Legal Know-How: Organisation & Semantic Analysis

Last week I attended an ISKO event called, you'll never guess what, "Legal Know-How: Organisation & Semantic Analysis" I'd never been to an ISKO event before so I was unprepared to see so many faces I actually knew. I shouldn't have been surprised though as this was a legal know-how event and had presentations from 2 law firms.

Anyway the event kicked off with Melanie Farquharson of 3Kites Consulting talking about some of the problems with finding knowledge in a law firm.

Legal Knowledge – the practitioner’s viewpoint (Melanie Farquharson, 3Kites Consulting)

Melanie set the scene for the afternoon by talking about how law firms are in the business of selling knowledge & that knowledge is at the heart of what law firms do. Rather surprisingly according to Melanie law firms only just appear to have realised this.

Melanie then described how the concept of knowledge has moved on from standard documents and templates towards who knows what and how much should I be charging this client. Melanie emphasised that it’s important to think about the wider concept/application of knowledge and outlined a number of scenarios where Knowledge was sought. These scenarios all had one thing in common, that knowledge can be difficult to find, especially if you’re suffering from what Melanie described as the Sunday afternoon syndrome e.g. you’re at home on a Sunday afternoon about to throw your PC out a window because you cant find what you're looking for.

Melanie outlined a few of the problems associated with finding knowledge, the biggest one was that Knowledge will exist within multiple systems, some will be online, some might be hard copy and often the knowledge will exist in a system provided by a third party. In all cases these systems will require training and each system will have its own complexities, obscurities and classifications. All these issues combined lead to “Know Where” a situation where someone has to know where to look for information before they even start trying to find it.

Melanie then went on to describe some of the ways to resolve these issues. These included linking classifications together, having simple intuitive “Google like” access to products and having Knowledge “delivered” as they’re working. For example if a fee-earner is creating a document a solution could look at the document title and contents and present other documents/resources which closely match it. This avoids a fee-earner having to move away from the document to search for other knowledge.

Why lawyers need taxonomies – Adventures in organising legal knowledge (Kathy Jacob & Lynley Barker, Pinsent Masons LLP)

…or as Kathy also described the session “Why you need to name your kids trousers”... was the second session of the day and was a really interesting session where Kathy and Lynley described how they manage Knowledge and Knowledge Projects at Pinsent Masons.

In the session Kathy and Lynley described 3 projects, a Matter centricity project, their Intranet/Portal project and their Enterprise Search project. All 3 of the projects use a Firmwide vocabulary to organise content so it was the creation and governance of this vocabulary that was discussed in some detail. At Pinsent Masons they have a multilayered approach to Governance with Partner Sponsors, Senior Professional Support Lawyers, IT Programme Managers as well as individual groups for each of the projects involved in the maintenance of the vocabulary.

Lynley Barkley went on to describe the evolution of their vocabularies from “chaotic” to consolidated and outlined some of the lessons they’d learnt as part of the vocabulary building process. These included engaging a taxonomist, or Information Architect, communicating clearly and regularly with the business, very important if you’re going to encourage them to use the terms contained within the vocabulary and finally that you don’t necessarily need to be a subject expert, just a very good listener and perhaps more importantly arbitrator!

Lynley then outlined the next phases of the vocabulary project which included developing social tagging and folksonomies, which would take account of individual perspectives and would make the vocabulary even more useful. Lynley also briefly discussed how they were looking at SharePoint as an opportunity to tag matters and as a way to merge social tagging with controlled vocabularies.

It was interesting to see how Pinsent Masons had developed their vocabulary from its original form to what it is now, like most taxonomies it’s constantly evolving as the requirements of the individuals that use it change.

Taxonomy management at Clifford Chance (Mats Bergman, Clifford Chance)

In the next session the attendees heard from Mats Bergman at Clifford Chance. Mats talked about how he manages the Taxonomies that Clifford Chance have in place, but before he discussed what they have and how they’re used he emphasised the support the taxonomies have.

This support comes from the Knowledge Committee which includes Partners, the COO, the CIO and the Director of Knowledge Systems. Mats also described how the use of their taxonomy fits with the firm’s strategy and some of the benefits of using taxonomies to tag content across multiple content sources.

Mats then went on to describe how there are a number of taxonomies used across the Knowledge Systems available at Clifford Chance each of them will have a different owner and many different parties will be involved in their maintenance. These taxonomies are reviewed regularly to take account of requirements, however their updating is controlled by having a single point of contact who where possible makes a decision about requests for new term of refers the decision on to the Knowledge committee.

It was really interesting to see how Taxonomies worked at Clifford Chance, although it definitely looked like it was a full time job managing them!

Collaboration across boundaries (Gwenda Sippings & Gerards Bredenoord, Linklaters LLP)

The final session of the day (for me) was run by Gwenda Sippings and Gerards Bredenoord of Linklaters LLP. The session began with Gwenda describing some of the challenges their users face in finding information, ultimately this is because their clients have become more demanding so in some case they’re looking for more than just legal advice.

Gwenda then outlined some of the issues Linklaters face in terms of collaboration. These included an individual’s location, the language they speak, whether they’re looking for Civil or Common Law, whether the information is about a stable or developing country and the potential number of time zones involved. All of which can make finding information difficult.

At this point Gerards Bredenoord took over, Gerards looked at three solutions that employees at Linklaters have access to, their Intranet/Portal, their Enterprise Search and a suite of Management/Reporting tools. Gerards described the Intranet as being the “one place to search” that is the Intranet offers a full text search over “curated” legal knowledge with a specialist search for client related knowledge.

Interestingly Linklaters use categories to organise their Intranet, which means users have to think about where a page might fit within a category heading and navigate to it. This had two benefits the major one being that the number of pages on the Intranet was kept to a minimum; Linklaters use this as a measure of how successful the Intranet is and are proactively moving towards less rather then more pages on the Intranet. Using categories as a way to organise Intranet content is an interesting concept, my feeling is you’d need to somehow manipulate the categories or content so that the pages displayed under the correct headings, also presumably you’d need to manipulate the categories so that content appeared on the Intranet homepage.

Gerard then went on to describe the search tools they’re using at Linklaters and some of the issues they’ve faced. These included that out of the box search tools are only good to a certain degree and will all require some degree of customisation. There are also issues around search tools not being able to interpret what an individual is looking for because of the number of variables involved. This can make using Enterprise search tools risky.

This presentation was a really interesting way to finish up (for me at least) what was a very interesting and useful day. I'd certainly attend an ISKO event again and might even consider becoming a member! If you want to read even more about the day there is a brief report of the event on the ISKO blog and a much fuller description of the sessions on the ISKO website. The slides from each of the presentations are also available on the ISKO website.

Intranets with great usability

Communitelligence have released their Intranet Design Annual for 2010, in it are a list of best practice areas for making Intranets even better then they already are! They've included a list of these "best practice areas" on their blog for all to see.


There aren't many surprises here with Mobile solutions, web 2.0 and social features ranking highly, go take a look and see what you think.

Information as Strategic Asset

Two weeks ago I attended the Solcara organised event “Information as a Strategic Asset” this was hosted by MacFarlanes and featured speakers from 3 different law firms, MacFarlanes, Pinsent Masons and Allen & Overy.

Following an introduction from Rob Martin, Solcara’s Managing Director, Sally Roberts from MacFarlanes described how and why they chose to implement Solcara. For those not familiar with the Solcara search product I recommend having a look at Solcara’s website.

For those people who don’t want to navigate away from this blog post, in a nutshell Solcara’s product enables federated searching within an organisation. What this means in practice is that you can point Solcara at a website or an application, typically LexisNexis or Westlaw, enter a search term and Solcara will federate (display) the search results within your search application/intranet. The difference between this and Recommind is that with Recommind’s search product you can do clever things with rankings and search results whereas with the Solcara product you’re returning the same search results as the native application (LexisNexis, Westlaw etc)

Getting back to Sally’s presentation she outlined some of MacFarlanes motivations to install Solcara search, these included the number of resources that were available to fee-earners and the demands of new fee-earners who almost expect there to be a Google like search tool available. Sally then outlined some of the technical challenges they faced as part of the project, these included the speed of the new application, customisations they need to apply, interface issues, new and improved functionality and whether the new application would make sense to users. Sally then outlined some of the benefits of using Solcara; these included having one search box for everything, users not having to make too many decisions and the ability to choose preferred sources to search across. Finally Sally outlined MacFarlanes future plans for the Solcara search product these include more customisations, fine tuning the integration points, improvements to the user interface, embedding the search within other applications and looking at what Social Media tools they could integrate within the search application.

From my perspective this was the most interesting presentation but I feel duty bound to provide a summary of the other two. The second presentation was from Kathy Jacobs of Pinsent Masons, in a nutshell Kathy looked at some of the reasons why Legal Information is so costly, namely its authority, its currency and the fact that products provide by legal information suppliers are unique.

Kathy also spoke about how measuring usage of a product was crucial both to understand how the product is being used and how but also to ascertain who the heavy users and what they’re doing. It was interesting to see that Pinsent Masons are using Research Monitor as this is a product I’ve used previously.

The final presentation was from Sarah Fahy of Allen & Overy. Sarah spoke at some length about Allen & Overy’s experience of negotiating with content providers. Sarah also discussed with the audience some of the internal challenges they’ve faced when budgeting for online products namely whose budget the product is going to be charged to and who knows what products are best for particular users.

Sarah also had some good advice on deciding whether or not to renew a product, suggesting that all products should have a champion. This champion would outline the reasons behind maintaining/renewing a product and would be the first point of contact when it came to negotiating a new price for the product.

After the presentations there was a brief session were attendees could ask the presenters questions, this was followed by the most important part of the evening, drinks and networking. This was a very well attended and certainly worthwhile event to attend. Sally’s presentation was particularly interesting and I hope to see more of what MacFarlanes have done with their Intranet and search application in the near future.

Wikis v SharePoint

Should you use a Wiki or SharePoint to collaborate within your organisation? This is the question asked in this excellent blog post which I saw in Google Reader.

In the post the author compares some of the features of a wiki specifically Confluence with SharePoint. I love the idea of a wiki as a note pad that is a tool that is "open, ad-hoc authoring, pre-process, pre-agreements, pre-editing" compare that to SharePoint which the author describes as a book "formal, post-agreement, edited, published"

The author then describes some of the potential pitfalls or issues with using SharePoint in preference to other tools. The biggest of these has to be the Control vs. ad-hoc content creation issue. There is no doubt that collaborative tools like Wikis and especially Confluence which is the wiki the author compares to SharePoint allow for the creation of content both easily and quickly. Unfortunately for some organisations this will cause some concern hence why we're seeing many choose SharePoint in preference to other collaborative tools.

To conclude, the author describes how he sees Wikis sitting alongside SharePoint "think that’s how Confluence is positioning itself in a Sharepoint world – wikis give people an unstructured ‘scratch pad’, and this casual, early-stage idea environment can be effectively coupled with the more controlled, structured file/process/workflow management of SharePoint"

This is a great post which is well worth reading.