Law firms collaborating to provide knowledge management (KM) services for clients is not a new phenomenon. It has been happening across the legal sector for some time—particularly with the panel firm model.
Though, in an industry which has faced unprecedented levels of change in recent years, collaboration amongst law firms to deliver knowledge services is one of many parts of the legal market that has also evolved.
Historically, panel law firm knowledge management support for clients was broadly confined to the basic levels—including, for example, publication production and legal training. In recent years, however, the requirements from clients have perpetually expanded, and there is now significant demand for in-depth, advise-based knowledge guidance.
According to Ian Rodwell, Head of Client Knowledge and Learning at Linklaters, the surge in the “sophistication” of the client expectations is driven by the enhanced collaboration which has occurred amongst panel firms, who are delivering knowledge support now in a more robust, coordinated format.
“Over the last 10 years, the extent and sophistication of client expectations has grown in the field of KM and panel firm collaboration. And this demand and interest is becoming progressively global”, says Rodwell. “I think one of the drivers has been greater coordination of what law firms provide—thereby managing volume and duplication. Typically, we see this most where in-house teams have someone in a KM/Learning & Development or Professional Support Lawyer role. Linked to this, several clients have set up panel-firm KM fora. These involve relevant specialists from the firms, plus their client counterparts”.
HSBC is one of many organisations—within the financial services sector in particular—that has set up a panel firm forum which adopts a roundtable format, and is a part of its knowledge management operation. Each roundtable takes place approximately every three months and includes around a dozen law firms.
“They are competitors, and do the same thing in different law firms, but we speak to them with one voice. We tell them what we need; we ask them to work together if we think it’s too big for one group to do”, says Rebecca Rogers, Global Legal Knowledge and Training Lawyer at HSBC. “So, for example, we’ve had three law firms working together on knowledge culture—and we challenge our panel firms, despite being competitors, to collaborate for our benefit. This has worked really well”.
From a client perspective, gaining support and extensive information from a spectrum of panel firm knowledge experts, and then using such guidance to help inform internal knowledge management is invaluable. Specifically, though, for efficiency and quality purposes, if it is delivered via the medium of a collaborative platform—it is likely to elicit even more benefits.
The roundtable or open discussion format can be particularly effective in meeting the strategic aims of the client, with firms collaborating under one roof to find joint solutions or respond to the client’s demands. Free to speak openly, because it is not deal related and is instead purely knowledge focused, the roundtable format also allows ideas to develop amongst the panel firms, says Rogers.
“When everybody is in a room they are open and talk”, she added. “That, in itself, fuels everyone’s thinking, fuels other ideas. And I do not think it is to anyone’s detriment because it is knowledge and training related and is something that everybody needs—they need it in the law firms as well. For that reason, people are prepared to share their thoughts and expertise and we think this could start happening more and more”.
Rogers explains that the drivers behind increased panel law firm collaboration in general is due to the current business climate, adding: “In the current environment—where everyone is cost conscious—the ability to go outside of the organisation to get assistance and information is really key.
“With the broad range of legal coverage and lawyers as we have here, it’s imperative to get different voices giving you information. Therefore, law firm collaboration is probably going to increase in relation to knowledge provision and training solutions, largely because of the environment—because you need people to be able to work together, it helps to be able to go to one group, rather than lots of different people,” says Rogers.
Clients’ desire to receive joined-up, collective knowledge based support from a range of law firms will inevitably continue to be an important service—that is delivered across a multitude of methods—and, subsequently, so too will the demand for panel law firm collaboration.
As a client service, however, it could evolve even further, with firms working closely to even co-create knowledge management reports or materials for the client, which has already been the case at Linklaters, for example.
“I think collaboration among firms will generally increase, as well as firms working together to co-create something for their clients. That will be the next evolution”, says Rodwell. “Because again, from a client perspective, it becomes more streamlined and coordinated. If you look at how things have progressed over the last few years, it’s only going to go in one direction”.
Additionally, Alison Devlin, Head of Knowledge at Eversheds Sutherland, says that while it has largely been banks which have had knowledge management panel firm arrangements in place, other industries are getting in on the act, too. “Clients operating in all sectors are increasingly managing their external legal requirements using panel arrangements. They have become aware that they can leverage more value from a formal panel than perhaps they might have got under a looser arrangement with individual firms previously”, says Devlin.
“In-house legal teams are under budgetary pressure too and needing to show maximum benefit for their external spend. Where they can lean on others and get additional “value add” services from law firms under the panel arrangement, then it makes sense for them to do that”.