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]