The Lawyer Management Guide to KM

Want to know what the future looks like? Allow these market-leading KM experts to tell you all about robo-lawyers, the use of AI, and the on-going importance of the telephone directory.

On Monday 30 June The Lawyer Management Guide: Delivering Legal Services Differently will be published. This will quite simply be the most extensive report we have ever produced into the operational impact on lawyers and their clients of the legal services innovations that are sweeping the UK market.

For this report we’ve quizzed a huge range of experts, including private practice partners, general counsel and operational business services leaders from groups including finance, IT, marketing and BD, HR, facilities and risk in firms as diverse as the magic circle, ‘dispersed’ players and large PI providers, on the trends they’re seeing.

For many of these professionals, innovative delivery mechanisms are now becoming their bread and butter. But what are the biggest challenges and opportunities? And are firms delivering what their clients really want in the ways they really want it?

Over more than 40 pages The Lawyer Management Guide: Delivering Legal Services Differently will detail the most current and pressing issues facing those tasked with delivering the new model legal services.

We’ve also canvassed hundreds of clients to assess the extent of the uptake of services that may be disaggregated, unbundled or fragmented and delivered remotely.

The aim was to see whether the increasing dispersion of law firms’ offerings is producing the results their clients are looking for. In short, whether firms’ efforts to provide clients with “more for less” are meeting their clients’ needs and expectations. Our exclusive research will make indispensable reading for those on either side of the table.

By way of a teaser for the full report, which will be distributed with The Lawyer on 30 June, we’ll be posting a series of blogs featuring content from The Lawyer Management Guide, including some of the results from the in-house research.

Today’s blog focuses on knowledge management (KM) and in particular how the role of the KM professional is changing to meet the demands of a disaggregated workplace.

In short, for many firms the KM conversation has now moved from being about document creation and management to creating value for the client.

Chipping in with their views on this shift are: David Halliwell, director of knowledge, risk and legal services at Pinsent Masons; Cathy Mattis, head of process improvement at Berwin Leighton Paisner; Jane Bradbury, head of knowledge and information at Slaughter and May; and Sarah Vickery, head of KM at TLT.

For the full version of this peer panel feature on KM you’ll have to wait until 30 June, but this will whet your appetite.

How do you see technology changing the way knowledge is delivered internally and to clients over the next five years?

David Halliwell: I think we’re just beginning to see the first signs of artificial intelligence (AI) making a difference.  The first will be getting rid of search – we won’t have to go and look for stuff, it will find us by knowing what we are working on and what we like to look at.  AI is already beginning to automate certain document review activities, and from there it will push into other areas. Five years is too soon for true ‘robo-lawyer’ capabilities, but as AI hits all aspects of our lives (from driverless cars to online eBay dispute resolution to medical diagnosis), law will inevitably be affected.

Cathy Mattis: Knowledge will become more specific, commercial and accessible. 

Jane Bradbury: One of the challenges that KM tries to solve is that of managing information overload.  On top of this, we now have the potential of big data: with so much information and data out there, how can we present this in a meaningful and digestible way, so that our lawyers have what they need in terms of both legal and business content? Software that supports aggregation of content and also personalisation will play an increasingly important part in this. 

I also think that we’ll be making increasing use of the type of computer learning that we’re already seeing used in e-disclosure software, in order to manage vast volume of information.  However, I’m mindful that while technology does give us exciting potential, we need to check back constantly with our internal users and with clients to ensure that we’re designing and delivering systems that integrate seamlessly within their current technology environment and are intuitive to use.

What risks can you identify in relation to KM in a disaggregated workplace?

Halliwell: A focus on process can mean that people don’t spot the non-standard, the quirks which make a transaction or case different. The successful firms here will make sure that the processes for supervision, review and QA leave room for the oddities to be spotted.  But as the shape of our businesses changes, and traditional pyramid leverage structures turn into diamonds, or grow branches where work is being delivered by third parties, the time for junior lawyers to “learn by doing” can become limited.  Firms need to be conscious of that, and make sure juniors still get time for apprenticeship.

In which ways is knowhow now being used to create value for clients?

Mattis: The immediate value for clients is in cost savings through efficiency achieved by investing in the knowledge resources that support excellent service delivery.  Processes can be designed in a workshop with the client and its other professional advisers so that processes meet a client’s specific needs.  Value adding activities for a particular client can be included in a process.  Clients also benefit from the rapid integration of sector knowledge into the way we work.  Processes allow this built-in knowledge to become cumulative over time and capable of building repeatable, scalable benefits.

What trends are you seeing in the way clients are preferring to interface with firms’ knowhow?

Sarah Vickery: It’s all about collaboration. Clients expect us to co-ordinate and present know-how in partnership with other firms. They don’t want ten bribery law updates on the same day or to have to remember ten different extranet passwords. Providing one central knowledge hub that incorporates know how from different firms is a definite trend.  We’ve recently set up an extranet platform for one client to hold precedent documents, training information and knowledge updates from all their panel firms.  This approach also requires a much greater focus on targeted information specific to a particular client or industry segment.

How is the role of the knowledge management professional changing to meet the demands of a disaggregated workplace?

Halliwell: Disaggregation works if firms have identified what they do, how they do it and who is best placed to deliver it. So, technical legal skills in a traditional legal KM professional need to be supplemented by an understanding of project and change management and process mapping, and by the people and communication skills that enable proper engagement with the lawyers.  The new normal is an opportunity for KM to get on the front foot and out of the back office, and to lead on what needs to be done rather than waiting to be told. 

What role can KM play in the integration of a firm, particularly one with dispersed delivery mechanisms?

Bradbury: KM is all about knowledge sharing and connecting people. When dealing with integration issues, putting systems and processes in place that enable people to find answers to the questions “Who’s who?” and “Who knows what?” is just as important as standardising documents and answering the “How to” question.  My guess is that the internal telephone directory search comes at the top of most firms’ statistics for the page that is used most frequently on an intranet, and a simple starting point is to make the information within that online directory as rich and useful as possible.  The firms’ systems hold so much more information beyond name and phone number and I would recommend exploring just how much of that information can be usefully surfaced and displayed on an individual’s profile.

Vickery: Knowledge management is the glue that holds any law firm together. It is therefore a critical success factor in the integration of any new office, team or individual.