Penny Retzer (me) speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony in Fargo, April 14, 2014.
It’s an exciting time to be with Integreon. Business is booming and the company is expanding from all corners of the world to meet growing client demand for our award-winning legal, document, research and business outsourcing solutions.
Location of the future Integreon facility at 3247 47 St. S. Opening November 2014.
What started in 1998 with a handful of Associates supporting an investment banking client – with business services delivered from what was then a very humble office in New York – has today become a global organization with more than 2,000 Associates spanning five continents and 12 delivery centers, serving many of the world’s leading law firms, corporate law departments, financial
Integreon breaking ground at its new location in Fargo.
institutions and professional services firms.
As we’ve grown over the years, we’ve also expanded our operations to ensure we continue to support our clients with the highest quality services. This includes recently moving to new facilities in New York City and Noida, India, and opening an additional facility in Manila, Philippines. This week, we led the groundbreaking ceremony for yet another new facility, a building under construction in Fargo, North Dakota. We’ve out-grown our two existing Fargo buildings, so the plan is to open a larger one in November 2014. The new facility will enable us to consolidate operations into a single building, with room to grow even more.
Our Fargo Heritage
We’ve been in Fargo for more than 13 years, and our growing presence has been one of the area’s best-kept secrets. The roots of our operation began in 2001, with University of North Dakota grad Peter Pantaleo. Peter, who was with a law firm in Washington, D.C. at the time, saw a need for specialized support services for law firms. He set out to start a business and was attracted to North Dakota because of its skilled workforce and the support offered to him by the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation.
Born as CBF Group in 2000, the business began operating with just two Associates. It was acquired in 2007 by Integreon, and now the team in Fargo has grown to more than 300 Associates. Along the way, we’ve expanded from our original 5,000 square feet of offices, to the 26,500 square feet we have today across two buildings. By the end of this year we’ll have 34,000 square feet in one new facility. This move further emphasizes Integreon’s commitment as a company to provide clients with a variety of 24/7 services from the US and abroad. Our ability to service customers from these different locations allows all locations to thrive, and gives our customers the choices they need for their own demanding businesses and clients.
A Positive Impact to the Fargo Community
Although I’ve described us as Fargo’s best-kept secret, we’ve made a strong impact on the lives of many of the people who live here. We’re a primary service sector business, which means that substantially all of our revenue is earned from outside of Fargo. And, as our business has steadily grown, we are almost always on the lookout for new hires. In fact, we anticipate 30 additional hires through the end of this year alone! In addition, we contribute regularly to our community through Integreon’s corporate social responsibility program. Not only do we take pride in how we add value to our clients, but we also strive to make a difference in the locales where our Associates work and live. It is an important part of our company DNA, and we encourage our Associates to live it every day.
Our Award-Winning Fargo Team
When it comes to business, the Integreon team in Fargo provides 24/7 service and support to more than 100 of the 250+ clients Integreon serves around the world. Services delivered from our Fargo facility include document processing; presentation services; marketing support; transcription; proofreading; workflow coordination; HR, administrative and secretarial support; legal document review and contract management. The team also collaborates almost daily with other Integreon colleagues around the world, including those in Mumbai, India; Manila, Philippines; Arlington, Virginia; and London and Bristol in the United Kingdom.
An example of this collaboration is our contract management and review support for Microsoft Corporation. The Fargo team works closely with our colleagues in Bristol, who have considerable foreign language expertise, to support Microsoft’s 20,000 contracts per year in 14 languages across 125 countries. The quality of our work for Microsoft was recently recognized by the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management (IACCM), which presented Integreon with their 2013 Innovation Award for our delivery of “outstanding” service and support. A detailed case study of this program is available here. As a key delivery center for this work, I could not be more proud of my Fargo teammates for this great accomplishment!
Our Microsoft account is only one example of the great work we do in Fargo. We strive to always provide exceptional service to every one of our clients, whether they are a small regional law firm or multi-national corporation. Other case study examples of Integreon’s work, and not just that of the Fargo team, can be found here.
Watch the TV News Coverage
Our groundbreaking ceremony earlier this week received some great TV news coverage across all of the local Fargo broadcast networks. Some of the reports I found online follow:
Fargo is an important location for our global company. We’ve had great success in growing our skilled workforce here and in serving our clients from this facility, which is why we’re continuing to invest here. The modern design and employee-friendly environment of our new facility will represent the Integreon brand, value and excellence that Integreon has built throughout the years. As I stood at our new site on Monday and as I look at the plan for our impressive new building, I am amazed at how far we have come, both in Fargo and as a global company. We look forward to the continuing success and growth of our business and to making a difference in Fargo and all the other local communities where we operate.
Penny Retzer is the general manager of Integreon’s Fargo facility. She also serves as the global head of document services at Integreon.
For a brief overview of Integreon and our global operations and business, watch our new video. My thanks to the Integreon marketing team for putting this together.
If you’ve been reading or watching the news in the last week, you have likely heard about the Heartbleed bug. This bug exposes usernames, passwords and other similarly sensitive information on the network – allowing unauthorized users to potentially access online identities and exacerbating the risk of faux websites posing as real ones (i.e. phishing) or “Man in the Middle” attacks (often leading to data theft). The vulnerability in question has been present in OpenSSL code for almost two years. Only just identified last week, companies are now obligated to review their own infrastructure and identify potential areas of weakness or concern for their customers.
At Integreon, we performed this internal audit last week and have verified that our systems do not utilize the technologies or configurations which would make them susceptible to the Heartbleed security flaw. More specifically, since we do not use Apache on our servers (i.e. Apache web servers use OpenSSL, the vulnerable component), we were not effected, but as a precaution scans were run on all our external facing servers. No evidence was found that any of our client systems have been impacted as a result of the Heartbleed vulnerability.
In general, as part of our ISO certification, we have external penetration testing performed at least once a year by a third party vendor. To further ensure the compliance of external facing sites, we utilize various industry standard security applications – SSLdigger, Digicert and nMap are the ones we employed to scan for the Heartbleed issue.
SSLDigger helps Integreon to comply with regulatory and industry encryption standards, including for example HIPAA and VISA’s Cardholder Information Security Program (CISP). It also provides limited support for Server Gated Cryptography (SGC), which is particularly helpful for financial services institutions with customers across the globe. This tool provides additional information to us as well while interpreting the results and letter grade.
We also use Digicert, the provider of our SSL certificates, to check for issues. Digicert not only checks for the Heartbleed vulnerability, but it checks for other weaknesses too.
Finally, our web servers are scanned utilizing nMap which probes computer networks in a number of ways, including for host discovery and service and operating system detection.
All of our servers scored Grade “A” with the Digicert and SSLdigger utilities and passed the varied scans of nMap too. In addition to the aforementioned scans, we ran Cisco phone scans as well and verified that any company issued Android phones are not using the impacted OS version (4.1.1). Our company issued iPhones and Windows phones have not been impacted.
As the news regarding Heartbleed is still developing, we will continue to stay informed, investigate and remain proactive in our response and preparedness. Securing our client’s data has always been a top priority for us and we will continue to look for areas of concern and update our clients as and if more information becomes available.
Caragh Landry is the senior vice president of operations at Integreon.
When I joined the litigation support industry in 2004, clients most often processed and imaged their entire data collections without first getting a clear picture of what the data contained. Today this type of practice is not viewed as acceptable, not to mention it is potentially expensive since the average data volume is now so much larger. More devices than ever are connected to the internet and social media usage is pervasive. Instead of Gigabytes, clients are collecting Terabytes of data and I expect the amount of data will only continue to grow in the years ahead. The challenge is how to defensibly reduce all of this data without breaking the bank. This is where Early Case assessment (ECA) comes into play.
ECA has long been a part of the litigation process, historically being associated with fact-finding research. It has been a case management approach that seeks to find the facts and other information relevant to a dispute – its objective being to facilitate the evaluation of the matter, litigation strategy, budgeting, preparation for discovery conferences, and as appropriate the formulation of a settlement plan.
Click on diagram to open larger view.
With the rise of electronic discovery, ECA came into the spotlight as an important step in assessing electronically stored information, which often required the use of technology to analyze the data. If you’ve been in the e-discovery field for any length of time, you may recall five years ago when ECA was quite the hot topic. Everyone was talking about it and it seemed that every e-discovery provider also had an ECA solution. Fast forward to today and predictive coding is now all the rage, while ECA seems long forgotten, hanging in the back of the proverbial closet. Or is it?
Parallel to this whole predictive coding trend, ECA technologies and workflows have been quietly getting refined in the background. While predictive coding still to this day struggles with mainstream adoption, ECA has become more widely understood and embraced. It has made the transition as an accepted, standard best practice.
But before I go further, let me define more specifically what I mean by ECA. I am talking about a solution that allows litigation support staff to analyze an initial data set, cull it down and enable more informed project decisions in advance of the processing and review stages. Most litigation software today offers ECA capabilities, such as culling, filtering and data analytics. At Integreon, we support a variety of ECA tools, with the two most commonly used being IPRO’s Allegro and Mindseye’s TunnelVision. Both allow data to be culled by various domains, email addresses, specific senders and recipients, file extensions and specific metadata fields, while also providing data visualization to make defensible reduction easier for our clients to understand.
Data Analytics in particular is one of the most powerful features in modern ECA tools, including all of the leading hosting platforms. With this functionality at their fingertips, litigation support staff can quickly make sense of the data by organizing documents according to message threads, near duplicates and conceptually similar documents. This kind of information can be crucial to realizing significant cost and time savings during e-discovery. At Integreon, the use of ECA technology has resulted in an average cull rate of 90 percent for our clients and, subsequently, a reduction in cost too.
Larger data collections are becoming the norm, mainly fueled by smart phones and social media. Culling down data at the ECA stage can have a major effect on the cost of e-discovery by greatly reducing the amount of data being sent into full processing, hosting and review. By using ECA, clients have a well-established means of assessing data and making smart decisions earlier in the litigation process, in order to drive down inefficiency and cost. Ultimately, good ECA can lead to improved strategic decision making (i.e. settle or fight the case), better budget management when proceeding into full e-discovery, and even more successful outcomes for clients. For your next e-discovery project, keep in mind there are some great tools out there that can really make a positive impact. Your preferred e-discovery provider should take the time to explain these options and to recommend what will best meet your requirements.
Elton Vaz is the manager of data processing at Integreon.
My colleague Joe Pirrotta, Director, Legal Services at Integreon, recently met up with Dave Gardy of TV Worldwide to talk about e-discovery and Content Analyst’s CAAT technology during the LegalTech New York conference.
Watch the video interview:
You can learn more about eView (with integrated CAAT) here. Joe also mentioned to me separately that he was quite impressed with the strong level of interest in managed services at this year’s LegalTech. We had many visitors asking us about our managed services for everything from document support, to contract management and mass review, to end-to-end electronic discovery.
If you missed Integreon at LegalTech this year, we were in the East Grand Ballroom offering complimentary headshot photos at our booth. The photos were among the most popular “swag” at the show – we frequently had a line of people waiting.
Largest Technology Announcement in Integreon History
New State-of-the-Art Co-Location for Processing and Application Hosting, including a powerful new processing engine capable of scaling well beyond today’s largest project sizes and achieving data processing rates in excess of five terabytes or more per day
Streamlined Workflow for Processing and Early Case Assessment (ECA), including web-based applications that enable clients to reduce their data volumes by as much as 95 percent prior to full processing and review
Latest Versions of Best-of-Breed Applications for Review, including kCura’s Relativity 8 for an improved document review experience, from data loading through production. One Relativity 8 addition in particular is Binders – an exciting new option to review and redact documents offline using an iTunes app for iPad tablets
Expanded National Forensic Collection and Analysis Team, including resources to support a variety of project types such as one of the largest tape libraries in the US capable of restoring or indexing over 400+ tape formats
Integreon Now in New York’s Times Square
In addition. visitors were stopping by to ask us about our move into New York’s Times Square. Despite all the snow in New York, we experienced the highest level of booth traffic we’ve ever had at LegalTech at this year’s show. Just look at all these great conversations going on.
Legal Operations Track
Beyond the booth, you could find us in the legal operations educational track which we supported as an underwriter of the Institute for Law Department Excellence (ILDE). Integreon’s Mark Ross was a speaker on one of the panels addressing contract manement. The sessions in our track had a nice turn out from LegalTech’s law department community.
Our thanks to all the panelists in the legal operations track, including Tom Fuchs (IMS Health), Shari Wilkozek (Motorola Mobility), Daniel Katz (ReInvent Law), Josh Becker (Lex Machina), both T. Jason Smith and James Partridge (Duff and Phelps), and of course our own Mark Ross.
b-Discovery All-chapter Party
Once again this year, we sponsored the annual b-Discovery All-chapter Party benefiting the Hardwood Center in support of children with autism. This is really a great cause and an effort that aligns well with our overall corporate social responsibility program. Special thanks to Integreon’s Ginny Gonzalez who heads up b-Discovery’s Atlanta Chapter.
It is always wonderful networking with our peers, colleagues, and friends at LegalTech. Our thanks to the good folks at ALM for hosting this great annual gathering of the legal community.
Watching the keynote address at the opening of Microsoft’s Lync 2014 Conference in Las Vegas was a proud and humbling moment for me as Integreon’s Chief Information Officer.
Accompanied by hundreds of other attendees from around the world, we sat together listening as Gurdeep Sing Pal, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Skype and Lync, discussed the evolution of Lync from its original concept to its current role as a global unified communications platform.
He discussed how businesses are starting to realize that they can use Lync to reduce their operational costs and help their workforces become more efficient and productive. I unconsciously was nodding along to all of this, as we’ve done exactly this ourselves at Integreon. The session went on, walking through Lync’s future roadmap, feature sets, and some of the wish lists that have been submitted to Microsoft by customers and system integrators.
As Mr. Pal finished up detailing the planned technical advancements, he made a statement that Microsoft’s goal for Lync is to move from the unified communications platform that we know today to a universal communications platform. There was a brief pause after he said this, and then he added there was something he would like everyone to see.
The stage’s giant presentation screen then lit up with a three-minute video highlighting how Integreon has used Lync as a part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. The video featured Integreon CEO Bob Gogel narrating about Project Edu-Lync, which first started last year on the eve of International Literacy Day. Bob explained that, through Edu-Lync, Integreon’s Associates in collaboration with school educators have been using Lync to pass on their skills and knowledge to children in need, with the goal of helping them realize a brighter future.
The video showed a specific example of what we’ve been doing in one of our local communities in Mumbai, India, where we’ve been working with Rotary Sanskardham Academy (School for the Hearing Impaired) to provide their students with new opportunities for vocational training and learning.
Watch “Lync in the Classroom”
Sitting there at Lync 2014 and watching this video play was humbling – a technology we had implemented was not only being used to support our business but also to help improve the quality of life for Integreon’s broader family and the local communities where we operate.
As the video played on, I felt as if you could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet. And when it ended, the crowd’s applause was immediate and deafeningly loud. The response I received was immense, particularly the supportive feedback from the Microsoft Lync team.
They were excited to see us pushing the boundaries of Lync and using it beyond our business and in ways that no else seems to have thought of doing before. Many of our peers and colleagues commented on how they want replicate this experience in their own organizations, including how they too can use Lync to support their communities and outreach programs. A number of them even asked us for our insights to help them get started.
And we will help them, because we believe corporate social responsibility requires reaching out to our communities, not by building walls, but by breaking through them. This mentality is instilled in our company’s cultural DNA.
It is this same DNA that drives our commitment to seeking new and innovative ways of working and accomplishing our goals – not only for our CSR program, but also in how we serve and support our clients every day.
Edu-Lync was truly a team effort and I just want to conclude by acknowledging the contributions from everyone at Integreon, from Benjamin Romualdez, who heads our CSR program, to our many Associates from all around the world who regularly give back to local communities. The support for this effort has been tremendous, including from our technology partners at Microsoft and BT.
“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict don’t have knowledge.” – Lao Tzu
One of the myths of Lao Tzu (the father of Taoism) is that he was born as a grown man. He came out of his mother’s womb as a 62 year-old man with a full grey beard and long earlobes, both symbols of wisdom and long life in Chinese culture. If you’ve read the Tao Te Ching, or if you’re like me, the abbreviated “Tao of Pooh” (Winnie the Pooh, that is), you know that he then spent the rest of his life (900 years) teaching people to chill out, share and generally how to be happy through a change in approach. Change the way you see life and you will change the way you live life.
I feel like Predictive Coding is a lot like Lau Tzu – it’s been incubating for so long in our minds and review tools that when people do start using it, it too will emerge with a full beard and long earlobes. Why are so few people using Predictive Coding workflows? Why does everyone want to just talk about Predictive Coding? The reason is because it’s scary not putting eyes on every document and because the approach is cool, interesting, inventive, innovative and inexpensive (comparatively speaking). Everything which document review, traditionally, is not.
In every meeting that I go to, Predictive Coding is a big topic in the discussion. How do we do it? What tools and workflows do we use? What assurances do we give of risk mitigation? What are other clients doing? I talk about Predictive Coding pretty much every day. But much like Lao Tzu, when I talk, I mostly talk in parables or stories of what could be, if you only take a different approach. Until Predictive Coding becomes the norm, or at least more widely used, I might as well be spouting ancient Chinese proverbs.
Confucius says, “Man who uses Predictive Coding has lower review bill”
Confucius says, “Man who embraces Relativity Assisted Review sees many statistical model reports”
I was recently in a meeting in NYC with a large corporation to talk about e-discovery outsourcing, including forensics, processing, hosting and managed review. I got about 30 minutes into the meeting, finished with my fairly technology-centric pitch, when one of the women in the room casually mentions that they still mostly deal with paper.
(cue crickets chirping here)
I took a beat, switched gears (glared briefly at the sales person who brought me to the meeting) and answered their paper-related questions. We then talked about scanning, setting up war rooms for paper review and inventories, and sending review teams on-location to their archive warehouses, all the while trying not to be too technical because the people in the room were really dealing with discovery, not e-discovery. And yet, even these people, these behind-the-curve “paper” people, ended up wanting to talk about Predictive Coding anyway. I almost laughed out loud when they asked.
I love talking about Predictive Coding, and yes, that’s dorky, but I do. I think it’s cool and interesting and innovative and all the rest of that stuff, so I answered this man’s question – fully and politely, and as if I was talking to my mom. Because this was Ray Kurzweil talking to Beatrix Potter. This was city mouse talking to country mouse.
As LegalTech New York 2014 rapidly approaches, I find myself asking again – what will it take for law firms and corporations to embrace Predictive Coding? What do we need to do to get this train out of the station? These are questions I’ve been asking myself for years now and I think the only real answer is: change. We need to change. The fundamental approach to document review needs to be altered. People need to stop saying that traditional human review is the gold standard and they need to understand that TAR is the gold standard. Humans are still essential, yes, but the use of TAR is a game changer. People need to stop thinking about folders and start thinking about social networks and how they communicate today. They need to stop seeing the EDRM as a linear set of process steps instead of viewing it as a fluid, rapidly evolving and changing data and document management process. They need to stop thinking of a document as just a document and more as a piece of information. They need to start applying e-learning and gaming principals (i.e. the utilizing of fun and addictive game-like features and achievements to promote greater efficiency and productivity) to every step in order to better manipulate the data and gain an improved understanding of the project universe. Because data is everything today – what we have, what we don’t have, and the stories we are able to construct with every MB, GB, TB or PB.
If algorithms can group together similar documents for us – and they are good at grouping – can’t this only help? And if algorithms can group together documents that are basically the same, save a few differences (near dupes), don’t we want that? Predictive coding can be applied in the collection through to production phases and make us better all along the way. Is it risky? Maybe, but we can put safe guards in place to better protect against inadvertent production of sensitive or privileged materials and we can visually QC at every step to ensure “bad things” don’t happen. No one wants bad things to happen. No one.
I’ve been talking about Predictive Coding for five years now. And in those five years I have used several companies’ Predictive Coding tool kits and even helped design one for my own company and yet, very few clients have been willing to really utilize Predictive Coding for culling and/or review. Out of our many clients, only a few routinely apply Predictive Coding workflows. Now, granted, these are major clients and they make up 20 percent of our review projects, but the volume of clients is just not there for Predictive Coding. Despite all the reports hyping the technology! We do actually use Predictive Coding tools in most of our document reviews, but it is done as a prioritized review (train the system, propagate decisions then batch by Potentially Responsive or Not Responsive) or via triaged pricing workflows (much like prioritized review, but the Potentially Not Responsive results go offshore for half the cost). So the truth is few clients anywhere in this industry have embraced full-on Predictive Coding exercises. I’m afraid that Predictive Coding’s fate may be the same as Lao Tzu’s or the ill-fated Laser Disk from the 90s – exiled and replaced with a better model (note my Confucius sayings above were not Lao Tzu sayings).
Exploding data volumes and the shrinking of law firm staff are both really doing a number on the review phase of discovery. How are firms possibly going to get through millions of documents, one by one, consistently and accurately, and in 60 days? 30 days? 15 days? And how are they supposed to do it without spending millions of dollars? It’s crazy to think that this will even be possible with any approach other than the use of Predictive Coding. Pretty soon (2015? 2016?), Predictive Coding won’t be a question anymore, it will be the only answer. I’m ready to meet this 62 year old man.
Increasingly, companies are committing to making a positive social or environmental impact on the communities where they operate. But despite their growth in popularity, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are not easy to execute effectively.
At Integreon, we designed our CSR program to build upon our operational strengths. As a global outsourcing company providing integrated legal, research and business support solutions, our strengths include an educated, global and multilingual workforce, as well as integrated technology that connects our associates around the world.
We’ve created a series of live-streamed educational classes that allow our associates to teach classes to underprivileged children who lack access to quality education; so far, teaching hearing impaired children in India from Fargo, North Dakota. Soon, we will be expanding our relationship with this school by involving more of our associates, who can teach courses in many different subjects, including English. These experiences give our associates and the children they teach the opportunity to learn from each other by crossing cultural boundaries with the help of video conferencing technology. This is just one example of our CSR efforts at work; below are additional tips for maximizing a CSR program.
For those that remember the Monty Python sketches of long ago, this is the cue to a rant about the Romans and the question of what they have ever done for us – well; roads, sanitation, medicine, health, fresh water, education… but apart from that, what have they done for us..?!
There has long been discussion about Knowledge Management (KM) within professional services; what does the terminology mean? What does it achieve and what is the ROI? Within law firms in particular, the growth of KM took a rather traditional route, typically initiatives aimed at gathering of the firm’s experience and processes into a series of standard forms, checklists and guidance – all very good and crucial, but not generally successful without a cultural change within the firm, and certainly not when merely delegated to a small group rather than owned by the organization as a whole. Achieving an excellent starting point for the firm’s next transaction is only of maximum benefit if the firm’s know-how is factored into the development of pricing and fully leveraged during the work carried out, all the way through to billing of the client.
As highlighted by Lucy Dillon in her recent Briefing Interview the term “KM” usually implies that the firm’s knowledge can be managed by a discreet set of people, rather than knowledge being expertise that should be owned and used by everyone within the business.
But the future of KM within law is all about utilizing the knowledge and systems that the firm needs to be efficient, more profitable and more innovative; doing more with less and providing best in class services for the client at lower cost.
There are many skillsets, processes and actions needed and few are thought of as part of KM; For example project management; workflow analysis; pricing models; process mapping; utilisation analysis, etc. A classic opportunity is to look at the life cycle of individual matters to identify where costs may be building up as well as looking at how matters are managed, examining how and where processes are carried out and questioning whether they could be done elsewhere / differently / better / faster / at lower cost.
This may sound logical, and surely law firms have always been doing that? Perhaps there is an element of; “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. It can be hard to ask experts to capture and share their expertise. The inference is that they could be doing their job better than they have been doing previously, so there is a certain amount of defensiveness about sharing their knowledge with peers – fear of criticism? Perhaps even fear of giving away an advantageous position? Further, the financial model within some business structures does not always encourage the sharing of knowledge; it can instead encourage the building of niche expertise that nobody else can bring to the job. However, I find that the overriding reason for not sharing knowledge and expertise is time – or rather lack of time.
Which is where KM can help; KM can provide the insight into key priorities to achieve improvements in the processes, systems, and the platform and mechanisms to stimulate innovation and make the gathering and utilisation of expert content as quick and easy as possible.
A good knowledge worker has to be both a facilitator and a diplomat, gradually building a Knowledge culture that rewards learning and development and discourages the hoarding of knowledge for individual advancement.
Can we measure ROI?
Within professional service firms an issue for those working within the knowledge field is often the objective measurement of how KM benefitted the profitability and performance of the organisation.
Full analysis of how much time is saved, how much risk is reduced, how much the quality is improved, how much write off is saved and how much more profit is made by good use of Knowledge work, can often be over shadowed by whether the relationship with the client was well managed or not. That perception of “good work” or repeat work is difficult to isolate to any one contribution. Rather Knowledge work contributes to the whole final product. Even learning about how to improve client relationships can be a very personal and subjective thing; knowledge toolkits can help lawyers to improve their contact in their own way – if the time can be spent capturing experience and building toolkits to start with.
Does KM have a future within legal services?
The term information overload is just as apt today as it has ever been, with the changes in technology making it all too easy to access more and more information to the point of becoming overwhelmed. The demand for finding the right information at the right time combined with the explosion of mobile devices is made more difficult because information is stored in different formats across multiple internal and external systems. The ability to find, correlate and leverage information from all of these channels without becoming an IT software company is a challenge for every knowledge worker.
KM can help to bring some order to all of this, and enable innovation of processes and systems that allow for the contextual provision of quality knowledge at the right time; supporting international firm expansion, driving efficiency, quality, best value and client service.
The future is bright for those firms willing to embrace Knowledge Management as it should be.
(1) Where knowledge goes next – Rupert White talks to Lucy Dillon, p6 Briefing July 2013.
Earlier this month, the Australian Law Students Association (ALSA) published its Position Statement on Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) in Australia. This Statement raised some concerns about the proliferation of LPO and the impact on law students. I would like to give an ‘insider’ perspective on this.
To begin with, LPO is not the catalyst for law firms changing their recruitment strategies. Since the Global Financial Crisis, irreversible change has occurred within the legal profession – there will be no return to the pre-crisis status quo that facilitated year-on-year increases in law firm hourly billing rates, with no pushback from corporate clients. In short, clients are increasingly demanding better ‘value for money’ legal services. They are no longer willing to pay inflated junior associates hourly rates for routine, commoditised work that can be delivered at the same or higher quality by alternative legal services providers who specialise in it. As a result, Law firms are realising the barriers to growth under the traditional, leveraged pyramid model. Whether through LPO, alternative business structures, automation and technology advancements, and/or other alternative legal service delivery models, such as those providing lawyers ‘on demand’, law firms are responding to change. To date, this change has been apparent to a larger extent in the US and the UK. Now, Australia is traversing this evolutionary path.
How should law students respond to this change? Speaking as an Australian-qualified lawyer now employed by an LPO provider, I am a prototype for a new, alternate career path in the legal sector. Through this experience, I have gained on-the-job project management and business development skills that complement my technical and academic expertise. These skills can and should be identified and developed early in every young lawyer’s career. Academic institutions have a critical role in preparing law students for the real world of today’s legal practice. They should be arming their students with knowledge relating to different ways of working and/or alternate career paths within the legal sector. In this new world, LPOs are one of many new potential employers of tomorrow’s lawyers. In my opinion, driving change through the academic institutions should be the real focus of ALSA.
ALSA also references the apparent ‘threat to security and confidentiality’ associated with LPO. This is a common misconception, often held by those new to the LPO industry. LPO providers place paramount importance on the security and confidentiality of client information. The leading LPO providers have physical and data security policies and procedures in place that far exceed those implemented by many law firms. For instance, my employer, Integreon, has three levels of security: physical security at all offshore premises (access restricted via swipe cards); a strict data security policy for staff (no access to phones or internet at work); and legally binding contracts with all staff prohibiting the disclosure of confidential information. In addition, leading Australia organisations, including King & Wood Mallesons, Telstra and Rio Tinto conducted extensive due diligence into their chosen LPO providers, before their appointments. These appointments would not be in place if security was in issue.
It is also a sweeping generalisation to assume LPO decreases quality. As, arguably, some law firms do not produce the same quality of output as others, the same may also hold true for LPO providers. However, in Australia, as we have seen around the world, law firms looking to engage LPO providers are extremely risk-averse and take a highly cautious approach to ensuring their appointed LPO provider meets a high threshold in relation to quality as well as security. A lesser-known fact is the stringent quality regimes LPO providers apply. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are commonplace.
LPO is not only about labour arbitrage; it is also about achieving continual process improvement and efficiencies, while producing defensible legal output. In this regard, the legal market is astute to the limitations of LPO for highly technical legal work, which I agree should remain the exclusive domain of law firm experts. Less technical legal outputs however, for example document review, can often be undertaken at the same or higher quality level output by an LPO provider.
ALSA also raises the issue of the financial stability of LPO providers. This is not something endemic to the LPO industry. The fact LPO providers have, over recent years, been highly desirable targets for acquisition suggests the opposite. However if one is going to make the point that in partnering with an LPO company that this somehow increases the firm’s financial exposure, surely, to be balanced, one must acknowledge that it also provides financial security by turning certain labour costs from fixed to variable. As law firms struggle with often spikey demand for services in an increasingly competitive environment, having the ability to call on LPO resources as a variable cost transfers the risk of under-utilisation from their shoulders to those of the LPO provider. This reduces risks for firms, enabling them to switch the tap on and off when required.
I encourage ALSA to take the opportunity to delve deeper into the issue of LPO in Australia and consider the shape of the legal industry over the next 5-10 years. In my opinion, LPO and the variety of other alternative legal services providers operating in today’s legal market represent a tremendous opportunity for tomorrow’s young lawyers.
Although LPO might not these days be the darling of the press, I remain as bullish, in fact more so than ever about its prospects. The LPO industry has matured and transformed itself over the last 7-8 years, but that journey, that evolution has in reality only just begun. In a recent interview with Managing Partner magazine I discussed the implications of the introduction of the Legal Services Act (LSA) on the LPO industry. The LSA permits external investment in and ownership of UK law firms. Click here to read the full interview.
In short, I believe that the continued deregulation of the legal profession, following the LSA will act as a catalyst, propelling LPO into new areas of legal practice and even more innovative, groundbreaking delivery models. While industry commentators appear fixated on the number of law firms applying for Alternative Business Structure (ABS) status, there has been little discussion to date about the interrelationship between ABSs, law firms and LPO providers in this rapidly changing legal landscape. How will the changes brought about by the LSA transform the LPO marketplace? As law firms examine their own operating models, LPO providers continue to grow, and ABSs become a commonplace fixture within the legal profession, questions arise over who competes with whom, and for what? Should traditional law firms view these changes as a threat or an opportunity?
I was asked in the Managing Partner interview, as I often am, whether LPOs will apply to become ABSs or if they will seek to buy or invest in law firms? While I do not suggest that in the short-term LPOs will look to acquire law firms still constrained under the antiquated pyramid operating structure, it is entirely conceivable that some might go down this path in the future. I can certainly envisage law firms hiving off their volume practice areas to LPO providers looking to expand into the high-volume consumer legal market. In the medium to longer term, as I mention in my interview…..anything goes!