ThiThis post is the second in my continuing series “Knowledge Management for Lawyers”
Part 1: 7 Expensive Ways Lawyers Fail at Knowledge Management
Part 2: Track Your Results!
Part 3: Establish a Routine
Knowledge management means a lot of different things, but at its most basic level, it means being able to combine the collective experience and wisdom of your team into actionable data. Effective knowledge management takes that data and uses it to improve the quality or efficiency of your practice. Better results for your clients, at lower cost, and you’ve just solved the puzzle of how to beat your competition!
But as a profession, we’re incredibly bad at collecting and utilizing this information. Not everyone, however, is bad at it. The plaintiff’s firm Crumley Roberts, based in North Carolina, has a fantastic system in place to improve efficiency. Way back in 2005, they had systems tracking the effectiveness of their local television ads, giving them insight on the best time of day to advertise on which channels, in which neighborhoods. This system allowed Crumley Roberts to become the largest plaintiff’s personal injury firm in the southeast.
You’re not going to emulate Crumley Roberts’ success overnight, but you need to start somewhere…
… and that somewhere is tracking your results.
NOT the best method!
Where does your Knowledge Management journey begin?
Most law firm knowledge management discussions begin with automation of information and documents currently available in your firm. Even though they might not be in the ideal format (paper, filed away and unsorted), this information exists in hard copy somewhere in your firm. I wanted to begin in a different area – experience. The most difficult thing to track, yet one of the most valuable in my opinion, is the collective experience in your firm. Between the attorneys, paralegals and support staff, it’s likely that your firm has considerable experience with all of the legal professionals you will interact with the most.
And by “considerable experience,” I mean enough experience to create a statistically significant analysis of their habits and behaviors. As I discussed previously, we rely on this information frequently – think about that attorney that you treat differently because you know he won’t take a case to trial, or because you know she plays hardball in mediation. Yet, if the attorney you turn to for this information leaves your firm, what will you do?
That’s why you need a system in place to capture this information.
Learn to collect your data!
Data analysis only works when you have data. You have collections of information available, most likely in paper format and probably stored off-site, so it’s not easy to access. However, this is really only the start. Track EVERYTHING! Learn to record the results of your cases, mediations, arbitrations, pre-suit negotiations, trials, appeals, everything.
It’s important to establish your objectives, however, before you begin to collect your data. While there are numerous systems out there that are available for purchase, I would propose beginning your data collection in this regard with a simple Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheet form that is accessible to your entire firm. Smaller tasks can be handled by excellent software and apps such as Picture it Settled, which allows you to track the results of mediation or other negotiations. There are numerous types of software available for negotiations, and the basic analytics you find in those programs should give you an idea of how much you can learn from a more broad analysis.
Setting up a basic Knowledge Management database
Have each attorney enter the basic information for each active case into the spreadsheet. Depending on the type of law you practice and the needs of your firm, the information categories may vary. My spreadsheet has the following categories:
- Case name;
- Internal case file number (this is the number I use to link information across tabs and my firm systems);
- Court file number;
- Case type (motor vehicle negligence; UM/UIM coverage; construction litigation; medical malpractice; etc.);
- Primary client (insurance company);
- Opposing firm;
- Opposing attorney;
- Date opened;
- Date mediated;
- Date of trial/arbitration.
On a second tab, I track my settlement negotiations:
- Internal case file number;
- History of pre-mediation demands/offers;
- Date of mediation;
- Name of mediator;
- Names of other mediation participants;
- History of in-mediation demands/offers;
- History of in-mediation special/non-monetary demands/offers/conditions;
- History of post-mediation demands/offers.
On a third tab, I track motions and trials;
- Internal case file number;
- Type of event (motion/motion hearing/trial);
- Name of event;
- Name of judge;
By tracking all of this information, even if I’m not sure exactly what analysis I want to perform, I’m in a position to recover all of that experience-based information without having to delve through closed paper files and old legal pads to find it. Additionally, by utilizing one internal case file number for your data, you can ensure that your data can always be linked to your document management system and your accounting system. With all of that information collected and linked together, you will be able to easily draw on previous experience to improve your legal services.
Or, you could continue searching your files and interrogating your colleagues every time you need a little insight on opposing counsel. Your choice…