Please enjoy this blog post written by Lisa Gianakos, Director of Practice Technology Solutions, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.
It is an age-old problem, getting practices to share across offices. The reasons are many but commonly the result of a merger, where there is suddenly more than one group of attorneys specializing in the same area, but in different physical locations. But when I was asked if I could write a short entry on ways to tackle this problem, I decided to focus on whether there really is a problem to be solved!
Ultimately if there IS, it is due to either people, process or technology. And while it’s possible a firm does have some technology issues making sharing across regions difficult (slow network speeds across the WAN, outdated technology, technologies not yet integrated in a merged firm scenario, etc.), what I have observed is the problem is most often People and/or Process; in essence, the culture of the practice, and the firm more generally. I recently spoke with KM leaders at 5 other large firms, and they agreed with this summary.
But let’s start with what I consider the easy-stuff – technology. (OK – not simple at all but perhaps easier than herding cats!). If you need technology upgrades, consolidation or similar issues resolved in order to enable better knowledge-sharing, there’s not much I can offer here that you don’t already know. People are not going to share, collaborate, whatever you want to call it, if the technology impedes the steady flow of work or is too disruptive to handle. Attorneys will find a workaround even if it’s no more efficient. In some cases that feels easier if it avoids dealing with change.
Assuming the technology issues are not the network infrastructure itself, but your firm simply doesn’t have tools that enable or improve the flow and sharing of knowledge, consider research and investing in platforms such as Microsoft Teams or SharePoint TeamSpace, or even Yammer! I list these because most firms are Microsoft based and likely to have licensing for these examples. There are tons of non-MS options out there. Slack or DMS add-ins seem to be among popular options. Note that I’m assuming that your firm HAS a DMS and that it is relatively up to date. This tends to be the starting place for building out KM, since attorney work product is most often in written form (documents) and already needs to be managed for the client’s sake, and the firm’s risk protection. If you are a smaller firm without a DMS, many KM or Collaboration solutions include the ability to store documents too, though bells and whistles (or gavels?) may be limited.
If you are a KM-minded person like me, or have a PM or library science background, you can’t imagine why people would simply NOT want to be organized and used consistent methods! At Pillsbury, we created a separate library/cabinet in our DMS (NetDocs) for knowledge collections. This separation was made during our migration from a prior platform, to NetDocs, many years ago, to intentionally raise the visibility of KnowHow and providing a central location for it.. We also hoped to entice usage by making our Know-How cabinet searchable in our enterprise search, which goes beyond what is natively possible in NetDocs. Further, because we license LSA (Lexis Search Advantage) and layer it atop our enterprise search (OpenText’s Decisiv), attorneys receive the added benefit of having additional meta-data (meaning more filters) automatically extracted from these documents. So in my mind, why wouldn’t you want to benefit from following a standard practice??
I believe I was relatively successful in identifying and migrating all of the one-off collections from our old DMS, to the new DMS’ Know-How cabinet. Many of these were previously in a location designated by both practice and office. Essentially, it was an office-centric culture that I was trying to lead to a practice-centric approach, as least as far as KM is concerned. There were a handful of practices already had a single multi-office location for know-how. In other cases, I was able to identify “niche” collections and have those moved as well. (My niche, I mean one attorney’s person/private collection.). I did my best to provide taxonomy advice but mostly focused on those that were interested in KM (the enlightened few).
All of that said, there isn’t necessarily much advantage to attorneys practicing in different locations. For example, having know-how stored in the same location, for real estate attorneys in California and Virginia may not add much, if the forms, precedents, and other stored knowledge is unique to or only specific to that region. Also, when two groups of attorneys in the same practice area, came from different merged firms, it may be difficult to get them to agree on how/what a consolidated library (and/or workflows) should be. That’s a much harder cultural problem and not one that I try to tackle. At the end of the day, I have expertise and experience in legal KM, tons of it actually. I love talking about, helping, giving advice and suggestions; I will do just about anything for a practice that is bought in. But for those not interested in having a single sandbox of friends, I can only offer my advice, and not worry about whether or not they take it, agree with it, or are even interested in what this non-attorney “expert” has to say. In the end, the idea of sharing across offices as being necessary, or the lack of it a problem, is not necessarily true. As always, it DEPENDS!