My previous post the “Age of uncertainty” touched on the need to embrace the inevitable period of change that’s now washing over the legal industry. In his recent blog post, Stephen Allen, Director of Innovation at Berwin Leighton Paisner, claims, and I tend to agree, that the the case for change in the legal space has been made already. “Now it’s time to make the case for a new order“, as he calls it.
But what will the “new order” look like? Table stakes processes such as legal project management are being experimented with and implemented in many firms already, alternative fee arrangement are more common, and more firms grapple with client demands for cost controls and greater transparency. Internal compensation models are also changing, and more law firms are looking to increase the number of none equity partners as an example (see Edge International recent Partner Compensation System Survey). But this is just the beginning of a change cycle. And we are making as many guesses as definite predictions. The age of uncertainty is upon us.
So how will the CIO, Director of KM, Director of practice support and other such key players in the firm, help enable this rate of change? The answer is flexibility, specificity, simplify and speed. Those are the parameters for assessing business processes and enabling technologies.
Since we don’t exactly know what change will look like, when we consider processes and systems that will support our firms in the next 24-48 months should be flexible enough to quickly change. If your LPM process and supporting technologies do not allow for quick modifications, you may want to invest in a different solution. Whatever you do should be specific to your users; it’s the promise of a personalized experience. As a practitioner I should know, learn, and interact with processes and automation based on my role, level of expertise, location, and history to support the things I should know and do. Simplicity is critical because our users need (rapid learning curve) as well as demand it. A new breed of information management solutions that we are now using on our smart phones, tablets and on the web are teaching our lawyers that intuitive interaction is possible. And finally, speed of implementation will determine how quickly we can support our firm and its changing needs.
Change is happening. Some of it is dramatic. Some of it is unknown. But those guiding principles can help us cope.
Rivers of ink are now spilled over the dramatic changes swiping law firms and their instantly outdated business models; especially but not exclusively BIGlaw. From Susskind’s bellwether treatise to Kowalski’s most recent take on this topic, and everything in between, there’s little doubt anymore that with law firms, business is not as usual. But walking the halls of some clients’ offices, this sense of urgency is not always felt. Practitioners are heads down in the business of law, and the admin side is as busy as ever, making sure that everything else is humming along to enable fee earners do what they do best.
But all of this changes when talking with the firm’s management. Sitting with a group of senior managing or leading partners from both large and mid size firms, as I just did for a day long honest discussion and sharing, and something altogether different is creeping into the conversation; anxiety. As real and as palpable as the stark numbers shared by an analyst from City Private Banking’s Law Firm Group. Where do we start? Expense growth outpacing revenue growth. Demand is slowing down. Productivity gap will put pressure on firms to discount their services even more. AFAs could further squeeze profit margins. And on and on. But like any other industry meeting adversity, so will the legal profession and law firms will struggle and then find their footings. It’ll be different when the dust settles. But legal services will continue to be consumed, including high end “bet the farm”, as well as low-end commodity work.
The format will likely change, none legal entities will get into the business (through changes to ownership rules), and engagements will be managed with more rigor and transparency. Generally, law firms will realize similar to and will therefore learn from management consulting firms and their own beaten path in the past 30 years. But along the way, the next 10 years will introduce a great deal of uncertainty. It’s a tough but necessary proposition; law firms will try and figure out a winning strategy while dealing with changing conditions in the market. But to come up with a winning formula, just like doing so in the lab, it requires a process of trial and error. This strange concept (for law firms) will mean a sea of change for those of us who support the firm’s business. Not the least those of us who are concerned with information and knowledge management solutions.
For our efforts will need to both support, and in some cases, facilitate the change which is already taking hold in many firms. Experimentation and the resulting changes to the firm’s business model will require CIOs, KM directors, practice support personel, marketing, business development and other related functions to respond with speed and flexibility that we’ve never experienced before. And the automation, efficiency, collaboration and media platforms we will choose, will also need to reflect this new reality.
More on this topic, and what specifically it looks like, in a future post.
It is refreshing to face a room full of people–many of whom are not “techies”- talk to them about the Cloud and realize that every one of them gets it. This happened to me last week in ii3’s seminar on “The Cloud for Law Firms”, as I was introducing our featured speaker George Takach (George’s talk was about Cloud related legal and regulatory issues). We get it, because as consumers we use it every day on Facebook, YouTube, Gmail and such services. We like it because it’s transparent and relatively easy.
This brings me to the question: how will law firms benefit from the Cloud? The benefit balance sheet includes favourable crunching of the total cost of ownership numbers to better security and easier upgrades. But the biggest advantage is that law firms, just like individuals who use it now everyday, will be able to get out of the technology management business and refocus their efforts and IT talent on information management. In other words – focus on the business benefits of information technology, not on its nuts and bolts.
The Cloud will not only allow law firms to get closer to their clients but also allow lawyers to access information from anywhere using any device that suits their style of work. They will just “plug in” when they need access. The Cloud is a business accelerator and just like all other businesses (their clients included of course), law firms will realize its benefits. Ubiquitous and transparent to its users.
But what does this mean for a law firm’s IT department? In his talk, George Takach warns us not to “throw the tech baby out with the bath water”. In other words, don’t be in a hurry to get rid of your IT folks now that you’re outsourcing more of your systems “to the Cloud”. Remember, these guys know your firm. They know your culture. They know your needs. And the good news is they can now apply more of their time and energy towards helping you solve your business problems first, and then your technology issues.
Often in Enterprise Search engagements we run into situations where we are crawling information from different sources, but meta-data that is shared between the different sources are just a bit different. As an example, a practice group in the Document Management System is presented differently in your Human Resources system.
While some inconsistencies can be fixed using the search software such as Recommind, we generally recommend that the data be cleaned at the source. This allows the data to be presented consistently and cleanly wherever the end user is finding the data.
Data clean-up is tedious and usually at the bottom of the firm’s priorities and therefore difficult to budget for. If you are considering Enterprise Search as a solution, this could be the opportunity to plan ahead and build that effort into your Enterprise Search project plans. Clean data will benefit many other initiatives, including portals and other information and knowledge consolidating solutions.
In a recent assignment, we helped a large law firm select its new timekeeping software. Like many firms formed through mergers, it had two standard timekeeping packages that had been gently aging since the merger in 2004. The firm wanted to standardize on one product for the usual reasons, but was also looking for a product that would reduce “lost” time, which some firms have estimated costs them several millions a year in billings. A market survey revealed that timekeeping software vendors were aware of this requirement as an emerging area that could help them differentiate their product from the rest.
We interviewed a large number of staff from across the firm, including practice managers, paralegals, secretaries and administrative and financial staff involved in billing. As we expected, both timekeepers and the secretaries who input time on their behalf had long lists of what they liked and disliked about the current products, along with intriguing suggestions for what would improve timekeeping in general. Based on this input and the business requirements established by the Finance group, we built an evaluation tool to assess the vendors’ responses to a Request for Information. The vendors making it past this barrier would be invited to demonstrate the product to representative users, including lawyers.
Software from four vendors made the cut, including updated versions of the products currently in use. Among viewers of the demonstrations, the Finance team were most impressed with the tool that automatically monitored phone and computer activity to capture “lost” time, and enthused about the potential to close the gap on lost billings. Interestingly, though, the lawyers were less impressed by the “advanced” product and more attracted to the two packages that addressed the irritants they had complained about and offered the features on their “nice to have” list. Both products had some functionality to address “time capture”, but had maintained a familiar user interface. One lawyer commented that some days her time was very easy to record, and that the fine detail presented by the lost time capture software would be time-consuming to review.
What struck us were the different perspectives of the business sponsor (Finance) and the actual timekeeper. It’s a cautionary tale –don’t get too far out ahead of your end-users!
Finance recognized that the “time capture” function in the software that the lawyers preferred would meet the need to capture “lost time” and happily selected it, since it was also the less expensive option.
Much has been said about the use of iPads and tablets in law firms. In fact, we are in the midst of producing a new ii3 Knowledge Network ILTA TV program on this very topic this week with Doug Caddell, Brian Donato and David Neesen . It also appears that a consensus is emerging: I think that any of us who use an iPad will acknowledge its limitations as an input device and agree that it is best used for reading and some basic commentary. As mentioned in my previous blog post on this topic, Apple’s iBook authoring app is a great example of this because its allows for the creation of readable and interactive content for professional development purposes, CLE and even technology training “manuals.” Having said this however, there are other interesting options for extending the firm’s existing systems into the iPads/Tablets.
Consider your portal (and Microsoft’s Sharepoint by extension). Depending on the types of solutions you provide through your portal, you may be able to use emerging tools for accessing Sharepoint content and making this content available via the tablet. You will find a number of generic tools (see Klint Finley’s “5 Apps That Bring SharePoint to the iPad“) for retrieving documents, accessing forms and other fairly basic Sharepoint functions. But imagine if there were a more sophisticated lawyer facing solution such as a consolidated view of an electronic matter file? Or a consolidated view of the matter’s financial information? If you invested in your portal, should you now extend its information delivery aspects to the nearest tablet?
We’ve been asking ourselves these very questions and it just so happens that my firm, ii3, is now working on such a solution for a client. When we started planning this solution (a Sharepoint based consolidated matter view), our first decision was to narrow the functionality that will be available through to the iPad to a subset most suitable to a tablet’s form factor and most typical use (i.e. reading, browsing and some basic interactivity, etc.). We then agreed that developing an iOS specific app will be: (1) expensive, and (2) platform dependent (as much as we love Apple devices, we’re all still hopeful that Apple will not remain the only game in town). The obvious solution then became to use a browser…but with a twist (or two). We determined that the unique interface will (1) be customized for the device, and (2) utilize HTML5 to create a compelling, iOS app-like user experience. For those who’re not familiar with HTML5, this emerging standard allows for rich interactivity through any browser, including the most popular mobile device browsers on the market. As we progress through the design and implementation phases of this project, I’ll keep you updated via this blog. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore the magic of HTML5 and how you could leverage your existing (or planned) portal (including Sharepoint) solutions through a tablet interface. I suspect that we’ll be seeing and hearing much more about this over the next several months.
Last week I met with one of our clients to discuss their enterprise search (ES) pilot planning for the upcoming implementation of Recommind Decisiv Search. I was encouraged by their desire to do so methodically. I believe that carefully approaching a pilot phase for an ES initiative is no different than any other lawyer facing technology initiative; it’s a crucial step for successful adoption. A well executed pilot phase can help you address a number of issues including:
Build excitement and good will with your user community, and as a result seed the firm with ES champions;
Issues that were not caught during QA (Quality Assurance) processes can be identified and resolved before a full release to the firm (just remember to manage your pilot group’s expectations);
Identify and verify success criteria for the pilot which set the stage for a successful roll-out into the firm; and
Test your assumptions and processes for full roll-out activities such as communications, training and support.
The key to a pilot’s success is choosing the right group of individuals, and the best way to do this is to think of it like the layers of an onion:
At its core are KM and IT stakeholders that are intimately familiar with the initiative and its goals. They will be able to assess technical aspects (e.g. speed) and security.
Librarians or KM lawyers (or PSLs) are familiar with legacy search models and will provide crucial feedback on more complex searches.
Practice group cross sections will help ensure their unique needs are met.
Assistants will have a unique set of needs and can provide valuable feedback, comparing their current experience with legacy search (e.g. DMS).
And finally, ensure that your pilot group is represented across offices (if your firm is national or multinational). Think about the firm’s inter office politics. It’s better to have as many of them “inside the tent”.
You should attempt to seed the pilot group with both “friendlies” as well as traditional “naysayers”. The latter are especially important. Their objections and how you respond will inform your full roll-out.
In so far as size of the pilot group goes, ensure it is large enough to represent and deal with the aspects I mentioned above, but small and intimate enough to allow for a personal and very close follow-up processes. The length of your pilot should not be open-ended. By providing your pilot group with clear target dates for completion, a set of instructions on what they should be testing and looking for and specific opportunities and methods for communicating their feedback will greatly increase the success of your pilot.
A recent acquisition of the national UK law firm Russell Jones & Walker by Australia’s Slater & Gordon for £53.8 million is significant on a number of levels (more on the acquisition in this excellent blog post by Sean Larkan and Chris Bull). What I found especially interesting is Russel Jones’ web retail model – one that supports their thriving personal injury (PI) practice. It should be noted that this practice was one of the main reasons they were acquired.
Branded as http://www.claimsdirect.co.uk, I found this web site to be a full-scale B2C (Business to Consumer) retail front-end to the firm’s PI services. It is an e-commerce site through and through, including a “Chat with our specialists now” site usage timed pop-up. The site is very well designed and right-up there along with some of the top-notch consumer oriented sites of its kind. It creates a logical path for “purchase” by (1) identifying its visitor as a potential buyer, (2) providing knowledge and information about the problem (personal injury), (3) showing the possible return (complete with a compensation calculator); and (4) ends with a call to action (chat with a specialist, contact us etc.).
So if you thought mainstream law firms have yet to realize the potential in accessing the retail market via web sites and related technologies, here’s a perfect example proving otherwise. This coupled with the recent changes in UK law as it relates to the legal industry (the Alternative Business Structure) may just be the shape of things to come.
It’s not uncommon to see lawyers, attorney or students-at-law roaming the proverbial halls at their respective firms with their Christmas gifts neatly tucked under their arms, looking to use it for something other than email. What can you give your eager troops of screen pinching throngs until you find or develop a brilliant legal specific app?
There’s something to be said for simplicity. If we take a short journey down memory lane to the early days of the World Wide Web, putting up a simple web site with some basic authoring was so easy. It had this crisp quality to it that lasted at least until the next trend came along. It was easy, innovative, edgy and looked good. So here’s an updated idea for the iPad era: using simple content authoring will allow you to quickly create simple but rich learning and professional development content that lawyers can flip through while comfortably sitting on their couch, from the very same iBook “shelf” they used for reading their favourite magazine. Perhaps a quick interactive book about your recent upgrade to Office 2010? Or more information about how to best use your newly upgraded matter centric DMS? With a pinch, a flip, colour images and compelling content, users who are eager to read meaningful content on their tablets (and not just play Scrabble!), may actually read or view the instructional content currently languishing on your portal.
Interested in exploring more? Apple’s own iBook author is a compelling option (learn more about it here and view a quick video here) – but pay attention to Apple’s somewhat restrictive EULA. But check out more standard publishing tools such as Adobe In-Design which can generate standard ePub content as well.
Knowledge management in law firms is not immune to change. That’s the good news.
But some of us find it hard to believe that substantive advances in technology, meaning-based computing (or whatever name a given vendor is using), among a number of others, is having a real impact on how KM is, or can be, practiced in the firm. Lawyers and attorneys are also changing their ways. “Consumerization of IT” simply means that they happily embrace the iPad, are comfortable with $4/month Web 2.0 tools (Dropbox, Evernote & Flickr) and some are even showing up to work with a “can do”, or finer still, a “we should do it better”, attitude.
My client, David Hunter, shared an article written by MIT’s research fellow with the Sloan School of Management’s Center for Digital Business, Michael Schrage. The piece is called, “Tips for Getting More Organized: Don’t”. The final two lines read, “Our job today and tomorrow isn’t to organize ourselves better; it’s to get the right technologies that respond to our personal productivity needs. It’s not that we’re becoming too dependent on our technologies to organize us; it’s that we haven’t become dependent enough.“. This idea is still considered an anathema by some. But I’m thinking about Schrage’s advice in the context of how lawyers could better manage their email and electronic files. He quotes IBM’s research which shows, “email users who ‘searched’ rather than set up files and folders for their correspondence typically found what they were looking for faster and with fewer errors”. From my experience I know that this is largely true today. So why fight it?
Long and short: the future, which we all hoped for, is here. Many aspects of our working lives are changing – fast. Finding information and knowledge is a large part of it. If you agree with this, than you must also agree: The future of KM is brighter than ever. So much so that Knowledge Management won’t even be called that any more, it’ll just be how things are done!