On this episode of The Geek In Review, Marlene (@gebauerm) and Greg (@glambert) talk with long time friend and colleague Emily Rushing, Competitive Intelligence Director at Haynes and Boone in Dallas, Texas. In Emily’s decade at Haynes and Boone, she has implemented a stellar competitive intelligence process and has found a method of encouraging partners to share information and to build trust among throughout the firm. In addition to traditional CI tools, Emily has leveraged her firm’s CRM tool in ways that would make most of us in other firms envious.

Once again, Marlene and Greg get to record this week’s podcast together while Marlene is visiting Texas. Greg also “triple-dog dared” Marlene to reach out to one of their podcasting heroes, “Make Me Smart’sMolly Wood while Marlene was in Austin. Continue Reading Podcast Episode 8 – Emily Rushing on CI, CRM, and Collaboration

All too often in law firms when we talk about marketing failures or look for new marketing successes, we look to see how “other industries” are doing it. We look at the marketing spend of consumer goods companies which make our budgets look like a small child’s allowance.  We bemoan not having enough money to really make a difference or we lament the time and energy spent on directory submissions for minimal tangible ROI, yet we still participate in these things marketing activities since we are bound by the street rules of the legal marketing game.  When we think about legal marketing, I think we would all agree, that despite the smaller budgets that our B2C counter parts, we have evolved beyond pricey tickets to sporting events, and are focused on content or account marketing. Yet, despite the laser  focus on true client development we still struggle.

We struggle to make the impact on our firms that we believe marketing is having in other industries.  Lately, I can’t help but think the answer (or part of it anyway, but this is a blog, so let me think big and unrealistic), lies not on the marketing communications side of the equation, not even in the traditional business development side either, but in the CRM or sales cycle part. The part with the dirty word (sales) and the acronym most people still struggle to really understand outside of “invite list” or “mailing list”.  I have written before about how I think CI is really or should really be about CRM+. More and more, I am starting to see how these two functions, that are often behind the scenes – the introverts next to their extrovert MarCom buddies, the strong silent types that comb through data, deserve more attention in the client conversion or retention conversation.  

Regardless of what CRM system a firm is using or even more to the point where there is no formal CRM system in place, there is often resistance to having contacts and related activities shared within a firm. Whether owing  to the law firm as hotel-for-lawyers mentality, privacy issues, fear that others will ruin the relationship, lack of trust among partners or some other reason lawyers generally don’t want to share their contacts and firm’s have yet to find a good way to change that behaviour en masse.  There are always exceptions to the rules, but if you talk to your friends at sales organizations, the CRM system if the life blood of the organization and those that don’t share are the exception.  Not only are contacts shared but client touches are also shared – who has had dinner with whom, who sent pricing information and when, responses to pitches are recorded and client lessons are shared on the go through the CRM system. Occasionally, I am a the target of these sales pitches and for a moment I am always surprised that a new, or new-to-me sales person knows so much about me and my relationship to the organization.  Then I remember I am but a record in the company’s CRM system and a smart sales person will look me up before making contact and will therefore intimately know my history of engagement, how I feel about a product or service, who my account reps is and so forth before even picking up a phone. They may even know some personal details about me to help break the ice. Combine this knowledge with sales training or soft skills around appropriate communication so as not to come off creepy or stalker-like and imagine what you can do.  What if you had the ability to call a client on any given day, and say something like “Hi, I see you are subscribed to our X Practice newsletter and received our most recent update on issue  Y, I know you had lunch with Partner W last week, but I still wanted to follow up to see if you had any questions and to invite you to an event we are hosting on related topic Z. I believe partner W and some of his clients you might want to meet will also be there ”  There is real value in that for clients, instead of waiting for the phone to ring with a retainer, lawyers can be proactive in providing client service that is tailored, builds the firm’s and the lawyer’s relationship, engenders trust and requires very little effort other than consistent recording and reporting on the part of the lawyers and the CRM professionals.  All you need to know who is subscribed to what, who is reading what and who is taking whom for lunch or to a golf tournament. Being able to connect those internal dots, along with knowing is what happening in the client’s organization or industry so you can help your clients avoid surprises or capitalize on market activity – including your firm’s own bespoke networking events, is client service euphoria. 
Data is driving insights across all kinds of disciplines from healthcare to retail, data is also driving revenue for all kinds of B2C companies, culture is the only thing standing in the way of making data driven client service a reality for law firms as well. Its a simple methodology that does take some data clean up and data strategy, along with a workflow assessment, but with the right people in place and a culture that supports client service above all else it can happen.  CRM and CI might not have all of the glitz and glamour you associate with legal marketing, branding and social media buzz, but I do believe that partnered together and used effectively as in the example above, these two strong silent types can effect real and tangible change for firms. 

When I started in law firm competitive intelligence (CI),
there were few of us doing it and making any headway at the time.  Over time, lots of people have tried to do
legal CI, Librarians, marketing folks, even seasoned CI professionals from
other industries have tried their hand at it, but eventually walked away.  There are certain nuances to working in a law
firm outside of the practice of law, which I won’t get into here, but which
extend to the practice of CI in law firms as well.  Over the years, I have been asked what works,
how can law firm CI be a success, and I have written or spoken about various
aspects. I’ve explained as many other before me did, that CI is not only about
monitoring competitors, but about the competitive landscape (Blue Ocean
strategy anyone?) and the markets in which law firms operate.  We’ve talk about changing the C in CI from
competitive to collaborative, and encouraging a breaking down of the various
silos that exist in law firm administration in order to successfully manage a
CI program. And I still believe that collaboration is fundamental to CI
success. But there is more. 

We’ve also seen CI in law firms morph into or cross the
line into BI and MI, I think my title actually changed to market intelligence
or marketing intelligence once too for a brief while to prove the point.  But whether the title is CI, BI, or MI, the
end result is the same. Intelligence is about cutting through the vast amounts
of clutter or data to produce insights and analytics to drive business. Whether
we are talking about structured (quantitative) or unstructured (qualitative)
data, the role of the intelligence practitioner is to help the firm avoid
surprises, make actionable recommendations and inform decision making.  But still, I would argue there is more. There
has always been something more to legal CI. Something that sets legal CI apart,
something that may well be a part of other industry CI functions, but from what
I have seen, read and experienced of late, should be the cornerstone of legal
CI, something that I have been unknowingly practicing for years but have only
recently begun to articulate. Legal CI is client
, or CRM plus. 
Since the economic collapse in 2008, and the subsequent
recovery, the legal industry has changed and clients are largely driving that
change.  Law firms know this and have thus
turned to keeping better tabs on their clients. Last week, I sat through the
launch of the Acritas Canadian Brand
Index and while the results were interesting, more interesting to me was the
increased expectation of clients, that firms know their business.  Clients want to work with firms who know their
business. What does knowing a business mean? 
I think it means understanding the client’s market, their business
issues, their liabilities, their risks and their successes. Knowing the client
is about having a grasp on the client’s business that goes beyond the most
recent press release issued or its website home page. Knowing a client is about
making the client feel like you work at their place of business every day.
“Business Savvy” is a 25% driver of law firm recommendations from
General Counsels interviewed by Acritas. Furthermore, when GCs were asked about what additional skills
they would like to see the lawyers they work with on a day to day basis have
additional training or development in –the top answer was ‘understanding the
client’s business’.  That, to me, is
where CI comes into play (client intelligence, that is). The role of CI in law
firms is to help lawyers understand their clients business so that the lawyers
and firm as a whole can serve to their clients in a proactive and advisory manner.  Knowing the client’s business – the
successes, the failures and everything in between will be a reflection on the
lawyer’s business savvy and will then have a snowball effect that will impact a
firm’s own position and ability to be and stay competitive. 

So while I may not be changing my business cards anytime
soon I have started to think of the C in my title as Client rather than
Competitive.  It seems to be the
most compelling and competitive way forward. 

Image (CC) by ecreyes 

Almost without fail, whenever I bring up the issue of Client Relationship Management (CRM) tools with others in the legal industry, the conversation ends up talking about what an overall failure the CRM resource ended up being, but because the firm invested so much time, money and people into the project, they aren’t willing to admit   that they need to cut their losses and move on to something else.

The whole internal CRM tool project is a lesson in insanity – doing the same thing over and over, yet somehow expecting a different result this time around. Lawyers don’t like sharing their information (contacts), they don’t like doing administrative tasks (entering contact information into the CRM), and most will fight you if you want to set up something to automate those tasks. Most law firms with CRM tools have gone down the path of “Data Stewards” to try to make sense of all of the mis-matched CRM information (multiple entries, misspellings, company names entered twenty different ways, etc.), but after a couple of years, these Data Stewards are usually let go or reassigned to other work because the CRM tools are just too unwieldy and the data is just too disorganized.

So why are firms still hanging on to these money pits? Should we jettison the idea of building an internal CRM tool and start leveraging external products such as LinkedIn to help us better understand the relationships between our lawyers and our clients? That’s the questions we posed this week. Although we only received a couple perspectives this time around, you can still chime in with your comments on where you stand on the whole CRM issue.

For the next Elephant Post, we ask you to let us know what legal product (database, legal platform, collaboration tool, book, etc.) over the past year or two do you think is something others should check out.) Scroll on down and let us know what you think is worth a look.

Simon Ellison-Bunce

I think it’s undeniable that the rise of social networking will significantly change how firms approach CRM – but there are some fundamental tensions at the heart of the issue.

One is the difference between the interests of the firm as a whole and the interests of individual lawyers. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for individuals, but from the enterprise perspective it presents a number of challenges currently, in areas such as brand management and relationship risk for example.

Another tension is around control of the data on social networking platforms. To start with, not everyone who a firm might want to engage with is on LinkedIn; and of those that are, not all of them will be actively using it or keeping their information up to date. Of course there’s no way to add or “correct” someone else’s profile because that information isn’t in your control! Also, there’s no obvious way currently to combine information from your LinkedIn network with other information you might have about those people or their companies in your own systems, which rather limits it’s usefulness for business development.

This is clearly an ongoing debate. I believe the way forward is a new approach that combines the best of both worlds, effectively putting a social networking wrapper around a more traditional CRM core. If you’ll forgive the plug, look about for more about this on our blog at http://blog.fellsoft.com or follow us @fellsoft.

Law Librarian
CRM’s are a waste of time and money (at least the way most are set up.)
I’m able to pull more relevant information from my LinkedIn connections than I am from the CRM on almost all of our contacts. I would rather the lawyers connect via LinkedIn (or something that ties into LinkedIn) and allow us to monitor any changes in the contact’s profile. The CRM data is almost always ‘dirty’ and many times is so out-of-date that it is not only useless, sometimes it actually causes more problems than if we didn’t have the data in there at all.

What New Legal Industry Product Do You Think Others Should Take a Look At?

We’ve touted a few products on 3 Geeks over the past couple of years, but we’re always looking for other perspectives on great products released for the legal industry that we should check out. Just off the top of my head I can think of a few products that I think are worthwhile… Kiiac is a great product (and one that we’ve talked about a lot), the book Typography for Lawyers is one of those rare products that takes a basic process (writing legal documents) and explains it in a way that helps you understand why certain writing and typographical processes are the way they are. 
So, think about something you’ve started using in the past year or two and let us know why you like it, and why we should take a look at it. Fill out the form below and share your perspective.

As a corollary to the profitability series, this post tackles the need for KM to be tied to profitability in a law firm. Otherwise it becomes KM for the sake of KM. Ron Friedmann’s recent post on KM Reincarnated combined with some recent evaluations of Legal Project Management (LPM) software got me thinking about this idea. It took me back to the introduction of CRM software to law firms. As firms embraced marketing, CRM software was pitched as an answer to the challenge of growing the business. Demos showed how lawyers could easily see “who knows whom” when pitching new work and making new relationships. This would tell them all of the connections they already have with a new contact, including schools attended and common acquaintances. The expected result would be more business in the door. Thus a supposed connection to profitability. The problem CRM systems faced in practice was the dependence on three critical things: 1) The right data was capture, 2) The data was of sufficient quality, and most importantly, 3) That lawyers would change their behavior to suit the system, both in sharing this data and then utilizing it for business development. CRM has generally failed in this promise. The data for most firms’ CRM systems is very incomplete and typically not current. As well, lawyers don’t look to the CRM system for business development opportunities. Instead, these systems are used as marketing databases. They have value, but not the value initially assumed by firms. I think LPM and related KM systems are in danger of falling into the same trap. Legal KM appears to be desperate to find meaning in a fast changing environment and as a consequence may be hooking its wagon up to LPM (and AFAs). So when LPM software is pitched as a way for firms to differentiate, get and retain clients and be more profitable, it’s time to put on your reality glasses and ask if the same or similar three CRM questions apply. To illustrate this point, many LPM systems are seen as a way to improve profit margins via efficiencies gained. In prior posts I have discussed how LPM will only be as successful as the plans it uses. But where will these plans come from? Past billings do not have the type and quality of data necessary to generate reasonable plans (i.e. good L codes), which fails CRM questions #1 and #2. So instead, LPM will be dependent on lawyers taking the time to develop detailed plans for each of their matters. These plans will take significant non-billable time to develop and will require partner level experience to build (CRM #3). And what is the reward for the partners that do this? The presumption is it will bring more business in the door by differentiating your firm. But I would suggest software doesn’t get business – partners do. Just as our expectations that an actual business development system would bring in business were misguided, so are expectations that project management software will somehow do the same. LPM systems may well have value, but it’s not getting more business and they won’t impact profitability unless they solve the same three challenges CRM faced. So when you look at these and other next generation KM systems, make sure you are using them to solve the right problems. Otherwise you will be back to buying a marketing database, expecting it to be a CRM system.

Tell us something that you spent a lot of money on, support and promote, but just isn’t worth all the money, time and effort?

This question popped up at one of our “Curry and a Pint Nights” and the group started calling out programs, technology, outsourced materials, and even people as examples. When I asked other groups this question, there was one specific item that was mentioned almost unanimously, and that was a law firm’s Client Relationship Management (CRM) resource.

I’ve asked the contributors to do a couple of difficult things with this week’s post:

  1. Keep it generic as possible… so, don’t name names (no matter how fun it would be to do so.)
  2. Take a negative point of view and point out the bad things without trying to sugarcoat the problems with things like “well, it’s not really the products fault that no one uses it correctly” kind of justification.  

As you’re reading these posts, please keep those two rules in your head. In other words, we may go a little overboard in how bad things are in the trenches. We have also blended a number of different comments that we received from different perspectives and put it together as “one voice”. Therefore, we’re going “anonymous” on all of the contributors this week in order to keep the conversation lively.

Feel free to jump in on the conversation and come to the defense of all the things that are being discussed below, or let us know that we didn’t point out the things that are really terrible about them!!

KM Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it?”
This one is too easy: CRM

First off, we call it CRM in the legal business, but it isn’t.  We do not use CRM tools to “manage client relationships.”  Instead, at best it’s a Enterprise Contact System (ECS).  So calling it CRM is stretching the definition a bit.

Looking at all the time and money spent on this system you would expect it to be highly valued and often used.  From my experience at a number of firms, this is not the case.
First issue: GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).  Lawyers do not care about updating their contact list any more than they need to get their jobs done.  Updating contacts increases their billings and income by … zero (in the short run).  This means only the contacts they are currently working with will be updated, and only on the information necessary for their work.  Job titles, company names and physical addresses are not typically kept current and duplicates may well exist.

Taking into account that some of this information is accurate – do lawyers spend time reviewing updates from the ECS to update their own contacts?  I refer you back to: “Updating contacts increases their billings and income by … zero.”

Taking a bigger leap of faith that enough info in our ECS is accurate, how much time do lawyers spend using this system to discover relationships for biz dev opportunities?  Once again – this is activity that “increases their billings and income by … zero”  (in the short run).

I’m not saying CRM couldn’t or shouldn’t have value for a law firm.  In fact, I believe quite the opposite since our business is all about relationships.  IMHO – law firm structures and compensation system do not reward or encourage this kind of behavior, so the money spent on CRM systems is mostly wasted.

Bottom line: CRM is a solution in search of a problem.  Until law firms recognize and define this problem, CRM will not be worth the time and money spent on it.
IT Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it?”
Once Again… CRM…

There is a reason why CRM has been labeled “largest shelfware product ever created.”  Firms have licensed it for all users only to have the core marketing department and a few attorneys using it.  The lofty descriptions of knowing and understanding our people knowledge assets turns into one giant centralized rolodex.  CRM is one of those projects that IT can implement perfectly from a technical perspective, but fail miserably as an overall project.

Part of the problem with most implementations is the initial goals are set impossibly high.  There are so many things that CRM can do, people want to accomplish them all.  Sometimes you’re trying to justify the huge price tag that came with the tool.  Ultimately it’s just not possible.  When I started my first CRM implementation, we started with something like 33 success goals.  By being realistic, seeing what was enforceable through the technology and what was reasonable to expect lawyers to do, we whittled it down.
By the time we actually deployed the tool, we were down to 3 or 4 goals.  Much more manageable, much more understandable by everyone involved.

Like any enterprise system, another key to success is overcoming the fear of lack of power of senior people, educating them how the system ultimately benefits them, their practice and the firm as a whole (and usually in that order).

CRM: it’s way more culture than technology.  To be successful you have to have teamed with marketing, provide a thorough education, have proper sponsorship at the senior leadership level, have taken into account your firm’s culture and your ability to affect change.  And even then it can fail in a spectacular way.

Records Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it?”
Excessive Document Retention / Failed Document Destruction

Law firms expend a good deal of money and effort with little resulting business value on the retention of paper documents. Long past the time when, under any rational records destruction management regime, they would be destroyed or recycled, they are maintained in file cabinets and off-site storage. It is an open secret among law firm records managers that many firms with formal document retention schedules have not actually “pulled the trigger” and implemented timed destruction of most classes of ancient client documents (by way of background, under such schedules a few rare documents such as wills and trusts and active contracts have an indefinite retention period, while documents like client correspondence or bills might have a retention period of 7 or 10 years after the close of the matter).

Why is this? No corporate owner would allow this situation to continue, because the cost of holding onto documents (not just the cost of third-party providers, but also the cost of the space at the firms themselves) is quite substantial and there is no obvious benefit from storing them.

I see two primary reasons.

The first is an unfortunate diffusion of organizational responsibility for risk management. Most law firms are not strict top-down heirarchies, but rather are collections of strong-minded independent professionals. Law firm administrative structures can be correspondingly diffuse. This works well for many functions, but not so well for risk management. Where there is a “General Counsel’s Office” or even a “Risk Management Partner,” the firm has (appropriately) delegated responsibility and maintained accountability for risk management to a single person or role. Such firms tend to have stronger records destruction practices. As recently noted at a PLI meeting looking at Pitney Bowes, making one person responsible for risk management ensures that one person at least has a vested interest in rationally reducing risk.

The second reason goes to a core aspect of being a lawyer. Lawyers are paid to worry about the worst that could happen in a given scenario, and figure out the best way to prevent those problems. Good lawyers may even be better than bad ones at identifying potential complications and worrying about them. When this attitude is applied to a client’s problems, the lawyer is fulfilling a natural and appropriate function, and the legal advice is an important factor for smart corporations to weigh in making business decisions.

And of course there are risks in destroying documents (particularly if there is no centralized “litigation hold” business process), but there are also risks in *not* destroying documents. For instance, a client’s records retention policy might result in the entirely lawful destruction of documents within the client’s repository, but a subpoena to the firm reveals that unfortunate non-privileged correspondence lived on, supporting client liability and distraction of suit where the client’s own policies would have prevented it.

Imagine that if a firm acts, the vast majority of the time things will turn out well, but there is a quite remote chance that something highly embarrasing and bad for business will occur. The lawyer’s attitude towards risk places a higher value on reducing or removing remote risks, rather than approaching risk by weighing it, together with the likelihood of occurence, against the business value obtained by acting.

Legal Marketing Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it ?”
Most of the seminars (and webinars) we hold

Before the marketers out there submit a nasty comment, hear me out.  I am a marketer and have managed hundreds of these events.  I do think they have value, but not necessarily the value they are sold on for most firms.

Many lawyers think that holding and/or participating in seminars gets them work.  The old story of how some piece of business came in the door due to a client attending a seminar is trotted out as evidence.  Right.  How much work comes in the door that way?  If you sell wills and trusts by holding seminars at senior centers, that might be true.  But even then, it takes post seminar effort to make that happen.  The vast majority of work that comes to a firm, comes in from relationship efforts, not seminars.

Seminars can be great tools for generating leads.  But they don’t close business.

Law firms tend to treat seminars as the beginning and end of the process.  I understand why.  Speaking at people (i.e. juries) is something lawyers do well and with which are comfortable.  Engaging in a dialogue about getting business is not that comfortable.  As might be expected, if given the choice, lawyers will always do another seminar over conducting follow up contacts.  On one occasion I had a lawyer ask for help in preparing yet another seminar.  I commented that the last seminar must have resulted in a good number of contacts.  The lawyer said they didn’t have time to make all those follow-up contacts.  Why?  They were too busy preparing seminars.

If seminars are part of a lead generation and follow-up process, they can have very high value.  In contrast, holding seminars so you and your firm can be viewed as experts has a different value.

My point is that expecting sales results from marketing efforts is not reasonable.  Firms should hold fewer seminars and spend more time having their lawyers engage in relationship efforts and ultimately getting business in the door.

(More) Legal Marketing Perspective
“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it ?”

With no plan or strategy, PR stands for little more than Press Release

Many law firms spend a great deal of money on marketing/public relations with little or no measureable return on their investment.  They operate with no real plan and they continue to do things as they always have, even though they have no idea whether what they did in the past actually worked.  Law firm marketing has turned to webinars as a way to cut costs.  I’m sure leveraging webinars has cut costs in some ways, but how effective are webinars with respect to getting new business for law firms?  Another great tool of law firm marketing – email campaigns.  This is viewed as a great way to inform interested parties of the various events coming up, but does it work?  I receive many emails daily and have little free time to look through all the emails that come to me unsolicited.  Do you really think the General Counsel (GC) of ABC Corp is poring through his or her emails looking for that next webinar?  To be effective, law firms need to connect with the people making the legal purchasing decisions.  Frequently that will be the GC, but many times it is not.  How do law firms know who makes the decision?  They do that by meeting people at the company, by researching the company and by talking to others in the community.  What do law firms do with that information once they have it?  At best they are putting the information into a CRM system, which gets very little use.  How about that ever popular website?  It must be all things to all people, therefore it provides little value to anyone.  How are law firms targeting these decision makers with websites?  They aren’t.  For many law firms a website is little more than a virtual billboard.

You can put adverts on the sides of buses and get business – that doesn’t mean it is an effective way to get business.

Cost Recovery (Library/IT/KM/Lawyer/Client) Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it ?”
Cost recovery systems/initiatives

Talk about a process in futility! Law firms are spending enormous amounts of money in the attempt to recover expenses incurred in the service of the client. Why don’t firms just treat this as the cost of doing business and either find a way to build it into the rates charged to the client, or just accept the fact that most of these charges are going to be written off by your own attorneys, or rejected by your clients anyway??

No one likes being nickeled-and-dimed when they read the bill you send them. Just think of the time that attorneys and administrative staff spend on recovery. Now add in the time that attorneys spend on reviewing the invoices, writing off charges and sending them back to accounting for adjustment. Now add in the time that your clients spend poring over the invoices and looking for expenses that they think you are trying to get away with. Add in those expensive resources you bought that attempt to track even more expenses to bill to your client, and you’ve got yourself a real time-waster, and a system that ends up making everyone frustrated and angry.

Just absorb expenses as costs of doing business and increase your rates….again!
Library/Attorney/Researcher Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it ?”
Having both Westlaw and Lexis

In the “good old days” it was a no-brainer to have both Westlaw and Lexis in your research tool chest, but the good old days are long gone! At one point, law firms could recover most (if not all) of the expenses related to having both products. Vendors and firms had the benefit of being able to pass costs along to the firm’s clients, and had no incentive to reduce duplication or control costs. Although the vendors would love to believe that this is still the case, I’m afraid they are sorely mistaken. Clients are going through invoices with a fine-toothed comb and rejecting expenses left and right.  That’s if the attorney in charge isn’t already admitting defeat and writing off the charges to avoid this fight with the client.

There are a couple of reasons that firms that have both services are giving to justify the enormous expense:

  1. We’re ‘risk-adverse’ and use both to make sure we don’t miss something.
  2. Partner ‘X’ will only use one of the services, while Partner ‘Y’ only uses the other.

As for point #1, I would ask how many times the research was conducted in both systems and checked to make sure that they ‘didn’t miss anything?’  Usual answer: Never. Most of the time, there is a way to purchase the specific information you need on an ad hoc basic, or buy the print version of that resource if available. You don’t have to buy the cow in order to drink a glass of milk.

As for point #2, my answer is grow-up!! If every partner took this approach, we’d be bankrupt as a firm. Having both research tools is a luxury that is no longer necessary for most firms. Time to determine if this is one of those traditional attitudes of a law firm that should have gone out the window when these same people were laying off attorneys and staff because the firm needed to trim down. Cutting the duplication of legal research tools will go a long way in really trimming the fat of firm’s overhead.

Wow… there was a lot to digest in this week’s Elephant Post (and we had more that we didn’t post this time around!!)

Agree?  Disagree? Got more to add?? Feel free to add your comments and see what others think.

This great post was due to the fact that we had a number of people contribute their answers, comments and perspectives. If you missed out on sharing your opinion this week, don’t worry… we have another topic brewing for every Thursday. 

Next week’s Elephant Post builds on the topic that we discussed recently on Vocational Law Schools:

“If I could have a day with a class of law students, this is what I would say that would help them once they enter the ‘real world’ of working in a law firm.”

Everyone seems to be picking on the way law schools prepare their graduates for the work force… but, what exactly would you do to help prepare graduates for the “real world?”

Got a perspective? Send me an email with your perspective and we’ll get it set up for next Thursday’s Elephant post.

It is nice of LexisNexis to give me a good example of how some IT/KM departments approach the problem of users not using the existing technology. I want to start off by giving a disclaimer that this isn’t a critique of the LexisNexis product (as I haven’t used it), but rather this is a general critique of trying to fix technology usage problems by adding another layer of technology.

LexisNexis’ Visualfiles is the latest project in the law firm IT/KM process of capturing documents (Interwoven), contacts (InterAction) and client matter information (Elite 3E & Internal Practice Management System) from the firm’s timekeepers. See if you can read between the lines on this product press release statement:

Once deployed, Visualfiles will be the default application that users will use to open any file or matter, seamlessly feeding information into Elite 3E, InterAction and Interwoven. This will provide users with a single, integrated business environment and allow them to record information efficiently and accurately for the benefit of the entire organisation.

To me, this says this: “Our people aren’t using all of the expensive databases that we’ve bought and supported for the past “xx” years, at a cost of $x million (or in this case £x million). Let’s add a new layer of technology that will seamlessly push the information into these systems.”
This fits right into the issue that we discussed earlier this week in “Has ‘IT’ Killed ‘KM’“.
Many firms have found themselves heavily invested in technology that their attorneys are simply not using. In other words, the existing technology is a failure, but we’ve invested so much time and so much money that instead of scrapping the technology and admitting failure, we need to put the existing technology on some type of virtual “life support”. All of this in order to keep the existing technology alive and somehow hope that this “life support” will bring everything back to life and justify the huge time, money and technology expense we’ve invested. In some industries this approach is called “throwing good money after bad.”
In defense of this approach, it should be noted that what I’m calling “failure” isn’t necessarily IT or KM’s fault. Most users (read: attorney) of these products refused to “automate” the capturing of data in the initial phases, and didn’t want to spend the upfront cost of bring in data stewards to make sure the data was “clean”. Therefore, the technology is ready to perform as promised, but the way the users actually use the technology is flawed. To paraphrase one of the oldest programming sayings of “garbage in – garbage out”… in this scenario, you can say “nothing in – nothing out.”
Perhaps this latest product of “automatic data collection” developed by LexisNexis will get around the users refusal to actually add their documents, contacts or client related data into these costly systems. However, if history tells us anything, never underestimate the users ability to work around the system. And, in return, never underestimate IT/KM’s ability to believe that one more layer of technology will make the existing systems finally work.

Based on a some past posts, Maciek Janowski reached out to show us the Calvis Blackberry (BB) App for InterAction. Greg and I enjoyed a brief and informative demo.

In terms of functionality, it is exactly what you would expect. Your lawyers can access the information and tools in InterAction directly from their BBs. As lawyers have become so mobile, it makes sense to bring the information and resource from InterAction straight to their mobile devices.

Technically, the app is also what you would expect. It has a small server footprint on your Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) and then a BB app that downloads to your device. Pretty simple. Maciek gave a recent example where the set-up took 2 hours for a firm and no additional hardware.

Money is always the next question. Law firms will pay an annual per seat price. Calvis has volume pricing – you can contact Maciek for more information on that.

Overall – InterAction on the BB makes sense. It opens up another layer of contact information for lawyers. Of course it will be a cost / benefit decision for each firm or lawyer.

One follow-up thought Greg and I had was generally on the relative lack of BB apps compared to iPhone apps. With BES – a lawyer has access inside the firewall which could mean access to a lot of enterprise information. Research actually turned up a number of BB apps like this (one as old as 2006). Our gut-level response is that BB is not leveraging its behind-the-firewall presence well. Perhaps its the functionality of the various BB apps or the cost to build them. Whatever it is – RIM better figure it out before the iPhone finds its way into the enterprise.

Since the first day I walked into a large law firm, I have been amazed at the vast amount of information that is compiled within the four walls of each of these firms.  Even more so, I’m am amazed at the normalization of the data that is compiled.  Each office has a specific designation number; as does each employee; each vendor; each client; each matter; each saved document; so on and so on.  This type of information can and should be the Holy Grail when it comes to building a knowledge tool and a competitive intelligence resource that will leverage existing information against the firm’s future challenges.  Remember, it sure helps to know where you are going, if you know where you’ve already been.

However, it seems that all of this normalization gets siloed into its own little database and becomes so compartmentalized that it looks to be almost impossible for one database of information to link to another.  Each piece of information usually begins as a unique process, such as a conflicts check, and it lives and dies within that space.  Even when we buy expensive third-party projects, like CRM tools, we tend to have issues normalizing the data we import into that resource because we tend to not structure our existing data in a way that allows it to play well with the other data (let alone the new information we are compiling.)
Just off the top of my head, here’s a list of information that firms compile and normalize:
  • Employees (Employee ID)
  • Offices (Office ID)
  • Clients (Client ID)
  • Matters (Matter ID)
  • Matter Type (Matter Type ID)
  • Practice Groups (Practice Group ID)
  • Adverse Parties (Conflict ID)
  • Vendors (Vendor ID)
  • Filed Cases (Docket ID)
  • Courts (Court ID)
  • Documents (Doc ID)
Now, there are probably a few dozen more specific data points that we compile into the multiple systems we use in the every day life of running a law firm.  
Let’s think about the external information that is out there that could also be used as a reference point:
  • Companies (DUNS ID; FEIN;)
  • Attorneys (BAR Number)
  • Individuals (SSN; Drivers License; e-mail)
Then there are more generic, but specific ID information out there:
  • Telephone Numbers
  • Zip Codes
  • Cities
  • States
  • Country
  • URL (abc-law.com)
The moral of this story is simple — ask yourself this question before you bring on a new database:

How can I link this new information to my existing information?

If there is no “hook” between the new and the old, then are you really serving the needs of your firm by bringing in this new database?  If you cannot tie an individuals information that is housed in your CRM to any of your existing databases, is the CRM really worth the huge investment (both time and money) you are putting into it??
As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, Knowledge Management, IT, and Competitive Intelligence professionals within the law firm need to create a strategy of making sure that each piece of data compiled can be connected to other pieces of data, regardless of which database that information resides.  If it cannot, then why purchase it?