posted 26 May 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 7
Case study: Reed Smith
In search of... search
Finding a search solution for a rapidly growing network, especially in the law firm environment, is no simple task. Tom Baldwin discusses Reed Smith’s recent technology implementation, and how the characteristics of the new system are enabling lawyers to perform more effectively.
As one of the 15 largest law firms in the world and with a broad network of more than 3,200 lawyers, paralegals, consultants and support staff in 22 offices throughout Europe, the US, Asia and the Middle East, Reed Smith generates a wealth of information every day. This information is highly valuable, but also creates a huge challenge for our knowledge management (KM) department – namely how to manage all of this data while ensuring that it can be easily and securely utilised throughout the firm.
Due to a series of rapid mergers, the firm has tripled in size in the past six years and continues to grow. This means that the volume of data created and stored on our network is increasing at an extraordinary rate, making the KM task more difficult than ever before.
For law firms, especially large ones like us dealing with complex litigation, cross-border disputes and crucial regulatory matters, overlooking effective KM is simply not an option. Our lawyers and staff need rapid access to all the information they require in order to be as productive and efficient as possible, and to provide our clients with the best possible level of service. In addition, our most valuable assets are our employees and their knowledge, so we need to be able to locate not just existing data and documents, but also to instantly identify the person with the most relevant expertise or experience for a certain project, wherever they are based.
Too many documents, too little time
Up until now, Reed Smith had been underutilising its vast wealth of knowledge, as documents, e-mails and other types of information were all siloed into numerous repositories, with no over-arching search capability. As a result employees had to manually search a number of locations in order to find the information they needed, which was an extremely time consuming and inefficient process.
This legacy system was also problematic in several other ways. First, not all staff were even aware of the existence of these different databases, and as a result they would request the information directly from the KM department. This meant the team received a high number of information requests, and dealing with them created a labourious, inefficient process for both the knowledge worker and the individual who had originally logged the request.
Second, even when users themselves looked for the information they needed, the repositories were all completely separate, so it was necessary to go into each individual data source in order to search its content. If the required information wasn’t there, users then had to search another repository and so on, until they eventually found what they needed. In addition to being incredibly time consuming, it still wasn’t guaranteed that users would find the right information. As time is (literally) money for lawyers, spending long periods of time fruitlessly searching for information is an incredibly costly endeavour.
Third, these information repositories were often not kept up-to-date as users were required to manually input and update information as new documents were created or modified. Our staff simply do not have the time for this manual work and, consequently, the databases suffered.
Furthermore, the legacy system that was in place to profile our employees’ knowledge and expertise was a bespoke system that required lawyers to manually update their experience, a shortcoming that was having major repercussions on productivity. Our lawyers frequently require advice or background knowledge from a colleague with experience or expertise in a particular area. However, as the system required manual data input, it was often inaccurate or out-of-date, rendering it ineffective as a tool that our lawyers could rely upon.
Previously, if a member of staff wanted to find the individual with the most relevant expertise related to a certain project, this would have to be done in a very hit-or-miss fashion. For example, they could send a blanket e-mail to the firm asking if anyone knew anything about a specific topic. In many cases they would get no responses, and in others they would get a plethora of often irrelevant replies and have to spend time sifting through all of these – on top of the time spent by the rest of the firm reading and responding to (or simply deleting) the original query. Not only was this process time consuming, but it was highly ineffective, causing significant frustration.
These search problems were not solely related to our lawyers conducting their day-to-day tasks: staff across all departments, including administration, marketing and finance, were experiencing the same issues. For example, our admin staff frequently require access to documents from across a number of departments – such as human resources or from our lawyers – and previously spent far too much time searching for the required information in the separate databases.
Searching data, people and expertise
To overcome all of these problems, we wanted a technology solution that would integrate with our existing systems and that could accurately and intelligently search all data sources, providing employees with quick and easy access to the information they need. Due to the sensitive nature of the legal profession, our staff cannot afford to miss any relevant information when they are searching as this can either leave lawyers without the data they need, or potentially worse, with inaccurate data that cannot be used in court or in legal proceedings. It was therefore absolutely vital that the system we chose be precise in its findings.
We assessed a number of solutions and after analysing each one, we selected Recommind’s MindServer Search solution built on the Recommind CORE (context optimised relevancy engine) platform. From both a technology perspective, and due to the the fact that the system has been deployed by a large number of law firms and corporate legal departments around the world, we were provided with all the assurance we needed that the system would fit our very specific requirements.
The tool utilises powerful concept-based technology to connect relevant information from myriad applications, and to return results ‘in context’ for a more accurate understanding of the information. Its intelligent ‘self-learning’ technology automatically understands requests in terms of themes, context and relevance, and as a result, it is able to recognise the multiple meanings of words and that there are different ways to express the same concept or query. Consequently, no manual intervention is required. This lowers the effort and expense associated with maintenance and upkeep, while delivering the benefit of human-level accuracy.
To test this, we ran a trial of the search tool with 100 users, asking them to search for a multitude of different documents over a six-week period. The feedback was extremely positive and all involved found the solution very easy to use. Following this, we deployed MindServer Search across our entire global network and it is now fully integrated into our Microsoft SharePoint portal – forming the backbone for our entire KM system (which is called ouRSpace).
In addition, the expertise location and matter-centric functionality enables staff to easily search a comprehensive firm-wide system containing all matters, deals, and cases, as well as locating the vast array of experience across the whole of the firm. For example, they can easily locate a colleague with the required expertise through the system as it taps into a range of information sources, such as time and billing systems, SharePoint, internal firm matter and case databases, and then provides a detailed up-to-date profile of individuals and relevant subject areas.
By indexing all of our legal professionals’ work products, time sheets and biographies, lawyers and staff can now quickly and efficiently locate the expertise they require, however specific or obscure it might seem. This helps when answering client questions, assembling a pitch team, learning about a judge of attorney, or staffing a matter.
The effectiveness of this solution was recently proved by one of our lawyers, who had previously contacted a number of people and followed many leads before finally finding the correct individual to speak to about her case. When she tried the same search again with the new tool, it pulled up the same person and information, but did so instantly.
When it came to the full deployment, we decided that the most effective way to roll out the system to all users was to integrate it directly with our intranet. The CORE platform replaces the standard search in our Microsoft SharePoint portal and provides search capabilities for the entire firm across a wide range of information repositories. Our portal is made up of a number of document and content management systems including Interwoven, Elite, DataMagic, ProLaw and West KM, as well as various news feeds, calendar applications and a number of custom web applications. MindServer indexes these applications and integrates the information to present our staff with the best search findings possible.
The importance of ease of use
Before we rolled out the system we worked with the provider to tailor it to our specific needs. A bespoke user interface was created and a number of customisations made to fit our requirements. We also refined our search functions, and modified how our findings were weighted and ranked for users depending on job function and role.
The technology was deployed at the same time as the new intranet – the global project started in October 2008 and was completed in February 2009. The search box sits in the corner of the ouRSpace page, meaning that staff can simply click on it to start looking for whatever it is they need immediately. No staff training, which would have been an incredibly large and complicated task due to the size of the organisation, was required. However, the simple interface – which is similar to the internet search engines that our employees are accustomed to – is intuitive and masks a sophisticated solution. This makes it extremely user-friendly.
Now that it is fully implemented, our lawyers and staff have already been finding the new system extremely easy to use. As with any large roll out, a number of future enhancements have been identified by staff as they use the system. We continue to work closely with the provider to develop these forward-looking feature sets in order to meet the firm’s needs well into the future.
We have plans to add additional data sources as we continually strive to manage our knowledge in the best way possible. For example, we plan to begin working on integrating our Microsoft CRM software into ouRSpace to enhance the system further, and also to enable staff to search documents stored there.
Our new KM system has been a large success with staff, who find that it provides the right content completely in context. This ensures they do not have to waste time sifting through irrelevant information to find what they are looking for, but instead have a system that will do the ‘leg work’ for them. We are now looking to analyse users’ behaviour – specifically who is and is not making use of the system and what queries and documents are or aren’t popular, in order to provide further user benefits.
With the search technology as the backbone of our KM system, we can ensure we have the information we require to provide our clients with the highest possible standard of service. By reducing the time and effort taken to locate data and expertise, our lawyers can dedicate more time to billable activities, which in turn improves client satisfaction and service, while providing Reed Smith with the competitive edge that we need to continue our growth well into the future.
Tom Baldwin is chief knowledge officer at Reed Smith. He can be contacted at: email@example.com