Overcoming the “How can I ask without looking silly?” barrier: KM Legal Europe

January in Amsterdam has become a bit of a tradition as is leading the opening session at KM Legal Europe.

My brief was to replicate 2016 and provide a stimulating opening. I was delighted with the enthusiastic response and the level of interaction that occured over the two days expertly led again by Chair Raffael Büchi.

So what did I see and hear (and learn), and where is Legal KM one year on?

What trends did I see?

The ‘big’ trends for me were:

  • A headlong rush into document automation. “Automating the drafting of legal documents” = intelligent workflow with knowledge embedded that reduces duplication and saves time. 50% of the room said their organisation was engaged in some form of document automation. And its easy to see why its appealing. One statistic that was shared: a saving of 200 lawyer hours a month from 1,150 templates automated. Interestingly this presents a great opportunity for KM’ers with Document Automation installaton experience. Not enough experience vs. too many installations. Importantly another value of Doc Auto: Training young lawers – gets them up to speed quicker as questions it poses makes them understand.
  • The ongoing challenge of getting adoption for the plethora of KM related initiatives: As one speaker suggested, the key is getting them set up yourself f2f. Don’t subcontract to IT. And ‘Celebrate’ use. Communication needs a good narrative to motivate people and get engagment. F2F meetings vital. Brand it as your product; Use advocates (Butterfly effect); Get testimonials.
  • How often reporting lines change for KM’ers as their sponsor moves on. Few I spoke to were on the Managing Committee, many had seen their sponsorship downgraded.

What surprised me?

  • The ease with which all the delegates (many in suits) enthusiastically engaged with the opening exercise I ran and were suprisingly open and candid about “what do you bring to the event?” and “what are the big issues you are facing and would like an answer to?”

  • That despite the promotional hype, machine learning engines still require a lot of manual input upfront from people with domain knowledge to get started which is why there is a growth in companies offering to do the setup work. Need to have engaged partner to drive document automation yet some lawyers enjoy drafting docs – issue: WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) is not addressed.
  • That some firms really get the value of KM. European Law Firm of Year; Swiss Law Firm of Year, UK Law Firm of Year. A Common thread? All have KM Heads who are attending the event. The European Law Firm of the Year had a Senior Partner, the Partner responsible for KM and the KM Head. They are one of few firms to have adopted ISO 9001 Quality Management -realised needed something to unify disparate offices and integrate aquisitions. The dna of the firm: based around the Practice Management System their default system (CRM plus) containing a body of knowledge on the Baltic region which can be put to multiple uses for the firm. It also serves as a timesheet for billable time. Challenge is how to replace so they embarked on a firm wide stakeholder engagement to produce a requirements specification. Note it was not seen as an IT Project!
  • The way in which the dynamic / energy changes at an event when it reverts to “Show and Tell” vs “Ask and Share” The lesson those engaged in the creating and running of events like this took away was that you need people energised from the ‘get go’ each day.
  • That many thought you could engage in Knowledge Capture via forms and macros. As I tweeted: My great fear – you don’t get critical knowledge captured by completing a form – you need to do it around events and in person!
  • That Data Breaches have become a way of life – firms need process for dealing with them as penalties are punitive.

Quotes that stuck (or got tweeted)

Machine learning needs external input to get it going, its a classic case of GIGO – Garbage in Garbage out!

AI: not magic, evolved from sophisticated search. Previously Autonomy inspired plus document automation and NLP thx

AI: when it works its looking at human processes and how to support /emulate with computers to help them make better decisions.

Choosing the right system for your firm is not an IT project, it is a deeply strategic decision – Aku

One revealing survey result from Lawyers: “How can I ask without looking silly?” – loss of face is a real barrier to adoptiion!

Adoption Tips for Sceptics: Articulate savings; Flatter Rocket Scientists and invite contributions; Ignore unbelievers who often turn when others are doing it and they feel peer pressure to join them.

Knowhow management is not a “ding an sich”, separated from other business functns. It’s just a regular part of good management.


What advice would I give Legal KM’ers?

  • Your role will involve more Curation and Facilitiation (2 of the 8 ‘ates I talk about elsewhere in describing the future role of the ‘Knowledgeur’) as the need to consolidate corporate knowledge becomes increasingly digital. Tools should be based on the strategic direction of the firm; learning (not training) sessions ensure people are versed in their use. But don’t forget one of the most important KM tools is Coffee – one new KM leader had 420 coffees in first couple of months!
  • Don’t be afraid to use external speakers to stimulate an in house response and introduce an element of competition. Round table cafes are successful in Switzerland – over food!
  • Embrace technology as it’s here to stay. Where possible use the systems already in house. Develop practice groups to help produce requirements specifications. And make sure you are clear the role each tool is playing.
  • You can achieve a lot with a little. Real change is often simple and inexpensive. In one example the PA’s wanted a practice group to organise calendars and email traffic and Intranet needed quick links. Both were low level but effective and resulted in improved productivity. Where possible use the systems already in house.
  • Be opportunistic: A Good KM /comms /engagement. The Brexit vote gave impetus to a “Hot Topic” project in one firm. By consolidating all that was known and equipping lawyers with answers the profile of the team rose. Learning: people like getting together to discuss topics.
  • KM Legal needs to be closely aligned with Learning & Development and HR. One firm developed a 1 week corporate program (mini MBA) that included KM focused on competency gaps. Their KM Committee reports straight to Managing Partner. It has teeth and includes core functions of the business.
  • Develop a suite of simple facilitation tools and techniques: One firms uses POSE acronym to drive all meetings: Purpose / Owner / Safety / Engagement. I’ve often used DEBRIEFS.
  • Become part of the business development process: Many firms now see KM involvement as important to winning new business or as part of the broader service offering.

And finally:

AI: when it works its looking at human processes and how to support / emulate with computers to help them make better decisions

I see this as being an evolution rather than a revolution. We are at Stage 3.

Stage 1 Search: Making documents, images and audio/video available and tagged;

Stage 2 Review & Connect: Analyse/summarise documents, images & audio/video push to relevant people. Identify patterns, connect; and

Stage 3 Predict & Facilitate: Using raft of data, information & accumulated knowledge to predict likely outcome & facilitate

One of the real highlights was that 20 people joined me for an impromptu conference dinner at a nearby Pho Vietnamese Restaurant. It reinforced the importance of food and drink in being lubricants for great conversations.

I took away a feeling that this question is still not being addressed satisfactorily and that firms remain at risk when people and teams leave or are acquired:

The risk of critical knowledge loss is not just about what people know, its about who they know and what networks they might know.

Perhaps AI will help in consolidating the know how of firms and hence build resilience into their models which remain vulnerable if people (and teams leave). Certainly the approach being adopted by the European Law Firm of the year of integrating CRM and workflow with precedents and transaction management is a bold step. Only time will tell if its successful and becomes the blueprint.

a reluctance to tweet: 10 success factors for virtual teams

It was like throwing a dart into a vacuum

Is how I responded on Twitter to Mark Gould an offsite observer of #KMLegal2015 who bemoaned the lack of online activity by the 100 or so Knowledge & Information Management (KIM) professionals who were attending this year’s Ark Group gathering of the UK KM legal community.

Its baffling: vendors, consultants and indeed KIM practitioners promote the value of social collaboration tools such as Yammer and Jive. Indeed KIM professionals are often at the forefront of efforts to get adoption in their organisation in order to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing. Yet they seem reluctant to ‘walk the talk’ in a public forum.

Perhaps Joanna Goodman got it right when she said:

sessions were quite interactive, so hard to be fully engaged and tweeting

It made me think more about why I tweet at a conference, this is what I posted during a virtual conversation with Luis Suarez a prodigious tweeter (58k to nearly 12k followers):

Why tweet a conference? Expand reach, collaborate, collect and share thoughts ‘on the fly’. Make notes for future blogs.

What really struck me though was the contrast with the Janders Dean Legal Knowledge & Innovation Conference, London #JDKMConf held the week before. That audience made sufficient ‘noise’ that even those who didn’t attend were able to draw conclusions. Here’s what Stephen Sander (The Vue Post) wrote in a witty piece about being a non attendee:

I curated below what I consider to be the best tweets from the Conference. These tweets offer an interesting insight into current themes and issues in legal knowledge, innovation and technology.

Perhaps this is the difference? The Janders Dean event was invitation only – a thought leaders event – whereas KM Legal is an open conference, if you pay up you can go!

Whatever the merits of both, facilitation should be at the core of the KIM professionals competency set and ‘putting stuff out there’ ia good part of that. Too many broadcast rather than engage. Knowledge Management in a comfort zone is not going to change the way a firm works and responds to the significant challenges facing the legal profession which brings me onto why I was there:

Managing Virtual Teams

In December, Martin White and I ran a breakfast breakout event at the RSA entitled The Future for Legal KIM: an outside in perspective’. One of the challenges firms identified as significant but for which they were ill prepared was the management of virtual teams. As a couple of long in the tooth practitioners who have worked across many continents we’d seen a wide range of organisations fail to match their virtual team technology investment with training in how to go about facilitating virtual encounters.

Virtual Teams Presentation StructureOur brief for KM Legal 2015 was therefore entertain the audience, bring the issues to life. Our approach: tell stories and show images.

We divided the presentation into these areas each drawing on events from our knowledge base.

In tackling the culture piece I noted the following:

Let me say right up front: you can’t manage culture just the same as you can’t manage knowledge. In both cases you can create environments in which people are willing to collaborate, share and work towards a shared set of goals.

Many organisations have a set of values and a social contract that underpins the relationship between the firm and employees.

Ultimately a firm is a collection of individuals each with their own reasons for being there. In a virtual team people’s fears, prejudices and behaviours are magnified.

In thinking and rehearsing for the session Martin and I had worked virtually. We learned a lot about clarity of messages and intent behind words and phrase (and we are both English). We (re) discovered the need for a collaboration space with a framework that suited us both.

We discovered a lot more besides, here’s what we shared with the delegates:

Ten virtual team success factors

  1. Virtual teams are the way work gets done: Recognise that virtual teams are going to be increasingly important to any organisation, and ensure that current and potential participants have access to training and mentoring on virtual team management and virtual team meetings.
  2. Set very clear and achievable objectives: Virtual teams should have very clear objectives so that it is possible to set the investment in the team against the outcome and also that team members bring appropriate skills, expertise and authority to take action.
  3. Chose virtual team leaders carefully: Leadership skills that work for physical teams may not be as valuable in a virtual team environment. Other skills are needed and have to be acquired through practice, not just through reading or teaching.
  4. Develop protocols for virtual meetings; Without good team meetings a virtual team is very unlikely to achieve its objectives and so particular care should be taken in developing guidelines for virtual meetings and for facilitating feedback.
  5. Provide team member profiles: Develop good profiles of each team member, taking into account local availability of technology and offices which can be used to take part in virtual meetings (especially in the case of open-plan offices) and language expertise.
  6. Build virtual relationships before putting them to the test: Each team should have an opportunity to meet with other members of the team through an initial virtual meeting where members can introduce themselves and gain experience with the technology being used before the first formal meeting of the team.
  7. Team dynamics can be difficult to manage: Team dynamics of virtual teams can be quite fragile, often depending on a very high level of trust in people they may not have met before. Introducing a new team member into an existing team may mean starting the process of building trust all over again.
  8. Gain consensus on what needs to happen between meetings?: Team members may have different reporting lines, which may impede the overall achievement of objectives. The measure of a virtual team is what it accomplishes between meetings, not how enjoyable the meetings are
  9. “English is our corporate language”: Issues of language and culture need careful consideration but should never be an excuse not to bring specific individuals into a team. There may be a mix of abilities in reading, speaking, understanding and writing in English
  10. Evaluate team and individual performance: The performance of the team and of each member should be carefully evaluated and training and support given where needed.