Innovation Case Studies

The College of Law Practice Management (of which I am a trustee) released in August 2006 an “e-zine” about legal market innovation (PDF). Creating this was a very significant undertaking, with Jordan Furlong, editor of the National (the flagship publication of the Canadian Bar Association) as editor-in-chief. This publication is part of the College’s InnovAction program, which will re-launch in connection with the College’s annual meeting in September. I wrote two innovation case studies for this publication.

Abstract: Bryan Cave has uses business intelligence software, much of it internally developed or customized, to improve profits and support its strategy. Morrison & Foerster uses a customized system, based on Recommind, to make it easy for lawyers to find relevant work product or colleagues with relevant experience.

Bryan Cave: Intelligent business

Business Intelligence (BI) software is an emerging tool that analyzes a company’s operations to find ways to improve efficiency and profitability. St. Louis-based law firm BryanCave is one of the first law offices to adopt BI to manage the firm’s practices and matters.

By systematically analyzing its business, BryanCave has made better decisions and improved profits. Far from engaging in an ivory-tower exercise, firm management works closely with the firm’s practice groups and individual lawyers to understand the analysis and to take concrete steps.

For example, one practice group initially thought it should turn away a large matter because of cost pressure. Using BI tools to simulate alternative approaches to staffing, the practice found a staffing mix that satisfied the client’s cost constraints while maintaining the firm’s target profitability. BI also helps the firm improve lawyer utilization. Technology partner John Alber, the firm’s proponent of BI, reported on the subject late in 2005 at the Strategic Legal Technology blog.

“At BryanCave, we’ve developed an ‘availability’ application that helps lawyers who are staffing a new matter find available associates and counsel,” he wrote. “Every Monday, an automated form goes out to associates and counsel, who use it to declare their availability as none, limited, or general. They can also add comments to qualify their declarations.”

“Lawyers who need to staff engagements use a Google-like advanced search feature to find available lawyers,” Alber explained. “They can sort results by various criteria and view individual comments about availability.”

“After more than a year of use, our leverage is up markedly,” he reported. “Certainly, the business climate contributes to that, but our increase outstrips anything we’ve seen during prior upturns. I think the availability application and our new Financial Dashboard (which reveals the benefits of leverage to responsible lawyers) have contributed. We are now doing regression analyses [a statistical method for confirming relationships] to confirm this finding.”

John Alber has written extensively on business intelligence. Here is a sampling of articles for those who would like to learn more about BI:

Morison & Foerster : Innovative answers

Some law firms look far afield for inspiration. Morrison & Foerster, a global firm with more than 1,000 lawyers in 19 offices worldwide, decided instead to stay closer to home. The firm interviewed many of is own attorneys to determine what tools they needed to practice more effectively. Then, once the firm heard what its lawyers wanted, it had to get creative to find a solution.

Lawyers kept saying, “I want one place to go to find all the answers I need and make it as simple as Google.” The mandate was clear: provide easy and fast access to prior work and to experienced lawyers within the firm. But existing search and knowledge management tools just didn’t work well enough they were either too hard to use or just produced bad results. So the firm looked to e-commerce Web sites for insight on searching for information. It turns out that the way retailers handle searches letting shoppers quickly zero in on products they want holds lessons for how lawyers search for information.

Armed with this insight, careful planning, and extensive software evaluation, Morrison & Foerster developed Answer Base: an easy-to-use system that finds both documents and experienced lawyers within the firm. Most of the system’s features are being rolled out now, while a few will roll out in the near future.

On the process side, Morrison & Foerster realized that having good matter descriptions was the key to finding information. So the firm revisited the firm’s matter intake process, to ensure information accuracy.

On the software side, they needed a system that could “grab” information from multiple databases, make sense of it, and present consistent results. Ultimately, however, search alone won’t be enough. To improve search results and, more importantly, let users quickly evaluate hit lists, the firm wanted a way to know more about each document profile fields in document management systems are notoriously unreliable. So the firm will use “entity extraction” software to automatically identify meaningful document titles, jurisdictions, deal types, judges’ names, and other important “meta data.”

What does this all mean for how lawyers work? Users can type in simple or complex search queries. The system quickly returns a list of attorneys with related experience and a list of documents, reliably ranked by relevance. And like retailers that present easy ways to find brands, price ranges, or features, Answer Base lets lawyers “slice” their results by jurisdiction, industry, motion type, party names, governing law, effective date, or law firm on the other side of the deal, so they can quickly zero in on what they need.

Now the system can answer complicated questions such as “who in the firm has patent infringement experience in the biotech industry” by relating the matters the person worked on with the documents they wrote. The beauty of this approach is total automation lawyers don’t need to change how they work. As of mid-2006, the firm had completed its testing and evaluation and was in the process of rolling out Answer Base firm-wide.

To learn more about Answer Base and its impact on Morrison & Foerster, see, a reprint from an article in Law Technology News.