posted 26 May 2010 in Volume 13 Issue 8
Cora Newell provides some observations on the themes discussed during day one of
The low-ceilings of The Thistle Westminster’s conference suite belied KM Legal 2010’s high ambitions to help delegates achieve the positioning of KM as the efficiency engine of their firms. The joint speakers for the first presentation, ‘Is KM fundamental to the future of the profession?’ gave listeners a trip down memory lane as to what life was like in City of London firms in the prehistoric days of knowledge management and professional support, followed by anecdotal evidence of how professional support roles in their firms have developed over time into large teams and very mature functions.
Although the KM team sizes they outlined were in the region of 20 to 30, one couldn’t help but be reminded of ocean liners and the time they take to turn – are these KM functions really desirable role models for others in these challenging times when PSLs (or the newer nomenclature of KDLs) are increasingly being expected by firms and clients to demonstrate versatility and fleetness of foot over adherence to process?
Curiously, some of the initiatives highlighted as having the greatest impact on KM development at these firms appeared to include those promoted primarily by other business support areas, such as HR, rather than being KM-driven – for example, career development frameworks. Delegates were introduced to terms which received fuller treatment in subsequent sessions – ‘legal process optimisation’ or getting more for less, and ‘know your client’ among them.
The accelerator pedal was applied in the second session, which discussed how KM can drive matter management efficiency and support alternative fee arrangements. We found ourselves empowered to cosy up to our finance departments for profitability figure breakdowns in order to tackle the unpicking and analysis of transactions and the assessment of those which were profitable and those which were not. This would help us to identify best practice to reengineer these transactions and encourage partners to resource more efficiently. Chris Stoakes of Hogan Lovells advanced matters with a nitty-gritty demonstration of a pricing template (devised and copyrighted by him in a previous life at a non-law firm) to ensure partners’ proper consideration before issuing fee quotes to clients.
This sophisticated template methodology turned out to be a natural extension of ‘triangulation’ or weighing of the file, a historic method used by firms which, as it turns out, was not so crazy after all. Six pillars of pricing were identified as well as the KM importance of keeping a transaction log and conducting internal and external debriefs, but understanding the client relationship was still paramount.
The morning coffee break bore witness to last year’s horror stories of retrenchment and loss of head count with priorities focusing on meeting expectations rather than exciting new projects – but the presence of new faces dotted among the more familiar ones confirmed the presence of recruitment out there and the overall mood was upbeat, which was good to hear. There was an interesting cross-section of attendees too, junior and more senior, from small and large firms, regional, national and international, including overseas KM professionals from
The final session before lunch featured a panel discussion with representatives from Baker & McKenzie, Field Fisher Waterhouse and Allen & Overy giving their thoughts and experiences on the outsourcing of law firm KM, research and legal processes.
Break-out sessions took up the rest of the day – a popular formula for this event introduced a few years ago, which keeps energy levels up after lunch and allows attendees greater participation. Areas covered included the use of consultants and how to get the best out of them, the shaping of future PSL roles, the human side of KM innovation, enterprise search, international KM structures and contrasting case studies of knowledge sharing through social software.
Overriding themes (subsequently echoed, on good authority, on the second day) emerged: an emphasis on innovation through people rather than technology; the importance of firms using KM to know and understand their clients better; and the need for KM professionals to be the ones to use this knowledge to drive efficiency innovations in their firms as self-starters rather than relying on others, whether lawyers or fellow business support areas. It was incumbent on KM professionals to offer dynamic solutions to clients without waiting to be asked.
Cora Newell is founder of KM Insight Consulting and a member of the Inside Knowledge editorial board. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org