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Knowledge Management: The White & Case Summit NYC

Added on the 9th Feb 2017 at 9:37 am
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Running alongside Legaltech New York last week (2 February) was White & Case’s private knowledge management session, which is turning out to be one of the hottest legal invites in town. Now in its 15th year, the gathering of some of the most respected global knowledge officers and CIOs in the business has grown from 50 to 80 attendees, with White & Case’s chief knowledge officer Oz Benamram observing, tongue in cheek, that as much as hope is not an adequate strategy for managing a law firm, nor does it keep an event under control.

The first panel of the day looked at the changing ecosystem of legal services, in a session moderated by Benamram, with Michael Mills, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Neota Logic; Liam Brown, founder and chairman of Elevate; Noory Bechor, founder and CEO of contract review startup LawGeex; and Kai Jacob, head of global contract and legal information management at SAP.

Mills, in an earlier life a Mayer Brown partner and director of professional services and systems at Davis Polk & Wardwell, recalled the days long past when business was resolved with established clients over two martinis, observing: “Now the legal issues are more complex. Financial institutions are vastly bigger than even Dentons or Skadden. The client was a friend and partner but now they think of themselves as buyers.”

He added: “We had privileged access to the law and understood the market but now, thanks to ePublishing, our clients have that too.”

Clearly the overall legal ecosystem has changed and become far more complex, with the advent of second label law firm offerings, such as spin off consulting or staffing offerings, new non-law firm legal service providers, and new legal technology providers, as highlighted by Brown.

“There has been real growth of venture capital in the legal sector, with $750m invested since 2011 into legal startups and early stage players,” Brown added.

One of those startups is LawGeex, and Bechor pointed to the travel industry as a well-trodden illustration of what can happen when automation hits a sector in earnest. “Travel agents had a nice cosy life but automation has allowed existing services providers to automate their services and the emergence of alternative providers. Now there is a new ecosystem.

“The same thing is happening in legal. The pie will be distributed differently – we are already starting to see it happening.”

Bechor urged attendees: “Standardise everything from decision making processes even to customer interaction. Whatever can be automated should be.”

Mills added: “When derivatives emerged, every contract was negotiated, then we had standard forms and then ISDA forms. Hundreds of associates who did derivatives documentation do something else today.”

However, Jacob pointed out: “We need to get the basics right. We talk about AI and blockchain but still have too much information in-house on share drives.”

In something of a plug for SAP, which is steadily gaining traction within the legal sector, Jacob said the SAP answer is for all information to follow the same data structure, semantically categorised, centrally stored, discoverable and reusable.

“Digitalisation is about getting more out of your digital asset,” Jacob reminded us.

In terms of the shape of the future, when asked about the prospect of radical change – the adoption of entirely new ways of practising by the profession – Mills said: “I’m a bit of a skeptic. My benchmark is the adoption of technology in eDiscovery where predictive coding is proven to work better and faster but adoption of that technology is at best 20%. We see slow progress and I don’t foresee radical change tomorrow across the industry as a whole. There are a few leaders, and many followers.”

As you might expect from a startup, Bechor suggested that change will arrive quicker than many expect. “Law firms need to gear up with more engineers, more techies. In this room will be major winners and losers,” he said, adding, “Change will come faster than you think. When we started this company three years ago, I never dreamed I would be here in this keynote.”

As an outside observer it was notable that, when the White & Case room was asked by a show of hands who is using technology such as Kira Systems, RAVN Systems or other due diligence tools (see below), less than ten hands went up. There appears to be a backlash against the hype surrounding “AI” and a nervousness of getting too caught up or distracted by it. However, there is a risk that technology that has already been tried, tested, adopted and rolled out by much of the Magic Circle and top 10 global firms is being tarred with the same ‘hype’ brush, with firms lulling themselves into a false sense of security that the technology is still fringe.

KM Survey

Each year, Benamram together with Ron Friedmann, management consultant at Fireman & Company and consultant Mary Abraham, who blogs at AboveAndBeyondKM conduct a survey on knowledge management priorities in large law firms. The results have been written up (with lightning speed) by Friedmann and you can access them here: http://prismlegal.com/knowledge-management-priorities-large-law-firms-2017-survey/

Here are some of the key findings in diagram form [click to enlarge]:

Unsurprisingly, Friedmann says: “AI is hot. Though this is the first year we have an AI tag, based on comments last year, it almost certainly would not have been nearly so high in 2016. And it was barely on the radar in 2015.”

In Friedmann’s energetic straw poll of the White & Case KM room, it was clear that many firms are still in the education stage when it comes to AI. One attendee from a global US law firm said: “We’ve put out a white paper to management and the next step will be to put that to the partnership to help them understand how to leverage the technology and how their peers are using it.” Notably the firm is creating an AI committee of partners, counsel and associates to review AI tools.

One alternative provider in the room has started what was described as ‘robotics play in a small pilot’ while a US employment law firm is using machine learning to build better budgets.

White & Case itself has created a page on its new Connect intranet (see below) to educate its lawyers on which AI products it is and isn’t engaging with. The white shoe firm several years ago established an innovation committee that now has a working group dedicated to exploring new technology, which is engaged in pilots with the KM team. Benamram observed: “Innovation is a word that is too blunt to be instrumental but small innovations that cost little can sometimes work really well.”

The global head of knowledge at one Magic Circle firm added: “The term ‘innovation’ doesn’t help. Innovation is simply doing things differently and empowering junior people. You don’t have to invent Uber to be innovative.”

White & Case Connect

Benamram also used the gathering as an opportunity to showcase White & Case Connect, its knowledge portal/intranet launched last year.

Key facts:

Launched early 2016

Users can find 400 sites in Connect and follow/unfollow any of them, to add what is of interest to their main navigation and get updates to their homepage.

It follows the firm’s organisational structure – global practices; business services; offices; team sites; and global tools.

Everyone has their own personal page with links to HR information as well as dashboards for training, evaluations, and time billed.

There is an AI update page that the firm is using to educate its lawyers about industry changes and the pilots it is running.

Connect includes an easy to search knowledge bank.

It is iPhone friendly.

Content strategy senior manager Kristin Lorieo says: “It has been really well received internally. Our goal was to have a product that is usable, used, well-loved, and simple.”

Note, we will bring you separately the key points from a short presentation by Bob Armacost, director at IKnow on key trends in consulting.

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