Podcast: The Hearing – Meredith Williams-Range – Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer at Shearman & Sterling

In this week’s episode, I am joined by the preeminent thought leader in legal tech, and Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer at Shearman & Sterling, Meredith Williams-Range.

Taking us on a journey from her small-town, rural upbringing just outside of Memphis (where you’ll find the absolute best BBQ) to the bright lights of New York, Meredith tells how family tragedy and a decade-long lawsuit led to a career in law.

Meredith talks about her career at Baker Donelson, where she worked with colleagues steeped in American history, including President Reagan’s Chief of Staff, and eventually became involved with legal tech. The hustle led to a fascinating new position at Shearman & Sterling, a position that Meredith notes was designed on a napkin! The firm’s great vision and wonderful people meant that Meredith knew from the start that she could do great work there… and have the best geeky conversations.

In a fascinating discussion about the growth – and the daunting pace of growth – of legal tech and big data analytics, Meredith and Joe consider the biggest legal tech changes of recent years, and talk about the exceptional new tools that serve a true need, with the added bonus of giving the enormous power of data to lawyers.

‎The Hearing – A Legal Podcast: EP. 45 – Meredith Williams-Range (Shearman & Sterling) on Apple Podcasts

How medium-sized law firms can use legal tech to compete with the big industry players

Originally published in the Legal Insights UK & Ireland

By Joseph Raczynski

The familiar trio of ‘People, Process, and Technology’ play a role in every business. However, as medium-sized law firms increasingly compete for the same pool of clients with large law, it is the ‘Process and Technology’ that are shifting, and levelling the playing field. As for ’People’ – there is still a dearth of amazing lawyers available since the recession, so while important, it is the least altering factor among the three.

Large law firms are currently flanked on two sides: the Big Four consulting companies from the left and medium-sized law firms to the right. Some of the largest clients are increasingly seeking full service houses. For example, PwC or KPMG can handle everything from tax, IT services, marketing, facilities, procurement, and now legal services, all under one roof. As this goes to press, Ernst & Young just acquired Riverview Law to expand its managed legal services business, which further emphasises this point. This shift has been expanding as the Big Four grow their legal expertise. While it is unlikely that clients utilising the consulting companies may have considered a medium-sized firm, all of the remaining clients are now fair game for both large and medium law, and here is why.

Simply put, technology tools are levelling the playing field. With a proliferation of legal technology instruments on the market, each attempting to nibble at the traditional business of law or practice of law, there is a load of opportunity for any agile firm to gain traction. The surge in legal tech start-ups is global. Led by what some consider the last bastion of massive margins in business, the legal honeypot of financial gain awaits. In a business which has traditionally been less than efficient, the startups can taste the sweetness on their fingertips and are innovating in every direction in the legal landscape. The medium-sized firms that are open to the adoption of technology will have the upper hand.

Previously, larger pools of support staff and lawyers were necessary to accomplish or finish tasks. Now, leaner numbers can be prolific producers when it comes to rote services. There are tools which can magnificently automate documents in any number of areas including; real estate, employment, M&A, trust & estates agreements. Such processes essentially allow for more scale that medium sized law firms could not handle previously, by automating exemplar documents and turning them into intuitive questionnaires. This sort of example illustrates that any firm leveraging these types of technology can compete with nearly any other firm at some level. This was one. There are many similar examples where new tools are ushering in impressive efficiencies through a myriad legal technology tools. At the beginning of this technological shift, the tools will aid in the rote, and in the years ahead more complicated bespoke work will be enabled.

The risk ahead is for the firms that fail to innovate. Without the adoption of basic technology tools, they will not be able to compete with efficiency and turnaround for their clients. It will start gradually, but quickly impair the late or non-adopters.

Process isn’t proprietary ̶ it’s widely available  

Further, levelling the playing field is a process. Once upon a time, a barn full of lawyers was necessary to review documents for complex litigation. Those days are past. Now, a medium-sized firm can call upon LPO (Legal Process Outsourcing) to bring in 50 lawyers in 24 hours. Thus medium-sized firms can now use alternative legal service providers to ramp up instantaneously. The firm of 100 can now puff out their chest as they handle a far grander case than once was feasible with temps and staff lawyers. In addition, to magnify this, these LPOs are using increasingly efficient tools like TAR (Technology Assisted Review) to aid in the EDRM (Electronic Discovery Reference Model) and vastly improve speed to find relevant material.

Ceteris paribus, as legal technology tools advance rapidly and process is flattened, the distinguishing factor between large and medium firms will blur. In the end, with an even playing field, the unique creative “People” vision will likely tip a client into one camp or another. Ultimately, competition among all law firms will become progressively more spirited because of technology and process.

Improve Information Flow with Enterprise 2.0

By Joseph Raczynski

Jessica Shawl – Intel Corporation

Paul Domnick – Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP

Enterprise 2.0, collaborative based applications, solve inefficiencies caused by the inability to locate accurate information. This session at ILTA discussed why intranets do not suffice, single silo search is dying, and what is necessary to advance the firm’s productivity.

Across the board law firms are realizing that an increase in transparency nets far greater productivity and in-turn profit.  This knowledge sharing facilitates collaboration and reduces the time that attorneys spend searching for content.  Enterprise 2.0 is at the very center of this movement.

Enterprise 2.0 tools:

  • At the firm level for the portal you can create public feeds and flows. This would include internal and external RSS feeds based on subject, person, group or even specific search criteria.
  • Users can create, share, and tag information. Allowing others to vote on information as helpful or not can be a major boon.
  • Blogging can raise awareness of issues in a more formalistic view and others can comment on this material.
  • Group collaboration is another great tool for organizing information. This can be done via a Wiki and other group systems.
  • Lastly at the user level Enterprise 2.0 tools allow the individual to organize your information by tags, subject area, and even manage personal RSS feeds.

Suggestions from Enterprise 2.0 implementers:

  • Structure your tools so that it is easy to understand and learn
  • Keep it well organized and as hierarchical as possible, yet “searchably flat”
  • Learn how your users work. Understand their workflow and the tools will adjust and fit into that stream
  • Do not be afraid of testing new simple to implement applications like Yammer. The immediate impact can be very beneficial, if it does not work, they can be removed with little expense.
  • Make use of “Webjams” which are places where the firm can ask questions e.g. how can people be more efficient and work better?
  • Enable easy authoring and information sharing
  • Work towards an enterprise search so that everything across every silo is available
  • Leverage early adopters. With critical mass typically 70% of the firm’s users can be brought on board.
  • Lastly, take the tools we have in our “outside of work lives” and leverage them in the firm. Typically the tools we use in our personal lives make sense to users and can be adapted to a firm use.

Enterprise 2.0 is a major and powerful arena leveraging all the firms’ data and users creating transparencies which ultimately increase efficiencies and make for a more profitable firm.

Meaningful Metrics to Quantify ROI for KM and Enterprise 2.0 Deployments

By Joseph Raczynski

Clark R. Cordner – Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
Charlotte Herring – The US Judge Advocate General’s Corps

 

Recently some select firms have forgone the necessity to prove return on investment (ROI), for KM, portal and Enterprise 2.0.  However for the vast majority, ROI justification remains a constant.  In this session at ILTA, the panel examined the basics of metrics, how to measure productivity rather than busy-ness, how to measure engagement, and concrete ways to measure portal and Enterprise 2.0 applications.

As a baseline understanding for this discussion, metrics are numbers to gage progress, i.e. a quantifiable means to measure if there is a move from one point to another.  Firms engage in this activity to evaluate success and decide what to fund.  Simply stated they create these objectives to see if they are materially advancing the goals of the organization.

Metrics as a lens, key points to ponder:

  • Focus on the factors that have the most positive correlation for success
  • Ask yourself, “If success is… X, then I need to measure… Y.”
  • What are the business pain points?
  • Knowledge management is not always just technological issue, often it is education
  • What does success look like? Is it the bottom line for a firm?
  • KM tools are a critical component to success, choose wisely

Testing those metrics is a major component to your KM success.  Start with an educated guess based on your project goals and gather some basic data.  Also key to this empirical testing is to consult with focus groups and friendly stakeholders.  This not only verifies that you are working in the right direction; thus validating your work, it also tests your view verses others, establishing a complete balanced vision for the firm.  Lastly based on any feedback from these groups in testing these components, a firm should revise their methodology if necessary, adjust and repeat this process.

Portal metrics:

  • How many hits does the portal get? This will give the firm a glimpse into the level of interest and usefulness of the portal.
  • What kind of frequency do users return to the portal and for how long do they stay? These numbers will also assist in understanding interest, usefulness or possibly… forgetfulness.
  • Your firm should gather data on the identity of users. From these metrics you can figure out patterns of adoption; that is what age group, which practice group and what geographic area is using the portal?
  • Pull data on how current is the content is and to whom it is available. You can gather information on if people are using the information via a “like” button or if they are sharing it.
  • View the impact on other systems or tools. Has traffic to the other applications been reduced?  Do people refer to this tool or others?

Enterprise 2.0, aka Activity Streams or Social Media metrics:

  • Listen to the number of requests for access to this new tool. If you see something like Yammer jump in requests, you will be able to consider that as a major driver for implementation.
  • Once the tool is in place, view the usage over time. Often these new media applications are classified as a “five day wonder”, i.e. is this tool sticky, and will the usage change over time?
  • Another metric to consider is the pace of conversation for the tool. Is the tool a “go to” resource or peripheral to the organization?
  • Other areas to consider viewing metrics on are the numbers of links that people add to their work product, “retweets” and the time of day for usage
  • Lastly it is important to understand the impact on other tools. Is this new application used in preference of other tools, like email?

ROI is an impactful and important aspect of any business plan at law firms.  Examining the factors that have the most positive correlation for success is essential.  Once you have established a set of metrics which have been vetted by all major stakeholders, continue to test and understand that the mythology may need to be adjusted over time.  Those quantitative metrics will help guide the firm to success.