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Law firms reinvent KM

Process drives technology

At Cooley Godward, business processes are a pivotal component of its knowledge management program. "For example, forms utilized in our business intake workflow provide a significant source of information, which is then fed to numerous systems throughout the firm," says Sherry Lalonde, CIO of Cooley Godward. A summary description of the proposed client work is prepared by the attorney and submitted for conflict of interest review. "This is, practically speaking, the only time you will get a busy professional to describe the nature of a case or transaction," says Lalonde. "Attorneys don't have the luxury of time to go back and reinvent it later."

Early investigations of knowledge management at Cooley Godward convinced the firm that a purely document-centric view was not sufficient to meet the firm's goals, particularly in light of the legal resources required to support accurate coding and metadata development.

"We opted to develop rules-based searches to identify specific types of work and transactions, critical documents, expertise and other elements of the legal practice that would present meaningful information that could be used in a practical way," Lalonde says.

But before implementing any technology, Cooley Godward's IS team carried out some important groundwork. "We spent considerable effort standardizing our platforms, databases, and document collections, and developing consistent naming conventions such as file labeling, for example," Lalonde recounts. Those steps helped the transition when the new systems were put in place.

Cooley Godward selected Recommind as its search engine, which will soon be incorporated into a new portal from Vignette. Hummingbird DM is used for document management, and MDY's record management program, FileSurf, was selected for client records and the firm's conflict of interest database. A custom workflow product is also in place to support the business processes.

"Our lawyers are very tech-savvy," says Lalonde. "They are actively involved in the development of our systems and are willing to share their time and opinions." Lalonde took on the role of guide and coordinator. In the long run, she concludes, "Law firms are not about collecting and automating, but about what you do with the information when you get it—practicing law based on what you've done and what knowledge you have."

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.

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