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Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Thoughts on Full Text Retrieval (a KM and litigation support topic)

Most knowledge managers say that KM is 80% process/culture and 20% technology. I agree and usually focus on the 80%. One of the interesting 20% issues is the appropriate role for and expectations of full-text retrieval systems in KM. (This issue also applies to managing documents in discovery.)

Broadly speaking, search tools fall into two classes: simple and advanced. By simple, I mean software that allows Boolean and proximity searches, which means using “connectors” such as AND, OR, NOT, NEAR, WITHIN, etc. By advanced, I mean software that finds related words (and therefore documents that do not contain the search terms), distinguishes among related meanings of individual words, and applies advanced methods to rank how relevant documents are. The latter use pattern-matching techniques, neural networks, state space vector analysis, and other approaches.

Although I have worked with full-text software for over a dozen years, I have two lingering question:
1. What is the incremental value of sophisticated search over simple search and
2. How much upfront investment is required to get the sophisticated search to provide that incremental benefit. The "upfront investment" includes cost of software, set-up/integration, user training, and perhaps most important, the need (in some systems) to build taxonomies or provide training documents that are already categorized.

Answering this question, which in my opinion is an empirical, not theoretical matter, is expensive. Ideally, one would create test data sets containing large collections of documents, each of which was well known to a few individuals. Then you would run different search engines against each, letting the knowledgeable people “drive.” Ideally, a statistician would help set up the test and measure the results.

Some law firms have tested some advanced engines and they tell me that they have been under whelmed. And at a recent trade show, the rep for a fancy search said that his product usually does not work that much better than plain Boolean and his company no longer pushes the search feature and instead focuses on other features. Sobering.

All this having been said, I do believe that there is probably value in using sophisticated search tools. It depends on the nature of the collection and the level of training of the folks doing searches. Over a decade ago at Wilmer Cutler & Pickering, we developed one of the first integrated scan-OCR-full/text-structured/db systems. We found that, in the right hands, using a sophisticated search tool was better than a simple one. “In the right hands” was key though – without knowledge and/or training, the advanced engine was not that useful. Given some recent reports show that most users of most search engines don't do more than one or two word searches, it may be the power of advanced engines needs more support than we think.

What we need as a profession is a mechanism to perform real-world tests, both on how the search tools perform under the most favorable conditions and how they work when actual users operate them. Unfortunately, this is costly and the incentives and structures to do so just do not exist.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Consistency in Service Delivery

Last week I posted an item, When Clients Come Knocking, that suggested law firms could take standard approaches to how they perform their work and that clients could, and should, "audit" these processes. So yesterday, I was struck by an article in the New York Times called Monitoring Calls in New World of Quality Assurance. It describes how customer call centers have started going beyond merely monitoring calls for service quality. They now use specialized software that records both the voice and computer data sessions with the goal of mining "customer interactions for insights into ways to improve their business."

Supervisors and analysts can use the software to reconstruct customer interactions and see how well service reps performed. An airline uses it to check whether agents are sufficiently well trained always to find the lowest fare; hospitals or insurers use it to make sure their reps understand HIPAA requirements; and financial service companies use it to make sure "their employees are going by the book."

So, why do I mention this? On the one hand, being a professional means exercising independent judgement about how to accomplish a task. On the other hand, I believe it is demonstrable that there are better (if not best) ways of doing certain tasks. Doctors are held to a high standard in how they perform their duties. As a junior management consultant years ago, joining with a class of MBAs from the leading schools, we were all pretty much told how to do a lot of tasks and closely supervised. Some of my friends have pointed out that the law is a guild. I've disagreed, saying that at least in the age of the guild, the seniors truly taught the juniors how to perform the craft.

The point is that few law firms establish best practices, much less even closely monitor how their lawyers perform the work. Anecdotally, I sense that more firms are hiring professional development directors and taking CLE and training more seriously, which is certainly a step in the right direction. I am not suggesting that firms use the software described in the Times article. But I think this article does illustrate the direction corporations are moving. And as client move to more rigorous analysis of their businesses, how long will it be before they expect the same of their service providers?

Of course, for firms that do want to move toward standard practices, technology will play an important role.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Online Legal Services: Distinguishing B2C from B2B

A recent article on law.com, Online Divorce Services Spark Debate, discusses Web sites that offer consumers assistance with divorces via document creation. The two sites featured in the article are CompleteCase and legalzoom. The article explores the pros and cons of self-help sites: "Pioneers of the services claim that it is an affordable alternative to exorbitant legal fees. Many divorce attorneys say potential customers ought to beware, because divorce is a complicated process that requires legal counsel."

Business to consumer (B2C) legal sites have raised ethical concerns since the first sites went live in the dot-boom. But business-to-business (B2B) sites, that is large law firms offering online services to their clients, likely raise fewer issues. The online services offered by large law firm typically deliver advice via in-house counsel or directly to sophisticated business users; in either event, the use of the service typical is part of an established attorney-client relationship. Consequently, large law firms offering or considering offering online services to their corporate clients probably face fewer ethical considerations than a B2C site.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

When Clients Come Knocking

Last week I met with some knowledge managers for large law firms. One reported that the General Counsel of an existing client, in connection with the firm possibly doing additional work, would be paying the firm a visit. The GC was coming for a full day to see how this firm "did KM."

In my experience, this is unusual. But I think it's a good idea. In-house counsel are increasingly concerned with the cost and effectiveness of their outside counsel. Budgets, alternate fee arrangements, and analysis of law firm bills only go so far in controlling costs. At least in more complex matters, these tools seem limited because it is so hard to know in advance exactly what tasks will be required and how long each should take. Consequently, paying attention to the process seems at least as important as evaluating the "outputs" such as results and costs. By this I mean that in-house counsel should pay attention to how their outside firms do work.

I suspect that if a GC visited several firms, he or she would see significant differences in the processes law firms use to work. One could even imagine formally analyzing the processes to determine best practices across firms. It seems likely that the firms using better processes will produce better results at a lower cost. So I commend this GC for taking the time to inspect in detail how a firm does it work. Perhaps if this happened with regularity, firms would invest more in training their lawyers, analyzing how they work, and developing standard approaches and best practices. And that would likely significantly lower costs while improving results. Of course, in this scenario, various technologies would play an important role.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Selecting Vendors and Taking Chances

Yesterday I wrote about the difference between making good decisions and achieving good outcomes. I am reminded of another example of this distinction by a Jim Rapoza eWeek column (July 14th issue), Choose Excellence. He discusses the interplay between innovation and vendor size, complaining that many IT buyers do not consider quality or innovation sufficiently in their purchase decision. Instead, they tend to select products from established vendors, "even if the product is mediocre." He sights the old saw that "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM." Yet often smaller, less well-known, and perhaps smaller vendors may offer superior products at lower prices. He does not say it, but these buyers are worried about bad outcomes flowing from their good decisions.

Law firm and department technology managers can face the same issue. When they consider vendor options, they should remember that “big and established” is no guarantee of continuity. For example, one of the first document management products designed for law firms, SoftSolutions, started as an independent company. It was purchased by WordPerfect, which in turn was purchased by Novell. Novell then "upgraded" SoftSolutions in a way that made the product no longer useable by law firms. More recently, Hummingbird, an established technology company, discontinued the development of its Corporate Law Pack product, stranding some 150 or more corporate law departments. (See Ado Over LawPack).

And companies that start small do not always stay that way. When iManage first came to market, some firms were reluctant to consider the product because it came from a software start-up. Yet iManage now is an established player in document management (and is publicly traded).

For me, the lesson is to focus first on the software features and the services the vendor provides. If a particular vendor appears to have the most attractive offering but may be small, most law firms and departments are well-equipped to analyze the business stability and protect their interests (for example, through source code escrow agreements). In short, make a good decision and hope for a good outcome.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Maxim of the Day: Outcomes versus Decisions

My approach to legal technology has always been informed, in this order, by what lawyers need to practice, by business considerations, and lastly by the technology itself. Recently, I was thinking of some maxims and catch phrases when I realized that many apply to strategic legal technology. So, I am starting an occasional post called “Maxim of the Day.”

When I first studied litigation risk analysis (for more info, see Marc Victor’s Web site) I learned "to distinguish good decisions from good outcomes." This seems surprisingly simple. Yet many seem not to understand the difference.

You have to evaluate the quality of a decision based on the information available at the time you made it. Not all good decisions result in good outcomes. If a good decision leads to a bad outcome, that does not mean the decision was bad. Similarly, achieving a good outcome does not necessarily mean you made a good decision. The decision may have been bad and you merely got lucky.

One legal technology example concerns whether and when to invest in building a database to manage and analyze documents. Many litigators postpone too long the decision to build a document database, thinking the case may settle or there may not be that many relevant documents. Both may be true but in my experience, not building the database is usually a bad decision. That's because usually there are a lot of documents and usually cases don't settle before a significant amount of discovery. On average therefore, I have found that it pays to build databases relatively early in a case.

Of course, there will be times that a litigator decides not to and the case settles soon thereafter. While it may seem that money has been saved, that does not make the decision good, it just means luck saved time and money. Against these “lucky” outcomes one must balance the cases where lawyers or paralegals wastefully spend hundred or thousands of hours manually reviewing documents – with few controls over the process – because there is no database to cull the documents and record lawyer comments and designations of privilege, responsiveness, or issues.

I have a personal example as well. In the early 1990s when I was at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, I ordered 10 copies of Lotus Improv, taking advantage of a new product introductory offer. Improv was a “revolutionary” spreadsheet that allowed entering formulas in an easier way and allowed easy data slicing and dicing. I was convinced that if I had the copies in hand, I would find lawyers who would want to use the product. Before I could proselytize and demo its advantages, Excel started gaining market share rapidly over Lotus. And then Microsoft put “Pivot Table” features in Excel, which replicated many of Improv’s innovative features. We soon switched the whole firm to Excel from Lotus 1-2-3 and the copies of Improv I had ordered were “wasted.” I like to think that decision was good, but just had a bad outcome. At the time I ordered them, there was no way to know what would happen with Excel.

The more general moral here is that legal technology managers and strategists as well as their bosses - executive directors, COOs, and managing partners - need to understand that not all decisions work out well. And not all good outcomes are the result of good decisions.

Monday, July 21, 2003

KM Flash: LexisNexis Announces Total Search - Appears to Compete with West KM

In a July 14th press release, LexisNexis announced a new service, Total Search. According the the press release, "LexisNexis Total Search provides easy access to internal work product including briefs, pleadings and memoranda while simultaneously searching the comprehensive and authoritative content available from LexisNexis." I have not had an opportunity to evaluate this product, but it appears positioned to compete head on with West KM.
Legal Technology and Organizational Change (Interesting McKinsey Quarterly Article)

Many law firms and law departments are interested in applying technology to improve law practice. Sometimes, new technology is merely a matter of a bit of back-end technical work and user training. Such changes do not require organizational or behavioral changes. An example of this is switching word processors or document comparison software.

Sometimes, however, gaining the benefit of new technology requires significant change. Firms and department can run into problems when they expect to reap rewards but do not understand this. For example, some firms and departments start a knowledge management initiative expecting that they will be able to capture and re-use valuable expertise and documents without changing lawyers’ behavior. Often, that does not work.

A McKinsey Quarterly article, The Psychology of Change Management (2003, Number 2), provides useful insights into the steps required to change organizational behaviors. Firms that deploy technology that requires behavioral change should consider the lessons presented here. The article points out that is not enough to ask for change. Rather, organizations must take four steps:
(1) persuade people that the change is desirable,
(2) align the reward and recognition systems,
(3) create compelling role models, and
(4) train people in new skills.
For anyone trying to engineer change, this article is worth reading (free registration required).

Separately, an article in Optimize magazine (July 2003) covers some similar ground. The IT Productivity Gap argues that IT pay-offs are only "realized when the IT investment is coupled with new strategies and business and organizational processes."

Friday, July 18, 2003

Extranets at Work at Shaw Pittman LLP

Many law firms offer their clients extranets. Anecdotal evidence among law firm knowledge managers and IT professionals is that clients do not use them very much. Perhaps that is because most extranets are focused on exchanging documents. For that, e-mail will do (or at least that is the view of most lawyers).

My July 12th post described how Morrison & Foerster created a popular extranet by populating it with a patent docket. Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to see how another firm, Shaw Pittman LLP, has created extranets that are used because they do more than share documents. Three examples are noteworthy.

For a large real estate company, the firm uses an extranet to track the client’s multiple legal entities and each entity’s property holdings. The same system also tracks key dates for rights and obligations in leases. For both the firm and the client, the extranet is the sole and central repository for this information.

For a large financial services company, the firm hosts an extranet for a particular type of high-volume transaction. Most transactions have multiple parties and require multiple types of documents. The extranet tracks all parties and documents and uses checklists to make sure each deal is complete.

And finally, for a retail franchise operation, the firm uses an extranet to assist its client in trademark enforcement. There is a relatively high volume of potential or actual infringements. The extranet is used to manage background research, the issuance of cease and desist letters, and follow-up to the letters.

Shaw Pittman LLP develops its extranets using Lotus Notes/Domino, which it adopted in 1996. The firm has a group of Notes/Domino developers who know how to use the platform to quickly create easy-to-use customized systems to meet specific needs.

It is clear that all of these systems are used regularly by the firm, its clients, and third parties. And that regular use demonstrates the value of the technology to help cement client relationships.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

RFID and Presence Detection

Reading the July/August issue of Law Practice Management magazine, an interesting ad caught my eye. On page 3, 3M corporation advertises RFID to track paper files.

RFID means Radio Frequency Identification. This is a passive chip that, when subject to a radio query, broadcasts back identification information. It's likely to replace bar codes for many applications. This is not a futuristic technology that may or may not happen. It's here. Though there have been bumps (see Wal-Mart Cancels RFID Trial As Companies Get Realistic About The Technology in the July 14th issue of Internet Week, many consumer product manufacturers continue to test the viability of RFID tags to track pallets now and perhaps individual consumer units in the future. The 3M ad suggests that law firms tag files or boxes with RFID so they can always be found.

So much for background. Just last week I was meeting with a law firm about some tech issues. A partner expressed interest in knowing who was in the office via a Web-based, check-in/check-out system. Since we had our "vision hats" on, we talked about the possibility that lawyers might someday wear RFID tags and the building would "know" if they are in our out and where they are. Of course, this raises many privacy concerns and I am not sure this is a good idea. But certainly the technology is available if the goal is to know - automatically - if someone is available.

Along these lines, instant messaging offers a similar feature - presence detection. That is, most IM programs broadcast whether a user is available or not. Various features are available to control revealing this information or automatically sending a message that you are away from the PC (because, for example, you have not touched a key in 20 minutes). I know that many firms have tried or actually rolled out IM, but I am not sure many are using this feature.

I would be curious to hear if anyone has reactions [not flames:-)] to using RFID or IM presence detection in a law firm. [By the way, I am working on upgrading my blog to allow comments and other features.]

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Make versus Buy for Legal Techology

In my prior post, I reported that Linklaters is building its own knowledge management software. Reading this article prompted me to think about the decision to make versus buy software, a decision most organizations face. Law firms and law departments are no different.

For many categories of software, the decision is obvious. It’s hard to imagine “making” e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation software. But for many software categories, the decision is less obvious. For example, some law firms have created their own document management software and some law departments have created their own matter management systems even though commercial products are available for both.

As a general rule, there are seveal reasons why I believe it is better to buy than to make:
  • Vendors typically develop deeper expertise than any one customer can.

  • Vendors have incentives to keep products current, both by introducing new features and updating them so that they work with new operating systems or new versions of companion software.

  • Vendors are better positioned to provide support and maintenance.

  • Developing software is not an easy process and most law firms and law departments are not structured to facilitate the process. Keeping internal developers focused on a project in the face of competing demands (development or maintenance) can be hard. Furthermore, documenting home grown systems sometimes never happens.

  • Nonetheless, there are times when developing software makes sense. For example, it may be less expensive because an organization will only create a fraction of the features that the vendor choices provide. Or the needs of the customer may be unique and tailoring the vendor product not worth the effort.

    It would be interesting to know what drove Linklaters to make rather than buy.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2003

    KM at Linklaters – Developing a Customized System

    Continuing my reading of the July 14th issue of Legal IT (UK), I came across another interesting feature article. Knowledge Management: Capturing knowledge describes how Linklaters is creating its own knowledge management software. The firm's system uses both a taxonomy for classification and full-text searching. It interacts with other firm systems including HR, customer relationship management (CRM), and document management (DMS). Users will be able to personalize the interface.

    This sounds like a significant undertaking. It would be interesting learn what commercial products the firm considered and how it approached the decision to develop its own software. In my next posting, I will offer some thoughts about the make versus buy decision for legal technology.

    Monday, July 14, 2003

    Wither KM?

    The July 14th issue of Legal IT (UK) has a feature article by Matthew Parsons of interest to knowledge managers. Knowledge Management: Measuring success reports on KM cutbacks at US firms.

    The article notes that in March of this year, Jones Day eliminated its 2-year old, multi-million dollar knowledge management program. Writing that this "pattern is being repeated in other US law firms," the article then reports that, prior to its demise, Brobeck lost its CKO. Given the ultimate demise of Brobeck, it's not clear how much weight to ascribe to that data point. Any two points indeed form a line, but I am not convinced that there is trend here. While US firms do struggle with KM, and Jones Day has made this cutback, and there has been staffing changes among knowledge managers at other firms, my impression is that law firm interest and investment is growing on balance, not shrinking.

    This quibble aside, the article is worth reading for its analysis of the role of KM in a large law firm. I do not agree with every point made but the article covers a lot of ground and raises several interesting ideas.

    Sunday, July 13, 2003

    LexisNexis Acquires Applied Discovery

    LexisNexis announced in a July 11, 2003 press release that it has acquired Applied Discovery, an e-discovery company.

    I have always been struck by the seeming fragmentation of the e-discovery and litigation support market. My recollection is that a couple of bigger companies tried a roll-up (consolidation) in the mid- to late-1990s but that the market nonetheless remained fragmented. In the age of paper, litigation support was primarily about process and labor. As such, it is not clear that scale mattered all that much.

    Now, with digital data, litigation support is becoming more focused around process and technology. Arguably, with technology playing a bigger role, scale matters more. A bigger company can invest more to develop software. And with this merger, there is the potential for synergies between both LexisNexis technology and content and e-discovery enhancements. That said, there are plenty of smaller players developing interesting technologies that are useful in e-discovery. Many an entrepreneur would say that scale works against technological innovation.

    It will be interesting to see how the market evolves with a much bigger company now involved. From the law firm or law department as customer perspective, there seems to be little apparent downside. There is no lack of choice of vendors and this merger may create new offerings or spawn other transactions with the potential to create new competition on features or price.

    Saturday, July 12, 2003

    Making Law Firm Extranets Work

    Many law firms have established extranets designed to share documents and other information with clients. The anecdotal consensus among law firm technology managers is that neither clients nor firm lawyers have used these extranets as much as had been expected. The generally accepted explanation for this is that lawyers - both inside and outside counsel - are wed to e-mail and do not want to bother with multiple interfaces.

    In the current issue of Law Technology News, the CIO of Morrison & Foerster, Jo Haraf, describes in The Killer App? (note, free registration required to view full-text) how her firm's extranet evolved. The initial extranet was not used much. But when the firm put its patent docket on the extranet, clients were excited and started using the extranet regularly. With the success of the patent docket in hand, MoFo is moving to make its litigation docket available via the extranet.

    Technology is an important tool for law firms to master in serving clients. Achieving success, however, is not necessarily easy; first attempts do not always work. But those firms that listen to their clients and to new ideas generated internally and that are willing to keep trying can succeed.

    Friday, July 11, 2003

    The Virtual Law Library

    Law.com has posted an interesting article from The National Law Journal by Elizabeth D. Kenney, the director of libraries at Dechert in New York. In her article, Revolution or Evolution for Law Libraries, the author offers a useful discussion of the trade-off between the "digital" or "virtual" library versus traditional print products.

    A key point is to understand what lawyers need: "A potentially money-saving move away from print resources to online services seems particularly attractive these days. The difficulty comes when a firm focuses on one type of format or the other, without doing sufficient library due diligence." I second this idea.

    Some years ago I was very impressed with the approach of my colleague Jean O'Grady, the Director of Information Services at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. She wanted to get a better sense of how often certain print volumes were being used so that she could make an informed decision about whether to continue updating them. She placed a paper band around some of the volumes. On the band, printed clearly, was a statement to the effect that the library was conducting a useage survey and if anyone needed the book, they should simply tear the band. Measures like this, combined with more traditional circulation control systems, helped provide a solid analytic basis for deciding what print to keep.

    I also second the point in the article that training is essential. Online searching is not always intuitive. I have met lawyers who do not understand the basics of Boolean searching (that is, combining key words with connectors such as AND, OR, and NOT and using parentheses), even though they should have learned this in law school. Just yesterday, I spoke to a contact at a large law firm who told me - with some mortification - that one lawyer had no idea of what using quotes around a search term would do in Google or other search engines. Unfortunately, this incident is not an isolated event.

    In my experience, the themes of collecting data (whether formally or informally) to make informed decisions and training users are consistent across both basic and advanced uses of legal technology.

    Thursday, July 10, 2003

    Legal Outsourcing in the News (Again)

    The July 2003 issue of Corporate Legal Times in an article titled U.S. Companies Dsicover Cost Savings Down Under, describes how General Mills is saving up to 50% on outside lawyer fees by using Australian and New Zealand law firms to draft US patent applications. Lawyer rates there are 30% less than in the US and the exchange rate adds to the savings.

    A sidebar to the article reports that GE has saved $1.7 million in outside lawyer fees in the Plastics and Consumer Finance units by sending basic legal work to GE lawyers in India. (See my prior post on this topic.)

    Large corporations are under tremendous cost pressures, which transmit to law departments. I think the surprise is not that legal work is being outsourced. Rather, it is that a much larger volume is not sent offshore. Corporate America is not the only one to feel cost pressures. The current issue of American Lawyer, the annual AmLaw 100 issue, reports that one reason many law firms were able to increase profits in 2002 was careful cost control.

    Technology easily allows sending documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and the other raw materials of lawyers' work anywhere there is an Internet connection. That same connection also allows anyone to access online legal research services, collaborative tools such as extranets, or even formal work flow systems that control document flows.

    Certainly the legal market has seen many other significant structural changes, for example, the use of staff attorneys and the growing ranks of non-equity partners. Not every AmLaw 100 firm works on unique matters and even those that do perform some elements of commoditized work. Which global law firm will be the first to test seriously routing work to lower cost locations?

    Wednesday, July 09, 2003

    Back to the Future - Imaging Returns

    Reading the June 23, 2003 issue of Information Week magazine was a trip down memory lane for me. An article titled Imaging Gets a Second Look reports on renewed interest in imaging. In the early 1990s when I worked at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, I was deeply involved in developing one of the first litigation support systems to integrate scanning, images, optical character recognition (OCR), full-text, and structured data. At the time, imaging was technically challenging but clearly the superior means of dealing with paper-based discovery in litigation. By the mid 90s, with the advent of the Web, interest in imaging among business-at-large waned.

    Now, according to Information Week, the pressure to operate more efficiently is causing many businesses to take “a fresh look at some more mature, established technologies such as document capture and imaging software.”

    Law firms too are looking again at scanning and image management. Ideally, this should not be necessary – everything should start and remain digital. But that is not realistic. So firms must still manage paper. In an effort to improve operations, some firms use scanning to share and distribute incoming documents (such as pleadings) as images or as part of a coherent records retention strategy.

    In my opinion, the “file copy,” that is, the final retained version of client and client-related documents would be only digital – either files in native format or scanned images. Of course, this means having human processes to scan documents and to serve as gatekeepers that prevent each lawyer from sending redundant paper files for long-term storage (which not only costs money to store, but makes retrieving files more difficult).

    Tuesday, July 08, 2003

    More on How Running Law Firms as a Business Could Affect Clients

    Continuing my reading of Law Firm Inc., mentioned in a post earlier this week, I was intrigued by another article titled Audit Your Auditors. Two CPAs offer a list of 10 factors for law firm managers to consider in evaluating/scoring their audit firms. For the most part, this same list could just as easily be applied to how clients evaluate law firms.

    The authors list 10 factors, including communication, industry knowledge, client knowledge, and pricing. Technology, used appropriately, can help law firms deliver information on a more timely and effective basis, can help lawyers develop deeper industry and client know-how, and can support more competitive pricing.

    Perhaps there is an emerging trend these two articles/posts suggest. As law firms manage themselves on a more business-like basis than has been true historically, they should apply the lessons learned internally to serve clients more effectively.

    Monday, July 07, 2003

    Blogs In the New York Times (again)

    On May 19th, the New York Times reported on wikis (a shared web space in which anyone in a group can add and delete content). Today, the Times reports on the growing popularity of blogs in the corporate workplace in an article titled "Blogs in the Workplace."

    In an effort to deal with e-mail, the article reports that "a growing number of businesses, government organizations and educational institutions are using Web logs to manage and improve the flow of information among employees.” The article cautions, however, that it is too soon "to tell whether the corporate blog will emerge as a genuinely useful tool for business communications or simply another way for bores and blowhards to blather."

    Toward the end of the piece, a corporate user describes how his company now uses blogs to archive instant message transcripts. I don't know if this is common, but knowledge managers beware!
    The High Cost of Litigation, the Contribution of Technology

    A recently posted article in the Automated Lawyer area of law.com titled The Litigation Arms Race
    describes the ever increasing costs of litigation.

    The focus is on product liabilities contingency fee work, but the lessons may well apply across a wide range of commercial litigation. The article explains that modern practice requires hiring more and higher priced experts to establish the case. It goes on to explain that "[n]ew technology has also made discovery more costly." Since 90% of documents are digital and only 30% are ever printed, litigators need tech experts, particularly data forensics experts, to help with e-discovery, especially with identifying "meta data" and dealing with backup tapes.

    What the article does not make entirely clear, however, is that forensics expertise is not always required. Nonetheless, the costs of e-discovery can be very high because of the huge volume of digital data. The techniques to screen gigabytes, terabytes, or petabytes of computer files located across multiple computers are not cheap. And that says nothing about the cost of lawyer time to review the materials identified. Even where forensic expertise is not required and even where a law firm does apply appropriate technology and planning, digital discovery and the document review process is expensive. Fortunately, appropriate use of full-text retrieval and semantic analysis software can help control the costs. (See my posts from June 20th and 25th for more on e-discovery issues.)

    The remainder of the article explains that "high-tech evidentiary displays" used at trial also add significantly to costs.

    Sunday, July 06, 2003

    Applying the Internal Discipline of Budgeting to Client Service

    The Summer 2003 issue of Law Firm Inc., a new American Lawyer Media magazine about the business of law firms and targeted at senior managers of law firms, carries an article titled When Culture Clashes with the Bottom Line. It describes the benefits of budgeting techniques in law firm management. The article is in a roundtable format and quotes several senior law firm managers on the virtue of budgets.

    An interesting question is whether firms that have learned the value of budgeting apply these lessons to provide more effective client serve. One interviewee from a firm that experienced financial difficulties reports that budgeting is the “single most important thing we did to make the firm healthy again.” Their budgeting focused on planning, particularly controlling costs and forecasting revenues. Surely this same approach can easily be applied to any large client matter to help prevent the matter management from going awry.

    Another interviewee stresses the importance of sharing data so that all partner and associates know how the firm is dong. Surely clients would like to know how their law firms are doing on a big matter.

    Another reports on the issues of managing multiple offices and says that they use budgets to encourage consistency across offices. Surely law firms that handle multiple matters for the same client ought to strive to achieve consistency in how they manage those matters.

    Another uses budgets to manage expectations internally. Surely clients have expectations that need managing.

    And finally, one reports that budgets initially had been a reflection of how operations happened to occur and the firm had to shift to budgets as a tool to plan and drive the business rather than merely reflect what occurred. Surely matter managment would be more effective if there was a plan in place to drive toward particular results.

    The technology to support budgets for client matters need not be complicated. Simple spreadsheets may suffice. Collecting data from the time and billing system and systematically analyzing it to understand performance is another step. A firm that was really serious about budgeting client matters could develop a Web-interface that collected planning inputs systematically from the firm’s lawyers and then generated variance reports monthly. Of course, once a Web-interface is in place, sharing it with clients is a relatively easy step.

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