The past year has impacted the way law firms operate and service their clients. As a result, the information functions of knowledge management (KM) and Library Services must be reimagined and aligned with the firm’s overall innovation and growth strategies. In this context of growth, streamlined operations, and enhanced client collaboration, we held a webinar to discuss where firmwide innovation is heading next.
Law firm leaders and executives sharing their line of sight into strategies and future initiatives in the legal innovation space included:
- Gina Lynch, Chief Knowledge Officer at Paul Weiss
- Ali Shahidi, Chief Innovation & Client Solutions Officer at Sheppard Mullin
- Barbara Taylor, Chief Knowledge Officer at DLA Piper
- Amy Wegener, Chief Practice Innovation Officer at Paul Hastings
A summary of the conversation is detailed below, and you can watch the full webinar recording here.
As Chief Practice Innovation Officer, Amy Wegener described innovation at Paul Hastings as including new ways to work and deliver legal services to clients. One of the things the firm has found over the years is that their clients are requesting lawyers to do things differently. With the legal tech sector booming, clients want to take advantage of the latest technologies on the market. Amy and her team are constantly looking for ways to modernize tools and processes for their lawyers so that they can work more effectively and meet client satisfaction. But even with the right resources, ensuring their lawyers understand how to use these tools is critical.
Ali Shahidi echoes Amy’s definition and adds that innovation at Sheppard Mullin is client-driven and risk-taking. His team thinks about fresh ways to support client-facing initiatives, new skills and roles their attorneys need to deliver services. For example, the firm has identified an emerging role that is focused on process improvement, efficient delivery of legal services and experimentation.
New delivery models for information
At Paul Weiss, Gina Lynch heads the KM, research, and business intelligence teams as Chief Knowledge Officer. The three teams are responsible for information delivery and are able to carry out their duties with emerging technologies and context. The groups work best when each stays in their lane as they all have different mandates and deliverables.
For instance, on the KM side, the KM lawyers are all practicing lawyers and are embedded in the practice groups. They track deals and cases, collect matter information, and attend practice group meetings. They regularly talk to practice group leaders and have frequent conversations with associates in order to understand what is going on in that department. So when research requests come in, they have the context needed to fulfill those requests. Gina says “We really find that keeping KM and precedence within the KM team really important.”
When it comes to research, Gina keeps the team skilled in what they do, and added that they have over 300 electronic resources that they must know how to use. While a first line of defense is implemented so lawyers can obtain information themselves via a self-help library portal, a research management system is also used.
While the delivery of information seems simplistic on the surface, Gina points out that “it’s really all very nuanced in terms of how you deliver information.” Her approach is targeted and strategic to ensure the right information goes to the right place. For example, focusing on first, second, and third year associates, her team developed loosely defined groups of four competencies that they believed associates should be using. In addition, they do bi-annual “house calls” where a research analyst who is assigned to a group of associates will evaluate submitted search requests and provide recommendations on what tools associates should leverage in order to complete their work.
Over at DLA Piper, Barbara Taylor leads the new knowledge department as Chief Knowledge Officer and described the delivery of research information at her firm as tailored. “We’re a big, broad firm,” and added that “the practice is becoming incredibly sophisticated and we need to be as sophisticated in response to that.” Her team strikes a balance between self-service and research support depending on specific attorney needs. Their redesigned research portal is available for quick guidance, but if further assistance is needed, their analyst team is also accessible.
Barbara and her team also carefully curate resources and make them easy to find in their catalog. For the attorneys who are uncertain of what they need, a knowledge platform is provided to match attorneys’ work to recommend resources they may be looking for. Integrations are also utilized through business intelligence tools to pull information from a variety of sources and present the data on a dashboard.
Resourcing imperatives post-pandemic
When the pandemic started, Amy noticed the high demand for legal research resources at Paul Hastings. There was an immediate need for research support as lawyers worked from home and needed new information. A positive result from last year is that lawyers recognized the services and skills their legal research team can offer — whether it is targeted legal research needs or training support on how to use different tools.
The partnership between their research team and practice innovation attorneys is a beneficial development for their lawyers and clients and a direction where Amy envisions resources going in the future.
Barbara has also been distancing themselves from physical resources before the pandemic. Digital resources are more current and do not require the additional process of maintaining up-to-date catalogs. While COVID-19 accelerated the transition from physical to digital, it also reinforced the importance of a strong technical skill set as things change and the world moves forward. People with formal or informal change management experience are needed as well as those with the capability to try something new. It is “an absolute business imperative now”, Barbara said.
The evolving nature of research
The Paul Weiss research team has a strong depth of understanding the areas they work in and how research is delivered. When associates start a research assignment, they will go to the research team because it is a time saver and the right answer will be provided. Research demand continues to grow and the knowledge transfer from the KM and research teams is essential to associates and partners.
Gina and her team also introduced a concept called “resource centers” after they noticed the same type of requests being submitted. They responded by compiling materials related to that request and used SharePoint to quickly set up these centers for associates to find the most important, recent precedents and research instantly.
Where CI lives
For Sheppard Mullin, CI lives within the knowledge services group as approximately 50 percent of their incoming requests are linked to CI. With the trend growing, Ali stressed enhanced integration with both practice groups and client teams to fulfill these requests as they require specificity and analysis. He also said subject matter experts in this field are helpful as they can handle these requests due to their expertise in performing lengthy research work and delivering quality reports with timely insights. The CI output should be concise and actionable as opposed to a data dump of random bits of information. Anyone can pull information from various sources on a given topic, but being able to connect the dots and present the insights in an easy to digest format is vital.
Business intelligence is what Paul Weiss equates with CI and that group operates from Gina’s KM department. The BI work is aligned with the strategic initiatives of the firm and includes lateral recruiting, identifying emerging practice areas, or industry write-ups. As a result, strong writing and analytical skills are sought after in CI or BI analysts. “Everything we create from the BI team is bespoke”, explains Gina. “There is nothing cut and paste to these reports.” The outputs from the BI team are more polished due to the in-depth analysis required.
The relationship between KM, the library, and marketing/BD
KM and the library is all part of Paul Hasting’s practice innovation department. Together, they work closely on SharePoint slides on their intranet, creating knowledge bases and news alerts for the lawyers. The firm now calls the KM and library relationship “research services” as they have modernized their operations and do not have libraries anymore.
Marketing is integrated in both research services and their practice innovation attorneys. An area of collaboration Amy noted from these groups is the collection of information about the firm’s deals and litigation. Their BD team needs this information to promote the work their lawyers do. The practice innovation attorneys have experience reviewing deal documents and obtaining information from the lawyers about the specifics of the deal. This, in turn, makes it easier for the development of marketing content for lawyers.
DLA Piper has a very similar structure and the same kinds of overlaps. Barbara added that the underlying database is owned by the knowledge team, but it is an incredibly important resource for all aspects of marketing and BD, as well as their operations teams.