More from the Ark Knowledge Management Conference in Chicago. A real time report on “KM: In the Crosshairs Between lawyers and Technology”  

Scott Rechtschaffen, managing shareholder at Littler Mendelson, presents on the “KM: In the Crosshairs Between lawyers and Technology.”

KM group at Littler consists of 8 full-time lawyers, all experienced employment lawyers in 5 offices, plus2 technologists and content administrators. The KM lawyer is a serious career path. One KM lawyer became a shareholder (partner) last year. KM is distinct from but works closely with IT.

What does KM mean to lawyers? In Scott’s experience, most lawyers do not know. They may value outputs but don’t always know who does the work. The danger is that lawyers really don’t care. Will KM be like electricity – at one time, there was a “VP of Electricity”. That position no longer exits.

Some critical distinctions about KM at Littler:
– KM did not stem from IT at Littler. The firm, as part of its strategic plan, created some ancillary businesses. In considering how to take this initiative forward, KM grew out of the strategy. It was a top-down initiative. The firm views KM as a new form of client service, a competitive advantage, a marketing opportunity, and a way to help bring in laterals. It is part of the glue that holds together 46 offices.
– KM is someone’s job: The firm realized that to do KM, it had to be someone’s “real” job. The firm has other experienced lawyers in non-billable positions who have specialized jobs. One focuses on e-discovery, another on class actions. Both focus on these specialized areas. The firm defines the job and measures results.
– Top firm management believes strongly in KM. They talk it up with clients, with the press, and within the firm. Managing Shareholder said “KM is the Cornerstone of the Littler Value Proposition.”
– KM is attorney focused, not staff focused.
– Not focused on technology. We are tech-interested, not tech-focused
– We have revenue goals (direct and indirect). (For example, library will adopt the help desk tracking system. This will enable demonstrating value without tying service to revenue.

The firm talks about the “Knowledge Concierge.” Lawyers can just call KM attorneys – like a help desk. KM lawyers will also use the help desk tracking system to track the work they do and value they add. KM is also serving as a more general practice support service (though this does not include litigation support or e-discovery). The practice support element serves both practice groups and internal function such as marketing and business development.

Example of project – Arbitrator Database – and lessons learned It lists a couple of hundred arbitrators. Firm lawyers can rate arbitrators, track wins and losses. This database pulls info from CCH service that has bios on arbitrators. The firm let the lawyers guide this project too much – they asked for a design that asks for too much information. With the number of fields they requested, few complete them. So KM lawyers now do the work. On the next database like this, KM team will pare back the number of fields. Lesson learned: get lawyer input but don’t let them drive completely. [editorial comment: lawyers are subject to the “be careful of what you ask for, you may get it.”]

Example of a project – Collective Bargaining Agreement Online System. These agreements have traditionally not been computerized. The firm invested to custom-build a system to present these complex agreements in an easy-to-use online system. This has been very popular with the client for which it was built. The firm is considering extending this service to other clients.

Example of a project – Overtime Exemption Compliance Audit. Twenty firm lawyers interview 6000 client employees. Needed software to track all the survey results. Built a custom app for this in 3 weeks. System has scripts that drive lawyer interviews. Ensures consistency and that data is captured and re-usable. The firm is now rolling out a similar system to track bulk interviews in class action matters.

Example of a project – Guide to Policies by State. This is a guide to state employment law for 50 states. Firm lawyers use this system and the firm sells it to clients. Did a version for one company where the company white labels it from the law department to the HR department. It is kept up to date by a KM lawyer who keeps on top of it; plus spidering state web sties and using multiple commercial databases. Research librarians contribute. A similar product monitors Recent Legislation by State.

None of the examples require huge tech resources. The development time is person-weeks, NOT person-months.

Other KM functions at Littler:
– Organize the content for an annual conference that 500 clients attend and some 300 shareholders attend. KM does not create the content – it finds it across the firm and organizes it and negotiates sessions among the shareholders.
– Manager publishing and content distribution. (Manage some 6000 pages of content published each year.) The KM department rationalized the publishing process, reducing costs by 50%. More importantly, KM attorneys changed how lawyers contribute updates, reducing lawyer time required by 50%. KM department contracted with Lexis for publishing distribution, which means more copies are now sold instead of given away.
– Generate newsletters for in-house counsel to send to their inhouse clients (white labeled). Clients love this and it generates revenue for the firm
– Created a firm-branded privacy law blog
Participating in Legal On Ramp (from LOR web site: “Legal OnRamp provides content, connectivity and execution services to help legal professionals deliver higher quality work in less time and lower cost. We’re working with leading professionals from major corporations and leading law firms to provide technology and services that will meet the business imperatives of the future.”)