Articles Posted in Knowledge Mgt.

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The Economist, Dec. 17, 2011 at 116, discusses the well-worn arguments regarding relative innovativeness between bigger and smaller companies. The editorial adds two points: (1) larger companies excel more at incremental improvements than radical change and (2) the growth rates of companies correlate more with innovation than do their size.

The points do not carry over well to law departments, but it feels logical that big departments – fifty or more lawyers, let’s say – find it harder to transform a practice of theirs than do smaller, more nimble shall we say, departments. The smaller ones have fewer vested interests, less encrustation from history, a smaller number of handoffs and interconnections affected.

As to the second point, when a law department rides the steady growth of the company it serves, surely there are more reasons and resources in favor of change. Expansion creates opportunities and nourishes innovation.

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A recent announcement described a capability that I hadn’t heard about. Handshake Software, a provider of SharePoint-based intranets, extranets, search, document and mail management, and Vizit, a provider of content visualization and social collaboration software for SharePoint, announced a technology alliance. It was what Vizit brings to the alliance that impressed me.

Some readers may not realize that software can enrich contracts and agreements with messages related to them on e-mail, intranets, blogs, wikis, instant messaging, and other “conversations.” In terms of knowledge management tools, the ability to see the document on your monitor and next to it the material from multiple conversations could be very powerful. Here’s how the press release reads:

“Vizit makes content easier to find, navigate, and utilize with its powerful visualization technology. Vizit adds Social Footnotes™ and document conversations to SharePoint 2010’s collaborative suite. … Vizit keeps social conversations in context by presenting them alongside supporting material.”

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The group has grown steadily, and last week welcomed member number one thousand. Along with the steady increase in participant numbers has come an increase in the flow of discussions and comments.

Anyone who belongs to LinkedIn and who cares about the effective management of inside counsel and their teams is warmly urged to join the group. All you have to do is search for it among “Groups” – hint, type in “law department management,” and then click on the yellow shape, “Join Group.”

One more point: if you are an administrator of a legal department or part of the administrative support team of one, you can also join a group especially for them. It has about 80 members and is growing steadily.

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In 2005, a group of in-house counsel coalesced, all women, all the top intellectual property lawyers in their respective companies. They cleverly called themselves Chipsters – CHiefIP lawyers – and they have continued to meet. The lawyers worked or still work at such IP powerhouses as Apple, Alta, Cadence Design Systems, Cisco, eBay, Google, and Intuit. The seven members organize three or four informational and networking sessions each year. You can learn more from the ABA J., Jan. 2012 at 23-4.

Chipsters illustrates the benefits of gathering like-minded in-house counsel: mentoring, knowledge-sharing, networking, and friendship.

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This blog has acknowledged a handful of maturity models that pertain to law departments (See my post of May 15, 2009: for compliance; May 12, 2010: for attention to intellectual property; May 12, 2010: for legal departments overall; Aug. 10, 2011: for outside counsel management; and Aug. 10, 2011: for leadership development.). A maturity model attempts to describe different levels of sophistication of some practice or process.

In Met. Corp. Counsel, Dec. 2011 at 16, an article refers to a maturity model for e-discovery promulgated by the Gartner Group. A maturity model puts law departments on a nominal scale (one that shows only differences between positions). Law department A is further along in its development than law department B. The maturity models cited above content themselves with nominal scales.

Whereas, an ordinal scale shows both differences and magnitude. Law department A is at level six; while B is at level 4. The most sophisticated maturity models offer a progression where each step is equivalent between each level. Such an interval model shows difference, magnitude and equal intervals.

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A collection of international laws is available on vLex. Along the lines of Justia’s offering, vLex appears to me from wandering around on its website to be very impressive. In the banner it boasts “43,505 customers, 62,590,371 documents (actually, I counted 62,590,369 but I may have lost track somewhere), 1,024 publishers, 13 languages, and 128 countries.” For a blogger enchanted by metrics, I am impressed by that parade!

There appears to be a free basic subscription for individuals or a premium version at $39 a month (U.S. material only), and $269 a month for the whole vLex storehouse for all countries. As law departments find they have to cope with foreign laws and regulations, a resource such as vLex could be quite cost effective.

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A general counsel who subscribes pointed me to Knowledge Mosaic. Its website proclaims that subscribers can search more than 90,000 memos from law firms covering 46 different practice areas. If true, that is an astounding collection of legal guidance and interpretation available on the Internet, albeit for a subscription fee. At some point, that wealth of knowledge will be no cost (See my post of Nov. 26, 2011: availability of information at low cost or free on the internet that is useful to in-house counsel.).

Knowledge Mosaic has also collected laws, rules and regulations pertaining to more than two dozen federal regulatory or oversight agencies, along with material from the U.S. Code and the Code of Federal Regulations. Both of these collections, as well as other materials mentioned on the site, look to be useful for inside counsel and a good example of legal knowledge aggregation and organization.

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Chaos theory studies phenomenon where small changes in the initial conditions result in major changes in consequences (a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil famously results in a hurricane off Bermuda). As used for physical systems, chaos events are non-linear: they are not wildly unpredictable and mysterious – the popular notion of chaos – but they have emergent properties much different than our minds easily grasp. Feedback loops account for some of the unexpected outcomes and unpredictable.

A word of advice from an in-house lawyer early in the deliberations over a pricing decision could have massive consequences years later (antitrust investigation avoided; millions in profits rightfully earned). A well-timed settlement offer takes the company down one path; botched, the bills and vexations pile up for years. If we borrow the metaphor of non-linear systems and apply them to legal teams, we risk mis-applying it, which is the lesson of Stephen E. Kellert, Borrowed Knowledge: Chaos theory and the challenge of learning across disciplines (Univ. Chic. 2008). Even so, such a power idea, caught as a conceptual metaphor, can help us understand and describe some things that happen to law departments.

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LinkedIn membership costs nothing, but the vast professional online site can provide significant value. Groups abound and you can look up people and often find more about them and how to reach them.

Almost two months ago I started a LinkedIn group (Law Department Administrators) for administrators in legal departments and those who report to administrators. With 46 members as I write, this group gives heads of law department operations a forum to ask questions, share experiences, and offer lessons learned.

My long-running group on LinkedIn started in April 2008 for those more broadly interested in law department management has grown to 895 members. More and more frequently it has discussion posts and resources from a number of those members. The group warmly welcomes newcomers (See my post of Jan. 4, 2010: 250 members; Dec. 21, 2010: 445 members; Feb. 16, 2011: 510 have joined; and April 22, 2011: more than 650 in the group.).

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Part of Pfizer’s arrangements with its Alliance firms are evaluations of those firms. According to the ACC Docket, July/Aug. 2011 at 80, Pfizer lawyers are supposed to go online to complete evaluation forms, which include an opportunity to write in comments.

In my experience, evaluations by in-house lawyers of their firms often fall flat. Either the lawyers simply don’t do them or they do them half-heartedly: no specifics, no recommendations, no value. Probably they believe they vote with their feet – if they didn’t think well of the services of the firm, aside from situations where a particular firm is foisted on them, they walk away and stop sending the firm work. Written evaluations, they complain, are too rigid, too late, too time consuming, and too sensitive.

On another level, it could be that the reason both firm evaluations and knowledge management efforts peter out is that lawyers don’t want to have their individual judgments splashed out for all to see (and, more to the point, to criticize). It is safer to hang back, not participate, and avoid personalized scrutiny. Because of the same trepidation, people don’t offer contrarian views or new ideas; they self-protectively mold their answers on employee morale or three-sixty degree assessments; they like the cautious, collective decision-making of teams – fear of standing out pervades.