Do You Really Know?

Do you really know how your colleagues work? Do you really know what they need? Are you sure? If you don’t truly understand them, how can you provide the right knowledge management and technology support to help them?

Every time I hear someone in law firm knowledge management or IT say “Our lawyers would never…,” I’m tempted to ask them to produce the evidence for their assertion.  All too often the person declaiming about the “lawyers” has never actually worked beside them for any meaningful period of time. However, this doesn’t stop them from making overly broad statements about “those lawyers” based on incomplete or misconstrued information.

How do they get themselves in this mess?  There are any number of ways:  collecting anecdotal information in an unsystematic way, failing to grasp the context for what they are being told, not understanding the business processes in which the lawyers are engaged, not discerning what motivates those lawyers, refusing to consider evidence that contradicts their preconceptions, etc. Regardless of how they found themselves in this mess, the consequences are not trivial.  Their approach can prevent these knowledge management or IT personnel from offering services and resources that could materially improve the work life and work product of their lawyer colleagues.  Further, it can be an enormous barrier to innovation when a service provide in KM or IT hides behind misguided impressions, rather than relying on facts.

So what’s the solution?  At the recent ILTA 2010 Conference, we heard of several more fruitful approaches to understanding better how your internal clients work.  Connie Hoffman (CIO at Bryan Cave) recommended engaging in active listening, as well as creating a close development partnership with the lawyers.  Sandy Owen (Operations Director, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Intel Corporation) and Jessica Shawl (Operations Program Manager, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Intel Corporation) told us how Intel used flip cameras to document in video exactly how their in-house lawyers worked and ways in which technology made their lives easier or more challenging.  They also conducted “web jams” to gather information on user needs from their internal clients.

Moving beyond the world of lawyers, Ted Schadler at Forrester recently recounted how Peter Hambling (CIO of Lloyd’s of London) set about to change the way the IT department interacted with the end-users at Lloyd’s:

They’ve … embedded IT staff directly into the cubicle farms of business employees; they’ve built innovative solutions with teams comprised of business and IT employees; they’ve created applications that empower employees to understand global risk through a familiar interactive map. They created a new contract with business managers and employees that gives IT professionals a place in the business.

So now you’ve seen some examples of ways to get closer to your internal clients and understand better how you can improve their work lives. If you’re tempted to try video, take a look at Life in a Day: the story of a single day on earth.  It’s a rather extreme example of documenting how people work and live. Perhaps it will inspire you.

[Photo Credit: dsb nola]


Light Bulbs in Las Vegas [#ILTA10]

How many light bulbs are in Las Vegas casino lights? According to WikiAnswers, 9,000,000 light bulbs per floor. Last week, however, the International Legal Technology Association’s 2010 annual conference resulted in a great deal more light in Vegas as one informative session after another caused “light bulbs to go off in my head.”  There were several “aha” moments in the sessions I attended, but here are some of my favorites that I don’t want to forget:

  • Ron Friedmann, Gerard Neiditsch and Jeffrey Rovner presented a compelling case for analyzing more carefully the business of law as practiced by most firms.  Their session provided a practical way to take some of the provocative ideas presented by Richard Susskind at ILTA 2009 and make them a reality.  The key take away: different business models may require different technology and business processes, and a mismatch can lead to great inefficiencies.  Do you understand the business drivers at your firm? (For more information on this session, see the presentation slides and  a summary by Andrew McLennan-Murray.)
  • Paul Domnick, CIO of Freshfields, described the viral way some of their social media initiatives behind the firewall have taken off.  Most striking is how they have been willing to stretch and experiment to achieve fantastic results.  In one experiment, they replaced their traditional intranet with a wiki.  That wiki now receives an amazing 1,000,000 page impressions per day.  Further, they did this using Atlassian’s Confluence — NOT SharePoint. In explaining his team’s approach, Paul said: “We need to be the broker between the art of the possible and the real needs of the organization.” (For more details on this session, see the presentation slides and  David Hobbie’s terrific notes.)
  • Kingsley Martin’s astonishing KIIAC software is able to analyze precedent documents and generate a form automatically in a matter of hours.  This will transform the creation of model documents and the role of practicing support lawyers. Above all, if this software allows firms to generate an “at market” form of a complex agreement at the push of the button, what will that do to the practice of law?
  • Keynote speaker Jason Jennings reminded conference attendees that “the right [corporate] culture is the ultimate competitive advantage.” His research indicates that companies achieve and sustain success by engaging their employees in a “shared, noble purpose.” This is an interesting litmus test for both companies and law firms.
  • From a fantastic session on  developing a social media policy by Julia Montgomery and Karen Sheehan:  Education is the key to a social media policy. Without education, it’s difficult for employees to understand both the opportunities and dangers presented by social media.
  • In a session on Supporting Alternative Fee Arrangements, Jason Epstein of Baker Donelson said that most firms were already doing AFAs in one form or another, but most likely weren’t doing them well.  As a result, these firms were probably losing money on them.  In his view, AFAs should be “a spur to make the practice of law better.”
  • From my notes on the Matter-Based Budgeting Session: “Budgeting is an iterative process. Once the lawyer puts a draft budget on the table, that opens up an important ongoing conversation with the client.”
  • Major General Clyde Tate (of the US Army’s JAG Corps) on dealing with massive change: Perseverance is key. “Bureaucrats love it when you give up…your job is to wear them down.”

What were your “light bulb moments” at ILTA 2010?

[Photo Credit: Zetson]


Matter-Based Budgeting [#ILTA10]

Budgeting transcends all sorts of fee arrangements — whether hourly billing or alternative fee arrangements. So we should not limit the discussion to a particular kind of matter or billing approach. “This session [outlines] the essential elements required to develop a matter-based budget and how to track progress against it.”


William Auther, Partner, Bowman and Brooke LLP
Keith Lipman, President, Prosperoware
Randy Steere, Owner, Randy Steere LLC
Doug Brown, President, Basal Enterprises, Inc.

[These are my quick notes, complete with (what I hope is no more than) the occasional typo or grammatical error. Please excuse those. From time to time, I may insert my own editorial comments – exercising the prerogatives of the blogger. I’ll show those in brackets.]

So what do you do when a client calls and asks for a budget?

– What does the lawyer need to know?
– What does the accounting/finance department need to know?

The lawyer needs the following information:

– What is the client’s viewpoint or perspective? (is this a routine matter or a bet the farm matter?)
– What are the client’s expectations? (what form and content does the client need to receive?)
– What is the scope of work?
– What is the amount in controversy?
– How difficult does the client expect the project to be?

Focus on the major project management processes: breakdown the engagement into its constituent parts and tasks. Do you know what needs to be done in a stepwise fashion? It’s also very important to identify the phases in which these tasks occur. It isn’t enough to just say that every matter is unique. To do budgeting correctly, you have to dig deeper to find the identifiable tasks, phases and repeatable patterns. Don’t treat a matter (and its budget) as a mystery whose answer is to be revealed in time.

Budgeting is an iterative process. Once the lawyer puts a draft budget on the table, that opens up an important ongoing conversation with the client.

Tools and Methodology

What tools are available to a lawyer who is trying to create a matter budget? Do some data mining on multiple prior engagements so that you can compare the contingencies and costs associated with the work you’ve done before. However, you need to be sure that you are working with clean data — for example, is the information complete or has information been deleted, have you used task-based coding consistently, etc. This process provides data for the current budget, but it also provides clues as to how you might improve your current processes.

It’s very important to do budgeting by staff level/rank rather than by individuals. If you do it on the basis of an named individual, that may obscure the fact that they did this work as a third-year associate rather than a third-year partner.

The foundation for good data is laid at the time the new matter is opened. There needs to be a process in place that ensures that the firm continually refreshes that basic matter information to make sure it reflects accurately the development of the matter.

One enormous challenge is getting lawyers to participate fully in capturing the key data (regarding tasks and phases) that are necessary to build a robust model for matter budgeting. One way is to “drive the data back to them” so that they can see the implications of the data they are providing. In addition, you need to be sure that the feedback loops are good so that as lawyers review the budgeting data they can correct inaccurate data easily.

Where should a firm begin?

– Start by going back to prior similar matters and do the work to ensure that you have complete task/phase coding consistently applied. You can’t do the necessary analysis without this kind of information.

– When you are “managing the budget,” don’t just look at the actuals vs budget of the fees. It’s important to also look at staffing levels and changes in project scope. You need to get a better sense of where the gaps are between actuals and budget, AND WHY those gaps occurred. In addition, you should be analyzing whether your personnel truly are engaged in activities that deliver value to the client and profit to the firm.

A lawyer can really impress her clients by being able to make not only regular reports on how things are going (in terms of actuals vs budget), but also being able to make reasonable projections as to when and where variations from budget are likely to occur. A lawyer who can do this becomes a valuable partner for the client who needs to make similar reports to their company.

Lawyers are beginning to understand the importance of doing accurate budgets. Some firms are even beginning to think about how to reflect budgeting accuracy in their lawyer compensation arrangements.

A member of the audience noted that there’s a lot of work involved in monitoring a matter budget and handling the adjustments to the budget, and asked: “Should attorneys be doing this non-legal work rather than practicing law?” According to the panel, you can’t cut the attorney out of the equation — he needs to be on top of this information and is ultimately responsible to the client for this. Further, a non-attorney (coming from project management or IT) may not understand “where the pulse of the matter is” without input from a lawyer involved in the matter. That said, you can build a business process within the firm where non-attorneys (e.g., project managers, “pricing specialists” or others) can provide a substantial amount of support to alleviate the burden on the relationship partner.


An #ILTA10 Survival Guide

To be honest, I found my first ILTA Conference a little overwhelming and wished I had been given more advice about how to take advantage of what was offered without crashing and burning. My solution was to do as much as I could and sleep as little as I could, but I acknowledge that this was not the most responsible or healthy choice.

In the interest of offering a more balanced approach, I asked other ILTA Conference veterans for tips on how to survive ILTA. Here’s what they told me [with my editorial comments included in square brackets]:

The Sessions:

**Bill Kyrouz: Map out your entire schedule -now- and have at least one backup class in case you quickly realize your 1st choice wasn’t right. [via twitter]

**John Alber: Take a look at the session descriptions to get a better sense of what the panelists are planning to discuss.

**Paul Wittekind: Plan your schedule the night before. [VMA: The sessions are too good to miss because of lack of planning.]

**Jeff Ward: Choose multiple sessions for each time slot. You may get to one session and discover it isn’t exactly what you thought it would be about. [VMA: Or, you may discover that the room is full and fire marshall regulations prevent your entering the room.]

General Advice:

**Shawn Knight: Be sure to attend the Conference Orientation on Sunday at 6pm in Juniper 1. This session is not just for newbies — there will be information for everyone.

**David Hobbie: No matter your challenge, someone else @ #ilta is or has been facing it too. Meet people, ask Qs, and you’ll find him or her! [via twitter]

**John Alber: Don’t stay up too late! Conference is intense; you’ll need your sleep. [VMA: I wish he had told me this last year!]

**Julia Montgomery: Make sure you have business cards with you at all times. You’ll need more than you expect to use.

**Sean Luman: If you have any questions ask someone with a colored ribbon on their name tag. They’ll be happy to help.

**Julia Montgomery: Talk to as many people as possible. It will increase the value of your conference experience exponentially.

** David Hill: Volunteer for something — even something small — at conference. You’ll learn lots and will make connections with others.

**Browning Marean: Nothing good happens after 8:00pm!

**Michele Grossmeyer: (1) Take advantage of the resources you have around you — don’t be afraid to ask anyone around you any questions. The people here are friendly and happy to help. (2) Attend sessions, attend sessions, attend sessions. (3) If a session is not quite the right fit for you, don’t be afraid to move to another session as soon as you realize it. Time is too short at conference so make good use of it! [VMA: Michele co-chaired the last two ILTA conferences so she lots of experience and wisdom to share.]

**Honora Wade & Corby Guenther: (1) Orient yourself early. Walk round on Sunday to figure out where the main sessions and breakout sessions are. This will allow you to move between sessions efficiently. (2) Be comfortable! This means wear comfortable shoes — there’s a ton of walking. Bring a sweater or light jacket — the rooms tend to chilly and the temperature can vary from room to room. Hydrate, hydrate, HYDRATE!

**Skip Lohmeyer: (1) Get enough sleep so you don’t fall asleep in sessions. (2) Read session and speaker descriptions before you go to a session. This will give you a better sense of what to expect. (3) And don’t hesitate to ask questions of the folks wearing “Welcome to ILTA 2010” buttons.

Carlos Rodriguez: The ILTA website has interviews with conference leadership and those articles contain more useful tips.

What advice do you have for conference attendees?


Navigating the #ILTA10 Schedule

Too many choices! That was the reaction of one ILTA 2010 attendee. And, he is an ILTA Conference veteran. For the newcomer, those choices can seem overwhelming. The availability of so many educational options is a testament to the marvelous work done by my colleagues on the Conference Planning Committee and the ILTA staff, but that still doesn’t make it easier when several interesting sessions are scheduled for the same time slot. What’s a conscientious attendee to do?

Here are some tips to consider:

  • *Download the ILTA10 Mobile App or Mobile Website to have immediate electronic access to the schedule, conference center map, speaker info, conference news and updates, and much, much more.
  • *Set up your online itinerary or download session appointments for your Outlook Calendar.
  • *If you’re facing a scheduling conflict, go to the session that offers the best of the following options: experienced, engaging speakers and the chance for audience participation. This is one of the better ways to ensure you learn.
  • *Choose a session that promises new information or new ideas over a session in an area that you know extremely well. One of the great benefits of an educational conference like this is to broaden your horizons.
  • *Still can’t choose? Take a look at the session resource materials posted in the detailed session descriptions on the ILTA website. That should give you an idea of what the session is intended to cover.
  • *If you have a colleague who takes excellent notes, ask if he or she can attend the session and then share their notes.
  • *Alternatively, follow the session hashtag on Twitter to catch contemperaneous commentary on individual sessions. You can find hash tag information in the detailed session descriptions posted on the conference website.
  • *Yet another approach is to follow bloggers who are reporting on the conference this week. (Yes, this is shameless self-promotion! To make it a little less self-referent, please post a link to your blog in the comments below if you are reporting on ILTA10 sessions. Thanks!)
  • *Keep a list of the sessions you can’t attend and then look for the session recordings when you get back home. Those recordings, coupled with the resource materials posted for sessions on the website should give you a pretty good idea of what was discussed. (Note: these recordings are available for purchase after the conference.)
  • *Sometimes popular sessions are reprised after the conference via an ILTA webinar. Look for those in your periodic ILTA e-mail updates.
  • Are there other tips you’d suggest for navigating the rich conference schedule and optimizing your educational experience?


    Bags and Baggage

    Friday was crazy busy as I tried to wrap things up at work, while completing final preparations for ILTA 2010. In the midst of all of this, I found myself focused on bags and baggage:

    • For a variety of reasons, I have to take a ton of gear with me to ILTA — several mobile devices, a laptop, thumb drives, cables and all the other tech accoutrements.  This is on top of the clothes and paraphernalia of life that I’ll need to carry for a week away from home. Consequently, I’ve been trying to figure out how to pack all of this in an efficient way that is least likely to trigger those aggravating airline extra charges.  Sometimes it’s tempting to think that all one needs is the perfect bag.  In truth, what’s important is to figure out exactly what one truly needs to carry.  Unfortunately, that can often seem more daunting than the endless quest for the perfect bag.
    • Reading the headlines today, I came across the story of Rolf Potts who has begun a trip around the world without any luggage.  Since I have trouble going around the corner (much less to the ILTA Conference) without several bags, I must admit I find his approach mind-boggling.  Nonetheless, it’s worth considering how little one really needs to carry – provided, of course, you have enough pockets and cash.
    • In the midst of preparing for ILTA this week, we learned of the death of the father of a friend of our family.  So I found myself at a memorial service on Friday morning.  It was a timely reminder that we cannot take with us any of the stuff we accumulate in life.  In fact, we leave exactly as we arrived — empty-handed.  The man we were honoring seems to have understood this well.  The remembrances shared during the service were a testament to a person who had left an indelible, positive mark on the people fortunate to know him. He may not be carrying anything now, however, it was clear during the memorial service that he has left behind not heavy baggage, but rather an important legacy.

    At a graduation I attended in June, one of the speakers asked us to never forget that as we travel through life there is an important difference between luggage … and baggage. My day of wrestling with bags and baggage was a timely reminder of that truth.

    [Photo Credit: Tom Magliery]


    #ILTA10 Tweetup

    What’s a tweetup? According to the Urban Dictionary, there are at least a couple of definitions:

    An organized or impromptu gathering of people that use Twitter. (A meet up of people that ‘tweet’ using Twitter.)

    A gathering of nerds attempting social contact, likely for the first time. Usually disintegrates into everyone running to the nearest computer to type to one another.

    Regardless of which definition you prefer, I’m here to attest to the fun and function of tweetups. If you’ve spent even a short time with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or any of the other popular social networking platforms, you’ll appreciate the amazing networks that can develop online. But even the best virtual relationships can benefit from a little face to face time. The organizers of ILTA’s 2010 Conference understand this and are, therefore, hosting a tweetup for all attendees involved in social media.

    If you’d like to meet old friends or make “real” friends of virtual ones, please join us (IRL)* on Sunday, August 22, at 4:00pm in the Bluethorn 5 meeting room. ILTA will provide the venue and light refreshments. We’re hoping that you will provide the good cheer and energy that make tweetups a highlight of social networking.

    I look forward to seeing you there!

    *IRL means “in real life” as opposed to “in virtual life.”


    Enterprise 2.0 at #ILTA10

    If you’ve been curious about social media and how to use these tools in your law firm or law department, the ILTA 2010 Conference has several sessions that will help you. In particular, ILTA is offering a full day of sessions on Wednesday, August 25,that will lead you through some inspirational and intensely pragmatic aspects of Enterprise 2.0 deployments (i.e., deployments of social media tools behind the firewall).  We begin the day by introducing you to Freshfields and the Intel law department.  Both of these organizations are on their way to achieving information transparency through the use of traditional knowledge management and new E2.0 tools.  They’ll provide a road map for what they’ve done and, hopefully, inspire you to develop a road map of your own.

    Next,  representatives from Bryan Cave, the US Army’s JAG Corps and WilmerHale will lead a session on the critical importance of experiment and failure in E2.0 deployments.  Lawyers hate to think about (or be involved with failure).  This denies the basic truth that much of what we learn in life is through trial and error.  Further, failure is an inevitable part of experimentation, which in turn is the best way to achieve any innovation, including a  successful E2.0 deployment.  Come to this session to learn more about how to present and organize your work so as to use failure for good.

    The next session of the day focuses on re-imaging law firm life:  What could we do if we were starting a new firm from scratch?  Earlier this year I challenged colleagues from Integreon, Mallesons and O”Melveny with this question.  Rather than developing the expected laundry list of tools and business practices, we soon discovered that we needed to spend time thinking about the nature of our hypothetical firm’s practices and what flowed naturally from that.  This led us to the kind of intensely strategic discussion that every firm and law department should engage in when thinking about how to organize itself rationally using the best of what we know about technology and efficient business practices.

    The last session of the day is on the very practical question of Metrics.  This is something of a dirty topic in knowledge management and E2.0 circles, but that needs to change.  Carefully selected and honestly reported metrics can be enormously useful in understanding what your KM or E2.0 program is achieving and where it needs additional attention.  Further, as long as the decision makers in your organization need metrics to make funding decisions that affect your programs, you owe it to yourself and your colleagues to do the best job possible of gathering and reporting metrics about the things that matter.  Come to this session led by representatives of Orrick and the US Army JAG Corps to get a fresh and practical perspective on doing metrics right.

    In addition to this day focused on Enterprise 2.0 and law firm life, we’re offering two other sessions that involve social media.  The first is on Monday, August 23, when experts from Arent Fox and the Practical Law Company will lead us through the best of current thinking on how to craft a pragmatic social media policy for your firm and for your company.  We’ll discuss the main hot button issues and help you identify the areas that you and your colleagues need to focus on.  Come prepared to participate in a discussion, rather than to listen to a lecture.

    Finally, some social media experts from Bricker & Eckler and Vinson & Elkins will be offering a session of interest to everyone who has ever experienced information overload.  In a hands on “ILTA U” learning session, attendance will sit at computer terminals and be able to actually work along with the instructors to create a more efficient (and hopefully less painful) system for themselves for gathering, understanding and sharing what’s useful in the flood of information we receive daily.

    As you may be able to tell from my enthusiasm, I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know and work with the panelists in all these sessions.  In the process, I’ve received what feels like a graduate education in social media and law firm life.  Please join us for these sessions to learn from their experiences.  To help you, here’s a list of the sessions:


    You’ve Got Friends in Low Tech Places [#ILTA10]

    Do you know who your friends are?  If you’re attending the International Legal Technology Association’s 2010 Conference next week, then let me introduce you to a group of folks that you ought to get to know — they are the members of the conference planning committee. In fact, some might consider them helpful  “friends in low tech places.”

    When I attended last year’s conference, I saw the difference in programming that results when members of the organization do the planning themselves.  Their focus is on mutual education and widening horizons.  It’s  a far cry from conferences that are primarily focused on increasing sales of the products offered by vendor sponsors.

    My appreciation for the work of the ILTA Conference planning committee grew by leaps and bounds when I was asked to join their ranks last year and I experienced firsthand what it takes to organize a conference like this.  They may joke about “friends in low tech places,” but the 32 members of this group rolled up their sleeves and did the work to create a conference program that is rich and varied.  A quick tour through the list of conference sessions hints at the wide range of options available to attendees:

    I’d be remiss  if I failed to note that while the conference committee is made up of enthusiastic and able volunteers from ILTA’s membership ranks, the continuity from year to year, in addition to impressive technical expertise,is provided by the superb professional staff of ILTA.  They have kept us on task, on message  and on schedule throughout this year of planning.

    Over the next few days, I’ll try to give you more of a preview of what awaits you at ILTA10.  If  you’re on the fence about attending, take a look at the Top 10 Reasons  to Attend.  If you’re fortunate enough to be attending the conference, please do introduce yourself to me.  If you’ll be following the event remotely, be sure to get yourself a Twitter account and track the #ILTA10 hashtag.  It will be the next best thing to being there.