Law firms are quickly waking up to the vital need to utilize the collective knowledge of their organization and allow their lawyers to access this knowledge to find better solutions for clients. As a result, knowledge management (KM) professionals are rising in prominence at their firms, with growing responsibility for data collection and analysis, collaboration, and problem-solving landing at their door.
David Curle, director of the Technology and Innovation Platform for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, recently spoke to Patrick Dundas, the knowledge management special counsel at Schulte Roth & Zabel, about how Dundas established his role at the firm, how he structures his team, and how he collaborates with attorneys across the firm.
David Curle: Could you tell us a little about your background in KM at the firm?
Patrick Dundas: I began my legal career as an associate in our Investment Management Group, advising private funds, such as hedge funds and private equity funds, on legal issues associated with fund formation and operation. When the opportunity arose to serve as the firm’s KM associate supporting the private fund practice, I applied for the position and got the job. I intuitively recognized the need for what we all refer to as Knowledge Management, but it took a few years of experience and study to get a solid grasp of how best to address the KM needs of the practice.
Now, more than 10 years later, my role has evolved from a pure practice support position under a single practice group to supporting the KM needs of the enterprise. On a day-to-day basis, I collaborate with attorneys and business departments to establish and maintain systems and processes that enable the firm to harness our internal knowledge. This involves constant communication with practice group representatives (partners and non-partners) to develop and implement their individualized KM strategies, and with business departments, such as IT, Marketing & Business Development, Professional Development, Human Resources, Finance, Research & Information, Conflicts, etc., to ensure that point and enterprise solutions meet the needs of our attorneys.
David Curle: Initially, what were your immediate goals?
Patrick Dundas: We focused primarily on efficiency, quality, and consistency of work product, but speed of delivery and associate morale were not far behind. Our focus on efficiency is perhaps best represented by a substantial investment in form development, document automation, and precedent-location tools. It is this investment that has, in concert with the outstanding talent of our attorneys, enabled the firm to maintain its market position as the top firm for private funds.
As our investments in greater efficiency were realized, we also saw greater consistency in work product, improved quality of work of junior attorneys, faster delivery, higher morale, and better data for marketing purposes. Morale in particular is an important issue for me. As a former client-facing attorney, I see my leadership style as grounded in a deep understanding and respect for the challenges facing attorneys and a passion for finding solutions to their problems, the resolution of which often benefits clients. (Dundas was recently selected as a finalist for a Leadership Award by the International Legal Technology Association [ILTA].)
David Curle: How do you structure and organize the KM organization?
Patrick Dundas: In my current role, I wear a few different hats. A portion of my time remains dedicated to supporting the Investment Management Group and maintaining the systems and processes we have established over the past 10 years. However, the majority of my time is now spent as a KM consultant to the other practice groups and business departments. I meet on a bi-weekly basis with attorneys from each of our major practice groups to develop and execute their particular knowledge strategies, which sometimes require new practice-level guidelines, processes, or systems, and other times relate to larger, enterprise-level solutions that require collaboration with the various business departments of the firm.
As our investments in greater efficiency were realized, we also saw greater consistency in work product, improved quality of work of junior attorneys, faster delivery, higher morale, and better data for marketing purposes.
While none of the approximately 60 attorneys involved with the KM conversations are full-time practice support lawyers, they serve in such capacity as time permits. The team consists of people who have either volunteered or otherwise shown an interest in KM or legal technology and were appointed by partners in the various practice groups and sub-groups of the firm to be involved in the KM conversation.
We have been able to make good progress using this model, but are mindful that there may come a time when additional resources could be required with respect to certain practice groups.
David Curle: What are some recent projects that you have been involved with?
Patrick Dundas: Those include implementing a Learning Management System (LMS) as an enterprise-level knowledge transfer platform for technology, legal, and internal policies training; building a database of high-value contacts, including unaffiliated counsel; restructuring the firm’s matter taxonomy, including collaboration with the SALI organization; designing the firm’s first data visualization tools based on proprietary market data; and developing firm-wide, attorney-focused system usage guidelines.
At the enterprise level, the LMS project is a true collaborative effort between our technology training team, our professional development team, and our human resources team. Ultimately, the vision for the LMS is to help facilitate the implementation of the “flipped classroom” learning model that is in place in the public sphere and in many other organizations. While most trainings are currently attended in person, the flipped-classroom model puts video training first, with a human trainer available for follow-up questions. This approach will allow us to more effectively leverage the hundreds of hours of recorded trainings (especially for the benefit of lateral hires) while expending far fewer hours of human labor.
The LMS can also serve as a YouTube-like learning resource. Take, for example, the following scenario: a junior associate is in the office at 1:00 am and is unsure how to draft a contract mechanism that needs to be delivered to the client before morning. But it just so happens that a senior partner recorded a CLE that includes an in-depth, 10-minute explanation of how that contract mechanism works. Through the LMS, the associate can locate the training and quickly locate the relevant materials within it without needing to have the partner provide personalized training to the associate. Like YouTube and podcasting apps, the ultimate goal is to have the LMS be accessible via mobile devices so, if someone just wants to educate themselves on a subject during their commute, or while at the gym, etc., they can.
At the practice level, we’re currently working through a list of previously identified pain points with each practice group to determine which are most relevant to their practice and develop solutions for each one. Sometimes there are simple solutions. Take document retrieval, for example. Some complained that, at times, they have difficulty finding documents in the document management system. This led the firm to develop our first enterprise-level document naming guidelines (a people-driven process), while also planning to upgrade our document search engine (a technology-driven process) and exploring how machine learning can support document classification. So, with that one comment, “I can’t find my stuff,” we have several different project pathways to go down.