More from the Ark Knowledge Management Conference in Chicago. A real time report on the role of tech in KM….  

This is a debate between Stuart Kay (SK) of Baker McKenzie and Joshua Fireman (JF) of ii3:

SK: Technology is just an enabler. It’s one thing to find a document, another thing to understand what it means and how to use it. You still need the human connection.
JF: US firms have not invested in practice support lawyers. Yet with technology they are finding what they need. Realistically, lawyers do not willingly contribute to systems – there are simply no incentives to do so. One-half dozen years ago, technology did not exist to make sense of the mass of data. Now, however, with an array of enterprise search tools, software can yield the right information. So the human element is less and less necessary.

SK: In a firm the size of Baker McKenzie, even with the best search system, we have so many documents, the results list will be way to long. So we need PSLs to identify the highest value documents. The PSLs go to lawyers and ask for precedents. With the personal interactions, lawyers will give documents to a central system. PSLs just don’t have bandwidth to visit enough lawyers and to collect enough documents. So you are missing a lot of valuable work product.
JF: Sure, if you have the bodies, PSLs can seek out contributions. But this is still a sub-opitimal level of contribution. Your repository can never be complete. The “good documents” exist in digital form somewhere – the technology can seek it out and bring it forward. The search technology can narrow the filed sufficiently to provide value and provides a far bigger trove than you can hope to develop manually.

SK: This is a Utopian view of what tech can achieve. There are too many ways of working and too many variations for technology to deal with it. Plus, when PSLs are involved, the value of what you capture is so much higher. The views of PSLs vary tremendously by geography. Our surveys show that lawyers in Europe, Asia, and Australia value PSLs much more than in North America. Plus, experience shows that once you put PSLs in place, lawyers will use them effectively. Lawyers who were skeptical about PSLs became big believers and supporters once PSLs were brought on board an integrated. (Stuart shows survey data from his firm to support these statements.)
JF: What is the role of your new portal in supporting this work?
SK: PSLs were very important in the design and roll out of the portal. In old portal, lawyers complained that content was not useful. With new system, value of docs was much higher because of the higher value of docs identified by PSLs (and they regularly promote the system).

Audience Member 1: Once PSLs are on-board, it’s likely lawyers will say they are useful. That does not prove very much. Any help is welcome and no one wants to see colleagues’ jobs disappear.
Audience Member 2: Large US firms will never persuade senior management to hire PSLs. In our London office, we do have PSLs because that’s what lawyers there expect.
Audience Member 3: What about the Richard Susskind thesis of commoditizing knowledge and selling. Shouldn’t we be combining knowledge and tech and selling it.
Audience Member 4: I’m from London, a PSL. We’ve had PSLs for almost 10 years. The role is expanding so far beyond its original concept. It’s the bridge between IT and lawyers and marketing. Not just precedents. ROI
Audience Member 5: Firms are not punished for being late adopters – so why rush with hiring PSLs? Plus look at rapid growth of marketing relative to KM. What do we make of that?
JF: Marketers are better at selling themselves.
SK: US clients are less willing to change outside counsel than elsewhere in the world
Audience Member 6: KM is like a help desk for attorneys. Look at the growth of help desks. KM can become like help desks.