Latham ties bonuses to knowledge management performance

Latham & Watkins is putting its lawyers at the centre of its knowledge management (KM) strategy by rewarding them with full billable hours credit for time spent on approved projects.

The firm has also ramped up its approach to KM globally under a committee co-chaired by corporate partner Graeme Sloan in London and capital markets partner Roderick Branch in Chicago. The committee is tasked with helping to champion KM within the firm and harness lawyers’ down time between deals.

Latham’s approach to KM has particularly crystallised since the appointment last October of London-based David Fitch as director of global knowledge management.

Fitch, who spent five years in similar roles at both Simmons & Simmons and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, says the KM mechanism that gives Latham lawyers full billable hours credit was one of the keys to creating “a step change” in the firm’s use of KM.

“One of the aims is to build a broader set of KM assets across the firm and the only way to do that is to get attorneys involved,” said Fitch. “Unless there’s the direct incentive they won’t do it.”

Latham lawyers have an average of 1,900 billable hours target before they qualify for a bonus. In its previous mechanism KM hours did not count towards that target although pro bono hours did.

Under the new mechanism one client-billable hour counts the same as one KM hour or one pro-bono hour.

“Since its launch in April 2012, more than 860 KM and thought-leadership projects have started within the firm,” said Fitch. “That equates to around 50,000 hours contributed of attorney time.”

The range of KM projects Latham’s lawyers are involved in that generates credited hours includes drafting and updating of forms, organisation of precedent and know-how resources, the drafting of client alerts and other thought leadership pieces.

The firm has also introduced small pool of KM lawyers (KMLs) that are broadly equivalent to the PSL role, including three in the US. The KMLs take a ’gatekeeper’ role in the practice groups and offices where they are in place, overseeing the approval and completion of the projects.

“I do see a trend towards the establishment of more specialised KM roles,” said Fitch.