Knowledge Management in law firms is becoming increasingly important with many international firms having dedicated departments with dedicated directors reporting to the executive board. The time of allocating library or IT staff to the management of your company knowledge is definitely a thing of the past.
According to David Fitch, Global Head of Knowledge at Latham & Watkins, to get the attention, focus and input from the law firm partners, you need to offer the same rewards as regular client billing – so every hour spend on Knowledge Management (KM) is credited to their targets for hourly client billing. Where this works well, is when the client billing slows down, the partner can improve their billable time in helping the firm on the KM systems.
The billable spin offs from KM are now starting to be seen through online services which can be wrapped for consumer type services, without too much intervention from the lawyers.
What firms need to know about embarking on KM initiatives is that one size does not fir all applications or departments and customisation of the KM system or process needs to be done for each department or discipline.
Document automation and management are huge benefactors to a well-controlled and effective KM systems.
Practice notes, are very important in controlling the quality of content – these are really the ISO type manuals which tell staff how to go about using the KM system – a “Rules Book” for the KM system.
One of David’s most important tips was to say that the adoption of a firm KM system is absolutely huge, but the way to tackle it is by keeping the KM procedure simple, taking it slowly and to set modest achievable goals. Use bottlenecks in the current process and see how the KM system can help alleviate these issues. Remember too, that ROI is not only of a monetary nature, one such example is being able to get your junior candidates in front of clients faster.
In the open discussion with Tammy Beira, Partner & Director of Knowledge - Bowman Gilfillan, Kgothatso Mamabolo, Knowledge Specialist - Kumba Iron Ore, Gareth Cantin, Professional Support Lawyer - Werksmans and David Fitch, Global Head of Knowledge Management - Latham & Watkins on “Law Firm Strategic Planning” it was suggested that after each project an analysis with all people involved be held to learn by the mistakes that were made which will enable the role out of future KM projects to improve each time.
Also the vetting and sign off on the templates being used in the KM system must be handled at a senior partner level, not only to get the buy in from the top level management, but to insist on departmental standards. These templates must be graded, so that at a glance the users will know the quality of the content and the date of the last revision.
Tara Pichardo-Angadi, Head of Knowledge (EMEA) - Norton Rose, covered a topic on “International Law Firm Growth - Managing What We Know” where she spoke about mergers and acquisitions of law firms, both locally and internationally.
The reasons for going global included:
• Local expertise in regions
• Knowledge offering must be global
• Increasing the size of the Knowledge pool
• Buying power, especially with information research providers.
Some of the “Growing Pains” in mergers were:
• Legacy systems
• Global Knowledge Management requirements
• Expertise locators (internal social networks are a great help here)
• Risk management
• Data protection – as each region has their own set of rule and laws.
With KM in international firms, the system has to be flexible enough to accommodate all regions and offices.
In the open discussion on “What Lawyers Really Want, Need and Value - You Think You Know Me?” hosted by Jonathan Lang, Partner - Bowman Gilfillan, Haydn Davies, Partner - Webber Wentzel and Samantha Hogben , Assistant General Counsel - AngloGold Ashanti the panel spoke about what in-house legal departments and corporate clients want from law firms.
A good portion of this debate was directed at Samantha Hogben, being the “receiver of legal services”. An interesting fact was that these outside legal clients did not take well to having general newsletters being blasted at their inboxes, but prefer getting a personal email from a very senior partner on a single topic that is relevant at the time.
Another plus to take home was that the clients appreciated the “After Action Review” – to establish between them and the law firm, what could have been handled better the next time round.
Patrick Hurley - Vice President, Global Expansion at Thomson Reuters Elite then enlightened everyone on the “Technology Trends - The Impact on Law Firm Profitability”.
The standard rates on client billing had increased – some say with inflation – but the time to collect and effort needed to collect these fees had increased more than the billing increase – in other words the profitability gap has gone backwards.
Also corporate business is starting to pay for value in legal services and no longer just on time dedicated to the project.
Law firm systems needed to deliver legal services to the client, have tripled in the last 10 years.
Mobility, Hybrid Cloud Services, Big Data and IT Complexity were trends he noted were being addressed in the UK, Europe and South African markets.
There was a very inspiring talk from Tracey Webster - Chief Entrepreneurship Officer at Branson Centre/Virgin Unite on “Innovation & Entrepreneur Lessons From Outside Legal”, where she spoke about the entrepreneur initiatives that Virgin had embarked on here in South Africa and gave us a few heart-warming success stories from the centre.
Go and see what they are doing here:
Matthew Crocker, Director of Global Operations with Phoenix Business Solutions presented “Managing Knowledge in a Changing Global Legal Industry” – where he spoke about law firms merging and how the KM and systems needed to be integrated. The reason Matthew said firms were merging included, the current economy, globalisation and client demands.
Most people are used to doing a financial due diligence before a merger or acquisition, he mentioned that it was of huge importance to do the same due diligence on the IT and KM systems and then from there draw out a budget and a strategy plan to achieve the systems going forward after the merger.
The final presentation was from Harry Pfeffer, Business Development Manager at LexisNexis and he spoke about “Business Intelligence and Knowledge in Context”.
Harry said that business information needs to be delivered in the simplest manner, and as far as he was concerned the information being delivered through a system they were all used to would be the perfect platform.
Of course the platform Harry was talking about was Microsoft Outlook and he teased everyone that serious legal IT providers would deliver such systems in Outlook and Office – he stopped short of giving us the name of the product – but did say that LexisNexis has such a solution (of course Harry).
Justin North of Janders Dean wrapped up the proceedings and promised that with the positive response from the attending delegates, the conference would be back next year.
The sponsors of the event were as follows:
Phoenix Business Solutions
Legal Technology Insider
Additional information is available on the Janders Dean website, www.jandersdean.com .