Avoid the Shiny Objects

Avoid the Shiny Objects–  Why the Use Case is More Important than the Technology

Key Takeaways:

  • Be as proactive as possible in a reactive environment.
  • Focus on the goal not on the tool.


  • Scott Rechtschaffen, Chief Knowledge Officer, Shareholder, Littler Mendelson P.C.,
  • Chris Boyd, Chief Knowledge & Talent Officer, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati,
  • Richard E. Robbins, Director of Knowledge Management, Sidley Austin LLP,
  • Anand R. Upadhye, VP of Business Development, Casetext

[These are my notes from the 2018 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Use Case: A software and engineering term that descibes how a user will use a system to accomplish a goal.
  • Don’t fall for the Buzzwords
    • Don’t be snowed by the slick sales pitch filled with buzzwords
    • Keep your vendors honest — ask them to unpack their sales pitch, explain what their technology really does
    • You and your team will have to drive adoption. Make sure you are ready to make your pitch for this tool with your lawyers. And make sure you are ready to partner with this vendor for a while.
    • The best vendors are not just vendors — they are partners who help you lower costs and improve outcomes.
  • Be Proactive
    • YOU are the one who should define the appropriate use cases
    • YOU should think early about what you should be doing for your firm and what your firm should be doing for its clients.
    • Practice group plans and firm strategy are the best sources for important use cases.
  • Build vs. Buy Decisions
    • These seem to be highly cultural. Some firms really believe that they can do the best job. Other firms say that they are not in the business of creating and maintaining software, they believe others can do it better.
    • Remember that you don’t always use what you have.
    • Once you have identified your use cases and prioritized them, see whether you can use a pre-existing tool. If not, see whether you can buy and then later build, if necessary.
    • Littler has a neither build nor buy option:
      • Their Knowledge Desk required neither a build nor buy decision. They used existing personnel to provide a knowledge concierge service.
    • Wilson Sonsini has a neither build nor buy option:
      • They have created a knowledge base populated by pardon-the-interruption emails. They tweaked Outlook to create an automated outbound/inbound email to collect/distribute questions and answers.
  • Takeaways
    • Before you contact vendors, know what you need to accomplish.
    • Avoid solutions in search of problems at all costs.
    • Hold yourselves accountable for your vendor arrangements. If you haven’t demonstrated adoption, then get out of the contract.
    • Focus relentlessly on the goal, not the tool.
    • Be proactive not reactive.

Session Description:

Avoid the Shiny Objects: Why the Use Case is More Important than the Technology

Law firms and those responsible for driving innovation within have been inundated with pitches and proposals from legal tech companies, particularly start?ups, offering them the latest and greatest solutions to their latest and greatest problems. But what are those problems and how credible are those solutions? Which legal technology solutions are truly valuable and address real?life problems and which are nothing more than concepts, or worse— vaporware that neither exist nor solve actual problems? This lively discussion will assist those responsible for driving innovation within their firms to better understand the importance of identifying their most pressing use?cases before deciding upon a particular legal technology solution. Choosing a technology solution before identifying the use?case will always be like choosing a solution in search of a problem. Law firm innovators are now confronted with a myriad of legal technology solutions and could greatly benefit from a paradigm for helping choose between multiple technology options. In this discussion, panelists will cite specific examples of use?cases and the technology solutions adopted.


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).