KM Morphing into Practice Support Consulting?

Moderator’s outline for a panel discussion at the Ark Group’s conference, Knowledge Management for the Modern Law Firm, February 2006, NYC (PDF of Program).

Panelists: Dave Hambourger (Winston & Strawn) and Phil Bryce (White & Case); Moderator: Ron Friedmann (Prism Legal Consulting, Inc.)

Other Conference Materials and Notes:

  1. Matter Centricity presentation – ppt download
  2. Making KM Client Facing – ppt download
  3. Blog posts about conference: KM Morphing (Conference Report) and KM Morphing – A Different Perspective
  4. We discussed the impact of practice group management. A couple of us mentioned Susan Raridon Lambreth as a leading thinker on this topic. Her recent book is Achieving Peak Performance Through Practice Management. Chapter 9, is “Knowledge Management and the Use of Technology” by Sally Gonzalez.

Knowledge Management for the Modern Law Firm

Ark Group

February 22-23, 2006 at the Westin Times Square, NYC

Should KM Morph into Practice Support Consulting

Moderator’s Outline and Questions

Panelists: Dave Hambourger (Winston & Strawn) and Phil Bryce (White & Case)

Moderator: Ron Friedmann (Prism Legal Consulting, Inc.)

  1. Introduction (Moderator)
    • Law firms face many challenges in supporting practicing lawyers
      • KM is just one of many
      • In this session, we will explore a range of practice support needs, how firms prioritize them, how they identify these needs, how they staff to meet those needs, and where KM overlaps.
      • KM may just be a sub-set of practice support.
        1. Should staff focus on what a practice group really needs — say DealProof or document assembly or an IP docketing system — even if it’s not pure KM?
        2. There is some thought that practice support — whatever that might mean — should occur at a practice group level.
        3. If support staff and lawyers establish relationships with practicing lawyers and practices, then all support — KM included — is easier
      • KM can also be a sub-set of IT
        1. Federated search and other enterprise systems may be in the domain of IT with some help from KM
      • And while we’re at it, we should at least give some thought to if and how litigation support fits in.
        1. Especially with emergence of semantic engines for e-discovery, there is potential for lines to blur
      • Saying that the lines are not clear, of course, begs the question of how to do KM or practice support. One idea I like is a role called Practice Support Consultant:
        1. Examine installed tools and educate users about them (or eliminate if not used).
        2. Investigate what other firms do and use and emulate useful approaches.
        3. Explore how corporations support professionals and adopt selected practices.
        4. Scan the technology horizon for developments worth adopting
    • Today, our panel will explore provocative hypotheses
      • There is no clear boundary between KM and other support needs
      • Firms over-invest in “pure KM” given the many other practice support needs they have
      • The best way to provide support — whether KM or otherwise — is by establishing relationships
  2. Explore practice support needs
    • Beyond KM and beyond litigation support, what practice support needs do you see (whether or not you are pursuing). Examples:
      1. Business intelligence about the firm
      2. Managing due diligence
      3. Developing best practices
      4. Supporting extranets
      5. Enhanced public web sites
      6. CRM
      7. Expert witness databases
      8. Referral and co-counsel databases
      9. Work force allocation
      10. Deal databases
      11. Collaboration
      12. E-learning systems
      13. Docketing
      14. Records management
      15. Improve matter intake and conflicts checking
      16. Better information on clients
      17. Document assembly
      18. Associate evaluation systems
      19. Project management
      20. Institutional buying | Vendor management
    • Are you pursuing any of these?
      • What are examples of how you are meeting these needs?
      • What are lawyers’ reactions?
      • How are you staffing?
      • How do these needs intersect with KM, if at all?
      • Is there staffing overlap?
  3. How do you draw the line between KM and other practice support needs?
    • How does your firm handle other practice support needs?
      • Applications development
      • Business analysis
      • Business process analysis
    • Anecdotally, it seems that some of the more successful KM projects arise from lawyers or staff “embedded” in a practice group.
      • Is this true at your firm?
      • If so, what does this tell us?
    • How does litigation support fit in the picture?
      • It typically is distinct (e.g., has its own staffing and tools)
      • Should KM follow in its footsteps with dedicated staffing?
      • Should practice support be distinct?
    • Are there other practice-facing support functions that are clearly pretty far removed from KM?
  4. Let’s do a thought experiment.
    • The experimental set-up — a blank slate:
      • Your firm’s current level of staffing (headcount stays same)
      • You have a group of very talented people who could effectively work on many different types of projects and goals
      • Not all the headcount are required for basic/core infrastructure and functions. So some are available for KM or practice support
    • How would or should the managing partner allocate the headcount?
      • That is, where is the need most critical need?
      • Where would you allocate staff to achieve the most valuable results?
  5. If a firm wants to do more PSC
    • What role should existing KM staff play?
    • How would you staff the function?
      • What backgrounds would you seek?
        1. KM, business analysis, practice, technology, project management, other?


      • What would be the organization — central or decentralized?</li
      • Technology certainly would play a role in most PSC projects (though might not be central) — how would your provide tech support to the function?
        1. Central apps development
        2. Owned and operated apps developers
        3. Other?
    • Do you think any of the PSC functions can or should be billable?
    • Can a firm perform the PSC function well?i. Call me a cynic, but litigation support is not optional. If you litigate, you have to manage documents. Yet many firms historically have not provided very good litigation support. If a firm cannot do a good job on a required, billable function, is there any hope it can do better on something perceived as optional?
  6. Managing a PSC function (assuming you created it)
    • Is it more important to identify demand and fulfill it (take orders) or to evangelize and create demand (initiate)?
    • How would you know how much to budget, how many heads to hire?
  7. Conclusions
    • Is the hypothesis that we are over-investing in KM true?
      1. Is everything fine as is?
      2. Should some resources be shifted to other practice support?
      3. Should firms add resources?
      4. Or is there already too much investment?
    • Given our discussion, do you see any need for changing approaches?
    • Do you have any advice to give to KM professionals?