Practicing law and operating a law firm is growing more complex, with lawyers demanding more technological innovations as their firms transition from big to mega, and from national to global. How firms address this complexity and use it to their advantage will help define success in the competitive landscape. At Cleary Gottlieb, the IT team launched an ambitious initiative to organize and enhance their knowledge management capabilities.
By Brenton B. Miller|February 05, 2004 at 12:00 AM
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Let’s face it. Practicing law and operating a law firm is growing more complex. Transactions cross more boundaries. Litigation increasingly means betting the company. Firms are transitioning from big to mega and from national to global. And the technology to support it all has now moved from the bowels of the back office to the belt loops of nearly every lawyer. How firms address this complexity and even turn it to an advantage will help define success and failure in an increasingly competitive legal landscape. Many firms, including most of the large global ones, have launched knowledge management programs to help them deal with this complexity. At Cleary Gottlieb, for instance, we began an ambitious initiative four years ago to organize and enhance our knowledge management capabilities. Coupled with a technology upgrade that included the firmwide adoption of Lotus Notes and the development of a “virtual file room” of archived documents, e-mail and images, our KM effort has yielded precedent collections of useful sample and standard documents, forums for shared know-how, deal-tracking databases and practice-oriented “news centers.” The infrastructure is now in place to share work product between 800 lawyers in 12 offices around the world and to quickly push out information and expertise on significant legal developments. KM has also played a key role in various marketing, client relationship management, and associate development/training efforts at the firm. We have become victims of our own success, however. With dozens of intranet practice sites and Notes-based discussion forums and other databases to choose from, our lawyers are often baffled by where to begin and frustrated with the incompleteness of any one internal content source. For instance, a lawyer looking for information on a hot topic such as the new Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation G (resulting from Sarbanes-Oxley) would find lots of useful background information in our securities law forum, but might not realize that categorized samples of non-GAAP financial measures subject to Regulation G have been posted in a separate MD&A (Management’s Discussion and Analysis) database. Likewise, a thorough examination of recently implemented European Union competition law changes would require separate searches in our antitrust forum, in our European Union legislative developments forum, and in several of our local law forums. Compounding the problem is the almost perverse challenge of full-text searching our document management system, iManage, which because of configuration limitations requires separate log-ins to each office repository and the patience of Job to obtain and view the results from distant offices. Since results are not ranked intelligently and the document libraries are so full of “noise” documents like correspondence and interim drafts, lawyers rarely attempt to use iManage’s full-text searching capability to look for useful materials. “We need our own Google” was becoming the constant plea of our lawyers. Indeed, Google and other Web search engines have permanently raised user expectations about speed and comprehensiveness and have fundamentally changed search behavior. Even lawyers who grew up with the Boolean arcana of Lexis and Westlaw have grown intolerant of ands, ors, and withins. Web searching has taught them to expect remarkably prescient results within the first 20 hits from the simple input of a few keywords. Thus, our task was as clear as it was daunting: Find and implement a search engine capable of accessing and returning results from our iManage and Notes databases, intranet pages, and selected Internet pages. It better be fast, and it better be smart. THE SEARCH IS ON Our selection process commenced with the preparation and distribution of a detailed request for proposals to about 10 vendors, the initial group culled from online research (www.searchengines.com is a good starting point) and discussions with colleagues at other firms. Among the leading vendors are Autonomy Inc. (Enterprise Search), IBM (Discovery Server), Recommind Inc. (MindServer), Triplehop Technologies (MatchPoint) and Verity (K2 Enterprise and Ultraseek). And, yes, there is even an enterprise version of Google available. The big legal search vendors have also gotten into the act with search engine offerings that leverage their proprietary legal taxonomies and content. West Group offers West km, and LexisNexis recently launched its Total Search product. We solicited several vendors already associated with the legal market (primarily those already packaged with a document management system), several that were well-known outside of legal circles, and several smaller vendors that offered something innovative or different. After initial presentations by most of the vendors, we winnowed the list down to three and asked them to index a sampling of about 160,000 Word documents, several Notes databases, and portions of our intranet and the SEC’s Web site. Documents from our European offices were later added to test multilingual capabilities. All three of our finalists had conceptual searching capabilities (i.e., the ability to return results based on the underlying concepts associated with a search term, not just the term itself). Large samplings of our securities and antitrust document collections and plenty of unrelated “noise” documents were used, but no effort was made to manually “train” or “tune” the concept searching capabilities of the tested systems. All three systems employed proprietary algorithms to intelligently rank results. A team of lawyers, paralegals, librarians, and knowledge managers conducted tests and provided “objective” feedback (first relevant hit, total relevant hits within the first 20 results, system response time, etc.) and subjective impressions. Key factors we considered in making our final decision included:
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