posted 25 May 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 8
Case study: E-learning
The road to a standalone, internal knowledge resource at international law firm Linklaters.
By Matthew Parsons and CJ Anderson
The impact of knowledge management (KM) in law firms is judged by the change in behaviours of lawyers in doing their work, and in the quality, consistency, insights and speed of work delivered to clients. It is not judged by document counts in databases that may sit unknown or unused, or by precedent counts, or the number of training programmes offered.
Linklaters has a long history of investing in the creation, capture and dissemination of knowledge, with a significant team of dedicated legal and non-legal resources around the world. We have thousands of pages of high-quality manuals, transaction outlines, precedents, intranet sites, videos, online learning, databases and knowledge documents. It had reached a point where that wealth of knowledge, across practices and offices in more than 20 countries, meant that finding the right information was increasingly becoming a barrier in achieving the greatest impact. There were three main reasons for this:
- The need to take best advantage of the knowledge of a given practice and office;
- Responding to a legal market where knowledge of international practice and major market variations is required for complex deals irrespective of jurisdiction;
- Globalisation of markets and clients meant that cross-border collaboration and effective knowledge sharing and re-use were key to developing practice capability and the ability to deliver to clients.
Following the appointment of a new chief knowledge officer in 2005, Linklaters has been following a two-phase strategy, which responds to this opportunity to increase the impact of its knowledge activities. This very much follows the themes that emerged from a global survey of Linklaters’ know-how partners and the knowledge team in May 2005, which yielded 100 pages of ideas and input from 165 respondees across all practices and offices.
The first phase was ‘Liberate’, a rapid, global programme to free the knowledge we had in a simple, elegant, intuitive and fast way to increase impact.
The second phase was ‘Strategy’, a global, grass-roots consultation process with lawyers and the firm’s knowledge council to set the knowledge strategy and agenda for the next three-to-five years.
Know-how Online was the output of the Liberate stage, which brings together into one easily navigable place all of the knowledge sources and tools available to Linklaters lawyers, in a traversable, consistent way. The goals of Know-how Online are to:
- Provide specific navigation and search environments that are effective for the particular content types;
- Accommodate practice and geographical differences, yet support traversal of groups and expansion of search scope;
- Better leverage internal and external sources;
- Be simple, elegant, intuitive and fast.
The challenge was to create something that resonated with lawyers, had a local feel reflecting the practice-group dynamic of knowledge, but actively facilitated using broader expertise and materials. Previously, practice group know-how was to an extent buried in an intranet-site structure with separate islands of information, and some knowledge tools were the preserve of the professional support lawyer (PSL) and information unit staff. The challenge was to bring these islands and tools together in a way that meant that others could access them easily.
Working with PSLs, the information systems and strategy team, marketing and the information units around the world, Know-how Online moved from idea to globally delivered reality in three months. The rapid development process saw much prototyping in Microsoft PowerPoint pictures, which were shared globally and changed on a daily basis in response to feedback.
As soon as development pieces were available from the technology-development team, links to that work were sent globally for instant testing and rapid feedback loops.
This very transparent process was itself an exercise in KM, as the collective experience and expertise of a wide team was applied to information design and simplicity, and in working together to create something that would resonate with lawyers in our various global practices. In parallel with the development of the platform, content was prepared in a way that could then be embedded as soon as it was available.
Importantly, as the one place to access Linklaters legal-knowledge resources, Know-how Online is not a subordinate part of the firm’s intranet site, but a distinct internal website. In the same way as Harvard University has separate websites for the university and business school, we have both the global intranet and Know-how Online. For a law firm, legal know-how is important enough to ensure that its online tools are specifically designed to meet lawyers’ needs, rather than subsumed within the site hierarchy of an all-encompassing intranet.
The dominant navigational metaphor within the system is a familiar one for lawyers: tabs. The ordering of the tabs from left to right reflects a value hierarchy in the content, with the most important content positioned to the left. A link back to the intranet home page is provided discretely in the top right of each page. The following tabs are included in the know-how solution.
Need to know
The material that lawyers in a particular group or country need to know. It includes hot topics, news, training content and know-how contacts.
Precedents and guides
This includes manuals, precedents, guidance and checklists. Interestingly, as precedents are called forms in the US, and templates in some parts of Europe, we are now considering whether the content focus of the tab is consistent across the world but the name of the tab may be different depending on jurisdiction to make it even easier. Navigability of precedents has been dramatically increased with two and three-tier precedent pickers, which enable rapid selection of content and supports a quick visual overview of options.
Access to the items in the firm’s primary repository of know-how content, which supports keywords and scope extension to enable selection of the practice groups and offices to search.
Full text search across documents stored within know-how folders in our global document-management system (DMS), nominated by each practice group. Again, search facilitates scope extension to enable selection of the practice groups and offices to search.
Access to the catalogue of books and journals held firm wide.
Access to free and paid-for websites, and online databases. This collates the links to online materials that were previously scattered throughout favourites, intranet pages and Microsoft Word documents. Where training or help guides have been created in relation to particular resources, a link is provided to that content directly adjacent to the resource, to make it even easier for the lawyers.
An easy tool to identify internal and external legal skills. The approach here is to focus on the major types of expertise that are sought out on a cross-practice or cross-jurisdiction basis in cross-border work, rather than an exhaustive multi-tier taxonomy of every possible expertise. It is designed to connect people on major types of work, and to provide the contact details for the practice group leader where the expertise sought is not identified.
Personal knowledge management
Simple wisdom about being an effective knowledge worker – how to use and manage the various devices, software and tools, ranging from software products to Blackberry devices.
Stories resonate. Shortly after release, a senior corporate lawyer told us, “It’s fantastic. I was working on a deal at four in the morning and needed to find something on ‘good faith’. I ran a search and got exactly what I needed – thanks.” From the Hong Kong office, “It makes an enormous difference as it is now so intuitive,” or a personal favourite from a London trainee, “This rocks.”
With a significant increase in self service for knowledge and information by lawyers, more PSL and information-officer time is now allocated to higher value-adding activities. Ian Rodwell, the corporate information unit manager, runs an introduction to know-how and information resources as part of the twice-yearly trainee-induction programme. This includes a 90-minute research case study completed in teams. The first time this was delivered after the introduction of Know-how Online, most teams were completing the exercise in 45 minutes, and the case study has now been modified to increase the question set.
Observations and lessons learnt
Following implementation of Know-how Online, the following observations have become apparent.
As this was a question of ‘liberate’ not ‘create’, it was very easy to leverage existing disparate resources to create the portal. Many groups had much more information available to them than the lawyers were aware of. This was primarily because of difficult navigation on the existing intranet. However it was also because practice groups all stored and accessed their data in different ways and from different places.
Each practice group and country is responsible for determining the content of, and maintaining, their elements in Know-how Online. In order to have content control de-centralised, web pages are automatically generated from Microsoft Word documents controlled by the global DMS. This solution offered the fastest and easiest content-development approach to ensure quality, visual consistency, and de-centralised control on an ongoing basis in familiar tools. Knowledge creation is local.
As groups started to look at their content, and the approach and content of other groups, there was active development by the practices in a relatively short space of time. By making the content easily traversable, international groups were building on innovations of others and started to take greater advantage of the content that was available around the firm. In a very short space of time, Know-how Online became embedded in the way people work and we received lots of positive feedback.
The system was specifically designed to remove as many extraneous links and as much visual clutter as possible. This is not a portal of tiny panels, but a place of simplicity. It had to offer fast, specific navigation to many different types of information, while remaining simple and intuitive to use. Getting that balance right is a testament to the wide and rapid input during the PowerPoint drawing process, which we have adopted for future development.
A wide variety of publicity campaigns took place both before and during the launch of the system. Poster campaigns, local and firm-wide bulletins, video elements, online training, mouse mats, e-mails and presentations during group briefings were all geared to raise awareness and familiarity with the product and concepts before it arrived on the desktop. A committed date for delivery was announced, and met – albeit at 11:58pm – with heroic efforts behind the scenes from the technology department. These were so successful that minimal hands-on training was required. Presentations were delivered locally by know-how teams and PSLs, who were in fact showing off their good work and the content for their practices and offices, rather than trying to sell a ‘global system’.
Lawyers are ‘time poor’ and any tools that cannot help them in less time than it takes to call someone and ask provide no extra benefit. We were influenced in our approach by advice written by author Steve Krug in his book Don’t Make Me Think: “Your goal should be for each page to be self-evident, so that just by looking at it the average user will know what it is and how to use it.”
A design which neatly categorises information into types that resonate, and provides a discrete search for
each, is an elegant way to provide this kind of self-evident, uncluttered environment for effective search. There is no extraneous or extrinsic information to distract the eye and plenty of white space helps to minimise information overload.
Know-how Online has received global buy-in and support due to the simple and elegant premise that anyone in any office in any country can intuitively access know-how, training, precedents, memos, websites, research tools, books or journals, from one place. The volume of simple enquiries to the information units is significantly down and enthusiasm for know-how around the practices is up.
But of course, that was just the liberate phase, where we were constrained in our ambitions to significantly increase the impact of the current stock of knowledge. With the benefit of the input from our lawyers around the world in practice consultation sessions over the past six months and in discussions with clients, we are now putting together a plan for extensions within the Know-how Online framework, which will achieve another step improvement in the impact on the behaviours of lawyers in doing their work, and in the quality, consistency, insights, and speed of work delivered to clients.
Matthew Parsons is chief knowledge officer at international firm Linklaters. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CJ Anderson is information manager, Global Project Finance at Linklaters and can be contacted at email@example.com