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Monday, September 29, 2003

Don't Forget the Outside World When Thinking about KM

My friend and former colleague, Jean O'Grady, the Director of Information Services at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering has written an article, The Importance of Targeted Information in the LegalTimes.

Jean writes a good overview of specialized sources for current business intelligence and legal developments. Her article is also a good reminder that knowledge management is not just about capturing and re-using know-how generated internally. KM should also help lawyers find, analyze, and interpret the business and legal developments that affect clients. The type of services Jean describes should be part of any fully developed KM strategy.
Call to Arms for GC: Force Your Outside Lawyers to Avoid the Mistake Doctors Make

In my posting of 7 Aug 2003 (How Would You Rather Fly? How Do You Like Your ICU Stay? Checklists or Not?) I discussed a Wall Street Journal article that reported how the use of checklists reduced the number of patient-days and mortality in intensive care units. Last Friday (9/26/03), the Wall Street Journal again has a report about medicine with lessons for lawyers.

Too Many Patients Never Reap the Benefits of Great Research reports that many lives could be improved or even saved if doctors merely followed documented and well-established practices. The failure of doctors to follow best practices as established by national bodies is not "just at the margins." Why are patients leading lower quality lives and even dying prematurely? "To put it bluntly, many of these independent-minded souls [doctors] don't like being told that science knows best, and that the way they've 'always' done things is second-rate" reports the article. Doctors resist best practices because they say clinical trial results don't apply to their patients or because they take a "show me" attitude, waiting to see the impact of broad adherence to guidelines.

So what does this have to do with lawyers and why call to arms the general counsels? In many respects, lawyers behave like doctors. Lawyers practice law the way they learned however many years ago and think that that's the best way. Granted in law, no one is scientifically studying the best way to practice. But large firms have many lawyers and at least have the potential to identify best practices within their own firms. (I have previously written that law firms should adopt best practices in Consistency in Service Delivery, July 29, 2003 and When Clients Come Knocking, July 24, 2003).

Two examples of what may be sub-optimal practice illustrate the point. First, litigators often deal with massive paper and digital document discovery challenges. It seem demonstrable to me that building databases early, using full-text searching to cull collections, and reviewing documents on-screen is more efficient than never building a database, dealing with all documents rather than culling, and printing all digital documents and reviewing them as paper. (Perhaps I am wrong, but then shouldn't all lawyers be doing it the other way? Of course, the same approach is not right in all cases but I have seen no evidence that the choices lawyers make in individual cases are based on a realistic and conscious assessment of cost and efficiency.)

Second, transaction lawyers deal with complex and inter-related documents. Maintaining consistency across documents (e.g., defined terms) is hard. Quickly reviewing a set of documents is daunting. Tools are available (for example, Deal Proof by Expertease) to facilitate document review and to help ensure consistency. Some lawyers I know speak highly of such tools. I would be surprised that the many lawyers who do not use them have actually even made a conscious decision by evaluating such products or even speaking to lawyers who have used them.

Resistance to the equivalent of "evidence based medicine" among lawyers is likely to be at least as high as it is among doctors. I recently proposed ideas along these lines at a conference. A senior, widely respected lawyer took the floor and pooh-poohed the idea saying something to the effect that "what I do is art, not science, and there is nothing I do that could possibly be studied, systematized, made more efficient, or improved." If he were your doctor, would you continue seeing him?

The Wall Street Journal article points out that there are external forces at work to change how doctors practice. Employers pay for most health care and are now realizing that bad care hurts their bottom line. I am not sure that general counsels of corporate America have come to the same realization. It is not obvious to me that even those law departments that analyze outside counsel bills - whether manually or using e-billing services - are able to detect "good" versus "bad" law practice. It seems to me that there is "low hanging" cost-savings fruit for those GC willing to examine not just bills, but how their outside counsel practice and apply pressures to identify and adopt demonstrated best practices.

And if GCs do not see the light, there are external parties - CFOs in particular - who may someday step in.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Law Firms Outsourcing IT and Document Production

In my posting of of 3 Sep 03 Allen & Overy Testing Outsourcing, I conveyed reports that Allen & Overy was pilot testing outsourcing document production to workers in India. In UK firm set for outsourcing deal in India, Legal Week reports that A&O has decided to move forward with this plan on a permanent basis. Legal Week reports that one-half of the 85 document production specialists of the firm will remain in London and that the firm has signed an agreement with outsourcing company Office Tiger for services in India.

Separately, Legal Week reports in Bakers relocates IT functions to Asia that Baker & McKenzie will outsource three IT functions to Asia: network operations, document support, and systems development. According to Legal Week, this includes a data center and call center.

I have written several posts about the potential of outsourcing legal work overseas: Power Outages and Outsourcing , 15 Aug 03; Technology Outsourcing Example - Document Management , 18 Jun 03; More on Off-Shore Outsourcing, 14 Jun 03; Central Back Offices and Outsourcing; 30 May 03.

It strikes me that the ingredients are increasingly in place to outsource some elements of legal work. First, law firms will now start gaining experience with managing offshore outsourced "back office" functions. Second, at least based on anecdotal evidence, it appears that more large firms use contract lawyers to review documents in complex litigation, antitrust second requests, or government/internal investigations. Why not put those two trends together and use lawyers in India to conduct such document reviews?

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Can a CRM Support Viral Marketing?

I came across a press release for the latest version (5.1) of customer relationship management software InterAction by Interface Software.

One feature caught my eye and made me think about how law firms can try to extend their reach to clients. The press release describes a feature that can automatically verify contacts. The "new InterAction Contact Verifier module lets the organization request updates directly from their clients or contacts. The module allows organizations to send contacts customized communications that display core business card elements including name, company, address, etc. Recipients are directed to an editable secure Web page that allows them easily to update their existing contact details and submit any changes directly to the InterAction database for real-time automatic updates."

It would be nice (and perhaps already possible, I'm not up on all of the technical product specs) to integrate this feature with e-newsletters that law firms regularly broadcast (or perhaps narrowcast is a better description). If each message contained contact data verification at the beginning or end of the substantive news, law firms might find it easier to maintain up-to-date contact information.

It's not a great leap of concept to add one more feature to an e-newsletter, namely the ability to click on a link and add a new contact for a subscription to the same newsletter. This would allow an existing subscriber to add a new subscriber or, more likely, the recipient of a forwarded message to add his or her contact information. Some caveats are in order. First, one would have to manage the links and data so that a forwardee could not alter the original recipients contact information. And second, any new contacts added this way would be best vetted by someone in the law firm rather than blithely added to a central database.

I'm not sure that this would result in rampant viral effects of expanding the reach of newsletters, but it offers the possibility of using existing clients to help maintain their own contact information and to generate new contacts as well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Unauthorized Practice of Law ("UPL") Suit and Implications for Online Services

Law.com reports in Group Alleges Document Prep Service Provides Legal Advice by Nonlawyers (9/24/03) that the Texas "Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee filed suit on Sept. 17 against a California-based company, alleging that it operates a document preparation service which provides legal advice by nonlawyers." In brief, the Texas state bar is taking action against the company We the People, alleging that the company's service of helping consumer fill-out legal forms constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.

This may sound familiar too readers who keep track of UPL actions. Several years ago Texas tried to ban self-help publisher Nolo in a UPL action. After a public outcry, the Texas legislature intervened to change the law and make clear UPL did not apply to publishers of self help books. See a summary of what happened on Nolo's site.

As I pointed out in my posting Online Legal Services for Consumers of 12 June 2003, large law firms that offer online legal services to their clients probably do not have to be concerned about UPL statutes. Where a service is delivered in the context of an attorney-client relationship, especially if in-house counsel is involved, it's not clear the UPL statutes apply. (Disclaimer: I am not providing a legal opinion in saying this. This is merely my understanding from talking to several lawyers over the years about this issue.)

On a personal and editorial note, I find this Texas action disturbing. On the facts, it is not obvious to me that helping a consumer fill in the form can be considered practice. Even if it is, it appears to me a simple case of lawyers erecting an artificial barrier to entry against non-lawyers. When state bars focus their energy on lower cost alternatives than seeing a lawyer without a demonstration of actual harm while at the same time ignoring the incompetents in their own rank, it cannot but help smack of self-interested protectionism.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

My Knowledge Management Week

Last Friday (9/19), I attended an all-day meeting of KM professionals from large NYC, Toronto, and West Coast law firms that I co-organized and co-moderated. Separately, last Tuesday (9/16), at Legal Tech I co-presented with Kingsley Martin on KM; our topic was determining an organization's readiness to undertake KM. Both events were interesting and useful exchanges of current law firm KM practices and illustrate the many different approaches possible. I will use this posting and a couple of additional ones to explore some of these different approaches.

I'll start with my presentation with Kingsley Martin. Kingsley and I have been professional colleagues and friends for many years. He is the author of a West-published KM workbook (really, an extensive treatise) and an LLRX.com article titled "Show Me the Money" - Measuring the Return on Knowledge Management, among others. Like me, Kingsley is a consultant, a lawyer, and has years of experience focusing on technology in large law firms.

Kingsley's favored approach to KM is to collect, catalog, and classify a firm's work product as the first step. Using automated tools such as LexisNexis Total Search or WestKM, it is possible to gather a significant portion of a firm's work product with relatively little human intervention.

I agree that this is valuable. For firms unwilling to invest lawyer time or employ numerous non-practicing lawyers to gather and catalog work product, it may be the best and only feasible step. My reservation is that this automated approach may not create a "feedback loop" within the firm that shows that the activity is worth continuing. Many firms undertake KM programs but most do not put in place metrics to assess whether the program is succeeding. Without measuring the impact (for example by monitoring usage or surveying lawyers), it may be impossible to ascertain the return and the value created.

My favored approach is to start with a practice or sub-practice group that wants to define a set of best practices. As part of their best practices, they would inevitably need to define model documents or collections of research as "inputs" into the best practices. A forward-thinking firm would use the best practice both for marketing to clients and for internal "production." Especially if the best practice is "exposed" to clients, either directly through some type of web-based access or indirectly through relationship management, the likelihood is that the appropriate feedback would occur to sustain the effort. As firms see the value in discrete and measurable settings, it might create more support for a broader effort.

Of course, neither Kingsley's "broad" nor my "narrow" approach is mutually exclusive; moreover, the right approach depends on many factors, especially a firm's culture and business. In fact, for a firm committed to KM, there is merit in using both. We had fun presenting in point / counter-point style and hope that our friendly "reasonable people can disagree" approach helped illustrate the choices firms face.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Legal Tech NYC - What's New

I spent two days and spoke at Legal Tech NYC September. A couple of my legal technology friends observed that there was nothing new and asked if I agreed or not. Drawing on my training as a lawyer, I said "yes and no."

My first observation is that in the economy at large, the pace of technology innovation has slowed. To be sure, there are interesting developments such as Wi-Fi (wireless net connections) and grid computing (tapping the processing power of multiple PCs to solve complex problems). In reading e-Week, Information Week, and other technology trade publications, however, I have been struck over the last two years how the focus of editorial content has shifted to infrastructure upgrades and efficiencies rather than totally new systems. The "zeitgeist" is to do more and better with what's in place today rather than buy new systems.

I think it's safe to say the same is true in the legal market. The emphasis now is to integrate and adopt the systems that are in place. Most law firms have decent infrastructure. The challenge now is primarily to adopt new business mindsets, processes, and culture that take advantage of what's in place; the challenge is no longer primarily one of technology acquisition.

My second observation was that there were some interesting developments at Legal Tech. E-discovery is a hot bed of activity. An increasing number of vendors offer software and services to harvest and process digital data in the discovery process. Though not necessarily visible to that many lawyers, there is a lot interesting happening behind the scenes.

More visible - and very impressive upon first viewing - is an e-discovery digital document harvesting and review systems from Attenex (a company affiliated with law firm Preston Gates). The most striking aspect of the Attenex offering is a new way to visualize large document collections. I have always been a fan of visual displays in law practice and the works of Edward Tufte on creating powerful graphic representations. Attenex has taken Tufte principles to heart in creating a compact visualization of digital documents that looks like a very promising way to identify and review large volumes of documents. I was impressed by the demo I saw.

Attenex also has an interesting product they call Knowledge Assembly Software, better known to many of us as document assembly software. The company's literature shows a clean and intuitive interface to manage documents at a clause level. I ran out of time to see a live demo of this one.

Also new is LexisNexis Total Search, which is an automated knowldge management tool that integrates with a law firm's document management system. The software integrates searches of LexisNexis with searches of the firm's own work product. The video presentation and white papers explaining Total Search suggest that it is quite powerful and potentially very useful for law firms interested in better and faster access to and re-use of their work product.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

How Much Information Technology Support is Enough?

How much IT support should firms provide to users? Many firms answer this question via benchmarking (that is, comparing spending and staffing to comparable firms).

Lawyers are demanding "customers." They want a lot of support and, when they want it, they want it now. By and large, that is probably a good thing since the opportunity cost (potential lost billings) of slowing down a lawyer is high. And few managing partners or COOs want to hear or deal with partner complaints about lack of support.

But firms may overinvest in support. It may be possible to achieve a high level of IT support at lower cost by applying some market principles. (I am a believer in the power of markets - see my posting The Power of Markets - Is It Applicable within a Law Firm? of 12 Aug 03.) The September 8th issue of Information Week has an article about how Dell runs its business. Imagining What's Possible reports on how Dell runs highly efficient manufacturing. Because Dell manufactures in virtually real time, the company can change the order in which PCs are made to accommodate important or rush orders. Until recently, sales people could expedite certain orders through informal relationships. Now, to expedite, "they can assign a priority ranking from one to seven, but they have only a limited number of those rankings." Rationalizing how sales people influence the manufacturing queue helps Dell be more efficient.

Law firms could do something similar. Lawyers and staff could get a "bank" of points to use for priority IT service. The bank might, of course, depend in part on how much business a lawyer generates. Such an approach might serve to reduce the number of instances of unnecessary "fire drills." It might also more closely align support with real business needs.

In most firms, client work always takes priority. That may not be the best rule. Suppose there are two IT emergencies - one for a small client in billing arrears and one for a partner about to do a non-billable marketing activity. The marketing may well be the higher value activity and be more deserving of support. Right now, IT departments have to allocate sometimes scarce support resources based on incomplete information and on who is most likely to raise a stink.

Rationalizing the allocation of support when resources are tight via a point-like market mechanism could lower costs while also ultimately improving performance. A lawyer trying to get support for a low profit client would probably not "waste" points while a lawyer preparing for a meeting with a hot prospect would likely happily spend points for expedited service.

Of course, the mechanics of such a system are probably rather complicated and the effort to adopt a new approach large. But it is at least interesting to think about ways to more carefully and systematically match resources to true needs.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Scenarios of Future Law Firms Rely Heavily on Technology

This past weekend, I attended the annual meeting of the College of Law Practice Management. The attendees are a mix of lawyers and law firm managers (including chief administrators, marketers, HR, and technology). We spent an entire morning working in small teams. Each team had the task of envisioning two types of law firms in the future (e.g., a firm handling commoditized work or a 25-lawyer firm focusing exclusively on IP work) and what the critical resources would be. Teams had about one hour to think through the scenario for each firm type. While I did not keep precise count of the 16 "reports" we generated concerning what the firm would be like and the resources it would need, many of the scenarios required very heavy use of technology. In quite a few, technology was the lynch pin that would allow the firm to exist and thrive (given the constraints imposed by the facts of the exercise). It was interesting to see that a diverse group of lawyers and managers, many with several decades of experience, focusing on the importance of technology. Perhaps this bodes well for the future of legal technology.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Morgan Lewis Announces "Morgan Lewis Resources"

In a press release dated September 10th, Morgan Lewis announces Morgan Lewis Resources, the firm's "NEW ENTERPRISE TO ASSIST COMPANIES WITH FEDERAL COMPLIANCE NEEDS." According to the release, "Morgan Lewis, one of the 10 largest U.S. law firms, today announced the launch of Morgan Lewis Resources, a major initiative to help corporate clients meet their increasingly demanding federal regulatory requirements by providing companies a full spectrum of legal risk containment products and services." It quotes the managing partner, who says "It is our vehicle for expanding the corporate compliance, training and immigration services we already provide to offer companies the higher level of protection they need today at a reasonable cost.” The service will "provide competitive, value-added products in immigration law services, employment training, OFCCP analysis and auditing, and HIPAA related compliance, counseling and training. Morgan Lewis Resources will later offer OSHA auditing, training and compliance, and employee benefits auditing and compliance." The firm has created a separate web site at morganlewisresources.com.

Unless I missed something on this new web site, it's is not immediately clear how this new service differs from traditional legal services. The site references the use of "templates" and "procedures" and "checklists" though I cannot tell if these differ from what many other law firms have. One explicit reference to technology is an immigration status tracking system (see Services > Immigration); another is "specialized software and census data packages" for developing "affirmative action plans specifically tailored to our clients' needs" (see Services > OFCCP Audit).

It's exciting to see a law firm offering a new package of "products and services." To me, in the legal market, this would mean offering fixed-price services or using technology (beyond shared databases and portals) to deliver interactive advice or rich content. It's possible that I missed such offerings on this web site or that the firm will offer these in the future. I look forward to seeing what innovations this service will offer in the future. From my perspective, there is much a firm could do using technology (see a list of firms offering online legal services) that would allow offering higher-value, more cost-effective guidance than is typically available today.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The Limits of Technology

I recently had a personal experience that perhaps illustrates the power and limits of technology. I was grocery shopping when I noticed an employee using a hand-held wand to scan the shelf bar code for out-of-stock items. It surprised me that a person had to walk the aisles, look for empty facings (the supermarket term for each column of goods), determine if the empty facing meant the item was out of stock, and if yes, then scan the bar code. I asked the employee why this was necessary given that the store knows or should know how many units of each item it receives and the check out system keeps track of every item sold. I would have thought that by subtraction, a supermarket could determine when an item goes out of stock.

Of course, asking the person doing this job how the whole system works is not the most promising way to obtain a conclusive answer, meaning he had no idea. I suspect that several factors prevent this approach from working: the number of items delivered to a store's loading dock may not be the number ordered, check out clerks do not always properly scan items (so that my mix of yogurt flavors may be scanned as all one flavor), and shop lifting is obviously not tracked by scanners.

Bar codes and scanners have had a tremendous impact. Arguably, the data supermarkets have collected has shifted the balance of power from manufacturers to retailers. And clearly, scanning has sped the check-out process (and is now enabling self-service in some stores). In spite of tremendous investment and tremendous benefits, bar codes and scanners simply do not solve all the problems a supermarket faces.

The lesson here for the legal market is that one should have reasonable expectations about what technology can do. I don't know if the supermarket industry even expected bar codes and scanners to track out of stock items automatically. But my expectation about the power of that system was clearly overly ambitious. Lawyers and law firm managers need to be realistic about what problems technology will solve and what problems will remain, even after significant investment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Internet Telephony and Lawyers Working at Home

More and more, technology allows workers at all skill levels to work at home. Should law firms think about this option in their long term planning? This posting is prompted by an article the The New York Times ran, More Companies are Routing Calls via Internet (01 Sep 03). It reports that "[i]nternet telephony... is no longer restricted to adventurous techies."

Technology Background.The Times reports that the technology "has matured to the point that voice quality is virtually indistinguishable from that of a conventional phone call." Some background: Internet telephony, also known as Voice Over Internet Protocol or VOIP, uses the same cables and protocols that transmit computer data to transmit voice. Whereas traditional phone calls reserve a dedicated circuit for each call, VOIP sends each call as a series of data packets over a shared line. Some law firms have already switched or are switching to VOIP.

VOIP Allows Working at Home. But this post is not about the technology. I was struck by another fact in the article. JetBlue uses VOIP "to create a 'virtual call center' for is 700-plus reservation agents, who work from home... The commute to work is as quick as a mouse click."

Do Lawyers Need to be in the Same Location? In a prior posting, my answer to this was "Clearly, being able to meet in person has tremendous value. And clearly, downtown meeting space is required to serve client needs. But modern technology allows working effectively from remote locations. And as more and more large firms attempt to become truly national, it means lawyers from multiple offices should be working together. If lawyers across cities, states, and countries can work together effectively, then surely lawyers located in the same metro area can." (See More on Offices: Downtown v. Suburban, 01 Jun 03.)

Most law firms already have remote computer access. Increasingly, firms will have VOIP, which will allow routing phone calls anywhere there is high-speed web access. Firms could save significant occupancy costs if lawyers worked more hours at home and therefore required smaller offices. Furthermore, if lawyers are spared daily commutes at least some days, they could either bill more hours or have a better life.

For national and international firms, breaking some of the local bonding that occurs purely as a result of geography - while risky - might actually result in more effective team work across the firm. Moreover, if firms are not constrained by thinking about offices, they might form teams that are based exclusively on meeting client needs rather than on the coincidence that several lawyers happen to be in the same office.

In the past, I would have said that reservationists need supervision and therefore must be in a central location. Clearly, JetBlue is disproving this. I assume that lawyers do not need supervision. The question then is what percent of the time do they really need to have in-person meetings or access to central resources. The instinct is to say they need a lot of both. That may be true, but at minimum, I would treat the question empirically. If it turns out that in-person meetings and access to central resources are needed a relatively small percent of the time, a dispersed work force may be feasible.

As technology allows new flexibility and eliminates what we previously thought of as immutable constraints, law firms will have to confront what the true constraints of their business requirements are. It may be that central offices are indispensable. But just assuming that's so is no longer justifiable.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

New Analysis of Cost, Value, and ROI of KM

Stuart Kay, the Knowledge Manager of Sydney-based Gilbert & Tobin has written a very good and thorough analysis of knowledge management called Cost, Value and ROI for Knowledge Management in Law Firms, which appears in the August 31st edition of LLRX.

Kay starts out by saying that "in a knowledge intensive industry like law, knowledge management is simply a critical component and an overhead cost of doing business." But he then acknowledges that many law firm managers and partners will want "hard" metrics to support a KM program. After summarizing Kingsley Martin's "Show Me the Money" - Measuring the Return on Knowledge Management in 15 Oct 02 LLRX, Kay sets out his own analysis of how best to measure the cost and value of KM. His analysis, particularly the cost and value financial models, are important reading for anyone interested in KM. He acknowledges that the assumptions driving his models can be tweaked to yield different outcomes, but the models present a very useful way to think about returns.

Consistent with his introduction, after laying out a detailed approach to analyzing the value of KM, including many impossible to quanityf benefits, Kay concludes that "it is important not to get lost in the minutiae of internal measures of cost... It is valuable for all the intangible benefits previously listed. The bottom line is that knowledge management enables us to be better, more effective, more productive lawyers, and to give better service to our clients."

Monday, September 08, 2003

CT Corporation Acquires E-Billing Expert TyMetrix

I just came across a September 3rd press release, on the home page of Tymetrix, announcing the purchase of Tymetrix by CT Corporation (which is owned by legal publisher Walters Kluwer). Tymetrix provides e-billing software and tools for measuring law firm performance. CT provides registered agent and other corporate services. (See also the press release at the CT Corporation web site.)

Quoting from the press release: "'The TyMetrix acquisition strengthens CT's ability to deliver comprehensive, customer-driven solutions and furthers our overall strategy to become a full-service provider of enterprise software and services for corporate legal departments and the law firms that serve them,' said Chris Cartwright, president and CEO of Wolters Kluwer Legal, Tax and Business North America. "

With West's acquisition of Elite, Lexis' of Applied Discovery, and now this, perhaps we will see some consolidation among legal market technology vendors. I have always been struck by what seems like more fragmentation in the this market than in many others. It will also be interesting to see how CT integrates Tymetrix features and systems with its existing offerings.
New Online Service: 50 State HIPAA Study

The September issue of American Lawyer reports, in Robert J. Ambrogi's article Making Money Online (Finally) about a new online service, statehipaastudy.com.

Ambrogi explains that a healthcare coalition wanted a 50-state guide to medical privacy law, prior to the April 14, 2003 deadline for compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The organization put the request out to bid, which was won by law firm ReedSmith. ReedSmith, working with Hubbard One, created a web site driven by a database and that presents results in tabular format. It covers 50 states, 32 types of health care entitites, and close to 50 topics; according to the web site FAQ page, the "Privacy Study consists of a database which includes summaries of state laws and regulations that relate to the privacy or confidentiality of health information."

The article reports that ReedSmith was paid well and that the firm has been retained by several companies as a direct result of the web site. (The full-text of the Ambrogi article appears on the ReedSmith web site.) The statehipaastudy site lists subscriptions prices: $5,000-$10,000 for a single state; $20,000 for a single organization for access to the entire site; and $50,000 for a law firm to use the site in representing multiple clients. Estimated annual update fees are less than $3,000.

This site strike strikes me as well-designed and comprehensive. I am unaware of other arrangements where a coalition of companies paid a law firm to create a web site that is sold on a subscription basis. (Regular readers of my blog may recall that Prism Legal maintains a list of online legal services.)

The article also reports that ReedSmith's managing partner would consider eventually developing a product without industry backing. It will be interesting to see whether ReedSmith does so. Presumably, if the firm earns sufficient direct profit (from subscription fees) or indirect profit (from new matters obtained via the web site), then it will have motivation to create other content rich sites. I do not know how ReedSmith compensates lawyers, but if it is like most firms, it would need a mechanism to treat the content-creation work of another site as billable. As a general rule, unless lawyers who work on developing content for such sites are able to bill their time as if the work were an ordinary matter, there is a big disincentive to do the work.

Whatever the long-term outcome, I think that this is a good sign that online services are still emerging and proving valuable. With my experience working for Jnana Technologies, a provider of a platform for creating interactive expert systems, I wonder if it would be possible to further extend the functionality of this web site from providing information to answering questions based on specific facts.

Friday, September 05, 2003

A New Constituency for CRM in Law Firms?

Many law firms have purchased Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. I have talked to lawyers and staff at numerous firms that own CRM systems. My sense is that few are getting full value from their software. CRM presents challenges similar to KM. It’s hard to get lawyers to contribute data (contacts) and keep them current. Furthermore, incentives to share frequently are missing; in fact, at some firms, the compensation system creates disincentives to share contacts. It can therefore be hard to use CRM as a central contact list. It is even harder to use the software to actively manage relationships.

A new constituency may be emerging – sales professionals – that increases the pressure to realize the potential of CRM. The August 18 – August 25 issue of the National Law Journal, in the Voir Dire column, reports that the “Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO) was unveiled at the ABA’s convention in San Francisco.” The advent of sales professionals in law firms is a new trend. The fact that there is now an association of legal sales professionals suggests a growing number of firms have made such hires.

I assume that most sales professionals depend on successfully closing sales for a significant portion of their compensation. Moreover, a good sales professional recognizes the value of understanding and mining existing relationships. So perhaps a new force will emerge in law firms that starts driving more effective use of CRM.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

KM Update in Information Week

The August 18th issue of Information Week has an in-depth report on knowledge management, The Need To Know . It reports that although companies expected too much from KM and have experienced disappointments, many continue KM programs, albeit with simpler efforts. According to the article, "[c]ompanies are focusing less on technology to gather lots of data and more on processes for reusing information and on tools to locate and connect people with information and experts." Part of this shift is reflected in an emphasis on more sophisticated search tools and expertise location management software. Collaboration tools are increasingly important. The article also reports an increasing awareness of the importance on focusing on how people work and incentives to share. It's a good overview of current KM practices and issues in the corporate sector.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Allen & Overy Testing Outsourcing

I have written several posts about the potential of outsourcing legal work overseas: Power Outages and Outsourcing , 15 Aug 03; Technology Outsourcing Example - Document Management , 18 Jun 03; More on Off-Shore Outsourcing, 14 Jun 03; Central Back Offices and Outsourcing; 30 May 03.

Now, Legal Week, in its September 2nd issue, reports that Allen & Overy may transfer some of its document processing to India. A&O set for radical India staff transfer reports that the firm has recently completed a six-week pilot test and will soon decide if it will permanently move some of its document intensive work to India.

Assuming quality control can be maintained - and the experience of many other industries suggests it can - this appears to be an excellent way for law firms to reduce client expenses. With the Internet allowing instant transfer of information, easy collaboration, and controlled workflows, it frequently makes little difference where work is performed. Large law departments concerned about reducing costs and improving turnaround times (remember - the work day in India is virtually offset from the US and UK) should engage their outside counsel in a discussion of outsourcing aspects of legal work offshore.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The Importance of Standards

I just returned from a 2 week vacation in Switzerland and Germany. While traveling back, I reflected on three “technology experiences” in Europe: (1) I rented a cell phone that worked in both countries, as well as at Heathrow, where I changed planes; (2) no surprise - it was easy to find Internet cafes everywhere to check e-mail; (3) I found it was very easy to use pay phones to call long distance. (It turns out that it is MUCH cheaper to use a phone card than to pay the minute rate on a rental cell phone.)

The common thread here is standards. A single cell phone standard means one phone works throughout the continent. A single standard for the Internet and computers allows easy web access anywhere. And a fairly standard approach to pre-paid phone cards makes calling from a pay phone easy.

Contrast this to where standards do not prevail. Most US cell phone users cannot use their cell phones outside the USA. Although the Internet is standardized, keyboards are not. German is not that different than English, but just the transposing of the Z and Y key on German keyboards illustrates what happens when a standard you are used to is not followed. (For those of us who are touch typists, this means lots of typos.) And in the US, the idea of using a pay phone to make a long distance call induces anxiety. Who knows how much it will cost or whether/how it accepts credit cards. That’s because we have no standard approach to how pay phones work.

The moral is that standards are a good thing. As I have written on several occasions (most recently on August 7th in How Would You Rather Fly? How Do You Like Your ICU Stay? Checklists or Not?), law firms and their clients could benefit if firms were to adopt standard approaches to how they do their work.

Perhaps I belabor the point, but seeing the power of standards – how they allow individuals easily to operate in foreign environments – further illustrates the power of standard approaches and best practices.

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