We kicked off with Rachel O'Connor of the Australian firm Allen Arthur Robinson taking us through various innovations and techniques operating in her firm's offices. Eg 50 hour policy – all fee-earners to devote 50 hours to KM pa; amalgamation of documentation across offices, advanced search, etc. Challenges included development of client-facing role, PSL role. Priorities included PSL role review, liaising with IT department on projects, matter debrief between PSLs and PSLs and partners. She brought in partners to this process. Web 2.0 technologies were on the agenda, and in particular current awareness.
The following panel discussion considered the 'Future of Legal Know-how Provision' with Chris Bull, COO, Osborne Clarke, Carol Aldridge, Head of KM/IS, Burges Salmon, Simon Drane, LexisNexis, and Judith Pain (Head, PLC Property), and Wendy in the chair. Chris observed that how we use legal information will change: outsourcing of legal advice will become more prevalent; and the double digit increase pa in information providers' costs eg LexisNexis, has got to change. Simon Drane responded. Carol agreed with Chris, citing the shift her firm has made from LN Current Awareness to PLC's offering, and noting the problem with buying in knowledge and the overlap between that and internally produced knowledge. Judith acknowledged this, and pointed out that law firms need to consider their know-how strategy, including risk, BD, HR depts, IT provision (eg where do they want IT risk to lie? an external provider can help with this). Comms were important, within the firm and between external provider and firm.
Questions from the floor indicated serious concern, in particular over clients being given LN or PLC content, and being aware that this was what was happening. Carol agreed, and advised a cautious approach to the problem generally, particularly because law firm departments are becoming more savvy about breaking down IS costs within transactions. One respondent said that in her firm the use of RSS with advanced search within the firms was in demand, and would mean less reliance on external providers. Simon Drane responded by asking the audience what did lawyers actually want. The respondent argued in return that the generation of good quality content was critical – that was the real market – not yet more expensive access to information that everyone already had.
Chris's question clearly set the agenda for PLC and LN, and the whole discussion. I have rarely heard such overt criticism of providers voiced in sessions. The economic downturn is of course prompting re-appraisal of budgets, but there is more to it than that. Such re-appraisal often brings with it content audit, along with a greater awareness of redundancy of content, or use-metrics by fee-earners; and this is prompting reflection on how external content fits with internal know-how. There is of course the wider public interest point in having good access to basic law and more advanced finding tools than we have at present – a point that wasn't raised in this session, which concerned itself more with the operation of market forces between providers & law firms.
the first breakout I attended, 'Strengthening your firm's knowledge
sharing and capture culture', a number of practical tactics were
discussed by Claire Andrews, Director KM (Europe & Asia) Cleary
Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. What knowledge do you collect? Among
the items were business activities, tacit knowledge, practice notes,
training/library/KM. She presented a table where the KM type was
matched against an 'Existing' and a 'Required Improvements' column,
and a 'Required New' column. Getting close to lawyers' work really
helped in making the PSLs' work more relevant to fee-earners. She
gave the example of tacit knowledge and know-how on due diligence
among specific groups of lawyers (can't remember which), which was
unearthed almost casually in the firm – important, and it had
by-passed all prior knowledge collection processes. Tagging matters
was essential, to know which matters were active, and the relevant
staffing reports, billing reports, too. When a matter is closed, the
KM team moves in to 'deal-track', tag the documents, etc. KM people
asked for these documents, but didn't always get them, so at relevant
meetings, KM staff would chase up. Expert interviews involved the
use of knowledge maps, ie practice notes/guidance, particularly of
use to junior lawyers. Using a semantic web approach, it involves
interviews with specific question types (Tacit Connexions were the
consultants). There are costs to this, but she thought that the KM
payback was worth it. The firm ensured usage by having the right
projects, with good content, and encouraging use from that baseline.
In addition the firm used it in training. Good session.
Next session was led by David Halliwell, Chief Knowledge Officer, DLA Piper UK. on 'Managing knowledge share and transfer internationally, and he led on discussions of the structural issues underlying transactions. These included the analysis of cross-border (eg due diligence on transactions), international and local issues. Other firms deal with this in different ways. One dealt with it by focusing on transactional support, cross-jurisdiction (albeit with local support from PSLs or junior lawyers). Champions were key to DLA's strategy. Eg recruits from other firms, esp Magic Circle firm, liaising with IT, etc., senior management champions of KM. One respondent pointed out that in different jurisdictions there were different concepts of what constituted KM, linked to what lawyers actually did in terms of fee-earning. Hooks, he said, were important – eg training. So was technology. Standardised platforms, for cross-border and international work, were essential, and made life a lot easier. One respondent pointed out that use of IT was most successful when lawyers used it for themselves – eg using a wiki as a knowledge marketing tool.
Attended Neil Richards' session on Sharepoint (already blogged here). He summarised it well, looking at the good, (eg IT like it, its simple and integrated), the bad (it's complex, immature, square peg round hole), the ugly (tends to silos & chaos) – pretty balanced appraisal. Responses from the floor echoed my experience in our use of Sharepoint in our law school intranet. Also attended Dave Snowden's session.. Such a good set of compelling and provocative statements about KM (particularly on the value of narrative) that I simply wanted to listen & think, not take notes. His webpage & blog sounds like a place I'll be spending some time on; and listening to him on tagging I felt guilty about not doing that on this blog. Will get down to it – some time or other...
Final session of the day – Derek Sturdy of Tikit talked about the journey to Web 2.0, while Richard King of Herbert Smith and myself presented a view of the future – 'Rip mix & (l)earn: the futures of KM'. I'll let the conference feedback speak for it – slides up on Slideshare, as usual.
Very good conference. I learned a lot about current concerns of lawyers re KM, and came back to GGSL with many ideas to improve knowledge interfaces in our virtual firms. A couple of lawyers I talked to expressed surprise that an academic was at the conference at all, let alone presenting at it. I don't agree. As I say in my book, collaboration is essential if we are to improve legal education. It's vital for me to understand how lawyers organise their working lives – how can educators design professional legal education if they don't know about this? The general lack of interest in KM in the professional schools may simply reflect a curriculum that's outdated; but it's up to educational designers to help change that. Collaboration would also help lawyers. There was some theory at the conference; not much interdisciplinary collaboration, and there could perhaps have been more collaborative questions asked about work done across professions (Dave Snowden obvious exception; and Claire Andrews' session was, too – her firm drew on cognitive work carried out at Southampton U. by psychologists on interviewing).
A final point about technology. I'm posting this to the web from an Asus Eee PC, my chunky Tosh emitting strange noises, having fainting fits etc. I'll be talking about this little machine later, but I have to say I'm really impressed with the interface. LInux, flash memory, portability & price are the commonly-cited pluses; small screen, a keyboard that requires a zen approach to keystroking, the downsides; but I'm already finding it addictive.
And a final thanks to BA whose flight up to Glasgow was delayed 2.5 hours thus helping me draft up this posting. Ah, T5, how do I love thee, let me count the ways...