Law firm looks to P2P for worldwide knowledge sharing

Baker & McKenzie is banking on peer-to-peer to promote knowledge sharing and to create new revenue streams.

Baker & McKenzie is banking on peer-to-peer to promote knowledge sharing and to create new revenue streams.

The law firm Baker & McKenzie has adopted P2P as the optimum model for sharing information across its global enterprise. Like most large, international law practices, it has a highly decentralised structure with its 62 offices enjoying a great deal of autonomy.

This works very well in terms of building local business, but is less satisfactory when it comes to sharing best practice and data on cases. "The document management system that we used gives a limited view of knowledge resources. We didn't know what the entirety of the content across or organisation was," says Brian Gillam, global practice management systems, Baker & McKenzie.

Over the past year, Baker & McKenzie examined the way documents flowed around the company, and found ways to improve this. It found an abundance of documentation that detailed the final versions of negotiated contracts but a dearth of competency and transactional information.

This information "black hole" confirmed that Baker & McKenzie was being inefficient and missing out on significant commercial opportunities. If one practice had worked through an issue in a particular set of circumstances but had not captured the process formally, another law practice on the other side of the world would be likely to reinvent it. "This inefficiency is particularly costly to the firm when it does time-based and value billing," says Gillam.

Of greater concern to the law firm was the realisation that poor information sharing meant missed revenue-earning opportunities, especially in the field of merger and acquisition work. When a company acquires another, it needs a whole raft of services including marketing and tax advice, for example. A company sitting in the middle of the process, such as Baker & McKenzie, would be in a very good position to cross-sell. "In all our M&A work we could add extra value to the client by offering other corporate services," says Gillam.

Identifying the problem was just the easy bit. Identifying an IT infrastructure and product set that would deliver was much tougher; nurturing a culture which embraces information sharing between colleagues and offices will be harder still.

"When we started this documentation process, there were some concerns from individuals and offices about giving up ownership of their content," says Gillam. "We needed to be able to distribute, rather than centralise information to allay these fears." In addition, it was important to ensure that whoever contributed a piece of content retained absolute authority to determine who could access that data.

"Although we were satisfied with our existing tool (PCDox from Hummingbird), it did not have the right functionality for the new distribution model," says Gillam. The firm found that other, content management systems, such as Vignette, did not have the necessary attributes either. The company eventually stumbled across NXT3, a P2P content management system from NextPage, which mirrored the political structure of the company.

"Technically, NXT3 is a 'permissioning' model," says Gillam, who notes "content owners can determine access rights" and that the system scales well to the technical sophistication of different users. The platform supports the distributed nature of today's business by enabling access to information in its native format, allowing owners of content to manage, maintain and update that information. The system is currently in beta and goes live in two months' time.

For the moment, Baker & McKenzie is relying on a SWAT term to identify and upload relevant content, but long term is aiming for users to add pertinent data incrementally every day. The firm has found a system that means relevant information can be shared that otherwise might escape an organisation, but is very aware that individuals may have to be incentivised in some way to participate.

"We didn't begin this exercise thinking, 'let's find a P2P tool'. But in P2P we have found a method of sharing data that suits the political structure of our organisation." whitepaper final.pdf

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