There are two standard answers to questions asked in a law firm setting.

  1. Well… it depends.
  2. You have to understand, we’re unique.

Both of them drive us nuts, but we get used to them and adjust or responses over time to limit the eye-roll and shaking of the head to a minimum.

When it comes to where a law firm library falls in the structure of law firm administration, both answers tend to get applied. If you were to look at the AmLaw200 firms, you will find that the law library function falls under many different types of leaders.

  1. Library Directors who report to:
    – COO
    – CMO
    – CIO
    – CKO (non-librarian)
    – (I’ll group these as CxO from this point)
    – Managing Partner
  2. Library Managers who report to:
    – KM Directors
    – CxO
  3. CKO (librarian C-Level) who report to:
    – COO
    – Managing Partner
By my count, there are approximately 7 CKO where they are Librarians in the AmLaw 200. (Or some variation, like me, where I am a Chief Knowledge Services Officer) As you might think, I have a bias toward this style of management. I’ve stressed the ability for law librarians to direct their own fates for nearly the entire decade I’ve written this blog, and will continue to do so as I take on a President role in the American Association of Law Libraries in July, and well beyond that. 

I mentioned in a post last year that if Law Librarians don’t find themselves a seat at the table, they will find themselves on the menu. When I tell other law librarians this, they agree, but then they look at me and say, “Greg, you have to understand, we’re unique at my firm.” What this typically means is that their firm doesn’t want to challenge the status quo, and likes things to stay as they are. There are firms with Library Directors that are much more progressive and forward thinking than me, yet there is no path to a C-Level for them at their firm. That’s a shame. The Law Library and its functions of compiling, analyzing, filtering, and producing legal and other information is one of the most important administrative functions that a law firm has. It keeps attorneys practice ready and up to speed on the very functions that drive the legal industry. We do the due diligence necessary to keep our attorneys informed and prepared. In the Information Age, we are the Information Professionals.

BloombergBNA President, Scott Mozarsky, penned a recent Above the Law article where he stressed the importance of what law firm libraries and librarians do to drive business in the door at law firms. He mentions that law librarians and legal marketers are teaming up and becoming a powerhouse within the firm to help drive business development and client awareness of the firm’s abilities. He mentions that this is a great collaboration, and that he is seeing more firms adopt the Researcher/Marketer team approach. I’ve seen this exact scenario going on in law firms for nearly two decades, and I’m sure it preceded my entry into the market. Mozarsky is correct in that this makes perfect sense to team up the analytical skills of the law library researcher, and the business and marketing skills of the law firm marketer. It’s a perfect match of strategy put into action.

The one area that I have to alternate from the path with Mozarsky suggests, is that this means that it makes perfect sense to place the library under the CMO. To that, I would have to answer, well… it depends.

In my personal experience, and from the anecdotes I’ve heard from my peers over the past twenty years, it was the librarians that have been pushing for the teaming up of marketing and research, and the CMOs have been very reluctant to adopt this strategy. I know… I know… ever firm is unique, so this may not apply to you. However, I would go out on a limb here and say that most firms that have this type of collaboration, the idea was pitched by the library staff and the marketing department had to be won over to try it out. That’s not to say that CMOs are anti-library, but it does say that librarians tend to be very good and leveraging the existing tools, resources, and people to augment the overall strategy of the firm. We understand that driving new business, or expanding existing business is a strategy that all firms have, and we know that we can contribute to that goal. Because we sometimes lack the seat at the table, the idea of leveraging this wealth of resources already at the disposal of the firm may have been overlooked.

The law library at most firms contain the most credentialed staff in that firm. The fact that the most credentialed staff in the firm doesn’t have a Chief voice speaking directly for them is a lost opportunity for those firms who ignore them. I am quite proud to talk with others and tell them that they need to understand, my firm’s unique. We have a voice at the table, and we are heard.

Following the AALL conference Mark Gediman’s contentious stance on Google, made the rounds here on 3 Geeks and in various other places. In fact, Mark will be reprising his stance on the famous search engine next week on an SLA CI Webinar, titled “Is Google Enough?” You can register here, if you want to hear it all again or challenge him to a duel. And while the Google Debate is a good one, earlier this week, Greentarget and Zeughauser Group, released their Fifth Annual survey of In House Counsel on their use of Digital and Content Marketing. The results were unsurprising for the most part and suggested that the better the content the more often it will be read. The survey responses and by extension in house counsel, urge law firms to plan out a proper strategy for digital content rather than just writing blog posts for fun. That seems all pretty straight forward to me. Then, I read this nugget:

“Wikipedia is becoming more popular among IHCs; 71 percent said they used it to conduct company and industry research — up from 51 percent in 2012. “

The answer to that survey question scares me more than the potential repercussions of the Google debate. Why and how, are in house counsel relying on Wikipedia for anything, let alone company and industry research? Don’t get me wrong, I think Wikipedia *can* be a great starting point, and I use it often. But it is a starting point, a means to an end and certainly not to be relied upon. Can you imagine using Wikipedia for due diligence research? Crowd sourced information worries me, the way Big Data scares me. Anyone can publish anything to Wikipedia and it will stay there until someone else takes it down. I would rather see in house counsel relying on company websites, twitter feeds, government industry analysis or even editorials. I understand that unlike law firm lawyers, in house counsel often don’t have the luxury of staff Librarians, CI practitioners, corporate researchers or others who are skilled at and have the time for research, but surely there is a better (though not faster) source than Wikipedia.

It may be time we pull back from the ease of the internet and think about artisanal research, bespoke industry analysis and custom reporting. The tools and technology available to us today, make research accessible and easy, if budgets allow there are plenty of SAS products out there that can help bring all your vetted sources into one newsletter or portal to make that type of research Wikipedia-fast but factually accurate and integral too. I won’t belabour the point, I think 3 Geeks readers are savvy enough to know where I am heading with this rant. Instead, in true collaborative fashion, I will urge all in house CI researchers, librarians, information professionals, marketing research or social media folks to reach out to their legal teams and provide them with alternatives to Wikipedia, establish some kind of information pipeline that has integrity and depth and that can be shared via RSS to intranets and other portals. And I will ask those in the same roles in firms to think about what value added services we can provide to clients that might be better than Wikipedia and help mitigate the risk of bad information as well. As I always say…information is quick, intelligence takes time. You can decide which you prefer to provide and use.


Last week the Twitterverse and other content spaces were abuzz (or atweet?), with commentary on the story from Bloomberg Law on how Law Firm Librarians Feel Underused and Underpaid.  Many in the sector agreed or felt that it was a wake up call of some kind.  The article was based on a survey compiled by Bloomberg Law for the annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), the librarians who took part in the survey were polled in person, and others later, over email. Most interestingly to me, was a quote from Bloomberg Law President David Perla “Librarians are saying, ‘We can help a firm anticipate what a client is going to need. We can be ahead of the client.” It reminded me specifically of another Bloomberg Law article from earlier in the summer on Why Law Firms Need to Change their Marketing Priorities. In that article it’s the marketing departments at law firms that are over burdened and understaffed.  One legal marketer who was interviewed suggested “[legal marketers] often don’t have enough time to focus on the most fundamental tasks in business development, such as helping lawyers to increase satisfaction for current clients, plan sales advances or follow up consistently.”  If librarians should be proactive to get noticed, and the business development people need help increasing satisfaction for current clients, isn’t a blended Library/BD person or department the perfect client service marriage?  A one plus one equals two kind of equation?

We have heard again and again in client satisfaction surveys within the legal community that the number one driver for outside counsel selection is a firm who knows and understands a client’s business. I blogged about that here some months ago; the evolution of CI is from Competitor to Client Intelligence.  There is also an assumption among clients that we “all know, what we each know” within a firm. That is to say, that law firms provide knowledgeable, efficient and most of all, anticipatory client service, as Perla suggests.  There is no doubt that Bloomberg Law has a pulse on the legal market – they are in the business of knowing what firms need, and filling that resource void. But they can’t do it alone.

Librarians feel underused and Marketing/BD professionals in firms are drowning in the volume of work and expectations from their lawyer clients.  From my perspective, there is a broader issue of collaboration by law firm management groups at play here.  Each department has their mandate, and each is tentative about stepping outside of their world either for fear of repercussion or lack-of- getting-credit-angst.  I’ve worked with and reported into several different administrative groups in my time at law firms.  And I can tell you that almost all non-lawyers in firms feel underused, it is not just a Librarian thing.  The fact that we are described by the negative “non” prefix is the case in point.   A commentary that several others in the industry have waxed poetic about before and I don’t need to rehash those discussions. Instead, I offer a solution – a rallying point for the non lawyers who are reading this blog.

Let’s work together, truly collaborate and check the egos and credit ratings at the door.  Ultimately, we all want to succeed in our professions and in our roles within firms. For the marketing people amongst us, that means looking outside of our departments and realizing that there are other smart savvy people within our firms who can help to manage the work load by implementing technology tools, researching in anticipation of client needs or increasing the current awareness portfolio. For Librarians it means thinking about information in a commercial way, for example, how can a legislative change impact clients or increase firm revenue and it is about getting out of the library to chat people up and find out what is keeping them up at night and then matching those anxieties with resources.  For all non lawyers, it necessitates a brushing up on soft skills, especially communication, leadership and negotiation skills.  David Maiser, in Strategy and the Fat Smoker, says “We often (or even usually) know what we should be doing in both personal and professional life. We also know why we should be doing it and (often) how to do it.  Figuring it out is not too difficult.  What is very hard is actually doing what you know to be good for you in the long-run, in spite of short-run temptations.”  Collaboration at the highest level – integrated technology platforms, cross departmental response and readiness teams, mutual respect and assistance, is not easy, but we know it’s an imperative, the two Bloomberg Law articles alone demonstrate the ease of the equation.  True collaboration will make firms coordinated, efficient, balanced and competitive and you’d be hard pressed to find a client who is not willing the pay full rates for a firm like that.

Part 2 of the The Legal Intelligencer’s ongoing series on Law Firm Competitive Intelligence came out on May 13th.  The author, Gina Passarelli, makes a few points that, well, let’s just say I have a different perspective on. 

Let’s start with the firms that were interviewed for this article.  They are AMLAW100 firms with resources and budgets (personnel and otherwise) not found in the vast majority of firms.  Their experiences and opinions are not the norm for the legal industry.  I have found the norm for most firms to be a collaborative process between Marketing and Research Services (aka the Library).  This allows for the use of staff in multiple capacities without incurring the additional personnel cost of a dedicated CI analyst.

This also allows the Marketing Department to take advantage of the unique skills and internal knowledge of the research professionals. These professionals are skilled at finding information efficiently, analyzing it to meet the attorneys needs and packaging it for their consumption.  Despite the implications of the gentleman quoted from Duane Morris,  researchers (aka librarians) are not as a rule “faithful compilers of phone books.”  Merely handing off reams of information (otherwise known as Data Dumps) are not a work product that attorneys have the time or inclination to review in any context, be it legal research or CI.  This understanding of not only what attorneys need to see but how they want to see it adds to the value of the research professional in conducting CI.

It is no accident that many excellent CI professionals have a background and/or training as a librarian. I found it striking how uninformed the author appeared to be regarding the involvement of law librarians in the Competitive Intelligence analysis process.  The inclusion of sweeping stereotypical statements such as “[Librarians] gather the info and the marketing team makes it presentable” and the implications of a Chief Marketing Officer that the Library produces academic studies are not accurate depictions of how this works in the Legal Industry.

Here are three prominent examples of CI professionals missed by Ms. Passarelli:

  • Zena Applebaum, who was quoted prominently in the first article of this series, is not only the Director of Competitive Intelligence for Bennett Jones but is also the award-winning Chair-Elect of the Competitive Intelligence Division of the Special Libraries Association.  Not to mention the excellent post she wrote on CI on Thursday.
  • Jan Rivers, who wrote an article on CI for the National Law Journal, is the Director of Information Resource Services at Dorsey and Whitney LLP and is a well-known CI professional.  
  • Emily Cunningham Rushing, Competitive Intelligence Manager at Haynes and Boone, LLP, has her Masters in Library and Information Science and is also a well-known CI professional

The list above does not include the many other talented research professionals acting in the same capacity for their firm.  In my previous post on the first article of this series, I pointed out that there are over 300 librarians in law firms nationwide currently practicing the art of of CI.  This does not include the members of the CI Division of the Special Libraries Association or the law firm members of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.  Full disclosure here:  I have been a law librarian for almost 25 years and have been practicing CI for 20 of those years. 

The information presented above shows the skills that librarians have in their toolbox .  Of course, this doesn’t mean that every librarian will make a good CI professional or that only librarians can be CI professionals.  However, when looking for someone with the requisite skills for this type of task, the Library (or Research Services) is a good place to start.  By using these atypical examples and statements, Ms. Passarelli paints a misleading picture of how to operate a successful Competitive Intelligence operation.  I guess my question really is…why weren’t mid-size firms that are more representative of the industry (and, yes, as a result rely more on librarians) consulted as part of this article?  They aren’t hard to find.

I recently returned from the 29th annual Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) Conference in sunny and warm Orlando.  The conference was a terrific networking event as per usual. I am constantly impressed, and inspired by the professionals who work in CI across a variety of industries every day.  But I am also intrigued by the questions and concerns that underlie so many of the sessions and the hallway talk afterwards. It seems regardless of the industry, CI professionals share common issues, even if the language or descriptions of the challenges are nuanced.  As a known entity within the CI community, I am often asked for my advice on helping to solve practitioner challenges and rather than answer them one at a time, I thought some 3 Geeks readers might also benefit from the answers and/or be able to contribute and add further suggestions.  To that end, below are five of the more interesting questions that were bantered about throughout the conference and my attempt to answer them.  The questions are in no particular order and my answers are a combination of my own thoughts as well as some of what I heard while at the conference.

1 – Where in an organization should CI sit?

Everyone has an opinion here. Some believe that CI should always and only report to Marketing, others to the CEO, others to finance.  Research &Development was another reporting option, and I even heard one practitioner suggest that sales was the only appropriate place for CI to report.  Since law firms don’t have sales departments I think we can safely rule sales out. But lawyers, specifically partners who interface with clients on a regular basis are similar to sales people in many respects. As CI practitioners in firms, its important to always maintain a good rapport, even develop close relationship with partners to keep the lines of communication open.  It will aid with HUMINT collection, but it will also provide a window into the issues facing lawyers and clients in the course of daily business.  But CI in a law firms can’t report into the partnership at large, so the function does need a home.  Some law firm CI practitioners report to Marketing, others to the Library, KM or some hybrid of the above just as our colleagues in other industries.  The bottom line is:  it doesn’t matter much where you report, so long as you are providing excellent service in meeting intelligence needs in anticipating surprises for your firm and its clients.  In ideal world, a law firm CI function is so highly collaborative between the various administrative groups the reporting becomes only a formality for booking vacation (what is that?).

2 – Do hiring managers prefer CI practitioners with CI certification, or industry knowledge?

This one’s a bit trickier. I heard Directors of CI two Fortune 500 companies say the opposite where this issue is concerned. Its seems the response is both culturally and hiring manager specific.  But one element of the hiring process was clear:  soft skills are as important as the hard skills.  For those of you looking to transition into a CI role, or increase your responsibilities in a current one, brush up on your networking skills, practice your elicitation, develop your analytical fitness and never stop being curious or creative.  These are the essential qualities to a perfect CI practitioner – certified or otherwise.

3 – How do I merge a competitive intelligence practice with a Library function? Or a KM function?

See the note above about collaboration. In the three short days of the conference alone, I saw the “C” of CI referred to as Collaborative, Cooperative, Collective, and I am sure if I attended a few more sessions, I am certain I would have seen a few other permutations.  CI is at its root an information-based vocation. Information needs people. People need a great many things, you can look to Maslow’s hierarchy or the more recent 10 Demandments from Kelly Mooney to understand people what people need and getting various information brokers together – whether from the intelligence community, the KM community, the Library, Marketing or anywhere else requires a nurturing of those same needs.  Get people engaged and interested by gaining their trust, but giving them the space to control how they contribute at the same time. It’s a fine balance but if you can manage to work to individual strengths in both the hard and soft skills of CI (which ever “C” you choose) the end result will be better than the sum of the parts.  After all, intelligence comes from the interpretation and analysis of information and what better way to analyze a situation than with multiple perspectives, educational backgrounds and strengths attacking the business problem.   

4 – How do I market the CI services within my organizations?

First of all, this is a great question, posed the right way.  Its not asking “do I need to market my service”, or “why do I need to market”, but rather “how”. The question assumes that the person/people asking already understand the need for Marketing, and so the battle is at least half won. 

The easiest and best way to market the CI services within your organization is to do great work, amazing work and then get repeat clients.   I remember an old boss of mine suggesting that I need not hang out a shingle and wait for people to come, because once I started to provide value, it would be a bouncer I needed not a shingle. Three other easy and quick ways to market the function are to:

  1. Tell people about it. Sounds simple enough, but it means that the CI team needs to be visible and participate in organized activities like product launches, social events and just get out of their offices/cubes/ or libraries and walk around to meet the people they are serving.
  2. Prepare and practice your elevator speech so when you get asked what you are up to in the elevator or waiting at the coffee machine, you have a 30 second sound bite ready to roll.  You can talk about a project or the impact you are making and thereby selling your services.  Remind potential clients within your organization that CI is an active for both tracking future engagements and helping to set strategy or plan for the future.
  3. Be consistent with deliverables.  This need not mean a template approach, but make sure that what you deliver to all clients, at any level of the organization is polished, proofed and perfect.  Consistent work product will go a long away to promoting the function and helping it appear as professional and needed service. Once you have a key process for proofing and polishing down among your CI team, you can start to explore the notion of marketing your function with a brand and series of on going reports. But that’s a blog posting for another time.

5 – How can I evolving a competitive intelligence practice to become even more relevant, useful and perhaps add some measurable ROI-type “returns”.

Measureable returns can be hard to define.  Especially if the CI function is removed from the decision making process and your reports/suggestions are taken but results are never returned.  First and foremost, where you can, establish open lines of communications with Partners so that you can ask the difficult questions around whether or not a new file was opened or a new client retained. Then, track the client matter number as it goes through your firm.  While you may not be able to directly attribute that new client directly to the CI that was provided, you can indicate that CI had a role, perhaps a 5% or 20% role in helping to secure that new client.  Use this information as an ROI for the service you provide.  Other forms of measurable ROI come not from new engagements, but from time saved or efficiency increased. Start to think about the CI function in terms of how having a CI team or individual contributor of CI added to the bottom line by taking research and analysis off of someone else’s plate and/or provided a service that wasn’t there before that allows for better use of time, smarter client engagements and a well turned out organization.  It may not be measurable in the truest sense, but certainly it add to the relevance of the function and of the firm in the eyes of its client.  Client surveys time and time again suggest that firms are chosing outside counsel based not on fees or expertise alone, but that clients want to work with firms who understand their buniess, their risks and their challenges. Who better to keep your lawyers and other practitioners informed than a CI?  Relevancy is CI currency.
 
So that’s my five question, answer and response from the 29th annual SCIP conference & trade show. I encourage anyone else out there who wants to take a stab at answering to please leave a comment.  As I gear up for the Special Libraries Association 2014 Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO June 8-10th in Vancouver, I can’t wait to see what the questions around CI and its role in and with the Library might be. I suspect many of the same themes will be repeated and I welcome the discussion.

Image [cc] Scazon

The year started out with a trio of mergers in the legal information field when Thomson Reuters announced it was acquiring PLC, and Learnlive, and LexisNexis announced it was acquiring Knowledge Mosaic. The activity tappered off a bit after that initial first week flurry, but there have been a number of mergers, acquisitions and partnerships throughout 2013 and we thought we’d review what has changed this year.

I’m sure we’ve missed a few other activities that happened in 2013. Feel free to add those in the comments.

Let’s see what 2014 brings in the great shrinkage of legal information providers.

IMGP1885 [2011-12-13]
Image [cc] JAM Project

We live in what is referred to as “The Information Age”, but I think that we may have shifted into a new phase that might be called “The Collaboration Age.” There was a very interesting article from The Business Insider a few weeks ago that discussed an Indian Intern’s impression of life in America, and one of the ‘weirdest’ things he found about the culture here is that people are highly collaborative. He talked about how students collaborate and the goals of the collaboration wasn’t to simply complete a project, but it was rather to use collaboration as a way to share, teach, train, and learn until everyone “got it.” This was in an environment (John Hopkins University) that a few decades ago was know for being so competitive that students would hide important books in the library in order to gain a competitive edge over other students. In addition to the need to collaborate, he notices that the students take an ethical approach to the collaboration, and a desire to accomplish something that they will be proud to attach their name to. Therefore, actions that once may have been seen as “cheating”, are now seen as valuable collaborative efforts that help everyone achieve the desired goals. When you step back and think about it, it is really a monumental shift in culture.

There was one part that this intern mentioned that is probably true not only of the assignments within the university setting, but also found in today’s professional work environment. Assignments are extremely difficult, complicated, and complex. Attempting to complete a project on your own is no longer the best option. Whether it is completing an assignment in school for a professor, or answering legal issues for a client, the questions are difficult, and the process of getting to the answers/solutions are complex. Today’s professional workers need to collaborate. We see it in our personal lives, and it is making huge inroads into our professional lives as well.

So that was my long introduction to this week’s Elephant Post answers to what tools do you use to collaborate at your work. There are some interesting answers that range from very old-school tools to some of the new resources available. Enjoy the answers, and think about your work environment and ways that you currently collaborate, and ways that collaboration can be improved.

Steve

We use Jabber from Cisco as an instant messaging, and easy way to pass files to each other. It is a great informal method of communications that is much faster than email, and it also connects to our phone and Outlook calenders so we can tell when others are in a meeting, or on the phone. It is very informal, so it makes it easy to ask questions without feeling like you are filling up someones email. It also allows you to chat with multiple people at once.

Anonymous

I use Box in my law firm. I use it to access my documents from my mobile device when I am away from my office. I also use it since it allows me to easily collaborate with my clients and coworkers easily. It eliminates the need to send multiple emails when working on a legal document, and I can just add a collaborator and we can work on the document by adding comments and tasks in one string of communication. Lastly, I like how I have control and visibility over my documents. I can see when and by whom my documents have been viewed and downloaded, and also password protect access to my documents.

James

We use Confluence quite a lot to facilitate wikis (team collaboration spaces as we prefer to call them) and blogs to some extent. We’ve also looked at using Yammer to encourage teams to collaborate and communicate with each other.

David Glenn

Trello

Anon

SharePoint

Bert Gregory

Microsoft SkyDrive primarily. Box.com as secondary. It used to be Google Drive until they made their public statement that nobody should expect privacy with their services. Our business has 36 employees.

Chad Burton

With our team, we use Box (document management), Clio (internal client matter communications and other matter-specific collaboration) and Yammer (for general idea sharing unrelated to client matters and as our virtual water cooler). Oh, and there is always the dreaded email (Google Apps for Business). We use these platforms because they all integrate.

Anonymous

We are using MS Lync in our firm quite often and everyone seems to like it. We are able to have quick just-in-time chats with one person or multiple people. We have are using it for at your desk video conferences. Right now it is just 1-1 video conversations, but may expand to multiple parties. People are still getting used to the video thing, but it is a good way to connect over long distances. We also use Lync to share documents, charts, web pages, etc…, for comparison and review.

Ketan

  • Google Docs (paid to increase security, despite NSA monitoring)
  • Shared and layered calendars (cross platform)
  • Wunderlist
  • Google Hangouts for video chats
  • Google surveys/forms!

Previously:

  • Yammer
  • Skype messaging

Let me shake your hand
Image [cc] Nathan Rupert

At any given moment, I may have one, two, three, four, or more collaboration tools at my disposal that allows me to nearly instantaneously communicate with my friends, peers, co-workers, and staff. Be it the old fashion telephone (although mine has video build in… ’cause I’m special like that), or email, or Instant Messaging, or Twitter, or Facebook, or even getting up off my duff an walking next door to actually verbally communicate face-to-face, there are tons of ways to communicate.

I’m kind of a big fan of the Private Facebook Groups, and the flexibility that it gives me to send out actual business related questions to a set of peers, or to send out classic viral cat videos to the same group. It can be formal, but it tends to be very informal. It is extremely convenient, and we really hope that it remains behind a privacy fence (although, I think we unofficially know not to say anything that would get us into too much trouble if that fence were to fall down.)

So this week’s Elephant Post question is this:

What Collaboration Tools Do You Use?

Tell us about some of the interesting resources you use, including any non-traditional tools, or maybe some resources that are so old-fashioned, they are actually new again!! I’ll pull these together and post all of the answers on Friday. Please take a moment and either fill out the embeded form below, or email me (xlambert at gmail dot com). You can see what others have answered by going here.

 

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I have had more than a week to recover from ILTA 2013 in Las Vegas and I am slowly starting to return to normal.  But, that is the problem.  I don’t want to return to normal.  I desperately want to maintain the heady state of learning and collaboration that we establish every year for four short days in some ridiculously hot location in late August.  I’ve attended ILTA for the last three years and every year it manages to recharge my batteries and get me excited about what I’m trying to do at my firm.  That enthusiasm usually lasts for a few short weeks before I’m slowly drug back into the muddy reality of “This is what [high level partner] thinks is important, so that’s what we’re going to keep doing for the foreseeable future.”  First my shoes get stuck, and then the walls close in, and soon I’m standing nose to gypsum with just enough room to pull my head back an inch so I can gently bang my forehead repeatedly against the wall in front of me. (Yes, writing blog posts is much cheaper than therapy.)

I am not above a little hyperbole to make a point, but I know I’m not the only one who feels like this.  Something wonderful happens at that conference and it’s not strictly the learning sessions, or the vendor parties, and it’s most certainly not the food. It’s the people.

That may sound like a touchy-feely, sentimental, Up With People, BS statement, until you understand that I am not in any way, shape, or form a people person.  I have friends and I like many people. I can easily talk with anyone about any particular thing, but I don’t easily do small talk. I’m not very good at meeting new people. And I struggle with most conversations that begin “So, what do you do?”  The thing about ILTA is that I have very few of those conversations. Strangers at ILTA begin conversations with phrases like, “We’ve been trying to do this. Do you have any thoughts?” Or, if they overhear your conversation with someone else, they’ll speak up and say, “You know, we built/bought something that does that…”  The focus of most interactions and conversations at ILTA are centered around solving problems.  Conversations at ILTA end with, “I’m so-and-so, what’s your name?  And what do you do?”  Then you exchange cards and walk away.  Until you see them in the corridor the next day and introduce them to someone you just met who has a similar problem to the one they’re trying to solve.

There is an openness to this community. One that, by necessity, admits to its own vulnerability.  There is very little pretense or braggadocio. The strength of every success story I heard this year was built upon the foundation of the failures that came before.

When we return to the “real” world, those administrative and bureaucratic walls that too quickly close in around us, also make it very difficult to share our stories, or to ask for help, or even to openly admit our failures.  For four short days in the desert we have no walls and we are free to learn and collaborate with our peers without the constraints of politics or bureaucracy.  It may be that that kind of communication and collaboration can only exist for short periods of time among acquaintances and strangers.  It may be that such a thing can not possibly exist on an ongoing basis within the confines and constraints of a law firm environment. But if I truly believed that, there would be no reason to keep banging against those walls.

They’ll come down. If not this year, maybe after ILTA 2014.

You’ve all read/heard my take on aggregators here at 3 Geeks, and how there was a time when having access to information was in and of itself a competitive advantage. Simply knowing what your competitors or market were doing was currency. We all have more access to information today than any of us dreamed was possible even 15 or 20 years ago. Much of that information is readily available and free. In fact, information or data is so accessible that crowd sourcing and gathering of it online in places like Wikipedia is common place, even cited with growing integrity in university term papers and the like (ethics of which is not my topic, though I am sure many of you have ideas on that….feel free to guest post about it!)

I have suggested in previous posts that how we sort or filter the raw data is how we keep from contributing to information overload. Key to this process is determining what is good to know versus need to know versus interesting but maybe I don’t need to know that right now. Even when we’ve filtered that down, we still need to aggregate the relevant information by having Library or Intelligence teams sort and collate it into newsletters, alerts, RSS feeds or other helpful, readable tools. Finally, I’ve suggested that, depending up your resources, the process can be done manually or with any one of the commercially available tools available for purchase that can help us aggregate. You’ve read previous posts (hopefully), where I’ve asked, How Do We Make Them Read, and reviewed a series of aggregators a list that continues to grow and improve and then several months later, I suggested we are Almost There with a new series of product offering.

A recent exercise in my own firm has lead to me understand that aggregating with the help of technology is not enough! I now understand that friends don’t let friends aggregate alone.
Borne out of necessity and fiscal responsibility, when three departments at my firm all asked for budget for an aggregator in 2013, it was suggested that we work together to find one that suits all of our needs rather than to aggregate content – possibly the same content – three times, in three different ways.
On the surface, it seems like an easy and smart solution. But when you start to get down to the specific needs of each department (in my case, Intelligence/Business Development, Knowledge Management and Library & Information Resources), it seemed an insurmountable ask. How each department engages with internal and external information and brokers that information, turning it into intelligence, practice efficiency, current awareness or a business development opportunity and combine those different points of view with the need for Systems and IT compatibility and you start to think that maybe this seemingly obvious task is actually impossible. The sheer volume of information alone is one problem. The rest of the problem is in acknowledging the mandates of the different departments will cause each one to consume and reuse the information in different ways.
Therefore each department needs its own set of tools and distribution methods. Right? Hence the three requests for three different products? Right? Once up on a time the answer would have been yes, but if the last three months has taught me anything, it is the fact that all law firm administration departments really all want the same thing.
We all want our lawyers to be smarter, better, and more efficient at delivering client service and value and for our own departments to be seen as contributing to the bottom line rather than being dreaded cost centres especially since 2008. How we each achieve this goal will be executionally unique, but asking for three sets of tools would be akin to a carpenter, a cabinet maker and mechanic suggesting that what they each describe as a hammer is specific and unique to their line of work. Not true. How they each use the hammer might differ and which type of hammer they use might differ from time to time but at the end of the day, a hammer is a hammer.
So can we find an aggregator that suits all of our needs? I believe the answer, despite our different methodologies and interactions, is yes. That answer does come with some challenges, however, the biggest of which is being open to learning and understanding of what each department needs, wants and is willing to let go. The discovery process will not be easy, nor will building a set of criteria for the “right” tool, but if you are willing to have the conversation, open yourself and your department up to scrutiny among friends, you will find that friends don’t let friends aggregate alone and you may find (as I did) that you can even learn a very useful thing or two about how the different departments think about and use information, which you can leverage toward successfully meeting your department’s goals. By sharing in the in discussions and finding one solution to work for all information providers, you can actually help move the agenda of smarter, better, more client focused lawyers along.