Last Thursday, a group of some 400 legal knowledge management professionals came together for the Strategic Knowledge & Innovation Legal Leaders Summit (SKILLS) conference. Oz Benamram asked me to pull together a 20 minute recap of all of the presentations that day, and share it with the 3 Geeks’ readers. So, here’s about a 20 minute recap of the 20 presentations for that day. Enjoy!!
Jason Barnwell – Keynote
There are two things that most of us know about Jason. First, he thinks there is always opportunities for improvement. Whether that is for himself, his team at Microsoft, and especially for law firms looking to better service their clients. His takeaway quote for me was when Kay Kim asked him what are law firms doing right and what are they doing wrong?
So the biggest challenge I see is, is structural, and as much as the business model works pretty well for about right now. But it doesn’t necessarily work great for where we’re going.
The other thing that we know about Jason is that if you are presenting on innovation in a law firm, he’s going to ask you specifically “is what you are doing benefitting the law firm only, or does it benefit the client?” So, expect to answer that question… at a minimum to yourself, even if Jason isn’t in the room.
Digital Transformation – Shark-TED-Talk-Tank (Part 1)
I loved all three sessions of our Shark-Ted-Talk-Tank presentations. We were just missing the three billionaires, and the large red carpet. But, the content was all there.
Part One dealt with what many of us see as the foundation for Knowledge Management, and that is creating a process and a platform to build upon previous work. Gina Lynch and Iris Skornicki gave not one, but two presentations on this concept.
Gina Lynch & Iris Skornicki – DealSite – A Hub for Corporate Lawyers
The goal for their DealSite project can be the outline for all of us when it comes to Knowledge Management Projects:
“Our goal was to create a centralized hub for lawyers to easily access information documents and drafts from previous similar transactions as well as to memorialize key information about our lawyers current transactions, and help to manage post closing tasks to completion.”
In true KM fashion, I’ll be repurposing this talking point for my own work.
Gina Lynch & Iris Skornicki – People, Process, & Technology
In their second presentation, they turn their eyes upon the needs of the firm’s clients. Their client asked them for a faster horse, and they developed a car. Instead of focusing on what the client said was the answer to their problem, they had a discussion about the problem. From there they worked with the client, found ways to expand the technology, and created a solution for a problem rather than a solution in search of a problem.
Michelle Mahoney of KWM understands the importance of addressing firm culture when it comes to digital initiatives. In order to create an open mindedness around these initiatives, she lists that the initiatives have to be interconnected, the process must be easier than the old way, and the processes need to nudge people in the right direction to help incentivize behavior change.
In all of the times that I’ve talked with Ari Kaplan or seen him present, it seems that he’s never had a bad day. His energy is contagious. His survey of 34 law partners from 34 different firms gives some insights on what they see as important to foster a culture of innovation and success. The key takeaway from what partners think drives successful innovation projects is that:
innovation is driven from the leadership level. But it is fostered among all the firm’s professionals.
To me that’s an interesting perspective that many of us need to consider when it comes to getting buy-in from law firm leadership.
Rethink your KM & Innovation Model – Shark-TED-Talk-Tank (Part 2)
Carla Swansburg of ClearyX comes out swinging with stating upfront that success in creating efficiencies means that you need to find ways to attach these efficiencies to Fixed Fee matters. Related to what Ari mentioned before, Carla mentioned that there are methods, such as client advisory boards, of launching that “innovation is driven from leadership”, but shifting it over to being “fostered among all the firm’s professionals.” It’s a delicate process, and one that requires measuring and presenting success back to that leadership.
Alicia Hardy from White and Case gave us ten suggestions for innovation success:
- You must be clear about the problem you’re trying to fix and your ultimate objective.
- Establish and validate your brand.
- Clarity of mission without being too prescriptive
- Find the right people to help
- Be functional agnostic
- Create distinct and identifiable activity streams, unified under your brand with clear deliverables, and allocated responsibilities.
- Employ both a top down and bottom up approach
- Quick wins and longer term goals
- The power of yes and the importance of no
- Acknowledge the things that don’t go well, rethink, take stock, and learn. Then iterate.
Anna Moca and Monet Fauntleroy state that the innovations created need to meet the needs of the business. Keys to innovative team success means focusing more on specialization over generalist, and that the solutions needed to fit within the firm’s ecosystem. That meant stopping giving the quick, one-off projects, and being much more strategic in how innovation is implemented, and having very structured innovation teams.
In a breakout session, I mentioned to the others in the room that all I’m hearing from people who are predicting the hot practices of 2022 and beyond is the Environmental, Social, and Governmental, or ESG practices. Bobbi Basile, and Sarah Happy backed me up on this. ESG is one of those odd areas of practice because it combines the issues of legal compliance, along with the less rigid problem of reputation. Basile and Happy point to the fact that Law firms are placing bets via investment in building data related teams, and it will be our jobs to help deliver results on those bets.
Cleary Gottlieb’s Jeannine Zito and Litera’s Cindy Bare cover one of the elusive projects that many of us have undertaken, and that is Matter Profiling. Jeannine admits that it is easy to go down the rabbit hole if you are not careful with these types of projects, and that she learned from previous mistakes and applied that knowledge to the current project. Specific roles were created leveraging the KM Lawyers and supporting them. Sharing success and analytics with the firm lawyers as the program matures, and then expanding when appropriate.
Womble’s US and UK operations from Bill Koch and Tom Humberstone respectively, discuss the cultural issues of KM between the UK and US approaches. KM Attorneys are a staple in the UK and allow for a robust curation of internal data. The US is not structured that way, and there are external KM data tools that may be brought in to help beef up the KM data. So the search, taxonomies, and organization of data can be very different between offices and requires a lot of planning on the front end, and communications between the tech builders in IT, and the data curators in KM.
Patrick Dundas shared his experiences on creating an updated Intranet to replace the 8 year old intranet that was good… but not as good as was needed for the firm. Some of the key pieces of the new Intranet, thanks to a lot of upfront work with the users and with consultants is:
- Guided Search – intuitive processes to help users find the content across multiple indexes and databases.
- Client Pages – Those quick information pages that help attorneys have relevant information on their clients, both internal information, and external information, when they need it.
- Correspondence contacts, which tries to answer the question of who from outside the firm is related to a client or the matter.
- The working groups list uses a novel approach of using emails to identify who is really interacting with the client.
Ron Friedmann and Zack Hutto cover Gartner’s Legal Tech Hype Cycle, and right off the bat they talk about the increase in legal tech spend by firms being up about 50% in the past four years. And is on a continued upward trajectory. External spend is also up, with Legal Tech cracking $1B last year. Three parts of the hype cycle Friedmann and Hutto left us with were:
- First, understand what problems the innovation that you are investing in is actually going to solve, and what pain points may appear along the way.
- Second, there may be great opportunities in early stage innovation investments, but those come with much higher risk. Firms seem to be better at understanding this than corporate legal departments.
- Finally, the technology might be a great tool, but if your operations are set up to provide the right environment for that technology with things like proper data capture, you may be throwing your money away.
No Innovation without Adoption – Shark-TED-Talk-Tank (Part 4)
Barbara Taylor & Elisabeth Capons talk about their low-tech solution for tech adoption. Their brand mantra is “Helping Lawyers Practice Smarter.” And they believe that there is “no one-size fits all approach to innovation adoption.” These two concepts made them come up with a unique approach to adoption and that was to bring in a person to work as a concierge to help facilitate the adoption. Someone that would use the tool for the attorneys and paralegals until they were ready to use it themselves. So far, this has been a hit and is allowing for the specialized assistance needed to allow for a comfort level for the users to learn the tools for themselves.
Kay Kim from Simpson Thatcher and Nicole Bradick from Theory & Principle discuss a unique type of collaboration where both sides bring their expertise in legal services and software and UX design and to bring the end result to the market, rather than keeping it as a proprietary product. In this case it was pro-bono case management, but I think many of us can see opportunities when it comes to producing a product that fits the needs not only of our own firm, but for others across the industry. And, the collaboration allows the software design company to keep the maintenance of the product, which I think most of us would agree that law firms would rather not do. Having interviewed a few leaders in legal tech design, this model of shared build and then market release is something that you will see more and more of over the next few years.
Josh Wadell of Siskind Susser understands that not every firm or every practice can build out a complete software solution for their practices. But, there are certain sub processes that can be automated without a major undertaking or having to hire software developers. The idea began with ideas gathered from The Checklist Manifesto. First identify all of the processes involved and detail those so that everyone understands the steps involved. This is very popular in other industries, but the legal industry can also benefit from these.
Once the sub processes are detailed, perhaps the checklist is all that is needed. But, in many cases, there may be low-code or no-code products out there that can automate those processes and speed up delivery of the services without any reduction in quality. While Josh mentioned that small and mid-sized firms benefit from these processes, I think that even the largest firms out there could also apply these checklists to automation techniques as well.
NLP in Action and Productizing Tech– Shark-TED-Talk-Tank (Part 5)
Now we get to the really geeky portion of day one of SKILLS, or what some of you may have thought as the “I was told there would be no math” portion.
Brian Kuhn does a great job in explaining the evolution of AI and Data processing in Legal. Brian highlights the process and ideas behind Machine Learning and AI, and the importance to prototype, test, evaluated, allow for external testing, including opening it to clients, and working with those clients and explaining what is going on in plain English so that the clients understand the value and don’t look at the tools as some kind of Black Box. And in relation to the Hype Cycle mentioned earlier in the day, does the technology really solve the problem? Do you have the support and data to maintain such a system, and are you checking your assumptions regarding the true value of the tool?
There is value in the data found in time entry. But, we’ve never really had the processing power to unlock that data, until now. Matthew Dunne of Katten along with members of his team discuss their project to use the data in time entry to help them better staff matters, and set scope and matter planning for fixed fee arrangements for depositions. The trap that many of us find when it comes to time entry data is that it is unstructured, and oftentimes missing critical pieces that help normalize the unstructured data. Clocktomizer is one product that helps structure the data. Other processes are implemented, which includes a combination of machine learning and human interaction, and of course, math! In this case it was limited to Due Diligence teams and budgeting for depositions. I think many of us would like to see how this expands as we better understand how to unlock more of these data points.
Pablo Arredondo of CaseText and Evan Shenkman of Fisher Phillips had perhaps the most popular program, at least based on the survey of the audience. CaseText is working with a select group of law firms on a Natural Language Processing search tool which is structured around identifying concepts of the search rather than keyword or Boolean that we’ve all become accustomed to. Full disclosure here… my firm is also involved in beta testing the WeSearch conceptual search engine as well. Evan walked through some of the data he has pointed this tool toward, including hundreds of deposition documents. The results are pretty incredible in that this type of NLP tool allows for search phrases like “I was really upset” to locate related results like “ I feel terrible, it’s horrible. It caused me a great deal of pain and anxiety. I did not like it one bit.” The power of NLP is something that may open great opportunities in search and identifying relevant information that today’s search engines simply cannot do.
We have so many custom solutions we’ve created, but Susan Sommers and Max Paterson asked the question of how do you turn that custom solution into a standard application? Susan asks a few questions that can help guide you on determining what works best in this situation:
- Are you building this solution for your client base, or is it broader?
- How do we want to position this tool in the market?
- Do you want the result to be a big and bold project or a minimal viable product?
All solid questions to ask before taking on this potentially massive investment of time and money.
Paterson points out the planning and development process and talked about how they developed the products in modules that can be reused. They looked at the platform and environment that the product would run on. How do you keep it evergreen so that it continues to exist and perform over and over? You want to be able to move this away from the technical side of the process and over to the business side of the project. Documentation is key here. And finally, gather the data from the beginning in order to understand if the product is successful or not.
That brings my overview to a close. These 20 presentations were absolutely fantastic. I have a feeling that I’ll be reaching out to a number of you to discuss this further on The Geek in Review Podcast, so all you presenters have been warned.