In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?
David Hobbie started his career as a litigator at Bingham McCutchen (then Bingham Dana & Gould) before moving to a new firm and a new type of career. Nowadays, he serves as the Litigation Knowledge Management Attorney at Goodwin Procter, LLP in Boston. David shares with us how he started blogging, how he segued into a new position, and he also shares some resources for lawyers interested in KM.
RecruiterEsq: Hi David, thanks for speaking with us. You work at Goodwin Procter, which is one of the world’s top law firms. American Lawyer Magazine ranks it in the top 50 US based firms. The firm allows you to use Twitter, LinkedIn, and maintain a blog?
Yes, my firm’s social media policy allows attorneys and staff to blog, although of course some topics are off-limits and I have to make it clear I’m not speaking for the firm. I blog (intermittently) about litigation knowledge management and related topics at Caselines; that blog is my own and it is not firm-sponsored. There are three firm-sponsored blogs, Sustainable Development (e.g., green building), Financial Crisis Recovery, and the Founder’s Toolbox blog, part of the Founder’s Workbench online resource. I do not write for them or the firm’s Twitter accounts. I’ve had my blog Caselines since 2007 and have been using Twitter since 2008. Stay tuned also for some news about a new channel related to ILTA!
Initially I was using these collaborative tools with an eye to their possible use inside my enterprise; that remains true, but they have also turned into a great way to connect with KM colleagues around the world and to keep informed of all the latest developments in my line of work. For instance, I can get a daily snapshot and preview of the content that some of my favorite tweeps are linking to at http://paper.li/kmhobbie/legal-kmers, which is a compilation of stories from the people on my “legal-kmers” Twitter list.
As for LinkedIn, there are degrees of use, but I think that it’s well past the adoption tipping point. At my firm, over 1000 of us (attorneys and non-attorneys alike) are on LinkedIn already (that is, have Goodwin Procter as their “current company”) out of a total population of south of 1500.
Goodwin Procter, LLP seems to embrace the changes in technology. For start-ups, the Founder’s Toolbox that you mentioned is an awesome resource. How does the firm’s environment foster innovative thinking and lawyering?
One of the firm’s formally expressed core values is “collective entrepreneurship.” That means that, even if you’re a relatively junior person on the team, and you have a good idea, it won’t be dismissed out of hand simply because of your seniority. Many of the firm practice areas have developed technological sophistication and social media savvy simply in order to keep with their extremely sophisticated clients.
That’s awesome to know. It’s something you don’t necessarily find out during OCIs or even interviewing as a lateral. How did you decide to start blogging?
I started blogging as part of an experiment with social media. At the time, I was lucky enough to have Doug Cornelius as a fellow KM attorney at my firm. We were looking at social collaborative tools in part because we were moving to SharePoint 2007 (which includes primitive wikis and blogs) and wanted to see how they might enhance knowledge-sharing, and what security or governance challenges they might present. Doug had started KM Space six months or so before Caselines got underway. I haven’t been able to put as much time into it as I would like, but it’s proven a useful way to capture and organize my thoughts, particularly at conferences, and it’s also raised my visibility in the legal km field and led to speaking opportunities I might not otherwise have obtained.
What are your responsibilities as Litigation Knowledge Management Attorney?
My role and that of my team is to help the litigation department attorneys and staff function more efficiently and effectively. We do this by providing cutting-edge tools for searching and browsing information about the substantive work of the firm, such as previous briefs or deals, and putting information “at the fingertips” of the attorneys and staff. So I have some daily responsibilities to help people find what they need, and longer-term responsibility to A) make sure the firm has cutting-edge search, storage, and collaboration tools and B) deliver enough training and awareness for the attorneys and staff to know the best tool to use in a given situation.
What does a typical week look like for you?
My weeks vary a lot. I typically spend a number of hours responding to specific requests relating to firm work product or other internal information, and the bulk of my time on specific projects such as budgeting and alternative fee arrangements, investigating what to do about docketing and calendaring, developing a new shared workspace, or rolling out the next training & awareness on-demand resource.
You were a litigation associate in the early part of your career. How did you segue into knowledge management?
I had enjoyed the legal research and writing I did as an associate. I also realized that I liked working in an office, with intelligent colleagues, but that I didn’t enjoy the more adversarial aspects of civil litigation. To put that into simpler terms, I didn’t like butting heads with people all the time, and having it be my job to show that the attorney on the other side was an idiot (and vice-versa, his job to show me for a fool). The litigation KM position at this firm was advertised in the state’s local legal weekly, and I knew from reading the description that it would be a great fit for me. I relish being in a “helper” role instead of an adversarial one, and while not writing memos myself I’m close enough to the process to still be participating in identifying the best firm resources that fit a particular legal or business challenge.
How do you think clients benefit when law firms invest in knowledge management?
This is a great question. With better knowledge management resources and systems, a law firm is better able to find and refind key content, and keep from reinventing the wheel. Clients should be able to get answers faster, and hence–at least under a billable hour model–cheaper. Better KM should also lead to better identification of who has the most relevant experience for that project or potential project. Lawyers who have to worry less about how their teams organize and find information should be more able to focus on their clients’ needs.
Some KM tools, such as document assembly and checklists, also enable a firm to move work to a lower-cost provider. For instance, a junior associate might be able to generate and do basic vetting of a set of transactional documents a lot faster using such tools, work that would have required a senior associate to adopt a slightly different form of agreement. On the litigation side, to give another example, an associate can get started on a legal research project into a topic such as commonality requirements for class actions at the fourth or fifth stage, instead of at the first stage, by quickly finding and leveraging the dozens of briefs on that topic that have already been written.
Collaboration tools such as matter wikis might also prevent a matter team from having to waste time looking for information that might be buried in an email chain or otherwise not readily available.
Do you think knowledge management is something that lawyers should learn in law school? How do you think it could or should tie into the law school curriculum?
I have mixed feelings about this. The emphasis in academia is, and perhaps should be, on learning how to think like a lawyer. While study groups are great, a lot of that work is best done by the individual law student struggling with the caselaw. I start off junior lawyer training sessions by contrasting how taking advantage of other’s work is treated in law school or college, as compared to how it’s treated in a law firm. It’s grounds for expulsion in one, and the zenith of communal good in the other! So, enterprise-type KM is probably not really relevant yet.
On the other hand, law students should perhaps be thinking already about how they manage their personal store of information, their personal knowledge management. How are they going to keep up with the changes in their profession? How will they learn about the firms or other careers they hope to join? How will they be able to organize and share what they learn? There’s a whole group of people studying personal knowledge management, and increasingly impressive technological tools (such as Evernote) to help them do it.
Speaking of Evernote (which I love!), what tools do you use on a daily basis – cell phone, cell phone apps, SaaS, etc.?
I work with an at-times bewildering array of tools. On a given day, I might be developing on a SharePoint list of settlement agreements; crafting or editing a Captivate training and awareness video; searching for samples of a certain type of motion to dismiss in a certain federal court through West KM; reviewing data-mining from our BudgetManager tool about work done in previous matters; setting up a SharePoint or PBWorks wiki; or testing search features of our document management system iManage/ Autonomy.
For my personal KM I use Hootsuite to publish to Twitter and LinkedIn; paper.li to catch up on stories people I follow have published; and Evernote and Instapaper, to hold interesting posts or other content. I have an iPhone, which I use primarily to consume rather than create content.
For someone interested in knowledge management topics, are there any resources (books, websites, groups) that you can recommend?
For on-line resources, the best legal-km related blogs at the moment are above and beyond km and Three Geeks and a Law.
The twitter hashtags #km and #kmers are used quite often.
ILTA is a great way for km peers to get to know each other, though it is not the only km peer group out there. There are also a few groups on LinkedIn, though those aren’t particularly active.
Some excellent books on KM-related topics that I’ve been reading lately include Richard Susskind’s The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, Andrew MacAfee’s Enterprise 2.0, and Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto.
Awesome resources. I’ve added those books to my wishlist. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us!
David Hobbie is Litigation Knowledge Manager at Goodwin Procter. A frequent speaker on legal business intelligence, knowledge management, and enterprise 2.0, you can find David on LinkedIn and Twitter or check out his blog Caselines.