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Saturday, September 30, 2006

David Cameron and his Blog

I noticed last night that David Cameron has launched a blog and if you click on the title it will take you directly to his blog. It is of course not the first political person in UK politics to have a blog - David Milliband has got one. However Cameron's blog - even though it is in beta - does at least have some video and shows an understanding that a blog can be so much more than just a bland set of words. Cameron's blogs - show him in various settings - on the first video with him at home - one notes the environmentally friendly washing up liquid strategically placed - or talking about issues such as clean politics and his recent trip to India.

It does appear that the right in British politics have understood the importance of blogs and vlogs as a means of getting over their message quickly to the internet generation. I would also refer you to another site called 18 Doughty Street.

I'm interested as this gets round the need to sell your message via the traditional media of Party Political Broadcasts which is tightly regualted in the UK as to the amount that you can have. This medium enables parties to rapidly respond to events as they occur. Conservative politicians ever since i've been able to vote over the last 25 years have complained about BBC and other media bias and it will be interesting to see how these elements respond to them being bypassed.

It will be fascinating to see how this develops in an election setting. It will be interesting to see if dour Gordon can truly embrace this new medium without feeling the need to harangue the viewer as he seems to do regularly when being interviewed.

Perhaps we will see one day a Vlog from a law firm as a means of supporting knowledge management in the firm - you never know.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Taking a break

I'm going to be busy for a couple of days - but whilst I'm away I'm going to be catching up on some reading on knowledge management. I'm just reading an old classic called "The Wealth of Knowledge by Thomas Stewart as well as catching up with reading some old KM articles from Harvard Business Review. Probably get back to the blog next week with some new thoughts..

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Generations & Law Firm Economics

It is good to see the Financial Times and Legal Week catching up with me from time to time (where have they been) talking about the rise of Generation Why in the work place - see previous blogs in this area.

A follow up to the Tony Angel article last week recognises the need to recognise this generation - however, it did miss quite a few points so I thought that I would provide a brief general caricature of the typical Generation Whyer

Generation Whyer Characteristics

ADAPT rapidly -- INNOVATE constantly -- ACCEPT OTHERS easily REBOUND quickly -- and are astoundingly LOYAL and COMMITTED!

They have the TIME, TOOLS, and the TALENT to create a better world and better results for your company and/or organisation and can multi task.

They want work that has meaning, creativity and flexibility. They are impatient multi taskers and like to PLORK (play and work).

Some commentators have even alluded to a quarter life crisis in the workforce as this demographic group are hitting the work place with it's very rigid structures and narrowly presented career options.

They see a career as a plural - ie they expect to have a number of careers.

They don't want to burn out as they have seen their parents burn out - they want a life and know that due to the lowering birth rate and the war for talent especially in knowledge workers that they are in the driving seat when professional service firms

Because they are a computer gaming generation - they are used to making analysis & decisions at a faster rate.

This last point is going to be somewhat handy as I feel that one of the dangers that lawyers face in the future is that the transferability of knowledge may mean that as the world becomes more and more connected has made it possible to off shore services that were considered non tradable.

Certain areas of the law may become subject to more competition and delivered electronically from anywhere in the world. Therefore people who are highly skilled in say property law may find that in the course of their professional career that they may have to re-train in a completely new area of the law. Any law job that can be standardised is highly vulnerable to being squeezed and eventually economic dictates will overide protectionist bodies like law societies.

It is not to say that China and India will have a comparative advantage in everything because it will take some time to train up their knowledge assets - so it may be that large firms will need to concentrate on the really value added work and off shore the work to other areas to keep their profit margins up. If they don't then it is likely that they will discover that the increasing competition will have a price deflationary effect.

Of course law firm managers still need to grasp the concept of vertical disintegration where they look to their internal supply chain and see what they can outsource whilst retaining the core areas that provide value by harnessing the unique areas of knowledge in their firms by reducing the time people have to spend on mundane tasks that were important once - but have been superseded by other sources.

Of course while we have the concept of clients willing to pay by the billable hour, there is no reason for law firms to review their processes as a number of other law economic commentators such as Bruce MacEwen have pointed out.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Knowledge Lessons

A friend sent me an e-mail a few days ago which I've now had time to read. The one's that I've uploaded today are of particular relevance to us knowledge managers.

Lesson 1:

A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her
shower, when the doorbell rings. The wife quickly wraps herself in a
towel and runs downstairs.

When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next-door neighbour.

Before she says a word, Bob says, "I'll give you £800 to drop that towel."
After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob. After a few seconds, Bob hands her £800 and leaves.

The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs. When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, "Who was that?" "It was Bob the next door neighbour," she replies. "Great!" the husband says, "did he say anything about the £800 he owes me?"

Moral of the story: If you share critical information pertaining to
credit and risk with your shareholders in time, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure

Lesson 2:

A priest offered a Nun a lift. She got in and crossed her legs,
forcing her gown to reveal a leg. The priest nearly had an accident.
After controlling the car, he stealthily slid his hand up her leg.

The nun said, "Father, remember Psalm 129?" The priest removed his
hand. But, changing gears, he let his hand slide up her leg again.
The nun once again said, "Father, remember Psalm 129?"

The priest apologised "Sorry sister but the flesh is weak." Arriving
at the convent, the nun went on her way.

On his arrival at the church, the priest rushed to look up Psalm 129. It said, "Go forth and seek, further up, you will find glory."

Moral of the story: If you are not well informed in your job, you
might miss a great opportunity

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Informal networks & Lovable fools

This is a re print of an article that I wrote for a local law society journal earlier this year.

I've had a couple of people ask me to re print in in my blog so here it is.

One of the areas looked at when completing a recent long term project on knowledge sharing in a law firm was the use of informal networks as a means of knowledge sharing within organisations.

As part of my research I asked people within the organisation whether they knew the best person to look for if they needed help on a particular legal problem or project that they were working on. Not too unsurprisingly people knew who was the expert on a particular aspect of the law and also they placed an economic value on that information and avoided using knowledge from people that was not considered to be of benefit.

However recent research in the US & Europe has also highlighted that work partners aren’t only tapped for the knowledge that they can bring but also for their likeability.

From a study covering 10000 working relationships across 5 organisations researchers have discovered four archetypes for teams:-

1. The competent jerk – they know a lot but are unpleasant
2. The lovable fool – who doesn’t know much but is a delight to work with
3. The lovable star – who is a delight to work with and knows a lot
4. The incompetent jerk well they are easy to categorise and desperately avoided

Of course we know that every person would like to work with no 3. However the research highlighted that people would rather work with the lovable fool above the competent jerk. Probably you know people within your firm that if you created a matrix as below you could populate it fairly easily

Competent Jerk
Mostly avoided

Lovable Star
Desperately wanted

Incompetent Jerk
Desperately avoided

Lovable Fool
Mildly wanted

However the lovable fool does play an important part in a team. This is because they are liked by a large amount of people they can act as bridge builders for the team and bring in other diverse groups that might not normally interact with one another. So although their performance skills may not be as high as numbers 1 and 3 they tend to make up for it in their bridge building skills.

Of course that leaves the competent jerk. People may not want to work with them in a team and of course people may improve through coaching or being held to account for their behaviour. (It is amazing that many of these people don’t see their poor behaviour for the effects that it has on people). However a lot of these people do tend to work better in isolated settings or by careful re-positioning.

I’m not saying that when you are creating teams you should not have a little bit of grit in it. It avoids the dangers of group think where a group of similar people all work together will give you a limited range of perspectives and people may not be willing to criticise people that they know and like. However a diverse group provides an array of perspectives, which can lead to a better way to accomplishing the task and thus providing added value for you and your client.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Quick post update on Generation Why from a legal viewpoint

I was as at a meeting on Tuesday night and was talking to one of the guests who was talking about Generation Why. This is the Generation of current workers who were born between 1980 and 1994 and are entering the work place. I've talked about this on my previous blog. Anyway we talked about Generation Why and some of their traits especially how they are masters of using IT.

This got me thinking about mentoring in reverse where say a young solicitor helps a partner who is struggling with IT or wants to understand the new collaborative technology options via Web 2,0 to improve his or her skills/knowledge in exchange for tacit information say on how to network or how to deal with clients or any other types of experiential knowledge.

Interestingly enough the managing partner at Linklaters highlights how law firms can meet the needs of this generation which is the link in the title. I have to say that it has some interesting points but glosses over some of the points that writers such as Eric Chester who has written about this generation. I'll have something more to write about this shortly as it is late at night when writing this blog and I think that my readers deserve better comment.

However, for all partners out there, can I recommend that you start by reading this article and use it as a starting point to understand this new generation.

However one conclusion that I gain from it is that young lawyers don't quit their firm, they quit their boss.

So what are you doing to retain your future in a law firm?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

DuPont Legal Model Version 2.0 (beta)

I have just been reading an interesting article this lunch time about yet another innovation that DuPont may be exercising on the Legal World, that if it is fully carried through successfully may well have as much an influence on the Legal market not only in the US but potentially in the UK .

What DuPont has done is off shore some of their legal work to the Philippines covering product liability cases and you can see the full article by clicking on the link in the title bar.

The aim of this work is aimed to reduce $6m from their legal spend estimated to be about $200m.

The article highlights the following quote that I place in full

"DuPont's legal department has been a pioneer in cost-cutting since the early 1990s, saving more than $100 million over that time through automation, outsourcing, and reducing the number of outside law firms it uses. Off shoring is the logical next step. While firms in India, the Philippines, and elsewhere have been processing legal documents for years on a small scale, the size and complexity of DuPont's deal with Office Tiger pushes it to a higher level. "If DuPont does well with this, you will find other companies taking a good look," says Bradford W. Hildebrandt, chairman of the legal consulting firm Hildebrandt International Inc., which estimates U.S. firms can save 25% to 35% by farming legal work to Asia. "Ultimately, there may be little limit to what can go offshore."

I suppose that this is DuPont imitating Lovell's 'Mexican Wave' where work was passed down to more cost effective regional firms and then sent back to Lovell's for quality control. The success or otherwise of this move off shore of course presupposes that there off shoring supplier Office Tiger can overcome some of the logistical and quality problems that some outsourcers have faced in the past.

However if this is successful it may impact on the way that companies who place commoditised work with their legal suppliers in the future. This has been executed in the past by cost efficient para legals who obviously do not cost as much as a fully qualified lawyer. These revenues via this source have been very useful to law firms especially as the article highlights in the US. also the costs of hiring a lawyer say in India or the Philippines is somewhat less than that of say a UK lawyer.

I can't see a swathe of lawyers disappearing as they will be needed to work on the more high value work that law firms should perhaps be looking at and maybe firms can utilise the experienced para legals for other more value added work that benefits the firm in the future such as legal research.

This is a position worth keeping an eye on - however it may act as a wake up call to re-examine their processes to ensure that they are as lean and computerised as they should be - otherwise their clients using a Coasian view of transaction costs may find it to be to their benefit to have this work done offshore.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A lesson from a Polish deli

There has been a lot of talk recently about how the UK is adapting to the influx of Polish workers - well it has happened in Birmingham too. As a bit of a foodie, I like to find new sources of food eating experiences and in Birmingham that isn't difficult because of the diversity of people who live in the city. There is an old saying up north - which says that you can always tell a brummie by the shamrock in his turban.

I love the diversity of people in Birmingham and watching them all in the melting pot that this city is with diverse experiences that we can all benefit from. Birmingham really is one of the best cities for assimilating new waves of immigrant populations who want to improve themseIves. Well I was driving back home yesterday with a friend and suddenly pulled over because a new deli had opened up in Acocks Green.

This was a Polish deli and so had pierogi which are polish dumpling and all sorts of pickled cabbage and especially Polish Kabanos sausage. My friend Sandy laughed and said that I was the only person that she knew that could spot a new deli whilst driving at 40 mph down a road.

The important think apart from the food to remember is that diversity of thought is also important when considering knowledge management and that we should all be inquiring about our surroundings and questioning them.

Organisations treat external thought sometimes as a dangerous virus to be innoculated against - however osmotic organisations allow evolutionary knowledge to help the develop better organisations and people to meet the changes in the external business market

The two most powerful questions we should ask is "What if?" and "Why" on a daily basis in order to challenge our surroundings and become agents for change.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Change - have you heard these ones before

I've just been reading a blog by Seth Godin about some of the comments that he has picked up over the years as a way of countering good ideas and some top ways to defend the status quo.. If you click on the link in the title then you can read them also.

One of my favourites of my own hearing is " I think that the troops are suffering from change fatigue - do we really need to implement this this year.....".

I heard a rather interesting ratio to do with change management one day - and it is called the 20- 50 -30 rule

20% of people are change friendly - you can depend on them to help drive the change forward.

50% sit on the fence in a neutral position figuring which way to lean.

30% are antagonistic towards change and try to make it fail.

The trick as a manager is to ensure that you spend the time trying to woo the 50% and ensuring that you are also generate time with your natural supporters. If you have 70% of the peopole on your side then either the resistors will leave or they will buy in as your programme begins to bear fruit.

Casey Stengel a baseball manager is quoted as saying

"The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided."

An Inconvenient Truth

Watching the early morning news today the BBC had two items that contrasted. They were interviewing Al Gore about his new film as per the title. I think that this is a film that everyone should go and watch about global warming and the title link is to a website about the film and the book which opens up at the end of next week.. Although I have no children I do beleive that it is our imperative to leave the world a little better than we found it. Sadly despite 30 years or more of warning I do think that we are little further forward in convincing people to change their lifestyle.

Well regrettably it may be that one day in the future we will all have a carbon ration that we are allowed to utilise during the year - and maybe that flight overseas via a budget airline will become as socially reprehensible as smoking in a public place or drinking and driving. I do think that it is up to ourselves to take action before economics and mother nature drives us down this path that we will need to take. We may despair that Al Gore as the second most powerful politician in the USA was unable to achieve anything - but I do believe that action by a growing band of citizens may help.

I have to say I found Gore an impressive figure and compare him with the person who is in the White House now and compare their intellectual standings and ability to take the longer view.

Coincidentally, Sainsbury's trumpeted it's green credentials by stating that it was launching a scheme to have compostable packaging on 500 products - oh well only 39500 to go then. Also where do I find a compostor that is close to me in my block of flats? so when you are next in Sainsbury's ask them when they are going to reduce the over packaging a little bit more and also how much of their produce is bought locally. As one of their competitors says - 'Every little helps."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

History repeats itself

No doubt many of you have been watching the unfolding drama of will he or won't he with regard to Tony Blair and when he goes.

A couple of observations.

All Blair has done is confirm that he will have resigned within the next 12 months which he was probably planning to do anyway.

For the next 12 months or sooner there is going to be good old fashioned inter-necine warfare between the Brown camp who only put up with Tony Blair because he could get them electoral victory and the PM's camp who are determined that Brown will continue the New Labour project. They also believe that although Mr Brown was silent - he lit the touchpaper on this current outbreak to force the PM's hand.

If you look at Mr Blair's words it is only a commitment to stand down as leader of the Labour party and not as PM. The phrase depending on the circumstances at the time. Here are his words from the statement

"But I am not going to set a precise date now. I don't think that's right.

I will do that at a future date and I'll do it in the interests of the country and, depending on the circumstances, of the time."

Some very cleverly crafted words that

Of course the person who is smiling the most are Margaret Thatcher and of course David Cameron. At least when the Conservatives ditch a leader it is quick - we now face 6 -12 months of near paralysis in our government while the two camps jockey for position - one for power and one to block. Was this the moment when like Black Wednesday in 1992 we saw the strange death of new Labour.' Only time will tell.....

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Olympics in 2012 - to add some culture perhaps

Last year - one of my proudest moments was standing in Chamberlain Square with the rest of my colleagues from Sport England - looking at a TV screen with a crowd watching the Host City announcement from Singapore. Obviously when London was announced like the whole crowd I went wild - thinking for possibly the only time in my life one of the greatest sporting events in the world will take place in London in 7 years time.

However some people have looked at other aspects of the Olympics that I think bears sharing - as why should it just be a sporting event.

In the RSA magazine this month - highlighted that the original games in Greece included Gold medals for literature and poetry as part of the Olympics. Could we re-introduce this element to these games working say with either the Nobel committee's a dovetail. Another option that I can think of is just a special award developed in conjunction with the IOC.

Another option might be to extend the Blue plaque scheme to commemorate the birthplaces of say 50 great British Sportsmen/Women - as an adjunct to 2012.

I notice that we have a number of Sports Institutes throughout the country - another option might be to have a University of Sport based around the Olympic site as one of my options.

What would you like to see happen to have as a lasting memory of the 2012 Olympics.

If so then write with any suggestions to Derek Wyatt MP at

Monday, September 04, 2006

Retaining your knowledge base

In this weeks "The Lawyer" (click on title for the link) it highlighted that DLA Piper is looking to adjust it's career path for those people who don't wish to become a partner from the level of associate.. There is an interesting quote from the chief people officer (or HR director if you like) stating

"We have people at the firm who haven't made it through to partner but are still contributing. There's still room in the firm for them."

You bet there is - as you will have read from my previous blogs, the retention of experiential knowledge is key for firms not only in terms of the cost of trying to find a lateral recruitment but also getting them up to speed. I've talked about the needs for firms to look at ways of dealing with middlescence in there firms to make sure that people still feel that there is a challenge for them but also to make sure that they don't clog up the organisation - but also gives them the option that even if they don't want to be a partner now - the door is not firmly shut in their faces.

Just a short blog tonight as I had a busy weekend - but more tomorrow.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

How to slowly diminish your knowledge base

I read an article today in Legal Week that really did take my breath away and if you click on the title bar it will take you to the article in question.

It relates to the Law society's proposals to reduce the training contract that all trainee solicitors have to undertake before they qualify as solicitors.

At present trainee solicitors spend 2 years in firms before, if successful, qualifying as solicitors.

What tends to happen during that time is that they spend the time either 3 or 6 months in various parts of the firm carrying out work in say Corporate or Property Departments gaining some of the tacit knowledge needed to help them once they hopefully qualify.

Well the law society proposes to cut the training contract by 6 months. A number of the major law firms have complained about the proposal.

I have to say that as a knowledge manager, a reduction of 6 months in the contract means that the time that people can spend in a seat is reduced with a reduction in the elements of the experiential tacit knowledge. This is something that young lawyers so desperately need - especially as this reduction would also increase the risk element of a junior solicitor making an error.

I fear that this may be, to use a colloquialism, a "dumbing down" of the profession that will lead to younger lawyers being exposed to more risk and that we are therefore in danger of increasing the level of 'cut and paste' solicitors with a diminution of real life experience to serve as an essential base.

Let me leave the final word to a partner who sums it up thus.

Marco Compagnoni, a partner with Weil Gotshal & Manges in London, said: "This job is all about experience and soaking up knowledge, and anything that cuts that down is bad."

Hear Hear.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Do you understand the middle rankers in your firm?

I was in a pub on Thursday night meeting an old colleague for a quick drink. Whilst I was there, I bumped into another former colleague who was having a drink with a friend. We were chatting and as is normal I asked how things were and how was he progressing. He said that he was leaving his current law firm to move to a smaller firm as a partner. Now I had thought of my colleague as partner material but it was obvious from his response that he had just been overlooked and had decided to go to a smaller firm where he could be made a partner and have an influence.

It did make me think of an article i had read recently concerning how to deal with people who aren't going to make it to the top in their organisation and I did think that it had relevance to legal firms in particular.

So how to deal with middlescence?

This isn't my phrase it is one coined by Robert Morison and Tamara Erickson, quoted in Harvard Business Review.

It covers people in your organisation who are between 35 and 55, though I'd say for law firms, that it would be between 35 and 50.

They do tend to be your hardest workers and also the repositories of large amounts of tacit knowledge. you probably bank on their loyalty and commitment to their cause. However you may also worry about whether they clog up your organisation and stop people coming through to reach the top echelons. However this bottleneck approach makes both sides of the organisation unhappy. Although 30% of people felt up beat by their job, another third feel that they have reached a dead end - the other third are just dissatisfied and about 20% of those unhappy ones are looking for another job.

So how to deal with this adolescent period.

Remember when you were a teenager and all the angst that you went through - well this is what Morison alludes to though he does go on to say that it can be a time for new horizons to open up and to look to ways of balancing the various elements of their life from family leisure and work and to also get their jobs re-energised. I first came upon this phenomena when I was writing up my thesis, with people who joined the firm because they liked it's ethos and didn't feel that they were a small cog in a giant legal machine. So it begs the question - will people leave your organisation because they can't get a life in balance there, but someone else can offer it.

Remember that these people carry your sustainable competitive advantage with them in terms of the tacit knowledge that they hold. Many firms in the 90's discovered this when they went through the de-layering exercises especially the companies that bought into BPR (and interpreted it wrongly) and then discovered the major knowledge lacuna that it had left.

Companies aren't very good at handling this because there are few maps to chart it and also unless it comes up at appraisals mainly invisible and people do tend to suffer in silence.


The answer does lie within as people do have a sense of wanting to renew. So if you can't promote, you may be able to offer alternatives such as fresh assignments, the opportunity to mentor the new people to pass on their tacit knowledge, sabbaticals based on length of service or even helping them find new career paths in your organisation. There are always ways to ensure that the mid career employee stays with you as a positive influence rather than a frustrated blocker.

There are probably a number of people in your law firm who would welcome the opportunity to re-pot themselves and convert their restlessness into fresh energetic directions. They are also useful in that they carry a good deal of tacit knowledge that can be utilised to bring on new junior lawyers and provide them with a wealth of experience gained over the years.

I have a strong philosophical belief that people can be instruments of the sublime and can deliver amazing results if they are allowed to develop their existing and potential skills.

If you share this belief, what are you doing about it.