ILTA 2013 Part 3 – KM as Business Support

At the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA)’s Annual Education Conference there are different focus areas for the educational sessions. VQ has particularly followed the Knowledge Management focus area, with sessions addressing topics such as “Bolstering KM Through User Experience Design”, “Storytelling To Transform Your KM Projects, Strategy and Culture”, “KM in Support of Firm Operations and Administration”, “Should you Create Innovative Online Legal Products for Clients?” and “Better, Faster, Stronger – The Energized After-Action Review”.

From the sessions it has been evident that there is a current trend from knowledge management in the traditional sense to knowledge management as a business development driver and support. The question is why this trend is happening now and what business and legal pressures that are driving increased KM involvement in firm operations?

In the session “KM in Support of Firm Operations and Administration” one of the speakers, Shy Alter, CEO, ii3, pointed to the fact that law firms are starting to behave more like ordinary businesses, taking on a more holistic view on how processes can be improved and how the knowledge capital can be better taken advantage of.

“KM staff operate smoothly between lawyers and a range of operational functions; ideally situated to increase intra-firm collaboration, communication, and understanding. Some KM programs have worked on operations for some time, but business conditions are now ripe for more extensive applications of KM to firm operations; arguably critical to keeping operational teams relevant and law firms profitable.”

Knowledge management in law firms is a discipline at the intersection of substantive legal work, information management, technology and the business of law. As such, KM professionals have the ability to identify and provide business process and technology solutions to improve the business and increase profitability. Speakers Ginevra Saylor, National Director of Knowledge Management, Dentons Canada, and Felicity Badcock, Head of Knowledge Management, King & Wood Mallesons, also presented some interesting case studies, showing practical examples of the expanding role of KM groups in firm operations. For example, the case study of Dentons Process Improvement Project was a good example of how KM addressed the firm’s need to standardize the onboarding process across the national firm and turned it into a project, involving HR, IT, Office Services, Finance, PD and Library. The KM skills used were process mapping, understanding work-flow and critical touch-points and handling the change management effort, and securing buy-in. Other case studies that presented successful firm project driven by KM groups and with the application of KM skills were King & Wood Mallesons Social Intranet Project, King & Wood Mallesons Process Improvement Evaluation Matrix Project and Dentons Document Assembly Project. Further descriptions of these projects are made in the Presentation Slides.

Another trend evident from many of the session is the increasing use of document assembly solutions, and not only for strictly legal tasks, but also for other more administrative tasks within law firms. Many of the world’s largest and most innovative law firms are using document assembly solutions to drive their document creation efficiency and to help improve the efficiency and profitability, especially in fixed fee engagements. Dentons Document Assembly Project is a good example on how the firm used document assembly to support Marketing improving the RFP process. The project involved finding the right combination of existing information to create tailormade answers to clients. With the use of a document assembly solution, Dentons has created better, more tailored content and a smoother, complete RFP process, they have increased efficiency substantially and achieved better communication between lawyers and Marketing. With the skills of the KM group and the implementation of a document assembly solution a systematic approach has now replaced the former inconsistent, at times chaotic approach.

More and more law firms also use document assembly tools to provide innovative online legal products for clients. For example, Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz has created an “emerging company institute” extranet for startup clients with a document assembly tool that generate relevant documents for the startups to purchase online.

A third trend is the importance of a user experience focus in the implementation of knowledge management systems and all other business support tools. The consumerization trend has significantly increased the expectations from employees on the work tools. This topic was discussed in detail in the session “Bolstering KM Through User Experience Design” with case studies by Andrew Baker, Director of Legal Technology Innovations Office, Seyfarth Shaw, Tom Baldwin, Chief Knowledge Officer, Reed Smith, and Patrick DiDomenico, Director of Knowledge Management,Ogletree Deakins, showing some advance functionality solution for law firm matter profiling tools, intranets and client collaboration tools (extranets).

This illustration presented at the session succinctly shows the importance of usability and user experience and the mistakes often made when implementing business tools, compared to the success of Apple and Google.

Consumer products have come to set the standard also for work products and expectations have risen. Employees expect the work tools to function as intuitively as Apple and Google. Do not fall for the easy solution to “just add another button”. The tools need to be more complex, but the user experience needs to be simplified. Designing for mobile is critical, and it is important for client-facing solutions to have a consistent look and feel with other online properties.

For more detailed reports from the KM sessions, please see Mary Abraham’s reports on Above and Beyond KM  “Storytelling to Transform Your KM Projects, Strategy and Culture #ILTA13” and “KM in Support of Firm Operations #ILTA13”, and David Hobbie’s Caselines posts on “Bolstering KM Through User Experience Design”“Storytelling To Transform Your KM Projects, Strategy and Culture” and “Innovative Online Legal Products For Clients”. For an article supporting the idea of simplicity and minimalism in business tools, Patrick DiDomenico recommended reading “How Clutter Cramps Your Productivity” by Drake Baer.