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Legal Knowledge Management (KM) Trends Today

by Joshua Fireman & Ron Friedmann

 

INTRODUCTION

My business partner Joshua Fireman and I recently co-moderated a roundtable of large, NYC-based law firms to discuss legal knowledge management trends.  HP Autonomy hosted the event with Matt Cleverdon, Solutions Manager: Legal & Professional Services, and Dan Carmel, Head, ECM Strategy and Solutions participating actively in the discussion.

Our discussion covered four broad KM topics. For each, we had prepared talking points, which we share below, followed by highlights of the group discussion. After the discussion, Matt and Dan showed the group interesting social KM software under development at HP Autonomy Labs; I describe that briefly as well. And finally, I close the post with highlights of a similar roundtable that Matt recently moderated in London.

 

KM ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION

Legal KM Today:  1. Is KM Up in the New, Flat Market;  2. What’s the Status of Enterprise Search

  • We see evidence that interest in KM has increased
    • There are more KM director and CKO positions and also more professional support lawyers. But we lack hard data on actual headcount. Furthermore, some KM practitioners have moved on to other law firm roles.
    • More firms have deployed enterprise search since 2007 but we cannot tie that to economics.
    • Looking at the vendor side, both HP Autonomy and Fast have a renewed focus on legal.  We think vendor actions reflect market activity.
    • More firms are building increasingly sophisticated portals these firms already had portals so this may not be a good KM indicator.
    • Attendance at the Ark KM Conference (which Joshua has co-chaired since its start 10 years ago) has sold out in the last 2 years and Ark had to find a bigger venue.  At the October 2013 conference, more than half of the attendees were new to conference.  That seems a strong signal to us.
    • On balance, KM is doing well but we cannot tie it to economics. In contrast, it is clear that the growth in legal project management (LPM), pricing, and budgeting is a function of the “New Normal” (flat demand for Big Law).
  • Enterprise search continues to evolve
    • The legal market is evolving the idea of search as a platform.  Search is no longer just about finding documents, matters, and expertise.  Forward-thinking firms use it for other purposes, for example, more efficient staffing and more thorough conflicts checks.
    • Law firm stakeholders beyond KM are becoming important both as business and content owners.
    • More firms are leveraging marketing content in search results.
    • Staff departments are now more often using search on a targeted basis.

 

The Role and Scope of Knowledge Managers in the New Normal

  • Many experienced KM professional are now deeply involved in pricing, process, and LPM.
  • Since about 20110, many KM conferences have focused more on pricing, process, and LPM than on traditional KM topics. Why is this?
    • Demand for LPM, pricing, budgets is soaring and firms need, at minimum, a “check the box” response if not an actual solution.
    • In many firms, enterprise search and portals fulfill whatever demand there is for KM, so KM leaders have bandwidth to contribute in other ways.
    • LPM, pricing, budgeting require a multi-discipline mindset and an ability to work with partnership dynamics.  KM professionals are often among the few in firm management with these proven traits.

 

Does ‘Social’ Knowledge Management Have a Future in Law Firms?

  • We are not expert in social media for law firm marketing but what we see…
    • An explosion in the number of blogs written by Big Law.
    • More use of LinkedIn and coaching partners in its use.
    • Limited use of Twitter – and usually boring.
  • Many firms have explored social functionality for internal use. Some have stopped at explore, some have piloted, very few have adopted beyond limited groups.
  • The concept of activity streams from social media is gaining some traction, especially in portal upgrades.
  • Many hate email but all are still wed to it – the path to better internal collaboration is still not clear.

 

The Impact of the Cloud on KM

  • The cloud is a hot topic but security is still a potentially big barrier. Firms debate private vs. public clouds. Firms serving large, heavily regulated financial institutions, will stay private; we are not sure about the rest.
  • Many lawyers – policies notwithstanding – use cloud services to exchange docs. [Post the meeting, we enjoyed reading on this point the June 8th Wall Street Journal article Let Staff Go Rogue on TechCompanies Should Empower 'Shadow IT' From Their Most Technologically Disobedient Employees.]
  • Box.com is positioning itself to serve the legal market. It already integrates with widely-used legal market software.
  • It’s too early to draw conclusions about the impact on KM.

 

Group Discussion Highlights

  • Lateral partners often serve as the catalyst to do more KM. They arrive, find no KM, and are appalled. So they demand search, practice support lawyers, and other KM resources such as precedents.
  • Clients also drive KM demand, but somewhat indirectly. As clients shrink the number of law firms they use, the winning firms face demand for an institutionalized relationship with better client service. KM helps with both: lawyers new to teams can learn about the clients via KM and KM improves service delivery.
  • Business development has become big. Market share battles result in bigger marketing budgets, which drives demand for KM both to respond better to RFPs and to position the firm as more efficient.
  • The need for matter budgets drives more KM. Pricing and LPM professionals need to find similar matters so that they can develop budgets. [Ron and Joshua have seen, however, only limited new KM demand to support fixed fees.]
  • Be prepared for social media surprises. One firm built an internal tool with elements of Facebook and Yammer. They brought it to younger associates, who were not interested!

 

DISCUSSION OF SOCIAL KM SOFTWARE BY HP AUTONOMY

HP Autonomy previewed new KM/Search software to find and understand the relationship among people, content and communities, based around individual system usage. The system presents content, people and the network of users based on the searches/actions performed by other users in the firm.  The group saw the promise in this new approach to integrating multiple sources of information in a new and more dynamic user interface.

 

DISCUSSION POINTS FROM SIMILAR GATHERING IN LONDON EARLIER in 2014 (courtesy of Matt Cleverdon)

  • The role of KM has been somewhat recast. First, it needs to be part of Legal Process Improvement and Automation. And second, for fee-earners, it must relate to and be what you do, not something extra you have to do.
  • Clients expectations have grown about being able to access to firms’ KM. Some firms can and do charge clients for access to KM.
  • Management teams of most firms appreciate (and understand the benefits of) KM initiatives.
  • KM should extend to the matter/client / industry sector and not just to documents. That has implications for Search Portal Technology.
  • There remain significant challenges in adopting social technologies, especially by more experienced/longer-standing lawyers.
  1. Kim Stein

    Great information, thanks for sharing!