Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Information: management, governance, lifecycle and/or ecosystem.

Though the notion and schema of information management has been around since the dawn of information itself recently there has been an uptick in discussions and focus. Much of this is due to two things: One, the volume of information organizations deal with exponentially increases almost daily. Two, the nature of information has radically shifted from not only a physical to digital state but in the digital state information is now viewed as independent of the vehicle in which it is carried. For instance, information was once seen as contained in a record or document but now it can exist in formats with definitions that do not fit into those categories – take Google Wave for one very recent example.

The legal field with its ubiquitous ediscovery has found that though perfecting ediscovery may be a worthy and valuable notation, the soundness of the process actually rests on what condition the information is in prior to inducting it into the ediscovery process. That is, ediscovery is a “use” of information and not the “management” of it. This inevitably takes the discussion to how to manage information in the first instance so that ediscovery and the myriad of other uses –from business intelligence to audit reporting – are more effective and perhaps more important – cost effective.

There are many groups and scholars that have discussed information management over the decades – scan the archives of Harvard Business Review for a quick tally. Recently, however the legal community has begun to grapple with this as it takes its earned knowledge form the ediscovery world and brings it to the larger problem.

The question ultimately posed by such groups as EDRM and The Sedona conference – both of whom have begun initiatives on this front – is can this community of legal scholars, practitioners, and experts comprehensively address and answer the problem of how organizations are to best manage their information?

As co-author of a Working Draft paper by The Sedona Conference, I and the other authors toiled with this question almost a year ago as we began to formulate ideas and methods to address the issue. Just today as part of the EDRM project, I sat in on the IMRM (Information Management Reference Model) meeting that was dealing with this very issue. The IMRM has been in existence for at least six months but the EDRM project has been tinkering with the idea for more than five years. Their initial thoughts came out of constructing the first box in the EDRM – Information Management. Being the first box in the EDRM chart, this group obviously sees the ediscovery process starting here. And it does.

Given that two reputable groups within the legal arena are tackling this issue the broad question of if they can indeed answer the problem remains to be seen. For Sedona’s part, we discussed the initial draft of the paper last week at the ARMA conference in Orlando and look to have public commentary on it in the near future. As for EDRM (IMRM) we are in the beginning stages and look to provide material that is unique yet complimentary to the recent efforts of others.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

UK firms embracing LPO; what are US firms embracing?

In a soon to be published article I authored, I briefly examined the current state of LPO within the UK law firm market and suggested three strategies for addressing LPOs. What I did not discuss was the somewhat self-evident difference between the two legal markets (UK and US) and how each has reacted to the LPO industry.

Just this week it was announced that one of the UK’s most conservative firms Slaughter and May was engaging LPO to shift work away from the firm itself in an effort to control costs for clients. In this specific case it is rumored that it was just one single client that made the request which was the catalyst for this effort. We have seen this client centered effort before with Rio Tinto but this is different in that Slaughter’s client has not yet bypassed them in seeking LPO but requested that the firm determine a course of action.

Slaughter’s move is anything but unique in the UK market. The Lawyer (UK publication) has reported that the likes of Linklaters, Freshfields, and DLA Piper are also currently examining outsourcing options. Further, another UK firm Pinset Masons LLP announced in June that it was adding litigation support and edisclosure (ediscovery) work to its LPO team of 75. Eversheds and Lovells are two more UK firms that have or are about to execute on an LPO strategy. Add to these some longstanding outsourcing platforms such as Clifford Chance’s India operation which has performed some 12000 hours of works for the firm’s clients over the past three years and you have a veritable LPO tidal wave washing over the UK legal markets. It is worth noting that this is not simply for low-level back office work but for actual billable work such as due diligence, document and contract review, compliance, etc.

In preparing that article I was not surprised to find that so few US firms openly embrace the LPO phenomenon but what was shocked that so many US firms are still either openly opposing LPO or worse, simply ignoring it. Now I am not here to advocate for LPO – as I have stated before each firm needs to determine its own strategy for outsourcing – whether to use it or not and to what extent (firm cost savings or client cost savings or both). What I do openly advocate for is that indeed every firm should be aware of the alternatives to their very own services. Blind spots are never wise to embrace or ignore as a strategy. US firms ought to be investigating and examining all angles that their clients could pursue or that they could pursue on client’s behalf to define better practices for achieving legal goals. Perhaps US firms are – if so they are certainly not talking about it. Why? If they are not, no doubt we will not be talking about them in the future – as they may no longer be around.

UK firms in general seem poised to lead in the overall legal industry transformation with such initiatives as the Legal Services Act to fostering groups such as Juridica (a strategic capital group that funds cases) to embracing alternative legal services markets like LPO.

So where is the US legal market leading in change or alternatives?