respond to changing times.

In the short time since he took the helm, Pope Francis has indicated repeatedly that even some sacred cows may need to be sacrificed in order to keep the church relevant in the 21st century. To the consternation of purists, this has meant that he is willing to take another look at established church policy and, perhaps, amend it to reflect modern times.

How adaptable is your firm administration? Are they responding appropriately to recent changes in the business environment and the needs of clients? Does firm policy reflect a sense of confidence in the maturity, professionalism and commitment of staff?

What if Pope Francis ran your firm?

Can you even begin to imagine the difference it would make if Pope Francis ran your firm? Consider whether you can achieve some of those differences without papal intervention. It could result in a much-needed miracle for your firm.



Yogi Berra on Law

Yogi Berra empirestatebuildingOn September 23 the Empire State Building sported pinstripes in honor of the pinstriped Yankees uniform worn by Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra who died this week at the age of 90.

Over the course of his storied career, Berra attained both professional acclaim and cultural stardom. The professional acclaim was due to his extraordinary record of achievement:

  • He played on 14 American League championship teams.
  • He won 10 World Series titles.
  • He was voted most valuable player of the American League three times. (He shares this accomplishment with the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.)
  • He was an All-Star every year from 1948-1962.
  • As a manager, he led the Yankees to the 1964 American League title and then led the Mets to the 1973 National League title.

His status as a cultural icon had less to do with his athletic prowess and everything to do with his distinctive manner of speech. Berra is famous for things he said and, possibly, for some things he didn’t say. What may be less well-known is that many of his witticisms were directed at the legal industry:

  • “I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.” When he said this, Berra could have been speaking for law firm partners throughout the United States who sincerely believed in 2007 that the sky was the limit to the unprecedented growth in rates and profits they were enjoying.
  • “The future ain’t what it used to be.” This was the reality law firms faced at the end of 2008. Their future did not seem nearly as rosy it had been just a few months earlier. In fact, at that time the future of many firms was completely unclear. Even today, the situation is challenging. According to the Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group, growth this year is possible but will not be stellar: “While we remain optimistic that revenue and profit will both grow, we believe that they will now fall short of 2014’s results.”
  • “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” This has been the so-called strategy of some firms that have tried desperately since 2008 to find a winning formula. De-equitize partners? Done. Throw associates and staff overboard? Done and done. Alternative pricing arrangements? We’ll do it. Legal project management? We’ll try that too.
  • “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Strategy has been a real challenge for law firms. In 2013 I asked a large group of law firm managers how many of their firms had a business strategy. Only a handful responded positively. Fast-forward to the autumn of 2014 when I asked a large group of law firm knowledge managers the same question. In this instance almost everyone responded positively. That’s great news for the industry, isn’t it? Well actually, no. When I asked that same group how many of their firms had agreed metrics by which they measured progress against their strategic goals, almost nobody raised a hand. So there you have it — strategy without true accountability for implementation is merely window dressing.
  • “We made too many wrong mistakes.” When you consider the way some lawyers have attempted to run their businesses with little or no management training, it isn’t altogether surprising that they’ve made some “wrong mistakes.” What is more frustrating is that even in the face of these errors, some partners remain reluctant to turn over the management of their businesses to professional managers, much less accord those “non-lawyer” managers the courtesy of professional status within the firm.
  • “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” A change in value changes everything for law firms. Consider the change in the way clients value the services firms once provided. Increasingly, clients are moving legal services in-house or to special service providers. And they are demanding that their external counsel demonstrate the value of the services they continue to provide. At the end of the day, the one thing that holds its value is intelligently calibrated business advice informed by legal knowledge and judgment. That is something clients will still pay for.
  • “You can observe a lot just by watching.” If you are looking for examples to emulate, don’t limit your observations to the firms with the highest profits. Look for the firms that are doing the tough structural work: establishing a strategy that guides operations, implementing internal disciplines to manage costs in both the practice of law and the business of law, revising roles and responsibilities to reflect the reality of client needs in the 21st century, hiring world-class managers and then giving them the authority to run the business in a rationale way.

As you can see, Yogi Berra had a lot to say about the legal industry. Yet despite the doom and gloom, his optimism still shines through. After all, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”


Implementing Business Practices That Foster Shared Interests — #ILTACON #ILTA103

ILTACON 2015 LogoSession Summary: Many organizations are adopting “best business practices,” but they would be most effective if they intersect, bringing together the shared interests of law departments and law firms. Where do you begin? Let’s start the conversation with a panel of representatives from law departments and law firms who will discuss how to come to agreement on best business practices.


  • Lisa Damon, Seyfarth Shaw
  • Katie Debord, Bryan Cave
  • Mike Haven, NetApp
  • Peter Krakaur, Solar City
  • John Alber, retired strategic innovation partner, Bryan Cave (moderator)

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2015 Conference. 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.]


  • The Rise of Legal Operations. Mike Haven explained the legal operations function within law departments, especially departments with 50 or more in-house lawyers. In the 1990s companies like GE, Bank of America, Prudential, Cisco, HP and other Silicon Valley companies inaugurated this role.  Initially, the role focused primarily on cost savings. In the early 2000s, the role evolved beyond cost management to technology implementation. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, legal operations professionals have been charged with the task of reducing legal spend. Now legal operations professionals are responsible for a variety of functions including cost management, alternative support models, data analysis, vendor management, communications, strategic planning, litigation support, data governance, records management, knowledge management, etc.
  • First Audience Exercise. You are a partner at a law firm and have a client who recently moved to a new company, Acme Corp, to become its general counsel. Your client has discovered that Acme’s systems cannot provide a general understanding of the company’s overall expenditure on legal matters. As part of a broader RFP for transactional and litigation work, your client has told you that it intends to implement an eBilling system and has asked you for an opinion about eBilling platforms. Additionally, Acme more broadly has asked for help in identifying ways to track engagements, manage conflict waiver requests, monitor fees, streaming accruals and billing, and track overall legal spend.
    • What is the challenge for Legal Ops?
      • Define for itself the management problem it is trying to solve (e.g., matter and financial management) and what it needs internally and from external counsel to enable the law department to meet it’s own goals.
        • what shared expectations?
        • what individual and share business processes?
      • Then think about what tools (e.g., eBilling platform) would be most helpful and must external counsel must provide the necessary data?
      • Throughout this process, keep in mind the company’s own tolerance for risk and ambiguity.
      • Haven:
        • the first thing you need to do is put a team in place to manage the process. You may need to engage a consultant to help drive the effort.
        • Get a handle on the range of technology.
        • Understand what your budgetary constraints are for the project.
        • Find out what your external counsel typically use. This may save money spent on the learning curve.
        • Should you involve procurement in the RFP process?
        • Get IT involved early — especially if you are looking at cloud solutions.
        • What geographies are ou looking at? It is more complicated to deploy eBilling platforms in Europe because of taxes.
        • Have a project manager to drive the implementation
        • Prepare eBilling guidelines and then train your external counsel regarding those guidelines (e.g., when to submit forecasts, bills, etc.)
          • CLOC has prepared some sample eBilling guidelines. You can find this via ILTA in the downloads connected with this session.
        • Put a team in place to monitor the tool, support use of the tool, push data to dashboards, etc.
    • What is the challenge for the law firm? The main challenge for the firm is provide help that is valuable to its client.
      • Review the firm’s historical matter billing records and share those with the client.
      • The firm can analyze its historical billing records.
      • The firm can research eBilling platforms internally (with finance, even though they may be fundamentally hostile to the various eBilling platforms) and externally (either with other clients who might be able to provide direct advice to Acme, or with consultants).
      • The firm can provide an eBilling solution as part of the entire engagement.
      • The firm should consider its own ability to support the business process improvement necessary internally for the firm to help the client’s aspirations regarding cost management.
      • Ask: what’s the clients essential problem and what assets do I have to help the client?
      • Caveat: Haven noted that it would surprise in-house counsel if many law firms have been asked this question since most law departments handle this on their own. That said, Debord reported that Bryan Cave often gets this request — especially when there is a new general counsel.
      • Haven: “I love the idea of collaborating on matter data.” Getting [external counsel] involved upfront on the types of eBilling features that would be helpful for both parties to manage a matter would be great.
      • Damon: If these conversations happen, it is usually between the client’s finance function and the law firm’s finance department. The partners don’t usually see anything except information on receivables.
  • Second Audience Exercise: “The Axe”.  You are in the legal department of Acme Corporation. The new general counsel has received a clear mandate from the board to cut expenses dramatically. The GC has set a goal of reducing overall spend by 30% over a two-year period. The GC is looking for at least a 10% reduction in 2016 and has asked you to present a high-level plan for the reductions by October 1, 2015.
    • What should the legal operations function do?
      • Assemble a team and then create a process map for the cost reduction effort.
      • Gather ideas: What are the low-hanging fruit? What work can you eliminate?
      • Then get historical data on legal spend to test your ideas/theories AND expose additional options
        • what do the types of legal work cost?
        • what do the various external firms charge?
        • what’s the relative efficiency of the firms?
      • Gather ideas: What types of work can you eliminate?
      • Consider reducing the size your panel of external counsel
      • Solicit cost reduction ideas from external counsel
      • Implement cost reductions.
      • Monitor ongoing work and costs to measure efficiency and quality. Have the lower costs led to lower quality?
  • Mike Haven.
    • The key is to spread a mindset that the world has changed. Clients are being pressed by their organizations to improve their service while cutting costs. The client’s objective is NOT to put the law firm out of business. However, the client has a deep interest  is working with efficient firms. The more the law firm understands the client’s needs, the more the firm can help.
  • Katie Debord.
    • There is a huge investigation stage to many matters. However, before jumping into this, take a step back and make sure you understand exactly what the client needs and how the client defines success.
  • Peter Krakaur.
    • Know your client. Understand the client’s business model. Have conversations with the clients. Don’t just get lost in the data. The client rarely has the luxury of time, so the firm needs to move quickly to support client decision making.
    • Invest more in process mappers and data analysts than in business development people. This change will ultimately bring the firm more business.
    • The client actually is looking for business advice, not just legal advice.
  • Lisa Damon.
    • Collaboration between a law firm and its client is critical. Eliminating 10% of cost is easy — firms do this all the time. The tougher challenge is to create a sustainable way of working together over the long term.
    • Start by listening carefully to the client.
  • John Alber.
    • Law firms need to change their attitude. Their “expert” attitude (e.g., we know all the answers) is highly toxic. Instead, firms need approach these challenges from an attitude of openness and collaboration.
    • Law departments are lean in resources, and they believe that law firms are relatively rich in resources. Yet the clients do not see firms bringing those resources to the relationship. Firms need to take a fresh look at their own assets and think in new ways about deploying them to improve the client’s situation.
    • Some law firms are training their associates to reforming attitudes and approaches. But 95% of firms are not.
  • Key Takeaway: Law firms cannot provide the ultimate value to clients until firms change their approach and then reorganize their processes and staffing to support the client the way the client wants to be supported.

Working with Special Snowflakes

snowflake-310071_1280We were taught as children that no two snowflakes are alike.  Some of our teachers went so far as to suggest that we were like snowflakes, each possessing unique characteristics, each to be valued in her own right.

Isn’t that lovely.

This kind of affirmation is helpful in the right time and place, but at some point in our education most of us learn that there are a lot of characteristics that humans share. Moving beyond crude stereotypes we discover, for example, a shared fight-or-flight response and nesting impulse. And that’s just the beginning.

There are, however, some people who are rarely pushed to look beyond their particular circumstances to understand how much they share with the rest of humanity. Who am I talking about? Lawyers.  Yes, the work they do is different from the run of the mill. Yes, they do need a special education to undertake this work. Yes, their work can have enormous consequences for others. But the same could be said for doctors, engineers, architects, etc. Yet lawyers persist in believing that they are a breed apart, a group of special snowflakes.

Unfortunately, too many technologists enable this point of view by telling lawyers that tools can and should be adapted to accommodate lawyer preferences. Thus you have technologists larding up standard software such as MS Office with customizations and embellishments meant to placate the special snowflakes in our firms. And then we act surprised when we calculate the cost of implementing new technology or upgrading existing technology. At what point do we say that the system performs reasonably for 80% of the work lawyers do and we should think twice (or thrice) about customizing for the remaining 20%?

As you consider the decisions you make about your law firm technology or knowledge management systems, consider the extent to which you are enabling special snowflake syndrome. Codependency is unhealthy for all involved.


Why Your Firm Does Not Innovate

barrier roadsign-30907_640What is holding your law firm back?

You hear about exciting things happening in other industries. You hear about exciting things happening in other law firms. Meanwhile you and your colleagues are told to keep your heads down and just work harder. Do what is expected. Don’t rock the boat.

Innovation is not on the menu.

What is keeping innovation off your firm’s menu? In 2008 I wrote about Claudia Kotchka, an extraordinary business executive who helped lead the revitalization of Procter & Gamble. She did it by using design principles to understand better how P&G’s customers lived their lives and how P&G’s products could make those lives better. In my earlier post, Why KM Needs Good Design, I borrowed from Kotchka’s work to suggest ways in which law firm knowledge management professionals could use design thinking to improve their products and services.

Clearly my focus was too circumscribed. In fact, not just KM departments, but also the businesses that house them can benefit from this approach to innovation. None of this is news. So why don’t more firms try it?

In Kotchka’s view, there are three major barriers to innovation:

  • Complacency. Success makes a company very resistant to trying new things;

  • Risk-aversion. Many big companies have what Roger Martin calls a tension between validity and reliability. The punch line is that companies are very reluctant to take any risks that would upset the profit that flows from reliably making a high quality product that lots of people want to buy; and

  • Functional silos. Kotchka observes that when required to work in cross-functional teams, different functions — such as marketing, finance, and manufacturing — look at problems only from their functional perspectives. However, she noticed that when those team members take off their functional hats and take responsibility for solving the business problem — as start-up teams do – the results are much better.

Chances are you will find at least one of these (or, more likely, all three of them) in your law firm. That is why your firm does not innovate.

Which leaves me with one question: what will you do about this?

[Photo Credit: Nemo]


Back to School

harvard law school logoTuition at Harvard Law School is not a trifling matter. At a price tag of $57,200 for the 2015-2016 academic year, it is worth asking from time to time if students are getting good value for their money.

In this spirit, three members of the HLS faculty recently surveyed 124 practicing lawyers at the law firms that hire the most HLS students*:

The survey had two main objectives: (1) to assist students in selecting courses by providing them with data about the relative importance of courses; and (2) to provide faculty with information about how to improve the curriculum and best advise students.

The first question they asked had to do with which law school “business-methods” courses would be most beneficial for current law students. The responses were quite consistent across transactional lawyers and litigators:

  • Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Corporate Finance
  • Negotiation Workshop
  • Business Strategy for Lawyers
  • Analytical Methods for Lawyers
  • Leadership in Law Firms
  • Statistical Analysis/Quantitative Analysis

When asked which of the courses in the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance were most useful, transactional lawyers and litigators all agreed that Corporations and Securities Regulation were key. In addition, the transactional lawyers recommended Mergers & Acquisitions, while the litigators recommended Securities Litigation.

With respect to courses outside the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance, the courses judged most useful fell along practice lines:

  • Litigation: Evidence, Federal Courts, Administrative Law
  • Transactions: Intellectual Property Law, Patent Law, Copyright Law

The next area surveyed was the skills and knowledge bases that law firms considered to be most important for students to acquire:

  • Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis
  • Teamwork
  • Financial Markets/Products Negotiations
  • Business Strategy/Industry Analysis
  • Statistical/Quantitative Analysis
  • Legal Services Industry

It is interesting to note that the lawyers surveyed viewed Teamwork to be almost exactly as important as Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis. In the words of the authors of the study: “Taken together, these results suggest that law firms value softer skills and institutional knowledge as well as rigorous analytical skills.”

So why does any of this matter to your law firm knowledge management department? The respondents to the survey are your current colleagues. The student beneficiaries of the survey will be your colleagues shortly. This survey identifies the subjects they find most useful. This leads to some important questions for you:

  • Are these subjects and skills well-supported by your KM program and resources?
  • Are your KM personnel trained and able to assist practitioners in these areas?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, isn’t it time you took a leaf out of the HLS playbook and started to realign your program, resources and personnel?

* The law firms surveyed were “the 11 largest employers of HLS students over the last several years: Ropes and Gray, Davis Polk, Skadden Arps, Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, Cravath, Cleary Gottlieb, WilmerHale, Covington Burling, Gibson Dunn, and Sidley Austin.”