Dating a Beautiful Model

Some folks aspire to be as beautiful as a model, while other folks aspire to have a model on their arm. Lawyers, by contrast, aspire to have a collection of models. Model DOCUMENTS, that is.  And, as long as lawyers want model documents, law firm knowledge management personnel are going to try to find ways to provide them.  But, should they?

As mentioned in my earlier post, KM’s Worst Enemy, model documents represent a massive investment for a firm because it is very hard to throw a model document together overnight. If you’re going to do it correctly, you’ll have to spend time and effort to create a model that meets both your practice quality and risk management needs. Ideally, model document drafting will incorporate the experience of several lawyers in the relevant practice.  This means that law firm KM personnel must recruit and retain lawyers to help with the drafting.

At a recent meeting of law firm knowledge managers, I asked how many of them had successfully recruited under-utilized lawyers in their firm to update their collection of models.  The responses were consistent and discouraging.  Even when lawyers have a lighter billable workload, they tend to be disinclined to assist with drafting or updating model documents.  The solution for some firms has been to recruit practice support lawyers who work on a nonbillable basis to generate these materials.  However, this approach has its own challenges and, to do it correctly, you may well need a team of support lawyers who have expertise in a wide range of practice areas.  The solution for other firms has been to obtain model documents from traditional legal publishers or subscribe to the resources offered by practice support companies such as the Practical Law Company.**  PLC takes care of the drafting and updating, which is a huge improvement over what many firms can do for themselves.  Each subscribing firm then trains its lawyers to use these materials in a manner that is appropriate for that firm’s practice and clients.  And, of course, that firm has to pay a subscription fee for the service.

Before thinking about generating models internally or obtaining them externally, it would be worth examining further how many models you really need.  Many firms assume that a model constitutes a statement of best practices and, therefore, the more models you have the better.  A recent interchange on best practices with Tom Young of Knoco sharpened my understanding of best practices.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’d draw your attention to his concepts of standardization and innovation.   In applying this to the law firm context I wonder whether we would be wiser to concentrate on creating (or obtaining) model documents only for those instances where it is imperative that we ensure standardization.  In all other cases, would it be a better use of firm resources to produce a practice guide, checklist or issues list rather than a full-blown model document?  Until you consider these questions in the context of your firm’s practice, you may find yourself frustrated or disappointed as you try to find new and creative ways to coax your colleagues into creating models.

Dating a beautiful model may be your dream, but in a law firm it comes at a price.


Further Reading on Best Practices:

**Disclosure:  I’m a member of the Practical Law Company’s Advisory Board.

[Photo Credit:  UltimateGraphics / CC BY-NC 2.0 ]

6 thoughts on “Dating a Beautiful Model

  1. Mary, I must say that I love your metaphor of model contracts and Tyra Banks, and the eagerness of lawyers to have model documents at hand.I think that you are absolutely right that law firms should take a step back and really evaluate the need for model documents before spending massive time, effort and money thereon. As in all business decisions this should be based on the examination of result and return of investment, not on any arbitrary desire. This is also in line with the new KM definition by Dave Snowden (…), that you also have discussed before, where focus is on the combination of technology with the business processes and where ‘management of the KM function will be based on a small centralized core, with a wider distributed network’. Looking at KM this way it is hard to justify the costs for having a large number of PSLs creating a wide collection of model documents to a substantial cost.At my law firm, Vinge, we have organized the KM work in a small group with only two KM lawyers and assistants covering the KM initiative for seven offices and over 300 fee-earners. Having such a small KM organization compared to the overall size of the firm, we have to involve all fee-earners as knowledge workers and to focus on self-service and building IT-systems that are easily accessible and easy to use. We also constantly have to evaluate our KM strategy and how we best can support the business in the most cost-efficient way.To support the whole business and the wide spectrum of matters that are handled at the firm – from simple company registration matters to more complex transaction and capital market situations – you have to take on different approaches. There is not only one way to solve KM for a law firm and there is not only one KM solution applicable to all kinds of matters, i.e. model documents is not the answer to everything. Instead, we have applied three different approaches to support the spectrum of matters – standardization, knowledge sharing and innovation – and on the basis of these three approaches developed applicable KM tools to support the business.All three approaches are important and necessary, but for different matters and only to a justifiable extent. As regards model documents we have therefore made the decision that the ownership should be vested with the fee-earners, which means that the fee-earners must take responsibility for what content to be produced, the need for model documents and the return of investment on the time spent on both the production and the ongoing updating work. But as regards standardization we have taken this approach one step further for simple company registration matters and more common issues.Due to the fierce competition by smaller law firms charging lower fees for these kinds of matters, we have to manage such matters much more efficiently, and spending less time, while still maintaining our high quality. Therefore we KM lawyers have applied a document assembly tool on top of the model documents. When we implemented our document assembly tool at Vinge we focused the cost-efficiency aspects and how to retrieve most result in relation to required effort. This is the reason why we have not used the document assembly tool primarily for separate agreements but for the creation of packages of document in these kind of standardized and routine matters. The effort required by the KM team to produce the document assembly gives more in return by these kinds of matters, which are frequently handled by the firm and where the time saving is greater. But in other matters handled at the firm we do not have any model documents at all. Instead we focus on the knowledge sharing approach, by creating suitable KM tools. The goal here is to leverage the experience within the firm and to facilitate information procurement on transactions, current awareness, practice guides, example documents etc. Some of the tools we have developed are a deal database, a business intelligence service support and collaboration areas on the intranet. But also in the simple matters we combine the model documents with the ability to find example documents and check lists to gain a maximum return of the investment in model documents.As regards the innovation approach the focus is on expertise and collaboration. From a KM perspective the goal is to combine knowledge sharing with business development by supporting the fee-earners to share new business ideas, find new ways of solving problems and new ways of providing legal services. Here model documents play no or a very little role.To summarize, I would say that the need for model documents should always be evaluated with respect to the matter spectrum and the purpose they will fulfill in relation to the investment required. And, as in all KM work, it is a question of the right approach and the right combination of documents, IT systems and people.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Ann. It looks like your firm has doneexactly what it should — adapt the best of KM thinking to improve thepractice of law. It's only when we get past a simplistic view of KM =models/document collections that we can think holistically and creativelyabout what a firm really needs to become more effective and efficient.Good luck with your KM efforts!- Mary

      1. I couldn’t agree more, we really have to get past the “quick-fix” view of thinking that KM is either all about collecting documents or applying advanced IT systems to “solve” all KM issues. Model documents are important and shouldn’t be underestimated, but they are only one part of the business development support that KM can offer. Your article illustrated this conclusion in an excellent way. I really appreciate your initiated and thoughtful KM insights on this blog.- Ann

  2. I couldn’t agree more, we really have to get past the “quick-fix” view of thinking that KM is either all about collecting documents or applying advanced IT systems to “solve” all KM issues. Model documents are important and shouldn’t be underestimated, but they are only one part of the business development support that KM can offer. Your article illustrated this conclusion in an excellent way. I really appreciate your initiated and thoughtful KM insights on this blog.- Ann

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