Report from Practical Law Knowledge Management Forum

Yesterday we attended Practical Law’s 2nd Annual Knowledge Management Forumcovering different aspects of the three main themes technology, enhancing client value and maximising efficiency. VQ’s Helena Hallgarn also held a session on efficient delivery of legal services.

Carol Aldridge, Head of Knowledge Management & Information Services, Burges Salmon, opened the conference with a crystal ball glance on what the future of legal service will look like and the role of KM in the new technological age. Carol emphasised the need for collaboration between law firms and clients, but also between clients and between panel firms, and how the use of technology can support collaboration. Effective client collaboration will enhance law firms to deliver what clients want, with smaller budgets. It is about working smarter with what we got to deliver more for less. KM professionals will need to harness their resources and work together with all colleagues in the firms, including IT professionals and project managers, as well as directly with the clients, to really understand what the clients want and make the best use of technology to support that. The client’s voice is what is going to make all the difference and gain senior management buy-in making KM a tool to really drive efficiency.

During the technology theme we received interesting insights on the use of social media in KM development and mobile access to information by Andrew Dey, Director, Technology Strategy, Barclays Group Legal and David Kemp, Executive Director of Legal Policy, Autonomy. Mark Collins, Expertise Enablement Officer, Zurich Insurance, then followed up with a very interesting analysis of the Cloud, with pros and cons and considerations to be taken. The presented numbers showed a clear shift in a widespread positive approach towards the use of Cloud-based systems. As Mark pointed out, the key question to be asked when choosing a Cloud-based system is if it is as good and as safe as my internal system. A question that more and more people answer with a “yes”. Mark provided some of the results in the recent TechSoup Global survey showing that 79% say the greatest advantage is easier software access and administration, 62% that costs are reduced and 54% that data security is actually improved by the use of Cloud-based systems. However, many still seem wary of the Cloud, which rendered the following comment from the audience; “The current debate on using the Cloud is like the debate on using email a decade ago. Get over it! It’s all about efficiency.”

The second theme, enhancing client value, started off with a really inspiring success story by Vodafone. Katharine Ward, Legal Knowledge Manager, Vodafone, shared their law firm collaboration project in the creation of an in-house portal with know how and tools. By asking their panel law firms to collaborate Vodafone has created a knowledge portal with access to seminars, webinars, onsite workshops, searchable legal updates, know how documents and related information provided by the law firms together with advice hotlines and firm secondments. A really good example in practice on the collaboration path to the future that Carol Aldridge pointed out in her opening remarks.

During the third theme different aspects on maximising efficiency was addressed in three different practical sessions. Stephen Godsell, Senior Legal Counsel, The Economist Group, and Helena Hallgarn, Co-founder Virtual Intelligence VQ, held a joint session on the efficient delivery of legal services. Stephen addressed the issue on how to implement an efficient contract management model and how such an model must involve the essential elements people (the right mix of lawyers and users within the organisation), documents (customised, standardised and modularised) and systems (processes and technology like automated drafting creation). Helena Hallgarn then shared her insights on how to develop innovative and efficient service delivery by the use of technology, for example by automating routine legal work and by repackaging knowledge management for clients by the use of a document assembly tool. Helena emphasised that in order to succeed with a legal document automation project you need to invest time and effort on the pre-analysis using the right competence, preferably someone with the ability to act as a legal knowledge engineer in line with Richard Susskind’s definition: “It is entirely misconceived to think, as many lawyers do, that work on standards and systems can be delegated to junior research or support lawyers. If a legal business is going to trade on the strength of outstanding standards and systems, then it will need outstanding lawyers involved in their design and development. These legal knowledge engineers will also be needed to undertake another central task – the basic analysis and decomposition of legal work that I claim will be required if legal work is to be multi-sourced effectively and responsibly.” Helena also showed a practical example of a document automation solution by the online service VQ Legal developed by VQ.

Other sessions provided examples on how to use portals and search to surface and share legal knowledge and perspectives on multiple service providers. Finally Deborah Maguire, Senior Counsel and Head of Knowledge Management, BT Global Services, shared her insights on how to optimise resources within in-house teams by a case study on BT’s outsourcing project. The LPO project was initiated in 2010 as an answer to the question on how to handle the decreased budget and increased workload. The aim of the project was for the legal department to deliver best value by moving internal legal resources up the legal value chain by using a LPO provider on repeatable high volume/lower value transactions, while at the same time give greater scrutiny to use of external firms and ensuring that output quality was improved. As a result of the outsourcing project, the BT legal team was able to manage a comparable workload in 2012 with 40% less people, with in-house resources moving up the value chain to consistently undertake higher value work, resulting in decreased use of external firms and improved quality, and yet, an overall reduction of external legal spend by 11%.

The conclusion from this inspiring day was the focus on collaboration and innovation. The clear message from clients was for law firms to start collaborate and innovate. More could be shared between law firm and clients, as well as between clients. Law firms will be seen as adding a huge value if they can connect clients to clients, helping all to learn from each other, and if they can find innovative ways to provide clients access to law firm experts, know how and learning.