Sunday, December 6, 2015

Time For Law Firm Leaders to Understand Knowledge Strategy: An Interview with ABA Knowledge Strategy Interest Group Chair Jack Bostelman-- Knowledge Strategy Group Launches Free Webinar Series.


“Knowledge management and knowledge strategy are not well understood at the senior management level in law firms. Yet economic pressures today make this practice management technique an even more important activity, which should be managed and accountable at the senior partner level. A handful of law firms are doing this now and the trend will likely continue. Our Group hopes to facilitate that trend.” – Jack Bostelman, ABA Knowledge Strategy Interest Group Chair.
 
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Editor's Note: I was recently appointed as Vice Chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Knowledge Strategy Interest Group. I asked the founder and Chair of the Knowledge Strategy Interest Group, Jack Bostleman to provide his thoughts on knowledge strategy in law firms and describe the upcoming initiatives of the ABA, LPM Knowledge Strategy Interest group.
 
What in your prior experience inspired you to take a leadership role in promoting Knowledge Strategy? 

Jack Bostelman
My “day job” for 30 years was practicing transactional securities law at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York. From my days as a young partner, I found myself acting as the de facto knowledge sharing coordinator within the firm. Back in the late 1980s, I had the idea of hooking up our fledgling desktop PC network and document management system database to the search engine running on the firm’s mainframe computer, used at the time only for e-discovery. This created a powerful way for users to search for documents in our system. It’s hard to believe, but at the time the DMS had no search function, and even later for a long time couldn’t search across office libraries. My band-aid and bailing wire system was a success and I suppose cemented my de facto status.

Over the ensuing years I wore a number of internal hats that allowed me to push further on a variety of knowledge-sharing initiatives, including overseeing the IT department and acting as firmwide coordinator of our securities practice. We also were an early beta site for what ultimately became West KM’s automated document categorization feature. We combined those categories with data collected within practice groups about matters to create search filters to augment enterprise search.

When I took an early retirement at age 55,  becoming a knowledge strategy consultant focused on AmLaw 200 firms seemed to be a natural next step. (Jack is president of, San Francisco based KMJD Consulting) .

What inspired  the  creation of the Knowledge Strategy Group?

When I was starting my consulting business a few years ago I looked around for professional organizations focusing on knowledge strategy or knowledge management. To my surprise, I couldn’t find any that focused on the subject from the perspective of law firm leaders and client-facing lawyers, as opposed to in-house KM professionals or technologists. I’ve been active in the American Bar Association for 20 years. When I switched from the Business Law Section to the Law Practice Division when I changed careers, I decided to try to organize a knowledge strategy group under the ABA’s auspices. Happily, my proposal was accepted by the Division’s leadership.  We now have a terrific advisory board that is helping us pursue a number of new initiatives, including publications and webinars. Our goal is to get the knowledge strategy message out to as many law firm leaders and practitioners as we can reach, and to stimulate dialogue about the subject. 

What is the biggest challenge to implementing knowledge strategy in law firms? 

An issue I have observed for a long time, which I now understand is rooted in the lawyer personality - skeptical, autonomous, low resilience (resistant to change), high urgency (work only on client work) and low sociability (bad at teamwork) - is that most lawyers have not been willing to invest the time and effort to create the efficiencies and other benefits of knowledge strategy. Recognizing the effect of these personality issues is the first step in coming up with strategies to overcome them. And there ARE successful strategies for overcoming them. Our Group seeks to raise consciousness in this area. 

Knowledge management and knowledge strategy are not well understood at the senior management level in law firms. Yet economic pressures today make this practice management technique an even more important activity, which should be managed and accountable at the senior partner level. A handful of law firms are doing this now and the trend will likely continue. Our Group hopes to facilitate that trend. 

How it is  Knowledge Strategy different from Knowledge Management?

As we say in our Group’s charter, "Knowledge Management is about how lawyers share what they know about client work, about clients, about markets for their firms’ services and about their firms as businesses. It’s a broad topic… . Knowledge Management becomes Knowledge Strategy when all these elements are considered together as a core function managed by the firm’s senior-most leaders to support the firm’s strategic goals.” In other words, the active involvement and support of senior management in selecting KS initiatives that align with the firm’s strategic goals, giving the most bang for the buck, and then pushing these initiatives on the firm’s lawyers is the difference between KM and KS. Involvement by firm leadership is also one of the ways to overcome the lawyer personality issues I referred to. 

Why  do lawyers and firm leaders need to think seriously about Knowledge Strategy?

There are huge pressures today on law firms to do more with less, and to manage their services more predictably and transparently. KS can be a game-changer. It takes time and effort by both management and practicing lawyers but the pay-off in efficiency, quality and service levels can be huge and a real differentiator. And it can improve the firm’s bottom line at the same time. I normally advise that a firm start with a single practice group - one that is already somewhat successful and visible within the firm and has some interest in these kinds of improvements. When that practice group takes it to the next level through successful KS initiatives, the other practice groups want the same thing and become more motivated to try. 

What programs are being offered by the Knowledge Strategy group in 2015-16? 

During our inaugural year we are launching a monthly free webinar series, starting in January. These are aimed at practicing lawyers who have no prior knowledge about KS but are interested in figuring out how to do more with less, both at the individual level and at the practice group or firm level. These will be 30 minutes and recorded. They’ll be free and open to ABA members and non-members alike. Our first few webinars will have content for firms of all sizes. Later some webinars will have a solo/smaller firm focus and others will have a larger firm focus. We are hoping to build a community through our registrant list, and will be setting up moderated discussion groups so lawyers will have a place to go to ask questions and share ideas.
 
We will also be publishing some articles, which will also be available on our website. We have already written two 50-page white papers, each outlining 10 specific KS initiatives that a firm could pursue which are also posted on the website. One paper is for larger firms; the other for solo/smaller firms.
 
Free Webinars: Information  and registration for our first webinar on Jan. 28 at 12:00 Noon, Eastern, can be found on our new website. The title of that webinar is:  “How to Compete with IBM Watson JD:  Future-proof your practice by improving efficiency now - Part 1”. This Part 1 will focus on the business case for KS. Part 2 in February will offer practical KS tips and tools lawyers can use in the practices. 

Program December 9th : Our Group is also sponsoring a 90-minute ABA CLE program on Dec. 9 at 1:00pm, Eastern, entitled “Improving Law Firm and Practice Group Efficiency Through Knowledge Strategy:  The Top Ten Ways to Improve Client Service and Profitability”. I will moderate. Our panelists will be two of our advisory board members, Jean O’Grady (Director of Research and Knowledge Services, DLA Piper) and Delilah Flaum (Partner at Winston & Strawn). Pricing and registration can be found here.

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