Spotlight on Innovation in Law Firm Knowledge Management

pic3766Marlene Gebauer, Director of Knowledge Solutions at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, works to foster innovative solutions and to encourage adoption of new tools and services. She took some time to discuss knowledge management and innovation and challenges faced by the legal industry in these areas.

What is your role at your law firm?

I am the Director of Knowledge Solutions and oversee global Knowledge Management (including R&D on new tools and services), Research and Intelligence, Licensing and Contract Negotiation, Outreach and Education, and Library teams. I am also a leader in our firm-wide innovation initiative team.  The team consists of attorneys, executive management and select department directors and is charged with popularizing adoption of innovative solutions and promoting a culture of innovation as part of the normal course of business at the firm.

What do you believe is the value you and your department bring to your firm?

First and foremost, I think we are a cohesive department and function as such. Although our Knowledge Solutions teams don’t always overlap in work performed, we make it a priority to keep department members informed of what other teams are doing and to cross train, so we can best serve our clients. Our teams’ connections to other firm departments and practice groups allow us to share updates on activities and projects going on throughout the firm and to ensure alignment. Any special initiatives are always a cross-team effort—someone handles project management/logistics, someone tackles outreach materials and education, and someone focuses on metrics and analysis. This process strengthens relationships and builds knowledge within the department and ultimately results in more successful initiatives.

I work with an amazing group of people.  We are a mixed bag—attorneys, technicians, analysts, and data professionals—which strengthens the knowledge base of the department and broadens our scope.   Members of our department bring inspiration, perspiration, creativity, business insight, problem solving and relationship building to the table. They love to learn new things and share them with the people around them. We encourage this and give people opportunities for development–and encourage them to seek out their own opportunities and professional networks. Our team members are flexible, resourceful and compassionate. We encourage everyone to be leaders, regardless of title.

How do you stay on top of new developments and trends that may impact the firm?

My job, from a knowledge and innovation standpoint, is to understand needs, trends, players, business culture and risks, and to promote the best strategic direction for the firm. It’s not a small task. Fortunately, my professional career has offered significant opportunities to learn and grow. I have great mentors and a network of professional colleagues, some in the knowledge space and some outside, where I can get feedback. I attend seminars to meet and hear from thought leaders, as well as from those presenting practical right-now solutions.

I watch videos. I listen to podcasts. I follow social media. I read constantly–industry or non-industry material, online or print. It is important for me to recognize associations and opportunities that can be impactful in my professional world, and useful concepts may fall outside the regular industry media. I get inspiration from everything from Wired to W magazine.  (For instance, I came across an article in W magazine about Federico Marchetti, the founder of Yoox, a multibillion dollar digital luxury conglomerate, and he was discussing the need to understand EIPs (extremely important people) and millennial buyers. Consultants are sent digitally or in person to the EIPs to gather information and make suggestions. For the millennials, Marchetti is creating relationships with their influencers. I was pleased to recognize that we are doing similar activities in our own space with customer outreach and associate committees.) I am a big believer in being open to various modes of inspiration, so whatever works for you, take advantage of it.

What has been the biggest single change you have seen in the industry? And what changes do you see ahead?

Sorry, I can’t pick one, but I’ll limit to two.

First: The disruption of tools, processes and services we used to consider commonplace, and the speed at which this disruption is occurring. Client pressure and competition in the marketplace are really forcing law firms to revisit what the practice and business of law look like.

This disruption affects overhead and budget—new products are available to buy, and time must be spent to analyze and adjust information and other service platforms in a fast-changing environment. The changes also impact necessary skill sets and job duties for business staff and attorneys. Everyone needs to be more technically savvy and willing to adopt and adapt to new solutions on a regular basis.

Second: The rise in importance of metrics and analytics impacts everything from business and revenue management, to licensing, to matter strategy. The whole concept of evidence-based analysis used in conjunction with traditional qualitative knowledge is a real game changer. We have the ability to more easily access and present metrics to make decisions, and there is a real opportunity right now for information professionals to use their statistics and data visualization prowess to be drivers in this area.

What role will knowledge management professionals play going forward?

I think market factors will continue to influence the rise of the business professional in law firms. Knowledge professionals in particular are a key resource for firms, given the rise in importance of information management and delivery. Because of their versatile skill set, I am seeing more integration of librarians and other information professionals into different departments and practice groups.  No longer found just in traditional library or research center settings, these knowledge professionals are deploying their skills in areas such as knowledge management, conflicts and intake, marketing research and analytics, project management, revenue management, and eDiscovery. Those with specialized experience are moving into other areas–R&D for those with technology experience, and legal research and eDiscovery for those with JDs. It is a really an open playing field, if you know how to highlight your capabilities.

Name one thing that you or your team is doing this year to meet the challenges ahead.

I think the most common challenges we, as innovation champions, face are reaching our audience, keeping them engaged, and demonstrating success. I don’t say successful adoption because it really isn’t about the discrete tools or services per se. Of course, we want to pick solutions that attorneys and users will embrace, but it is mostly about getting people into a mindset that experimentation with innovative solutions is part of the business norm moving forward.  We should always be thinking about how to improve the business of law for the benefit of our clients. To get that mindset instilled, our firm has put together a multi-disciplinary effort to highlight innovation.  This effort includes various departments, business staff, and attorneys, who all help to keep the message going and to keep it fresh.

We have agreed-upon success metrics for the adoption of tools and services we are promoting, and we are transparent about the findings. We are also transparent about the findings of our Knowledge Solutions Innovation Lab where we vet tools prior to adoption. Anyone in the firm can look up records on the Lab’s tool evaluations and can suggest new solutions to us.  And finally, we reach out—we take the time to ask our practitioners what will help them in their practice (and what won’t) and to share information on solutions. This is an ongoing process in order to work off current feedback. The two-way conversation assists us in determining which investments to make and helps with acceptance and adoption.

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