posted 1 Feb 2001 in Volume 4 Issue 5
Every lawyer's dream
In an industry as knowledge-intensive as the legal sector the ability to capture and disseminate knowledge is invaluable. Karen Cleaver describes how Rowe & Maw has implemented a KM portal in an attempt to reinforce the firm's culture of knowledge sharing.
Rowe & Maw believes that it is the first UK law firm to develop a legal KM portal to be rolled out on a practice-wide basis across the firm. KnowMaw as we have named it will allow lawyers and support staff to search for a specific item of information across a whole range of different information sources from the one screen. One of the most crucial aims of the project was to design KnowMaw to be so intuitive and easy to use that users do not require any specific training.The problem
Knowledge is undeniably power but how does a law firm realise this dream? The KM debate among the legal profession has largely centred on how to extract knowledge from lawyers' heads and desks - by carrots or sticks champagne or appraisals? While the accumulation of information is clearly an essential starting point in the KM process there has been much less focus on the equally crucial step of how best to disseminate this information to others within the law firm.
Without wishing to sound too complacent I believe that Rowe & Maw has developed a good knowledge sharing culture. The firm has a long tradition of an 'open door' policy encouraging all lawyers (whatever their level of qualification) to pop in bounce off ideas and swap knowledge. The importance of capturing internal know-how was also recognised some years ago with the appointment of Stephen Gare head of the Intellectual Property & IT Group as head of know-how firm-wide. Each of our major practice groups has one or more dedicated know-how lawyers part of whose job is to maintain the know-how databanks.
The web has seen an explosion in the availability of legal information which was previously hard to track down. Rowe & Maw was one of the first if not the first City law firm to give all staff not just lawyers full Internet access. With our numerous online subscription and alerting services and CDs as well as know-how databanks there is almost no excuse for not being able to find the answer out there somewhere. But why is the reality not so simple?The answer - Information overload!
Know-how lawyers and librarians are frequently met with urgent pleas: "Where can I find...?" Help - I can't remember my password Where can I find that CD? It's a while since I went on my training and I cannot remember how to search using... . While they can certainly help with research this does not negate the need for lawyers to be able to carry out their own research. Given the lawyer's first hand knowledge of his/her client's situation it should be more efficient to research the problem him/herself - but the reality has often been that largely because of the time and effort in locating the relevant sources delegation to a junior was the norm. At Rowe & Maw we believe that all lawyers regardless of seniority need to be able to access legal information readily - not least so that they can deal with that late night call (when everyone else has gone home) from Mr Very-Important-New-Client needing advice within the hour on a major international transaction.
Up until now technology has limited the efficient delivery of legal information within law firms largely restricting KM to group-based systems. Now for lawyers at Rowe & Maw life is looking rosier thanks to KnowMaw.The solution: KnowMaw
Rowe & Maw has embraced technology to help solve the problem of information overload. We have taken 'out-of-the-box' Fulcrum software a non-legal searching tool produced by Hummingbird and developed it in conjunction with legal systems integrators Tikit to produce our customised legal KM system - KnowMaw. From the one screen a single search for a specific item of information can be carried out over many of the firm's information sources. One of the pre-requisites in designing KnowMaw was that it should be easy and intuitive for all staff to use negating the need for specific training and the costly and lengthy exercise of lawyers having to spend time in the classroom.
We have just completed development work and extensive pilot testing of what we believe will be the first KM system to be rolled out on a practice-wide basis within a UK law firm.The KnowMaw project
Having recognised the need to simplify the retrieval of legal information for our lawyers we started off by evaluating various KM products which claimed to be suitable for the legal market (but many of which were not!). We were at first disappointed not to have found a ready-made solution that we could install with minimum development work. However we were impressed by Hummingbird's Fulcrum software not least because it was compatible with our existing IT systems and allowed 'one-stop' searching of our internal information but also because it looked promising for one-stop searching of external websites. So in the end we had no choice but to embark on full-scale development and customisation of Fulcrum (in conjunction with Tikit) in order to get what we wanted.
Our next task was to set up a core project team. Since the motivation for this project was lawyer-driven it was important that the project was managed by a lawyer rather than being a pure IT project. A know-how lawyer (myself) was appointed as project manager assisted by the head of IT Courtney Park. The rest of the Rowe & Maw team comprised three know-how lawyers and one of our own software developers. It was important that the team was kept small for logistical reasons but we liaised closely throughout the project with other lawyers the full know-how team secretaries and the IT department. The team worked with Tikit principally with a senior development manager meeting at least once a week for the last year or so.
Then it was necessary for both Tikit and ourselves to 'get inside' Fulcrum. This involved taking Fulcrum apart and looking at its functionality from both an IT and legal perspective. Only then were we in a position to draw up and agree on Rowe & Maw's specification. This latter step I must confess was quite a lengthy process with a balance having to be struck between lawyers on the one hand who want to document everything and software developers who are keen to get on and crack the code.
The real development work could at last begin! In addition to providing legal expertise on the design and functionality of KnowMaw and carrying out extensive testing throughout the project Rowe & Maw's own software developers have contributed code and functionality.
Last September we successfully piloted the system to 50 fee-earners ranging from trainees to partners and secretaries. Firm-wide roll out of KnowMaw took place in November 2000.So what can KnowMaw search ?
We are continuing to expand the information sources which KnowMaw can search but they include:
- The firm's know-how databanks comprising our internal know-how (precedents professional practice rules advice counsel's opinions agreements seminars and so on).
For the first time we can search over all group databanks or any combination of them simultaneously - which is important given the numerous areas of law which cut across different practice groups. Also the full text of the attached document is now searchable not just the profiled information with the search term highlighted for easy identification. We can focus our searches further by searching within the specific fields of the document profile. Given the value of our precedents and professional
practice rules we have designed KnowMaw so that any that match the search criteria will appear at the top of the results list regardless of the return order selected. In order to further encourage the donation of know-how within the firm we have taken the opportunity to revamp the submission and inputting of know-how using Word which offers significant advantages over our previous databank software.
We have been able to convert all existing information into the new format so that there is a seamless transition between 'old' and 'new' know-how.
While there is no technical reason why we could not use KnowMaw to search all of our document management Word libraries we have chosen not to do so as the basis of Rowe & Maw's KM strategy is quality rather than quantity. We have instead chosen only to search that know-how which has been selected and to which value has been added by our know-how lawyers.
- Our intranet and website. As well as being searchable KnowMaw also provides hyperlinks direct to these sites.
- Library index. For the first time fee-earners can find out from their own screen if we have a particular publication and where they can find it.
- Marketing database. Being able to search the firm's contacts through KnowMaw proved a big hit in the pilot since it is much quicker than searching by more traditional methods.
- Your own email and Outlook folders. Again this proved very popular with those who piloted KnowMaw as email attachments are searchable not just the profile and body of the e-mail. Also all folders or any combination can be searched in one go which is not possible with Outlook. A real bonus is that you can read your emails reply and send new ones all from within KnowMaw.
- Public folders. An alternative to our intranet or databanks for allowing individuals to make useful information available across the firm.
- Legal CDs. Although the Fulcrum software cannot search the CDs themselves (due to the way in which the information is formatted) we have developed a direct link from KnowMaw to our CD Tower. Fee-earners no longer need to go back to their start up screen to locate the CD Tower icon and to remember to run LanCD software before they can access the relevant CD. More importantly access to CDs is now possible from outside the office. Using Citrix coupled with KnowMaw remote access to the CD Tower is now possible. Given that the maintenance of the CD Tower was previously a logistical nightmare for our IT department requiring countless visits to individuals' screens it comes as a big relief to them that it can now be controlled centrally.
- Intuitive and easy to use with no training required for fee earners or secretaries.
- One search only involved to search across all sources or any combination of them.
- Full text searching. For example of databank document profile and attached know-how document or of email profile text and attachment.
- Hit highlighting of search term.
- Simple Boolean connectors to allow easy construction of search strings.
- Ability to search for most recent (as well as most relevant) documents.
- Ability to re-group results. For example by author location relevance or date.
- Various options for display of results: Quick view using Fulcrum scanner; Summary mode showing context of highlighted term (we opted for this rather than the automatic summarisation feature as we did not consider it adequate for our purposes); or Open to edit a copy of the document.
- Advanced search facility that focuses search by searching individual (or combination of) fields in document profile.
- Ability to input databank documents using PC Docs/Word with which all fee earners are familiar. The intention is that fee earners will be able to submit their own know-how to the databanks regardless of which application they are in.
- Push technology. Automated email updates sent to individuals if new material matching their saved searches is added to the system. Know-how lawyers have the ability to set up shared alerts with members of their groups so they can readily update them for example when new material is added to a particular databank.
- Hyperlinks from KnowMaw direct to our intranet and website.
- Ability to access email and all Outlook folders direct from KnowMaw without having to step outside the KM system.
One of the initial attractions to us of Fulcrum was its potential to allow one-stop searching of websites from a common screen removing the need to remember all the different passwords and variations of connectors. Although we have found Fulcrum suitable for searching our own intranet and website we have now turned to Hummingbird's new enterprise information portal (EIP) to assist with searching the larger external sites. Hummingbird has been working with several of the online legal information providers (such as Butterworths Lawtel Lexis-Nexis PLC and HMSO) to enable real time brokerage searching of their sites. We are continuing to work with Tikit and Hummingbird to integrate the EIP with KnowMaw.
Having developed such a flexible KM tool we will continue to develop KnowMaw in line with practice needs. By simplifying access to our legal information KnowMaw will enable Rowe &a Maw to continue to provide an efficient and high quality service to our clients.
Dr Karen Cleaver is KnowMaw project manager and know-how lawyer in the Intellectual Property & IT Group Rowe & Maw. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org