More from ILTA11 Weds. Notes

Didn’t get to post up my notes from Wednesday’s sessions, spending the night being treated to dinner and a show at the Bluebird Cafe instead by the fine folks at Tru Staffing. (The folks who recruited me to come to work down in South Carolina, thanks Jared and Erin!)) As the evening’s entertainment stretched into a trip downtown for even of Nashville’s music scene, there simply wasn’t time to sit down and type. Imagine that, an ILTA Conference where there isn’t enough time to do everything you want to. 😉

Weds. Keynote – Robin Crow

Definitely one of the more entertaining and thought-provoking keynotes. Robin said a ton of different things, but a couple really struck a chord with me.

  • Leaders are inquisitive and they listen to what matters for their customers, and then they focus on exceeding customer expectations. You don’t have to be in a leadership position to practice these traits, everyone has customers that can be better served with some creative solutions.
  • Quoting from the Declaration of Independence, if you have the ability to act, you have the responsibility to act.

The question is, does everyone in a law firm actually have the ability to act? Are there people on the technical side of the house with creative ideas that may help serve their customers better, who are not empowered to suggest, let alone implement, those ideas? As inspiring as the keynote was, I was left pondering this question most of all. Perhaps I am just getting jaded in my old age? Truth be told, as we see further along these two days worth of notes, I am jaded about the current law firm model. Which brings me to the next session.

Corporate Legal eDiscovery

This was a 6 topics in 60 minutes session, but my notes wound up not being organized that way, so bear with me for more of a train of thought summary

  • Speakers all from corporate law departments.
  • “We don’t just hand over litigation to a law firm and let you handle it anymore”. – Outside counsel expected to have task lists, project plans, communicate with law department consistently, in order to be held accountable.
  • Legal Departments are using advanced metrics to measure how firms perform on their matters, expect firms to do the same, and share information.
  • More large corporations are handling their own discovery collection and first pass review/ECA. Example given by Eric Leiber, we want to decide what’s collected, how it’s handled and what gets passed to the outside firm. Why would we pay $200/hour for an attorney to review thousands of .gif  logo images attached to every email?
  • Law firms need to realize that they are an outside vendor, and are going to be treated the same way, held to the same standards. Alex Arato of CA says that he hires all vendors, doesn’t want a vendor with an existing relationship with law firm to be in contact with the firm and him out of the loop. Everyone is answerable to him.
  • Not getting sanctioned is not a metric to measure the success of discovery.

As someone who is entrenched in a firm, this session was eye-opening. In talking to another attendee from a law firm about all of the law department sessions, I don’t think I can wrap it up better than he did. “We aren’t listening to these people”. Clearly, large corporate clients are looking for firms that offer transparency, measurable efficiency, and certifiable data security. They are taking more and more control of their own legal processes, viewing the firm as simply another vendor to consider. Many are moving away from using law firms for a great many things that firms are offering and either handling it themselves or using another, more cost-effective, solution. Firms that offer discovery processing and review need to be both price and service competitive. It’s not enough to offer the convenience of having it all done in one place, they are recognizing the inefficiencies that exist in that model. All of which makes the next session a nice follow up.

How KM Supports Innovative Service Delivery 

  • Most firms fail at KM because they either can’t collect the right information, can’t keep it current, or can’t deliver it in a useful way to their own attorneys.
  • Attorneys are prone to be bound by precedent and have poor vision, therefore they are reluctant to do anything new. The “old normal” is fundamentally broken, it’s not coming back.
  • Squire Sanders has created matter sites, accessible to both clients and the attorneys on the legal team. Shared resources, shared documents. Information is gathered from various systems and presented to the customer in the way that makes sense to them, not the firm.
  • Brynn Wiswall showed similar service offering from Baker Donelson, complete with matter calendar, shared documents and a team blog, accessible to health care clients who requested more transparency. Actually started gathering information from the client to prepare for litigation, and presenting it back to them, right along side current information on their own matters, legal resources, eventually this evolved into a legal consulting relationship, with the firm assisting in Litigation Readiness, data mapping, retention policies, etc.
  • Littler, who historically has published quite a lot of material, created similar offerings, specific to a client and available online. Includes advanced metrics on a clients matters, percentage settled, average settlement amount, status of current matters, etc. Started collecting state-specific resources to support attorneys spread across 50 offices, and eventually turned that into premium content for clients. (KM makes money!)
  • All of this transparency led to legal process management, demanded by clients as part of bid for national litigation. Metrics developed show that the increased efficiency developed did not mean lower revenue, did not mean lower profits, and did not mean a lower quality work-product. In fact, just the opposite happened. New opportunities were presented, and taken advantage of. The new normal did not have to mean the end of the world.

Again, this notion that clients are taking control of their own legal matters. Firms simply have to have tools in place to provide metrics to their large clients. As we talked about on Tuesday, you might imagine that it would take a large firm’s resources to pull all of this together, but technology is lowering that barrier to entry, letting small firms create efficiencies that they never could before. Making them more competitive, and more attractive to firms stuck in old models where they control the legal matters.

After lunch, I was off to a vendor demo instead of another session. (More on that in another post) So the last session of the day wound up being

Breaking Strategic Groups Out of IT

Probably the best starting point for this topic was the speaker who mentioned that once upon a time, everything that had a technology component was supported by IT, but now that everything has a technology component, should it still be this way?

  • Large, amorphous IT groups wind up with competing priorities.
  • On the other hand, if you split off specific groups do you end up with duplicate technology or staff?
  • Does having one large group limit the potential for visibility of any individuals? Suggestion of making sure to credit all the involved parties of a project at rollout, or with a success story. (i.e. that Sharepoint site rollout may be quite the impressive feat, but it doesn’t happen without the network guy who built the server, who no one knows because he’s never mentioned.)
  • Splitting off dedicated IT staff for KM, Lit Support, AFA’s R&D, etc. can increase their visibility, and get IT involvement in projects up front much more easily, but you have to be careful not to completely cut them off from the mothership of IT. Have to consider whether they can still access the same resources they need from within IT.
  • Also have to consider the career path. Are you putting these folks in a semi-managerial position, when they aren’t ready to be a manger? (I know from experience, just because no one reports to you, does not mean that you aren’t managing a process, or specialized area of work that still requires some managerial skills) Secondly, what is the upward career path from where they are? when you are the KM Technology Admin, where do you go from there? Would a virtual team work here, where individuals from different departments work together across disciplines, as opposed to breaking someone off?
  • Can you create a group that is tied to revenue, thereby changing the way they are viewed across the entire firm? Does that bring value to the entire firm?

As a Litigation Support person, who moved into Lit Support from IT, I was curious about this topic, and it didn’t disappoint. The one question I continually came back to, is moving from an IT department, into a specialized area, like Litigation Support, a career dead-end? You’re not part of that IT structure any longer, so your upward path is no longer on that side of things. You don’t go from tech support, to Litigation Support, or KM, and back to either a managerial tech support role, or network admin role. Your path has been altered away from that, but into a legal discipline, that you have not been prepared for. So, likewise, you don’t go from being a Lit Support technology expert, to a litigation case manager. Not in a large firm. In a small firm there might be some flexibility there, but in large firms, the higher end positions go to those with a legal background, non-practicing attorneys, ediscovery consultants, etc. How much of that is the requirement of a strong legal background being impossible to reach for someone from the IT background, and how much of that is because none of the attorneys know who those folks are anyway? When we are writing the success stories of ediscovery, do we mention the folks who actual process the data, build and maintain the review systems, and create the productions? Or do we only mention the legal people who oversaw that process? Is that why there’s more potential for growth at small firms, where people are likely to know who you are? When you are spread across dozens of offices around the country, how do you create visibility for back office operations teams located in another place, whether it be helpdesk or Lit Support, or Finance?

Is it even possible to be more than the “black box” once that specialized group has been broken off to work in a specific area? Discuss….

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