NextGen_Law — September 2009
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Secrets Of The Chief Knowledge Officer

In recent years a new and somewhat mysterious title has appeared on the fl ow charts of law firms: chief knowledge officer.

Think of the CKO as the law-firm equivalent of Google: It’s the person who creates the system that lets attorneys store and retrieve the fi rm’s collective knowledge, with minimal hassle and maximum profi t.

We talked to four of the country’s leading legal CKOs about their work and how the recession is making knowledge management more important than ever.

How to Sell Lawyers on Technology

Thomas W. Baldwin

If I’m talking to someone I know pretty well and they ask me, “What does a CKO do?” I tell them, “When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.” In a professional setting, I tell people that my job is to help solve three core problems every firm has, which I put into three buckets.

Bucket No. 1 is: What do we know as a law firm? How do we harness our intellectual capital? That’s all the knowledge that the lawyers have. What systems and processes and technology do we put in place to make it easier for the lawyers to leverage and mine the intellectual capital that’s floating around the brains of the lawyers at the firm?

The second bucket is: Who do we know? That’s our relationship capital. I read all the emails that go into the attorney-distribution lists, and the questions that come through are more often queries about people, not legal issues. They want to know, “Does anyone have any experience with this judge? Does anybody know this expert witness?

I need a referral for a lawyer in Paraguay.” If you really study the questions lawyers have, it has as much to do with relationship capital as it does intellectual capital.

The third bucket is more administrative: What do we need to know to do our job every day? How do I fill out an expense form? How do I fill out a matterintake form? What is the vacation policy?

All of these things seem small, but they’re actually very important. As CKO, it’s part of my job to make sure those administrative things are easily accessible to our lawyers and staff.

My background as a CKO is not traditional, if there is such a thing. Most CKOs are lawyers by trade. I got my degree in business, so I look at knowledge management very much from a bottom-line perspective. Are the projects we’re taking on making us more money by being more efficient, and helping us win business? Do they help us save time?

If a technology or process is “cool” but not relevant or bottom-line driven, there’s really no good need for it.

Also, you want to be able to say that we’ve got 20 of the top 25 clients of the firm using the extranets that my team supports. Or blogs—you want to say we got these two deals because of these blog postings. That’s definitely something more people are looking at this year, because of the [poor] economy. In the Good times, when money’s rolling in the door, there’s not always a lot of analysis.

We try to present data in a targeted way throughout our firm so that what shows up on the home page of our company portal is different for a partner than it is for an associate. Which office you’re in dictates certain types of news that you get; which practice group you’re in dictates what library links you get. It personalizes the portal without the lawyer having to do any work.

One tip that I’ve learned over the years is that you have to ride the coattails of the lawyers in the firm who “get” the technology.

And in some instances you let them be the champion for you. They’re actually doing the sales job, rather than you trying to convince the partners—who are more reluctant to change.

Part of the CKO’s job comes down to promotion: selling the technology so that the lawyers use it. You’ve got to make clear to the lawyers what the benefits are of using these systems. I think that’s an area that’s often overlooked.

You have to understand that by their nature, lawyers are always going to be somewhat skeptical, until you prove something to them. It’s almost like going to court: You have to think through what the opposing counsel is going to ask.

When you go into a meeting or a demo with partners, you need to know what kinds of questions they’re likely to ask—and have good, solid responses to them. You get only one opportunity to do something right or wrong with a lawyer, and the minute you do something wrong, you’ve lost a lot of credibility. And once you lose that credibility, it’s very hard to get it back.

Using Technology to Market the Firm

Patrick DiDomenico

A few years ago I constantly had to explain to people what my job is. Not only is it a funny-sounding title, but sometimes “chief knowledge officer” sounds pretty high and mighty. People say, “So if I have any questions, I can just come to you—you know everything, right?” To a lot of people “knowledge management” sounds like jargon, as it is a relatively new field.

As a CKO, you want to make people’s lives easier—look at things and say, “Why do we do it that way? Is there a better way to do it?

Should we be doing it at all?” Generally, my goal is helping lawyers get their jobs done in a more efficient, and hopefully more profitable, way. It’s to focus on the practice of law—write the briefs, negotiate the contracts, etc.—but it’s also about the business of law. I want the lawyers to do it in an efficient way, so at the end of the day they’re more profitable.

Basically, my job is getting the right information to the right people at the right time. If information comes to someone when they don’t need it, it’s just static. We get emails all day, and most of the time it’s static, because it’s not information we need now, and therefore not immediately actionable.

I’m very much into social media, as are, I think, a lot of KM people. When you’re talking about a blog that the public can see, that is a marketing tool. Let’s not kid ourselves: When someone in the firm is writing a blog, it’s really to get the word out to potential clients. They want to establish themselves as experts, so that when someone reads about a legal matter, they’re going to say, “This person has a lot of insight into this. I want to contact them.” One thing we’re doing is working with Twitter. Quite frankly, I have mixed feelings about Twitter. In one respect, it’s hard to see why people use Twitter— why they talk about things that are seemingly unimportant. But people do it by the millions, and there’s a real value to that platform. You go on there and make connections. I’ve got tons of KM connections on Twitter, and I ask questions of them all the time. I also use it to promote my blog and put links to interesting news stories. It’s a fantastic platform.

It’s not only great for individual lawyers to be on Twitter, but it’s great for law firms too. It’s an opportunity to use it as a marketing tool, to republish the headlines of the news articles and events from your law firm’s website to drive more people to it.

With the recession, our firm is very cost-conscious, as are all firms these days.

What’s nice about this social media stuff, though—like LinkedIn and Twitter—is that it’s free. You can join LinkedIn and enjoy its power, and it doesn’t cost you a dime—just like Twitter.

One of the cardinal rules of knowledge management is: Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Our firm has been around nearly 75 years, so chances are someone’s done it before. If you can find that previous work product and use it so you don’t have to start from square one, that’s where the efficiency comes in. Then you don’t have to charge your client for those hours, because you didn’t have to start from square one. The client is happy because you’re more efficient and it costs them less money.

There’s a lot of valuable knowledge that hasn’t been codified—it’s still in someone’s head. For example, someone might have the experience of being before a particular court; they might know how a particular judge reacts to this type of argument when they were doing oral argument on a motion. So I can talk to that person, and he or she can teach me about it the old-fashioned way. That’s knowledge management too. It’s a low-tech way, but it gives you a great result.

How the Recession Is Making Law Firms More Effi cient

Oz Benamram

Basically, knowledge management is about exposing the collective memory. We’re Googleizing the firm. We want to give lawyers simple access to everything they should have access to within the organization. We want to organize it in a way that will be intuitive and simple enough for lawyers to find. When a lawyer comes with a query, he’s not coming because he likes to get data; it’s because there’s a task at hand and the lawyer needs information to help take an action.

In law, knowledge management is trying to support two main functions.

One is the practice of law. When someone comes to a lawyer and asks a question, the lawyer has to figure out, “Who before me has answered that question, and how can I find them?” The second function has to do with the business of law. Do we do the right work? Do We serve the right clients, and serve them fully? Are we aware of everything a client needs to make sure we’re doing a good job?

There are three rules of how we go about gathering information in KM. The first rule is: Don’t ask, automate. Instead of asking the name of a judge in a case, somewhere in the system the information already exists. Find it. The second rule is: Don’t create a new workflow just for KM purposes. Make sure you find an existing workflow that’s already happening. And the third rule is: Make sure you can answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” The lawyer has to have some skin in the game. If they get value, they’ll buy in; if they don’t, they won’t.

Law firms haven’t always done the business of law well. There are many large law firms that haven’t yet adopted the best practices that exist in other industries. In part, that’s because, historically, we didn’t have to. People came to the firm because of its reputation, and then the work just fell in its lap. But as there’s more competition, it becomes more important to be efficient. Law firms didn’t always have to be efficient.

We’re now in knowledge management

2. 0. KM 1.0 was manual and very labor intensive. For each matter, KM used to be done down at the document level, so if we had ten lawyers involved and they were creating 1,000 documents, you had to do KM 1,000 times.

That’s clearly not a very efficient way of doing it. So now, in KM 2.0, we’re shifting to automated or semi-automated tagging. You can just put all of the documents in the bucket that go with this project or client number, and let the KM system apply those tags to all of those documents. So it can ask you, “Who was the judge?” once instead of having to ask that question for each of the 1,000 documents.

In the long term, the downturn might make efficiency even more important. If we have to move away from the billable-hour model and work like any other business—budgeting things ahead of time—it will require a different analysis on our part. We need to find equivalents, so we can make predictions based on similar matters we’ve handled in the past.

As an industry, we’re shifting into attention management as a part of KM: How do I notify you that something happened that you need to be aware of ? It’s very valuable if I can infer that, based on your historical behavior, I should alert you when something similar happens. It’s like when your client is sued, you get an email with possible actions. So you’re getting alerts that give you actionable information that already fits into your workflow. That’s KM nirvana.

Using KM to Land New Clients

Meredith L. Williams

In the very beginning, I had to explain my job to other attorneys.

And my 30-second elevator response was, “My job is to make you more efficient at what you do, make your clients happier, and affect your bottom line.” When you sell it like that, when you talk about how it affects the bottom line, people are quick to respond. If people don’t buy in—which I’ve seen in a lot of organizations, not just law firms—then you’re not going to get very far.

I’m not really a marketer, and when I went to law school I had no idea that I was going to be a marketer every day. But now I am. We work with the marketing department and try to strategize ways to better sell what we have and what we do. We try to reach people in different ways, whether it’s communication through our blogs that go out to the entire firm, alerting them to new things we’re working on, or training classes that we offer. The blogs are internal—we use it almost like a newsletter to promote different features we’re building, and it usually gets a big response.

Part of our job is to be consultants. We sit down and meet with the key players in the firm and figure out what their needs are. For instance, right now we’re in the process of meeting with all of our practice groups to talk about what they want to do for the year and where they want to go. One thing we’re working on is expertise location. Because we’re so large and we merged on a regular basis, no one knows who does what anymore. So what we’ve done is develop a [digital] experience system, based on specific matters, that’s searchable across the firm. That’s more effective than some simple database that lists all the people and their Experience. And it’s automated, so when a new matter comes into the system it opens up a new experience record. Who is associated with that experience is all tied back into how much time they’re entering.

The blogs, Wikis, and discussion forums—and all of the things that SharePoint and Web 2.0 bring to the table—give us a more collaborative environment. The younger associates who come in now don’t have the same fear of breaking into something that an older attorney may have had. Our blogs have been a huge success. We have blogs for our client-service teams, our industryservice teams, and our practice groups. They use them absolutely nonstop. They talk about client development; they talk about issues with judges or issues in a case— whatever it may be. It gives them full collaboration without having it all be by email, which we’re trying to get away from. Everyone has the same information, and that’s what our clients want. They want to know that we’re sharing everything—that attorneys are going to one place to get consistent information.

Our clients also have a place in the KM system. Every client in every matter we have has a site on our intranet. We can also turn on an external access to that, which has helped us retain clients. For example, we have a big health care client that we gained last year, and at the time there were about five other law firms that were doing their work. We built an internal section that allowed us to manage all of the different files we were working on for that client, and we debuted it to the client so they could see how we were managing their work and keeping their costs down. They eventually moved all the work from the other firms over to us.