On Thursday and Friday this week, Sydney’s legal knowledge management faithful have gathered at Sydney’s Darling Harbour for this year’s Janders Dean Conference.
Leading up to the conference the weather forecast was looking appalling, but the weather has smiled upon Justin’s hard work, and Sydney had put on two beautiful days of spring weather.
… Dom Pérignon was at stake!
After my fantastic experience last year I had my fingers crossed in the months leading up to the Conference. Not even the unfathomable, but ever-present, threat of someone else out-tweeting me could have tampered my building excitement. After all, Dom Pérignon was at stake!
Thankfully, good fortune and my firm have smiled upon me and it was confirmed in late August that I would be attending. It was the best news I could have received at the time after my valiant, but admittedly losing, two-week battle with the man-flu.
… the Conference did not disappoint, in fact it raised the bar further in 2014.
Although my expectations were already high after last year, the Conference did not disappoint, in fact it raised the bar further in 2014.
For me, the main themes this year were the need to:
- encourage collaboration, knowledge sharing and innovation to improve efficiency and productivity in a fast changing legal services industry;
- embrace technologies that support collaboration, knowledge sharing, efficiency and productivity to respond to changing client expectations; and
- genuinely identify and foster a culture that supports collaboration, knowledge sharing and the adoption of supportive technologies.
The first day kicked off with the force of a hurricane, Boston Legal style with Denny Crane … I mean Danny Gilbert of Gilbert + Tobin.
It will suffice to say that Danny was a crowd-pleaser and by the end of his presentation everyone in the room wanted to hug him or take him home … or both.
In an irreverent style all his own, he even dropped the ‘bs’ bomb twice, to an appreciative audience, and covered topics varying from culture to knowledge, and from pro bono to innovation and growing a business.
His presentation highlighted the significant role culture plays in the interaction of people and how openness, flexibility and freedom are key to creating the mindset that brings innovation forward.
Danny’s presentation also formed a realisation in me that start-ups and disruptors in the legal services market are really nothing new; after all Gilbert + Tobin was a start-up and disruptor in the late 1980s. What has changed though is technology, which has significantly lowered the barriers to entering the legal industry, and created an ability to compete directly even with the most established and prestigious players.
Danny was followed up by Kristi Mansfield of Fifth Quadrant, offering an insight into the crossroads of corporate entrepreneurism and the legal industry.
Kristi provided a sobering reminder to the room about the realities of our new collaborative, social society, where our clients are mobile, disloyal and have the technology at their fingertips to become disruptors and even competitors.
Are collaboration and co-creation the future of client interaction?
She also highlighted the growing significance of not just ‘serving’ clients but actively collaborating with them under a co-creation model. Indeed, there seems to be a growing general realisation in the business world that the new economic structure that’s emerging requires our methodologies to adapt, and collaboration and co-creation present themselves as a natural fit.
The next speaker, Berys Amor, Director of Technology at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, rocked my world a little. Her presentation revolved around Corrs’ experience from moving into a modern, purpose-designed, highly networked and technological, open space environment at their new Sydney office.
… the hallmark of a good conference is when you walk away having learned new things, questioned your existing position on issues and even had a change of heart and mind on something …
I have never been a ‘friend’ of open space offices and my suspicions of the concept have heightened over the past 12-18 months, especially after the publication of a major empirical study by the University of Sydney, which seems to have concluded that such an office design was less than desirable from an efficiency, productivity and psychological wellbeing perspective.
However, Berys’ presentation of the practical outcomes of their experiment has made me reevaluate my position and left me with an open mind again to the possible advantages of a more collaborative, open-work environment.
I suppose the hallmark of a good conference is when you walk away having learned new things, questioned your existing position on issues and even had a change of heart and mind on something …
Next, LexisNexis’ ‘Productivity 2.0’ presentation had its fair share of eye-opening factual information. This year they focused on the drivers for change in the legal services industry and the interaction of innovation, technology, productivity and pricing in responding to those drivers.
Their presentation also emphasised that knowledge management and technology play a key role in efficiency and productivity and law firms fail to invest in these critical areas at their own peril.
… ‘culture eats technology for lunch’ …
However, as Frank McKenna of LexisNexis highlighted, ‘culture eats technology for lunch’. Arguably the same applies to knowledge management. Without the appropriate culture in place that supports the adoption of technology and the sharing of knowledge, technology and knowledge management will wither and die. And so will a firm’s chance to compete and survive in today’s fast-paced business environment …
The panel session that followed included a number of seasoned knowledge professionals: Kate O’Connor, Professional Support Lawyer from Maddocks; Rebecca Smith, Senior Knowledge Lawyer from Norton Rose Fulbright and Elizabeth Kangro, Professional Support Lawyer from Woolworths.
This was an interesting discussion because it voiced some of the fundamental difficulties and frustrations of knowledge work, in both the legal industry and business, which is essential to do because the first step towards breaking down barriers is identifying them.
One such ongoing fundamental difficulty in legal knowledge management appears to be an underlying, but often well camouflaged, lack of respect by fee-earning lawyers towards anyone who is not a fee-earner. It is clear that knowledge professionals can only overcome this by employing a relentless focus on demonstrating the value of knowledge management by highlighting the undeniably obvious link between knowledge, and collaboration, efficiency and productivity, which then flows into pricing, service delivery and client satisfaction.
Admittedly, this is not a new issue at all, and most knowledge professionals are well versed in dealing with this problem. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that this appears to be an ongoing cultural issue that’s proving difficult to eliminate.
One of my significant personal conference highlights came during the afternoon, in the form of Steve Hallam, a Partner at Deloitte. No doubt my love of technology and curiosity around the practical commercial implementation of emerging tools played a big part in this presentation resonating with me.
In this context it’s worth noting that Deloitte has a dedicated digital team that focuses on advising clients on all aspects of the digital economy. An obvious but not widely adopted structure by professional services firms.
Steven has highlighted the undeniable truth of technology taking more and more of a centre stage in delivering services and human interactions at all levels and has the imminent potential to cause further significant disruptions in the legal services industry. He also emphasised the need for collaboration and looking outward to identify knowledge and opportunities in order to not just face, but survive the challenges posed by disruptive technologies.
Document automation has been receiving a lot of attention in the last few years, given the focus on efficiency, productivity and reduced costs. The speaker who followed, Catherine Bamford, an ex-lawyer, now entrepreneur, specialises in this area and she offered great insights into the current state of available technology.
The fact of the matter is that no law firm can avoid exploring document automation implementation and pretend that it cares about efficiency, productivity and addressing clients’ concerns about costs.
The first day was concluded by a rare breed. A bona fide director of pricing from a major law firm, Allens, Pier D’Angelo. His role alone emphasises an acceptance by big law of the importance of incorporating economic and pricing principles, and business intelligence into firms’ strategic planning processes.
Pier also highlighted the significance of knowledge management and technology working together with the business to achieve the economic and pricing outcomes desired by clients, and to maintain competitiveness in a constantly shifting marketplace.
The excitement continued on the second day. The day started with another Gilbert + Tobin presenter, Jane Hogan, their Director of Knowledge Management who talked about the work involved in setting up a knowledge function and maintaining a knowledge culture in a rapidly growing organisation.
Jane emphasised some of the key conditions that knowledge management must meet to have impact within an organisation, such as:
- building strong relationships with lawyers;
- earning lawyers’ trust;
- building and maintaining a strong and cohesive knowledge team; and
- having a strong and focused knowledge leadership.
A poignant question posed by Jane at the start of her presentation:
… for knowledge management to be successful in a law firm: first, it must align itself with the strategic objectives of the firm and the relevant practice areas …
In my view, for knowledge management to be successful in a law firm:
- first, it must align itself with the strategic objectives of the firm and the relevant practice areas, and also the needs of lawyers;
- second, knowledge professionals must work hard to bring lawyers on board as partners in the knowledge function; and
- third, to create strong, successful partnerships with lawyers, strong relationships must be established, built on respect and trust.
To achieve these outcomes, my methods include:
- monitoring, and being aware of the strategic and business development plans of the firm generally, and all relevant practice groups specifically;
- planning knowledge activities that align with strategic and business development plans;
- aligning specific knowledge projects and tasks with the individual interests of lawyers, to appeal to their inherent curiosity and desire to be the best;
- ‘getting in early’ and becoming a trusted advisor, educator, mentor and supporter to graduates, which sets the foundation for strong future relationships founded on trust; and
- demonstrating a familiarity with, and understanding of, existing and emerging technologies that can improve efficiency and productivity, and championing implementation where appropriate to meet strategic and business objectives.
We were also treated to a fascinating technology presentation by Stuart Barr of HighQ. Admittedly, I have been a big fan of HighQ’s collaborative platform for a while now and I am always fascinated by the insights and vision of Stuart.
HighQ is arguably one of the most innovative, forward-looking collaboration platforms on the market right now, and it is a product that demonstrates their talent and foresight.
And if it seems that I’m taken by HighQ’s technology, I can assure you that I’m not alone:
Later we were treated to a fascinating panel of two: Greg Williams, Partner at Clayton Utz and Nick Abrahams, Partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, facilitated by Justin Whealing, the Editor of Lawyers Weekly.
This panel came on the back of a recent stir caused by Nick Abrahams publishing an article in the Lawyers Weekly titled ‘The legal frog is comfortably numb‘. It will suffice to say that Nick has received a fair amount of criticism for his candid views, but he bravely, and rightly so, maintains a steadfast position about the need to evolve and reform the legal services sector.
The panel has also given an interesting hint to knowledge management from a partner perspective:
The panel session was followed by a quick succession of sponsor presentations, very cleverly titled and designed in Pecha Kucha style:
… sad reality is that the resourcing of most knowledge teams means that they barely have time to exploit their organisation’s knowledge, let alone explore it.
I found Ben’s presentation particularly unique because he managed to employ ‘boring’ facts in his presentation in a way that underscored his propositions perfectly and still keep his presentation engaging. He also refused to rely on tired clichés and buzzwords which can easily derail presentations these days (not at this Conference though) …
… any hopes for innovation in the knowledge function are often lost at the outset …
I was particularly fascinated by the dichotomy drawn by Ben between exploiting and exploring knowledge.
Exploiting your knowledge will make you more competitive, but only exploring knowledge will make you innovative. But the sad reality is that the resourcing of most knowledge teams means that they barely have time to exploit their organisation’s knowledge, let alone explore it. This means that any hopes for innovation in the knowledge function are often lost at the outset …
Ben’s focus on how technology can help the knowledge function thrive, and firms to move towards business success, was exquisitely informative and did a fantastic ‘sales job’ for technology without sounding like a ‘sales job’ …
Ben’s presentation highlighted that management teams of law firms simply can’t afford to be distracted from exploring appropriate and relevant technologies; unless they are prepared to sit back and watch their firms drift into extinction.
The day concluded with two further panels that discussed the intersections of the changing landscape of the legal services industry, the knowledge function, collaboration, efficiency, productivity and technology, as we aim to deliver what clients demand.
As part of these discussions, the issues of flexibility and freedom were raised, and remote working as a tool for achieving these aims was briefly addressed. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that, remote working, despite its many promises, has failed to achieve true acceptance and traction. I do view this as another great cultural failure of the legal services industry.
The last panel posed a series of question about lawyers, collaboration in knowledge sharing and the use of technology, specifically, whether lawyers:
- want to collaborate in sharing knowledge;
- need to share knowledge; and
- willingly use technological tools designed to facilitate such collaboration.
The answers to these questions are complex but, despite that complexity, a solution must, and can be found. The long-term success of your firm will very likely depend on resolving this issue. In my experience, lawyers fail to share knowledge for a variety of reasons, including being time-poor, inertia and, occasionally, their competitive spirit.
However, knowledge professionals and firm leaders must encourage and build a culture of sharing and technological competency, and invest in appropriate collaborative platforms. This is the only way to ensure organisational learning, efficiency, productivity and innovation, which in turn results in better client service and reduced costs; essential competitive tools in today’s legal services market.
Without them we would not be able to come together to talk, learn and share our experiences, and frustrations, in such an amazing way.
They also drive the legal services industry forward with their spectacular technological innovations … and they do have a great sense of humour:
It’s also worth pointing out that Janders Dean practices what it preaches when it comes to utilising emerging technologies.
This year they introduced the Catchbox, a great innovation, incorporating a wireless microphone into a foam cube, enabling conference participants to pass on the microphone by throwing it around the room when it’s time to ask questions from presenters.
It worked amazingly well and became a source of fun, laughter, and countless jokes throughout the Conference.
As for the 1996 vintage Dom Pérignon … I didn’t win! Congratulations to the winners, Karan White of Pod Legal and Justine Woodford of Allens, despite my subtle attempts to influence the outcome …
In an exciting move, Janders Dean is currently promoting Law Firm DNA, which it describes as ‘A brand new thought leadership summit in 2015 from Janders Dean’.
This development is more than just a little intriguing and it shows that Janders Dean is preparing to innovate its format next year.
* The Janders Dean logo is used for this blog entry under permission by Justin North.