Harnessing Collective Knowledge: An Interview with Schulte Roth’s KM Special Counsel Patrick Dundas (Part 2)

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knowledge management

Knowledge management and the professionals who make it work are becoming a vital component for the success and sustainability of many law firms.

Patrick Dundas, the knowledge management special counsel at Schulte Roth & Zabel, spoke recently with David Curle, director of the Technology and Innovation Platform for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, about the role Dundas plays at the firm, how he defines success, and what he sees for the future of KM.

David Curle: We talked a bit about how you structure your role and your team, but what keeps you going and what are your criteria for success?

Patrick Dundas: What I try to do is channel my former self. I remember the days of working past 2 am regularly while wondering, Is there a more efficient way to work? My goal is to make the working lives of our attorneys as smooth as possible; so, when they are working late nights, at least they have the tools and information necessary to get the job done without unnecessary stress.

The questions to consider include, “Is something taking longer than it needs to take? Is there a pain point for attorneys? Do certain processes result in write-offs?” Then the question becomes one of business value. It is helpful to expand the definition of business value beyond revenue, and test success based on whether a solution not only reduces the number of billable hours attributable to a given process, but also whether the solution reduces write-offs (increases profit), increases the speed of delivery to the client, increases the consistency and quality of the product, accelerates attorney development, and supports attorney morale.

Document assembly, for example, is one of the initiatives that hit all these success criteria for us. We felt that certain areas of our hedge fund formation business could be made more efficient. So, we built a document assembly platform to support the practice. When we looked at the metrics around that initiative, we found material efficiency gains on matters where attorneys used the document assembly platform. Anecdotally, attorneys report being able to deliver documents to clients faster and feeling supported. The project has been a success that we expect to replicate in other practice areas.

David Curle: Culturally, both inside and outside the firm, what have been the challenges?

Patrick Dundas: As someone who sits between practicing attorneys and business staff, I try hard to create an environment where all sides can be focused on solutions. If an attorney is frustrated by IT issues, there is an opportunity to discuss solutions, or explain why a particular project did not meet expectations. If a technologist complains, for example, about attorney disengagement, there is an opportunity to discuss the competing demands on attorney time and encourage empathy for people that are often under stress not commonly experienced by the business side of a law firm.


KM

Patrick Dundas of Schulte Roth & Zabel

When a client says, Schulte Roth documents are the industry standard; when third parties say our attorneys are great to work with — when the people with whom we work tell us we are meeting or exceeding their expectations, that is success to me.


I always try to look for ways to make everyone see each other in a more respectful way so that we can have strong relationships, because those bonds are the heart of how you find solutions.

David Curle: What did you see at the recent ILTA conference that you think may become trends over the next few years?

Patrick Dundas: Artificial intelligence (AI) is still the biggest hot topic, as it has been for a couple of years now. A year ago, everyone was interested in AI, but they didn’t necessarily know how to harness the power of these tools within their organizations. Today, enough community members have had a chance to get their hands on some AI solutions and understand better what these solutions can do, where their use is appropriate, and what they cannot do. I expect that over the next couple of years law firm KM and IT departments will start to deploy AI tools more and measure their success to empirically determine the best use cases.

Another trend, often related to AI, is the “platformization” of products and product consolidation. Large, established legal technology companies have been buying up legaltech startups, creating technology stacks with ready-to-go integrations (for example, iManage, NetDocs, Litera, Intapp, Thompson Reuters, etc.). It remains to be seen which of these acquisitions will ultimately create value for the industry. While platformization has the potential to offer improved integrations and new solutions based on synergies of a platform’s component products, larger organizations can be less nimble than startups, which tend to be hungrier and more motivated by greater competition. Hopefully platformization will increase the rate of innovation, but the risk of slower progress is real.

That said, from the law firm perspective, platformization holds a great deal of appeal, especially for firms with limited internal IT resources. When choosing between a product that requires a new installation or integration process versus one that leverages the infrastructure of an existing technology stack, the later can be difficult to pass up.

David Curle: Finally, what are your criteria for success?

Patrick Dundas: There really is just one: the success of the firm. Unpacking that, from the KM side, I look for evidence that we have improved the quality of work, increased efficiency, reduced delivery time, accelerated professional development, and improved attorney morale, all of which, I believe, ultimately influence the success of the firm (measured by revenue, profit-per-partner, and reputation).

Over the past year, I have made an effort to talk to clients and third parties with which the firm interacts to learn about what KM needs they have and whether our firm could do anything different to support them. Really, these are the conversations by which I measure success.

When a client says, Schulte Roth documents are the industry standard; when third parties say our attorneys are great to work with — when the people with whom we work tell us we are meeting or exceeding their expectations, that is success to me.