Yesterday I had the pleasure of moderating a webinar with a group of stellar panelists who shone some light on what firms across the world are doing to turn their KM functions client-facing.
As clients increasingly understand the value that is to be had from leveraging their law firms’ professional staff, they are asking for increased collaboration as well as services and products that go beyond traditional legal offerings. For firms that have yet to make this leap into “beyond-legal” client work, it can be difficult to know where to start. This conundrum is further complicated by the fact that KM functions look different from firm to firm, and especially from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Our discussion with panelists Heather Colman (Senior Manager of KM and Innovation at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt in Toronto), April Brousseau (Head of Innovation and New Business at Simmons & Simmons in London), and Vedika Mehera (Innovation Advisor at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in San Francisco) kicked off with a comparison of what KM looks like in their various environments. For both Vedika and Heather, KM is focused on efficiency and client value, introducing technology and methods to streamline and enhance legal practice at their firms. April, on the other hand, commented that when she was first invited to participate in the webinar, she politely declined because her firm doesn’t have a KM function as such. I can attest to this fact, and to our follow-up discussion during which April and I talked about the way that KM was variously regarded in North America versus the UK. In the latter, the words KM will still apply more traditionally to content-specific work, and separate functions often exist that deal with legal innovation. This is certainly the case at Simmons & Simmons, where April sits within a pure innovation team that focuses largely on product development.
In spite of international differences, all panelists agreed that the key to turning KM (or legal innovation) client-facing lies in leveraging insights and expertise to the benefit of clients. Vedika considers the key value here to be around collaboration. She highlighted the value to be had in taking platforms that have already proved their value internally and turning them into client-facing tools. Heather spoke of taking a KM department’s expertise, however that is focused within a firm, and engaging the client in such a way that they benefit directly from that expertise. An example here might be providing clients with consulting advice around innovative technology tools, or methods for innovation. April’s client-facing proposition borrows from other industries, using service design methodologies to truly understand the jobs to be done in respect of a particular client problem, and then designing products for clients that meet those requirements. There was general agreement that the key to turning any portion of a KM function client facing was to really listen to the client, and to ensure that what is being provided responds to client needs.
Each of our panelists provided a success story from their own environments, showcasing the benefits their respective firms had provided to clients by leveraging KM to meet external needs. I highly recommend that any readers who were unable to join the webinar tune in to watch the recording of it, because the excellent summary slides add color and insight to these case studies. However, I will do my best in writing below to give a snapshot of each.
At Orrick, Vedika and her team responded to a client need that was expressed through repeated requests for information about legaltech tools, by developing a platform that provided this information in a digestible fashion. The “Observatory” database captures information about over 600 legal technology tools across almost 20 data points, and allows users to see whether a tool has been used at Orrick, and if so, in what capacity. The tool is both internal and external-facing, and empowers both attorneys and clients to inform themselves. For attorneys, it also allows them to service clients more readily using technology, and for clients, it provides an easy way to request use of a particular tool in relation to their matter work with the firm. This solution neatly addresses the RFP request that is now regularly posed by clients about how a firm will leverage technology to facilitate the efficiency of their work, and serves the purpose of a kind of menu of services the client can request.
Simmons & Simmons SMCR Solution
An example of the responsiveness by the Simmons & Simmons innovation team to client needs and market changes is showcased in a successful subscription product. The Senior Management Certification Regime (SMCR) is a UK-specific regulation that was recently introduced and affects corporate clients. April’s team recognized it would be useful to clients to provide in-depth information about the regime and how it would affect them. What they hadn’t anticipated until they went to speak with clients to test their theory, is that organizations also wanted training around the new regime so that they could implement the changes themselves. Armed with this knowledge, April’s team pivoted, and partnered with another platform provider with expertise in e-learning. This joint effort across platforms allowed for the development of a product that provides legal insight and expertise on the regulatory changes, combined with practical e-learning modules including quizzes. The platform is fully available to clients on-line, in the cloud, for a subscription fee, and it is the only platform in the UK that provides the training component around this new regulatory regime. April credits the significant uptake and success of the platform to her team’s deep understanding of client needs, which allowed them to deliver something truly useful.
Osler’s Design Spring Workshop
At Osler, Heather and her team were approached by a client who had a number of different needs. The client was itself beginning to develop an internal innovation function, and wanted help from the Osler team in understanding how to build a culture of innovation and what methodologies they could use to get started. They also wanted to learn new methods of problem-solving, and to foster team spirit across their own function. They were keen to get off-site to facilitate this. In order to meet the client’s needs, Heather’s team devised a design thinking workshop for the client that would get them into the Osler offices for an entire morning, learning about how to engage their organization more broadly in their innovation initiative through actively undertaking a design session that had the secondary effect of teaching them how to use the methodology for their own purposes. Heather and her team partnered with Hersh Perlis from the Toronto Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) in order to ensure that the client workshop went smoothly and was run professionally. The client was thrilled with the result, and future client-facing work is now likely.
How to Get Your Initiative Started
The panel finished off with a few practical tips on how to get started with a client-facing initiative. Putting the client first and responding to their needs is at the core of all of the suggestions. It is also vital to consider when to develop a product or an expertise, and when it is more effective to partner with another expert to facilitate a solution. Additional tips include:
- Identify areas of current expertise, and areas where the firm has sufficient existing data to develop a meaningful solution;
- Identify work that is standard and repeatable, or expertise that might be effectively delivered in untraditional ways (for example, rules-based areas of law, compliance, regulatory);
- Actively engage with clients to understand their “Jobs to be Done," which means understanding the ultimate outcome the client is trying to achieve.
- Collaborate with other departments and other entities.
Click on the link below to hear the full recording of the webinar, and many thanks again to the engaging panelists for sharing their useful insights.