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Law firms discover the value of KM

Law firms are using knowledge management tools to improve customer service, to ease the discovery process and to better manage client billing and communications when working remotely.

Reed Smith is a large law firm with more than 1,700 lawyers in 23 cities worldwide and with corporate clients in financial services, life sciences, advertising and several other fields. Due to the size of the firm and the needs of its clients, attorneys from different offices sometimes work on the same accounts, says Victoria Gregory, the firm’s systems manager for customer relationship management (CRM).

In most law firms, CRM systems are used primarily for contact management, handling names, addresses, phone numbers and the like. But to be an effective knowledge management tool and to deliver real benefits to the user, a CRM system must incorporate all client contacts from different lawyers and the results of those contacts, and must interface with accounting and financial systems, Gregory says. That provides authorized users with a single snapshot of the firm/client status, including current cases, billings, outstanding payments and other factors.

"This way you can go to the [CRM] system and get any information that you need, rather than searching around for it," says Gregory, who joined the firm at the beginning of 2007 to help turn the use of CRM into a true KM tool. "Time is money for attorneys."

The first step was to find a vendor that would not only provide a CRM system to meet technological needs, but also work with the firm as a business partner.

"We looked at it as a long-term thing," Gregory explains. "It’s not like when you buy an operating system—you install it and you are done with it. We wanted someone who would work with us and help us with any of the challenges that we might face. We wanted a flexible, adaptable system that would work with our processes. With some, you have to adopt your processes to work with the system."

The solution had to work seamlessly with Microsoft Outlook, which the firm’s attorneys use extensively for calendar and e-mail functions. Reed Smith found what it was looking for with Microsoft Dynamics CRM as the base program and CRM4Legal from Client Profiles providing the interface designed for the legal industry.

Installation started in September 2007, with a pilot in May 2008, and steady rollout started a couple of months later. The firm is implementing the system one client team at a time. Large, one-time rollouts don’t tend to be successful, Gregory says, because there aren’t enough training and support resources to meet the needs of hundreds of new users at a single time. The firm expects to complete the rollout by the end of 2009.

"Now our attorneys are able to serve our clients better," Gregory says. "It’s helping us identify gaps in our service."

The attorneys know when the client last spoke to the firm, what was discussed and what matters the firm is handling for the client. Because all of the information is available in a single system, a U.S.-based attorney can immediately see what an attorney in Asia worked on 12 hours earlier, rather than waiting until the end of his day (and the start of the next day for the attorney in Asia), Gregory says.

The system also helps identify potential areas of new business. For example, the firm might be handling U.S. matters for a multinational client, but may not have any of the European business. By having that information at his or her fingertips, the attorney can more easily make a pitch for the additional business.

Gregory expects the more comprehensive client information to lead to wider and deeper business relationships with clients, although the rollout is too early in the process to provide details about benefits.

In addition to finishing the deployment, Gregory expects to complete the integration of financial information, including fees billed and fees received. That should enable the firm to enhance its collections of outstanding receivables because the system will provide a single snapshot of the contact person, the amount outstanding and the length of time payments have been outstanding. Gregory says, "It’s all about saving time."

Faster document review

Time management is one of the primary benefits of outsourcing document review to a third party, says Jay Ellwanger, partner with DiNovo Price Ellwanger & Hardy in Austin, Texas. The small, five-attorney firm was involved in a trade secret case, representing a plaintiff against a much larger firm.

The major expense of such cases is the discovery process—reviewing printed and electronic documents that must be presented to the other side, which in this case involved millions of pages, according to Ellwanger. In such cases, larger firms have a distinct advantage due to their additional manpower.

With millions of pages of documents and e-mails to review in a three-week period, DiNovo Price Ellwanger & Hardy selected Tusker Group, a local firm with substantial intellectual property (IP) review experience and lower-cost, off-shore attorneys to help with the review process, including help selecting the right technology to identify the documents that had to be presented to the other side.

The law firm initially selected one application, but it didn’t interface with Tusker’s offshore systems in India, according to Mike Nolan, Tusker co-founder and CEO. So Tusker recommended the FileControl e-discovery solution, which enabled Tusker, with Jay Ellwanger supervising, to conduct keyword and target searches, correctly group documents, identify the source of the documents and eliminate ones considered "privileged" as client/counsel communications. Privileged documents don’t have to be turned over to the other side.

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