Knowledge Management Q&A with Evan Shenkman

Technology is constantly evolving, and it’s up to every company to stay relevant and competitive in their field by adopting technology to improve their practice. Lawyers are knowledge workers, and their valuable knowledge, from knowing local rules and precedents, to partner capabilities and judge preferences, must be recorded to be readily usable and make litigation more affordable and accessible to clients. Knowledge management expert and former litigator Evan Shenkman sheds light on how tech has propelled legal knowledge management to new heights, to the point it has become a necessity to attract and retain clients.

What is your role and where does it fit in your organization?

I’m Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer at Fisher Phillips, an AMLAW 200 firm which focuses on labor and employment law and has offices across the country. I head our firm’s Knowledge Management and Innovation function, as well as our Library. I’ve been in KM and innovation roles for the last eleven years, and before that, I was a law firm partner. I now focus on developing technology and processes to help our attorneys practice more efficiently and “wow” our clients.

What prompted your interest in knowledge management?

After practicing labor and employment law for a decade, I began to grow weary of the inefficiencies and the gamesmanship. Far too often matters were settled not due to culpability, but due to my client’s conclusion that the litigation process was simply too time intensive, costly, irksome, and cumbersome. I knew there had to be a better, more efficient, and more enjoyable way to litigate, and I left the practice to find it. I quickly discovered knowledge management—an entire profession devoted to helping attorneys practice better, smarter, and faster.

The KM profession has advanced in leaps and bounds since I joined a decade ago—from exemplar banks, to enterprise search, to extranets, to data analytics, to automation, to AI that can even edit and write briefs. These advances have kept my interest strong, keeping KM fresh and exciting even after all these years.

What are the key elements of a good knowledge management strategy?

A good KM strategy has three primary goals: (1) to drive attorney efficiency and quality; (2) to foster relationships and collaboration; and (3) to help the firm retain and attract business. Each of these elements relies on a combination of people and technology to be successful.

How has technology changed knowledge management practices?

Technology has turbocharged KM practices, particularly over the past three or four years.

Dramatic advances in natural language processing (NLP) are especially promising, allowing the creation of some extraordinary new tools for research, document automation, document classification, and legal writing. Thanks to NLP, when a new case is filed, in a matter of minutes attorneys can now identify trends about their judges and adversaries; generate first drafts of responsive pleadings and initial discovery; predict the likely outcome of the case on the merits; and estimate the fees it will take to get there. Each of those tasks was possible in years past, but they took hours of human attorney work. Now it takes minutes, freeing up attorneys to spend their time adding true value, developing strategy, focusing on business development, and strengthening client relationships.

Another wonderful recent tech development is the rise of the API. Legal research vendors have offered up their vast amounts of proprietary structured data to law firms via APIs, enabling law firms to run hyper-customized data analytics and reporting queries to meet their particular use cases. For instance, we have used APIs to determine the case status of several thousand lawsuits we have been tracking on certain pandemic-related legal topics, enabling us to identify key trends in minutes—something that would have taken hundreds of hours to research just a few years ago.

How can knowledge management improve document creation?

As written work product is at the heart of an attorney’s day-to-day life, the vast majority of KM initiatives over the years have expressly focused on improving document creation.

Among the first KM projects were somewhat mundane, but highly valuable, precedent collections—organized, vetted banks of templates, forms, and exemplars that attorneys could use as a high-quality starting point. Then, document automation tools (like HotDocs) allowed those samples to become converted into automated tools, streamlining the document creation process even further. KM teams next rolled out enterprise search solutions, enabling attorneys to quickly search through millions of prior work product samples (using keywords and filters) to find a relevant, helpful starting point for a document, albeit an unvetted one. Over the past decade, far more avant-garde document creation and revision tools have come to market, offering legal editing solutions (like WordRake), legal document automation (like LegalMation), and even legal brief composition (like Casetext Compose). KM teams have been at the forefront of curating, identifying, implementing, and maintaining these document creation solutions since the beginning.

How does attrition impact knowledge transfer and the value of information assets?

Despite the ever-increasing law firm focus on objective data analytics, attorney anecdotes and personal experiences (namely, feedback about judges, opposing counsel, arbitrators, etc.) are still immensely valuable to capture and retain. Attrition is something all firms must confront, so responsible KM departments often devise a firm process to capture and retain that feedback, in real time, in a user-friendly database that remains with the firm in perpetuity. There are several off-the-shelf solutions that could help (including Courtroom Insight) if a firm does not want to build this resource internally.

What skills do you need to be a knowledge management professional?

Every successful KM professional needs curiosity, creativity, and customer service skills. Yes, success in some KM roles requires considerable prior experience as an attorney, and success in others requires a high level of technical and/or data-science expertise. But beyond those hard credentials: curiosity, creativity, and customer service skills separate the good from the great in our field.

What are the top 3 benefits to firms that implement knowledge management?

When done right (meaning, the firm fully supports the KM team and will champion its efforts), (1) the firm’s attorneys will become more efficient (which helps from a pricing standpoint and an attorney retention standpoint); (2) it will become easier to retain and bring in business from cost-conscious and innovation-focused clients; and (3) the firm will get far better at predicting results, costs, and outcomes.

What are the top 3 benefits for individual lawyers at firms that implement knowledge management?

Individual lawyers at firms that implement strong KM initiatives (1) will find the practice of law far less frustrating (particularly when it comes to the more tedious functions); (2) will find greater success in retaining and bringing in new business, and (3) will find it easier to impress their clients (with faster answers, better work product, and a demonstrated commitment to innovation). To the second two points, I’ve seen hundreds of legal RFPs over the past years, and over 75% of them have outright asked about the firm’s KM/innovation/AI/data-science efforts. If I were still practicing, you can bet I would only work for a firm with the best answers to those questions, since growing one’s book of business now depends on it.

About Evan Shenkman

Evan Shenkman leads the Knowledge Management, Innovation, and Library functions at the labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips, which has 500+ attorneys and was the law firm of the year at the 2021 American Legal Technology Awards. He also chairs the firm’s Innovation Committee and in 2021 was named the International Legal Technology Association's Innovator of the Year, and a Fastcase 50 recipient. Before entering the KM field, he was an AV-rated shareholder litigating labor and employment matters for a decade. His responsibilities include harnessing the power of AI and data analytics for legal; creating processes, practices, and software that let firm attorneys work smarter, faster, and more in sync; creating internal and client-facing collaborative tools; and making the practice of law more efficient for the firm’s attorneys and clients. Evan frequently writes and presents on KM, library, and legal innovation topics. He has been featured in The American Lawyer, the ABA Journal, Law.com, The Modern Lawyer Podcast, LiteraTV, and the Reinventing Professionals podcast, among others.

About the Knowledge Management Interview Series

This interview is part of a collection of interviews about knowledge management work. Lawyers are the original knowledge workers and knowledge is a key asset in the legal field. By producing this series, we hope to show how document creation fits with innovation and knowledge management goals.

Documents are highly valued for their outcomes, but undervalued as knowledge assets. Create better, more meaningful documents with WordRake. WordRake is clear and concise editing software designed for people who work with confidential information. The software improves writing by simplifying and clarifying text, cutting legalese, and recommending plain English replacements. WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. Learn about our 30-day enterprise pilot or try an individual license of WordRake for free for 7 days.

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