What is Litigation Knowledge Management? At the ING3NIOUS SoCal eDiscovery & Information Governance Retreat, Allegory founder and CEO, Alma Asay put this question to a panel of law firm experts, who offered valuable insights, summarized below, on the increasing challenges of managing litigation knowledge, and how technology can help.
Beginning with basics
Asay began the panel by asking "What is litigation knowledge management?" The answer isn't always obvious - knowledge management may mean different things to different people.
Consider Mike Hagen, who manages Litigation Technology at Procopio. When first invited to speak on the panel he admitted he wasn't sure why he'd been chosen to speak. Hagen considers himself more of an eDiscovery expert. Upon reviewing his role, however, he realized that despite not having a "knowledge management" title, managing the flow of information is central to his role:
"Oh, all I do is knowledge management. I guess you have to be careful not to get too caught up in the title 'knowledge management' since it's huge, it can span many things."
Collecting knowledge and leveraging it across teams and projects
The panelists agreed that organizing information efficiently and effectively gives law firms an edge. Resources are saved when data and documents are easy to find, prior work product can be leveraged, and critical information stays easily accessible within the organization - even when there is turnover. During a litigation, litigators need facts at their fingertips when building a case and, when clients call or judges ask questions, they need answers - quickly.
Hagen neatly summarized the need for well-defined knowledge management systems:
"You can't have 15 different processes across the litigation practice - I don't want to jump in and spend an hour trying to sort out what your system is. When everybody is on the same page, and there's a problem, we know right where to go, what it should look like, and we can solve the problem."
Moving into a deeper discussion of different systems for managing their litigations, the panelists identified several key themes of best practice:
- Systems must be simple to use
- Consistency is king
- Train everybody, and train early
- Searchability and context
"People out there who have a tough time figuring out where the on/off switch is - those are the people you have to make sure can use this thing." - Mike Hagen
While acknowledging the obvious consideration that lawyers are notoriously tech-averse, the panel pointed out additional benefits of having a simplified system. For one, those new to the system will have an easier time understanding it and will, therefore, be more likely to use it. Simple systems are also more adaptable to use in any type or size of case.
"At our firm, a committee determined the naming conventions, but it's natural for people to deviate from those conventions. So we enforce it, but over time, compliance deteriorates." - Bill Dance
Choosing or creating a system is the easy part, enforcing processes can be much more problematic. When asked how they overcome this challenge, all three panelists suggested that consistency must be enforced with an iron fist, especially in a larger organization.
Feinstein's practice allows her to choose with whom she works, and those who don't adhere to her systems aren't generally on her team the next time. Hagen shared that people at his firm tend not to repeat their mistakes if they have to redo hours of work when they don't conform to processes outlined in his guides. Hagen and Dance also discussed how technology such as data validation and error feedback has helped to make processes more automatic.
"If you're really going to start from scratch, I would have every paralegal, every secretary, and every first-year associate coming into your firm trained a certain way." - Diana Feinstein
The panel discussed at length the difficulty of changing systems mid-stream and suggested that it is easier to deploy a new process or software tool at the outset of a case. Dance pointed out that a team or firm's ability to change procedures once underway requires a strong mandate from the top. For systems to succeed, the panel suggested working closely with all stakeholders during its design, diligently onboarding new team members, and getting buy-in from senior management for continued training and enforcement.
Searchability and Context
Throughout the panel, the panelists shared anecdotes about the limitations of many of the existing tools and methods (e.g., folders on shared drives, adapted e-discovery systems, and document management systems) for managing and quickly accessing litigation information.
For example, even though his firm was using document management software at the time, Dance admitted that it was so difficult to find specific documents in that catch-all system that he once had to search Westlaw to find a brief, as filed, that his own firm had prepared. When searches that are too generic crash the server, or you have to get very creative and specific about how you target information, that system just isn't practical in the heat of litigation.
When it came to finding the right solution, key functionality for these panelists included searchability and the ability to quickly identify the relationships between documents.
Referring to her experience using Allegory, Feinstein pointed out:
"Allegory is literally the dream situation where you can put everything related to your case in one place and search it like Google."
Adding to this, Dance explained why accessing documents via Allegory instead of the firm's general document management system made a big difference for his team as they were preparing for trial:
"What [Allegory] was useful for, was tracking which documents were used in which binders, and it was a way of unifying stuff that theoretically would have been in our [DMS] site, but it's not there in a coherent usable way. The Allegory system was a way of bringing together everything we needed for a particular case."
In a nutshell, Dance explained:
"Allegory enabled us to do things we never otherwise could have done."
Thank you to our panelists for a lively discussion and for their helpful insights into what litigation knowledge management means for law firms and what systems and tools law firms can use to improve access to litigation information. Quotes may be edited for grammar and clarity.
Full Description of the panel sponsored by Allegory Law at the ING3NIOUS 2016 SoCal eDiscovery Retreat:
What is Litigation Knowledge Management?
According to a 2016 Survey, 54% of law firms (70% of law firms of 250 lawyers or more) are using knowledge management to increase the efficiency of legal service delivery. Law Departments are likewise increasing their focus on knowledge management, with spending on KM software expected to increase 18% over a five-year period. But what does knowledge management mean when it comes to litigation? How do law firms capture, re-use, and share knowledge specifically about their litigations that will result in better outcomes, more predictable fees, and better client relationships?