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How KM can deliver the wow factor!

Joanna GoodmanLegal IT columnist Joanna Goodman attended KM Legal Europe, Managing Partner’s annual two-day knowledge management event

KM Legal Europe in Amsterdam concentrated on the role of knowledge management (KM) to identify and exceed clients’ expectations. The themes were familiar but the perspective has shifted – towards client-facing initiatives. Conference chair Dr. Raffael Büchi, Head of Know-How & Business Development at Bär & Karrer, Switzerland highlighted the blurring lines between KM and other business support functions, particularly marketing and business development. Legal KM is looking for continuous improvement and broadening its focus to help deliver the ‘Wow factor’ that differentiates them from the competition. This review is a snapshot of a highly interactive event – bringing together knowledge professionals from law firms and corporate legal teams across Europe to share ideas and insights. 

Getting everyone into the KM kitchen

Collaboration is an ongoing challenge. The first keynote, by Alicia Hardy, Director of Professional Support at White & Case, offered practical insights into developing a global KM culture. Hardy advocated rolling out initiatives by office and practice group and highlighted the critical role of PSLs in facilitating widespread adoption of KM tools and systems. Positioning KM at the heart of the organisation means communicating its value at every opportunity and at every level. This includes obtaining top-level management and partner support to ensure KM’s place on the strategic agenda. White & Case’s knowledge ambassadors are embedded in business functions and practice groups. Hardy quoted her colleague, CKO Oz Benamram, visualising engagement as ‘getting everyone into your kitchen’.

Driving process improvement

KM drives process improvement. At White & Case, matter pathways are online guides through different types of transaction. Why matter pathways, not knowledge pathways? Hardy explained that the firm deals in matters, not documents or precedents. Matter pathways establish a workflow – the order of doing things – from first instruction through to electronic closing binders, and include links to related resources. 

Involving teams and clients in after-action is a critical success factor. Tara Pichardo-Angadi, Head of Knowledge (EMEA) at Norton Rose Fulbright and Tom Slate, Continuous Improvement Director at Clifford Chance, demonstrated how combining KM and continuous improvement methodologies can improve and standardise processes. Their application of this hybrid approach to the delivery of banking legal opinions echoed Hardy’s matter pathways and demonstrated a strong reliance on communication and engagement, as changing client requirements and process improvements were shared across the firm.

Measurement and the feedback loop

You can’t put a precise value on KM, but you can measure its effectiveness through user and client feedback. Stuart Hopper, Director of Knowledge Management, Global M&A Practice Group at Baker & McKenzie uses the DMAIC methodology – Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control – to develop client-centric services. Historically the law firm approach to client feedback was ‘if no-one is complaining, we’re doing a good job’! But this is changing. Hopper flagged up CMS Cameron McKenna’s website which publishes real client feedback.  

KM Europe 2015

Interactive discussions included who should handle client surveys, particularly who should ask the questions when it comes to qualitative research – was this a job for the marketing function, KM or the partner themselves? Or should it be outsourced? The advantage of this is that the interviewer will be impartial, experienced at asking the right questions and likely to get a frank response. However, context is king and a partner, fee earner or PSL will understand the client organisation and its relationship with the firm. Although lawyers are generally articulate, they require training in communication skills and briefing on what the firm can deliver, otherwise they tend to over promise. 

Departments need to coordinate their efforts – to avoid survey fatigue. Strong emphasis was placed on after-action reviews for transaction and project teams and the using the results to improve client service. As Hopper said, not asking is better than getting feedback and not acting on it. 

Tara Pichardo-Angadi led a related session on using key performance indicators (KPIs) for KM. This covered client facing technology – collaboration tools between different offices and practice groups as well as between firms and clients. These included Microsoft SharePoint and Lync as well as legal specific tools such as HotDocs metadata tracking – so when a document is shared you can track the metadata, even when a document comes back into the organisation. One issue arose regarding email updates on sectors and practice areas. Although some firms enable clients to choose the topics and the frequency of these updates, it is important to realise that they will most likely be getting similar emails from multiple firms, so it might be worth using an aggregator like Linex to manage the feeds. As law firms generally have more sophisticated KM resources than corporate law departments, there may be the opportunity to advise clients on their systems and processes.


Engaging clients: innovation and the wow factor!

The corporate legal department is akin to a law firm embedded in the organisation, with the general counsel as the managing partner. Contributions from in-house counsel, notably Lara Nicholls, Global Know How Counsel at Shell, demonstrated how KM helps to position the legal department at the heart of the business. 

Ian Rodwell, Head of Client Knowledge and Learning at Linklaters, presented research findings in  ‘Knowledge to Action: Increasing the Value of Legal Knowledge to Business’, a report based on interviews with over 25 GCs. Rodwell observed that clients’ requirements, and indeed their expectations, vary considerably. This meant developing an in-depth understanding of each client’s business and market. 

Innovation is a term that is often misinterpreted, particularly in respect of legal services. Kate Stanfield, Head of Knowledge Management at CMS Cameron McKenna, presenting on using innovation to support legal KM, observed that innovation is not necessarily the result of a ‘lightbulb moment’ and includes both incremental and radical change. The core component is associational thinking – the ability to make connections between seemingly unconnected things.  

Stanfield identified three phases of innovation: invention, implementation and diffusion/adoption. She agreed with Hardy that the biggest challenge is adoption, embedding new ways of working into day-to-day activities. Although her presentation focused on three areas where innovation can support legal KM - people management, transforming the back office and systemic organisation – ultimately innovation depends on the human factor: developing a culture that accepts change and getting people involved. 

Stanfield sees outsourcing as delegating innovation, having outsourced CMS Cameron McKenna’s back office to Integreon, moved to Integreon to run the outsourced service and subsequently returned to her previous role when the function was insourced again. She explained the need for a systemic perspective using this illustration of ‘not my problem’ behaviour whereby problems in one specific area can derail a whole project! Clearly it was not somebody’s job to move the branch out of the road.

One way of avoiding the ‘not my problem’ culture is to ensure that individuals recognise how their role contributes to the organisation’s success and are rewarded for their contributions. 

Knowledge as a differentiator

Top-notch legal knowledge is the baseline. Clients then look for the differentiators. The recurring dilemma for firms was how much extra to share. Hopper at Baker & McKenzie believes that the first step is finding out what clients are actually prepared to pay for, and what they consider to be differentiators. Knowledge was repeatedly described as a firm’s ‘crown jewels’ – but it is also a key product that firms sell their clients.  Linklaters’ Knowledge to Action report defines knowledge as “the key commodity that passes between lawyers and their clients” and explores how KM can help position the corporate legal team at the heart of the business. 

Rodwell presented seven KM principles for law firms and GCs:

  1. Make knowledge centre stage – this means relating legal expertise to the company’s strategic direction and priorities.
  2. Know the business – Rodwell gave an example of a corporate counsel joining a pharmaceutical company being sent out with a salesman selling pills to doctors. When he asked why this was necessary, he was told, “If we don’t sell any pills we won’t need any lawyers!”
  3. Communicate appropriately – align communication to business outcomes 
  4. Use secondments wisely – KM secondments can be from law firm to client and vice versa. Rodwell explained that placing KM secondees in client legal teams provides valuable insights into clients’ working practices and recalled one secondee finding the client’s open-plan paperless office something of a culture shock! A significant challenge is getting feedback from secondees at the end of a secondment. The report recommends simple reporting mechanisms and constructive debriefs. Rodwell suggested getting secondees to share their impressions via Facetime. 
  5. Be a role model – creating knowledge key performance indicators (KPIs) helps.
  6. Create the global corridor – if your office is next to the toilet, you meet everyone! We find it easier to collaborate with people we have met. Linklaters creates opportunities for people from different offices to meet face-to-face through training seminars, practice group meetings and so on. The challenge is to replicate that online. Video helps, as do internal social media tools such as Yammer.
  7. Seek collaboration – look for opportunities to blur boundaries. Internally, Rodwell arranged for a client to present at a PSL meeting. Externally, firms are increasingly working together on client work. This is great in principle, but it raises issues around confidentiality and competition.

Food for thought

Other sessions covered included project management and software contracts – two areas where the IT department leads the way. Other interesting presentations covered topics that are swiftly rising up the law firm agenda: Jo van der Spiegel, Knowledge Manager at Claeys & Engels discussed the challenges and opportunities around big data – analysing the massive volume of data that firms are required to retain and visualising the outcomes – and Steve Kuncewicz, Head of IP and Media at Bermans, presented social media for global engagement, within the organisation and externally. 

Unlike some events where celebrity keynote speakers trot out well-rehearsed platitudes loosely adapted to the legal sector, KM Legal Europe was practical, relevant, client centric and interactive – and that sounds like a mantra for legal KM.

Thanks are due to Leah Darbyshire, Sabina Begum and the team at Ark Group for an interesting and enjoyable event. The next Ark Group KM event is KM Legal in London on 20-21 May 2015.

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