Monday, January 20, 2014

Baker Donelson’s Interactive Client Environments Drive Better Service

The Editor interviews Meredith L. Williams, Chief Knowledge Management Officer, Baker Donelson Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.


Editor: Please tell our readers about Baker Donelson and your responsibilities at the firm.

Williams: Baker Donelson is a worldwide law firm that is mainly based across the southeastern United States. We are a full-service firm, with close to 700 lawyers and public policy advisors and 1,500 people within the organization. I have been with the firm for 15 years, serving in multiple roles beginning in college as a research assistant and returning as an associate.

Some years ago, a few people at the firm were looking to develop an area they couldn’t even name at the time, but that would become Knowledge Management. My mentor in that capacity eventually left to become a bankruptcy judge, and I was asked to oversee this function as Chief Knowledge Management Officer.

Editor: How great an emphasis does the firm place on knowledge management and technology?

Williams: The firm’s decision to focus on knowledge management and technology was a strategic one. We have a strategic planning board, which is responsible for developing innovative ways to move us forward, whether that be moving into a new market or developing new ways to deliver legal services. The board consists of a number of our key leaders, including the president and CEO, COO, as well as our department leaders. I serve on that board as well, as do our CIO and our Chief Business Development Officer. Ours is the only firm I have heard of where those functions work together to focus on the future of the firm.

Editor: What are the implications of technology for the way the firm works internally, and what are the benefits of its focus on technology?

Williams: The firm invests heavily in technology. The attitude toward technology is that it should always aid in providing greater effectiveness and efficiency, for example, that it should enable seamless collaboration across multiple offices, or that it should empower our attorneys to work more effectively and at lower cost. We look at technology from a business problem perspective.

We’re always looking at the functions we perform and asking ourselves if we are being effective. “Are we being efficient in our drafting and reviewing of corporate documents?” If the answer is “no,” some people might say, “We need a new drafting tool.” Not necessarily. The problem is not the tool, it is that we are spending too much of the client’s time drafting documents, and that is a business problem, not a technology problem. The purpose of technology is to fill the voids in the functions we are trying to perform. We may deploy a number of technologies, but our end users don’t necessarily care what the actual technology platform is, as long as it’s helping them conduct their day-to-day business.

In part, the firm has made a very large technology push because we have 19 offices and 1,500 end users. We have to find a way to work as one firm rather than 19 separate organizations. This is a challenging task, but we accomplish it, thanks to our firm culture and our technology.

By Guest Blogger: ContractExpress