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Welcome to the online café society

I am delighted to contribute to the new Legal IT Professionals website. Let me start by introducing myself and flagging up some of my current and ongoing projects and a very important upcoming event in the legal IT calendar.

Legal Technology Journal

I am the editor of Legal Technology Journal, a quarterly magazine from Legalease, publishers of Legal Business, The In-House Lawyer and the Legal 500 series. Legal Technology Journal is essential reading for everyone working in legal IT, with a readership of some 5,000.

Legal Technology Journal is going from strength to strength – the summer issue was a bumper issue with more case studies, articles and pages than ever before at a time when many publications are clearly struggling for content.

Additionally, Legal Technology Journal is proud to be associated with the 2009 Legal Technology Awards (more details below). This association evidences the shared belief that strong technological innovation underpins the continued growth of the most successful firms enabling them to maintain their outstanding performance and stay ahead of the pack. Legal Technology Journal supports and celebrates these inspired – and inspirational – law firms and suppliers at the Legal Technology Awards.

Legal Technology Journal focuses on real-world examples of best practice from the firms and individuals who are leading the way. I am always looking for case studies that demonstrate the benefits of harnessing cutting-edge technology. So if you have recently introduced a new system or application, or found an innovative way of utilising your existing technology and would like to share your success with LTJ’s readership, do send me an outline. Don’t let the fact that you’re pressed for time put you off. Each issue includes a profile interview with a leading light in legal IT, so if you can spare me half an hour, drop me an e-mail with a few sentences about what your firm is doing and I’ll be happy to talk – either on the phone or in person, depending on your location.

A quarterly magazine is not a full-time job, however. I also write for other publications and businesses in the legal and IT sector. Having just finished writing an e-learning course for law firms on e-mail and online communication, I have just embarked on a research report on tacit knowledge in law firms. This will explore, among other things, how developments in technology, including Web 2.0, help to make tacit knowledge explicit and consequently the extent to which these new applications are requiring us to rethink our definition of knowledge management.

How did I get here? In July, I attended a networking event, the highlight of which was a presentation by expert blogger Jon Ingham on the benefits of social networking and Web 2.0. Although I couldn’t bring myself to document my life on Facebook, I was inspired to venture into Web 2.0 by revitalising my dormant LinkedIn account and the results so far have been pretty impressive. I’ve made new contacts, got back in touch with former colleagues and MBA classmates and developed new business. And being approached to write this occasional column is another exciting new development.

CRM

I was recently invited to Portugal to make a presentation on hot topics in legal technology so having perused recent issues of LTJ as well as other magazines and online resources and taking some expert advice, I flagged up CRM (client relationship management) as one key area where cutting-edge technology supported by the right processes and behaviours can enhance a firm’s position in an increasingly competitive market by supporting existing client relationships and helping to develop new business. This has been the subject of a number of articles and case studies from leading firms. LexisNexis and Microsoft are among suppliers that have developed popular CRM solutions specifically designed for professional services.

There is general agreement that excellent CRM is supported by two pillars: relevant, up-to-date information (to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ syndrome) and effective search. By effective, I mean, giving users the type and amount of information that they need at the right time. This may seem straightforward, but it remains a genuine challenge in the modern workplace where everyone juggles with information overload and increasingly intrusive applications in a growing variety of media. Even in Microsoft Word if you spell something slightly differently – perhaps because it is a proper name that resembles a common noun – it is highlighted as a ‘mistake’ and you can prompt suggestions from the thesaurus to ‘help’ you. As a writer, I don’t always want to interrupt my train of thought to spell check – let alone do research – as I write. Nor do I want my copy to have any spelling mistakes. So I generally spell check my articles when I proof read. The same dilemma is multiplied in law firms, where lawyers have the additional complication of hourly billing. They are expected to provide thoughtful, insightful advice based on thorough, in-depth research, experience and expertise and carefully tailored to their clients’ specific requirements and preferences while at the same time keeping half an eye on the clock. They clearly need all the support they can get.

The latest CRM systems, underpinned by sophisticated search, integrate with other applications – practice management, document management, knowledge management expertise directories and even individuals’ Outlook folders – to bring together all the information about clients into a searchable, easily accessible format that supports lawyers’ efforts. Some make tacit knowledge explicit by mapping, for example, who in an organisation has the closest connections with key clients, who they contact most in the client organisation and the strength of the relationship. But can an algorithm really gauge the strength of a long-term relationship, particularly in the case of legal and other professional services, where the Holy Grail is to become the ‘trusted advisor’ to a loyal client following? That train of thought brings me back to my ongoing work on tacit knowledge. Now that technology is transforming information and know-how into data, how should we define tacit knowledge? Indeed, should we redefine our terminology? What sort of implicit knowledge really makes a difference in the law firm environment and how can we capture it, retain it, make (some of) it explicit and leverage it in a way that benefits the business?

Green IT

The environment is a hot topic (sorry!) in legal IT, as elsewhere. Law firms and suppliers are rising to the burgeoning challenge of ‘green IT’ – i.e. making technology energy efficient, reducing the firm’s carbon footprint and supporting its CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts. As well as adopting ‘green’ procurement and recycling policies, many firms’ energy saving efforts have been underpinned by the rapid adoption of virtualisation technology, which also saves money in terms of fuel bills and office space as well as supporting consistency, business continuity and disaster recovery. As virtual servers mean that systems and applications can be replicated across all a firm’s offices, backed up by offsite data centres, they mean less hardware to run, maintain and, importantly, cool down. As well as saving energy – and costs – this reduces the need for air conditioning, producing a healthier working environment. Citrix is also commonly described as ‘green’ technology, reducing face-to-face meetings and journeys to work by enabling by allowing remote access to a virtual desktop. Technologies that reflect our concern with the environment while offering the flexibility and mobility demanded by the net generation are shaping the 21st century workplace, transforming the 20th century ‘Nine to Five’ office into something reminiscent of an online café society.

Legal Technology Awards

Finally, I’d like to flag up that nominations for the 2009 Legal Technology Awards open on 8th September. There are 26 award categories for law firms, IT/KM teams, IT directors/knowledge officers and suppliers including one for the best CSR initiative. Nominations close on 24th October, and the nomination forms can be downloaded from the awards website www.legaltechnologyawards.co.uk. A shortlist will be published in mid-November and ‘dragon’s den’ style presentations followed by a gala awards dinner will take place on Thursday 29th January. It’s a terrific event, a fantastic networking opportunity and even better if you win!

It would be great to see you there. Meanwhile, if you have any feedback or would like to suggest any themes or topics for this column or Legal Technology Journal, it would be lovely to hear from you. I can be reached via LinkedIn or by e-mail.

Joanna Goodman

September 2008

 

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