Probably one of the most important strategic decisions that law firms today face is how much technological innovation to apply to their operations, and how that application is going to be undertaken and integrated.
Those firms that employ knowledge management professionals — a role that at one time was filled by law firm librarians — already have a point person that is focused on the firm’s technology and client engagement strategies, information resources, and business process improvement. In an interview with Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, Saskia Mehlhorn, Director of Knowledge Management and Library Services at global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright in the US, discusses the evolving role of law firms’ knowledge management professionals; and shares her insight into the important task of choosing the right knowledge management technology and how she sees the future shaping up.
Let me pick up on something you had mentioned earlier about integrating new technology. I know that’s a big issue with a lot of law firms because they want to be tech-focused and want to improve their efficiency and productivity, but sometimes they get bogged down in choosing the technology and finding the best way to integrate it. How do you make sure that what you’re buying is what you’ll need, what can be integrated and, more importantly, used by the firm?
I believe it is important to look at the bigger picture. Advances in technology and a changing marketplace require law firms to look outside the law to enhance their efficiency and profitability. Then, they can incorporate new ideas into areas that might have previously been viewed as irrelevant to their operations. We are always looking for new technology and systems that enhance knowledge sharing, increase efficiency and improve workflow. When considering options, we make sure we think about what the firm will need in five years to ensure that all of our systems work together.
Looking years ahead, what does Norton Rose Fulbright see? Not just on the technology side, but in the legal marketplace in general?
As businesses and markets evolve, we have positioned ourselves to do the same, especially with respect to how we work with our clients. We continue to see the relationship with clients as a partnership, and we always want to make that a win-win situation. They have shown interest in what we’re using from a knowledge standpoint. We strive to show them how we adopt the knowledge, manage it to improve efficiency and how it works for us. Then, we can take that knowledge and experience to the client, and together, we can adopt something that works for their business.
It’s like you’re saying, “Here’s what we do. Here’s how it’s working for us.” Is that kind of how you look at it?
Yes, that’s right. We look at how we do things internally, and we constantly try to improve. Just like a lot of other firms, we have been doing this over time to maximize value for our clients. Internally, we strive to ensure that we talk to each other across all of our regions so that we can benefit from what each region brings to the firm. If we find that a system works great in one region, we will work to adopt it on a global scale. As an example, we recently launched our NRF Transform Initiative globally. NRF Transform is our way of talking about our efforts to provide new levels of service by using the best technology and the right experience in any given office across the globe. We have built a highly tailored set of business and legal solutions for our clients – which are designed and supervised by our lawyers and legal staff – to allow our lawyers to deliver any type of legal project from end-to-end. With NRF Transform, we have structured our services to provide the best work in the most efficient and effective way possible for our clients.