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Gray Rule
October 2017 | VOLUME 18, NUMBER 4
Gray Rule
Knowing Value: The Rise of the Law Firm Chief Knowledge Officer
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Knowing Value: The Rise of the Law Firm Chief Knowledge OfficerBy Jean P. O'Grady, Senior Director of Research, Information & Knowledge Management Services, DLA Piper, Washington, DC
Knowledge professionals are faced with assessing a complex ecosystem of emerging tools that offer artificial intelligence and analytics. They are on the front line of a workflow-and-intelligence revolution, and bring their experience and expertise to the challenge of marrying external and internal content with algorithms and curated data.

This past July, The American Lawyer published its first rebranded annual Survey of Law Firm Knowledge Management, Library, and Research Professionals. It focused on the rise of the chief knowledge officer (CKO). The main article is titled, "Law Librarian? Try Chief Knowledge Officer." Another article is called, "From Providing Data to Providing Insight." Both articles focused on the emergence of information professionals as CKOs.

Knowledge professionals assess a complex ecosystem of emerging tools that offer artificial intelligence and analytics. The market is full of new products that offer law firms "magic bullet" solutions which promise to deliver a competitive advantage, streamlined workflow, or game-changing insights. They are on the front line of a workflow-and-intelligence revolution, and bring their experience and expertise to the challenge of marrying external and internal content with algorithms and curated data. New knowledge and intelligence responsibilities include competitive intelligence, legal project management, lateral partner due diligence, pricing, and pitching, as well as the development of client facing solutions. Traditional responsibilities include knowledge database management, portal development, and enterprise search.

If law firms expect to thrive in this hyper-competitive legal market, the person responsible for matching products and data to business problems should have a seat at the strategy table. The American Lawyer article suggests the obvious conclusion: those firms without a CKO will be at a disadvantage.

Who Becomes a CKO?

CKOs are generally drawn from professionals on two different career paths. Some are law library directors who recognize that the discipline of content assessment, deployment, and management—which they apply to external content—applies to the management of internal content as well. They come to the position with experience in large content-management projects, as well as a deep understanding of lawyers' information-seeking behaviors. Greg Lambert, CKO at Jackson Walker in Houston, Texas, and current President of the American Association of Law Libraries, worked his way up the library ranks from librarian, to manager, to director, to CKO. Paul VanderMeer, CKO at Bilzin Sumberg, indicated that he was promoted to CKO when his firm recognized that he had taken on new responsibilities beyond library management, and that that the firm's strategy could benefit from a CKO.

Other CKOs are former practicing lawyers who become inspired to pursue a career in knowledge management (KM) from working through the inefficiencies of traditional workflow. Patrick DiDomenico, CKO at Ogletree Deakins and author of Knowledge Management for Lawyers, falls into this camp. DiDomenico, drawing on his personal observations of workflow inefficiencies at regional east coast firm, Gibbons, developed a new job description for himself.

White & Case's CKO, Oz Benamram, describes his calling to KM this way:

"I was looking for ways to make a bigger impact and have broader influence on how law was practiced. People often get to KM for one of two reasons: to improve accuracy and reduce risk, or to improve efficiency and client satisfaction. I was into making better lawyers, more efficient processes, and providing better client service. The MODEL of practice was more interesting to me than specific lawyering."

Most law firms, if asked if they have an information technology strategy, would not hesitate to say yes. But while knowledge permeates every aspect of the business and practice of law, most firms have not articulated a specific knowledge strategy. Many still engage in standalone knowledge projects. DiDomenico points out that the creation of a CKO role demonstrates that a firm is serious about knowledge management, and that the firm is willing to announce that knowledge management is part of their core values and strategy.

How Does a Firm Benefit from an Information Professional in the C-Suite?

CKOs report several important ways that their firms benefit from having information professionals in the C-Suite. Since other key business units also rely on knowledge and analytics from external resources, CKOs see an opportunity to improve the knowledge workflows of their peers engaged in finance, marketing, lateral hiring, client pitches, and pricing. VanderMeer highlighted the opportunity to weave KM tools into new solutions for other administrative departments. One CKO provided this anonymous comment, "We understand the practice management side and can provide a holistic context for projects, attorneys within the firm, peers/competitors in the industry, and clients."

Perhaps most importantly, it is a "win-win." CKO's learn directly from their peers about the challenges each business unit faces. The other Chiefs learn that the firm has a full-time knowledge problem solver with access to resources that can be repurposed for their projects.

Benamram underscores the importance of CKOs:

"Having a CKO allows firm leadership to engage with someone at a leadership level on important issues related to the development and use of knowledge. It also demonstrates to the entire firm and our clients that we value and invest in knowledge for everyone's benefit. It is not something assumed or taken for granted (or worse, neglected), but rather an important component of the firm. Knowledge as a function can be hard to describe, but with a leader in place it is easier to see that leader in action, what s/he is doing, saying, and therefore to get a better understanding of knowledge as an asset."

The Emergence of Analytics and Algorithms

In the past 5 years, the legal market has been flooded with pitches from startups offering "game changing" insights derived from public data sources, such as docket-filings and SEC documents. No analytics product can be effectively assessed without a deep understanding of the content behind it. Again, information professionals offer the advantage of having decades of experience assessing these datasets. They know the right questions to ask about quality, data normalization, and other key parameters that determine the true value of any analytics product.

Catherine Monte, CKO at Fox Rothschild, believes that:

"Analytics tools that ingest, analyze and report on our own firm's data to provide insights, trends and opportunities are the ones that will make the most impact. To me this is heart of what KM is all about–understanding the "who, what and why" of a firm and providing insight and solutions…Many of these [products] are integrated with a billing/financial management system so there is a collaborative piece to this and opportunities to team up with other departments. These tools will provide more in-depth understanding of spend, but also metrics, dashboards, and scorecards on other pieces, such as client industry and matter types."

Benamram is seeing the huge impact of algorithms and analytics:

"Every function of knowledge (research, professional support lawyers, litigation support, and information governance) is either evaluating or has already adopted solutions that incorporate big data analytics and machine learning algorithms. At the moment we have more point solutions in place, but we see the future as having AI-enabled technology as part of our knowledge platforms (e.g., the DMS, enterprise search and content management). I wouldn't say these new technologies are changing our overall approach to collecting and delivering knowledge, but they will help us do it better and faster. Generally speaking, most things that machines can do today, are not things our lawyers or support staff enjoy doing, so automating those functions is welcomed by all."

How Should a Firm Measure the Value of Knowledge Management?

CKOs report that while it is almost impossible to measure the value or return on investment (ROI) for an overall KM strategy, it is possible to measure the benefits of individual projects—if the firm has captured the baseline cost of a process (such as hours spent by various groups of attorneys) before an initiative—and then compare it with the cost in hours after the solution has been implemented.

Bilzen's VanderMeer stated, "While we haven't developed any formal measurements, many, if not all, of our projects are related to improving processes, automating manual processes or creating data integrations that obviate the need for redundant data entry, all of which are geared towards freeing up lawyer and/or staff time for higher level work."

Clients are clearly indicating that knowledge management initiatives have value to them. They are demanding that firms document their commitment to knowledge management. After becoming CKO at Jackson Walker, pitches and proposals were moved to Lambert's department.

Monte suggested that the best way to determine value "is to have clients or key partners tout the efficiencies, advantages, value, and differentiation of what KM does to their peers or firm management. It's not a hard measurement, but I think this is the most powerful ROI."

What do you think KM Departments will be Focused on in 5 years?

According to VanderMeer, "In 5 years, I think KM will be squarely focused on leveraging artificial intelligence to improve processes, research, document review, and proofreading, and will allow lawyers to spend less time on routine tasks."

DiDomenico suggests that artificial intelligence and machine learning will have more practical applications, which will reduce repetitive work and allow for the redeployment of attorneys and staff to higher value activities.

Benamram thinks that "KM will be more and more integrated into our lawyers' daily lives, such that it will almost be invisible. They will have knowledge at their fingertips, baked into their practice tools and processes."

It seems clear that even as the tools and methods of KM change over the next five years, the value of knowledge management is on an upward trajectory.


Patrick V. DiDomenico. Knowledge Management for Lawyers, Chicago: ABA Book Publishing, 2015.

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