Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Innovative Use of Technology in the Legal Department

  • Moderator: David Rohde, of Baker Robbins
  • Risa Schwartz, Head of Knowledge Management of Cisco Systems, Inc.
  • Peter Vissicchio, the Business Technology Senior Manager of Pfizer, Inc.
  • Mike Russell, Strategic Legal Technologist - Enterprise Legal Services of Liberty Mutual Insurance

What are the drivers for innovation in a corporate law department?:
  • Cost savings
  • New business needs
  • New regulatory environment
  • Risk management
  • Usability improvements
  • Total quality management
Peter started off with a case study from Pfizer. They have 800+ people in the legal group and over 1000+ outside counsel relationships. They implemented great systems, but had trouble pulling the information into a usable and actionable format. They decided to build a data warehouse to store information from different systems into one place, in a system that makes it easier to report. One key he notes is the need for information architecture so that the data can answer your anticipated questions. They developed lots of canned reports. But, he found that the ad hoc reporting was even more popular. The reporting allows data reporting to make better business decisions.

The reporting is mostly on financials. Recently, they have started to combine matter reporting and financing reporting in one report.

The department of Pfizer is adopting a new paradigm: standardization as the road map to innovation. By removing redundant systems, like multiple document management systems, they can focus on innovative tools.

Mike's presentation was focused on their system for processing and paying paper law firm and vendor invoices. The original process was the use of Excel spreadsheets to track the paper invoices. Their monthly volume was 5,000+ invoices per month, but each invoice could be anywhere from two pages to two thousand pages. They scan bills into the system and mark up bills with Adobe. They use Documentum WebTop as the document management system and interface. They changed the document profile for the invoice to act as a database for the invoices, tracking the law firm, the date the invoice came in, the date it was paid, etc. The document metadata is leveraged as a tracking database. The document history is used to track what has happened to the invoice. [This looks like it was easy to build using existing technology. It also gets me thinking about how to better use my document management system.]

Risa came in to help deal with Mark Chandler's spot use of innovative technology in various pockets around the company. They have 200+ people in the legal department. The problem was how to have a discussion with colleagues on topics and capture that discussion for reuse. The focus was initially on contract policy, explanation and issue resolution. They have a lengthy playbook for each contract type with the background of each provision, fall back positions, reasons to choose a fallback position and how to negotiate provisions. They have 26 of these playbooks. The original practice was to send emails or make calls to answer questions. But the results of these discussions rarely made it back to the content managers responsible for maintaining the playbook or contract itself. The content managers are attorneys. Some content managers are attorneys looking for a slower pace; Some are up and coming attorneys who want to be seen as an expert in an area.

They decided to build a collaborative tool. The entire playbook was put into a bulletin board. In the bulletin board, you can post a question and you can send an email request for answers. All the questions and answers are in a searchable database.

They are also looking to be able to use email more robustly in the system. They also want to be able to better alert the content manager to make changes to the playbook or contract. They are looking at using wikis to accomplish some of these goals. She is hearing that legal departments want to use wikis, but nobody has a implementation yet. She also wants to integrate a discussion forum and email discussion into a wiki.

She built wikis for internal FAQs. She thinks it is a very interesting technology and is interested to see how widely adopted the technology is next year.

One issue she sees is anonymity. Lawyers may be reluctant to post a questions in fear of being labeled that they do not know something. Answers were not allowed to be anonymous. You need to evaluate the quality of the answer.

She emphasized the need to market the capabilities of the knowledge system. She also thought is was important to have the KM attorneys working closely with the IT developers and managers. You also need to include the secretaries. They really run the place.

The panel agreed that there is a movement to self-service. They compared it to airlines, that having you checking yourself in rather than a counter agent.

You need to make sure you build the system correctly or else the users will ask you to use the system for them, rather than them doing it themselves.


  1. hanks for posting these. Great for those of us who could not get to conference this year. This is a particularly interesting post considering the commentary coming out of Cisco in the past couple of years. Also interesting that the wiki seems to be the direction everyone wants to go, but no one seems to have the compass ready to guide them. I have been wanting to get a wiki setup at V&E for a while. Something that IT can use to share information, capture some of the tacit knowledge stuck in subject matter expert's heads.

  2. Thanks for reading.

    Wikis are tough because it is a very different way of communicating. People are used to serial communication. I call/email you and you reply and so on.

    My first tests of wikis in the firm was a practices and procedures manual for a client. It is easy to have links to relevant documents and websites. It is just as easy to edit as a word document.

  3. I agree it is a completely different from the way people are working today. I am hopeful that we can use a wiki to help the IT support groups, and see how it goes.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.