If you are reading this blog, chances are your department has already invested in information technology. This blog post will not address technology as such, but rather the person – or people – responsible for ensuring the information managed by the technology is accurate and readily available when needed.
I am also making the assumption that readers of this blog recognize that information technology is a strategic necessity in today’s business environment. The company’s CEO, board of directors, business partners and department members all rely on the law department’s ability to provide reliable and timely information for both competitive and defensive reasons.
Before we get into the main part of this post, I would like to mention that the actual role of the information manager can range from a part-time position of just a few hours per week to a full-time job depending on the size of the department. For example, the information manager’s responsibility in a five to ten person law department can usually be addressed in a 2-3 hours a week. On the other hand, the information manager’s role at United Technologies Corporation with over 500 members and five multi-billion dollar subsidiaries is a full time role for one person, and a part-time role for another individual.
According to Wikipedia, “Information management (IM) is the collection and management of information from one or more sources and the distribution of that information to one or more audiences. This sometimes involves those who have a stake in, or a right to that information. Management means the organization of and control over the structure, processing and delivery of information.”
Let’s begin by looking at the above definition from Wikipedia. There are three key words that summarize the information manager’s responsibility: collection, management and distribution.
This phase of the information manager’s responsibility involves ensuring that the data that is collected is accurate and timely. The well-known adage of “GIGO – garbage in, garbage out” applies perfectly for this phase of the information manager’s responsibility.
This is a multi-faceted issue. First and foremost, there must be procedures in place to capture information in a timely and consistent manner. My blog post of March 5, 2015, STEP 2 OF A CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM – DEVELOPING PROCESS PLAYBOOKS addresses this issue in more detail.
The second issue that the information manager must address in this phase is the oft-heard refrain from attorneys that “the ___________ system is too difficult to use”. In fact, they may have a point. One way to ascertain the validity of this complaint is to determine if this refrain is consistent with all, or just some, of the attorneys. The answer to this question will determine if you are dealing with a training issue or a system issue. Regardless of which issue it is, a good suggestion is to simplify the collection (data entry) process as much as possible for the attorneys.
In summary, the information manager’s responsibility is to ensure that each member of the department understands what is expected of them during the beginning (Trigger), middle (Ongoing Process) and end (Closing Out) phase of an activity and performs their tasks appropriately.
This phase requires the information manager to verify on a regular basis that the information in the system is being maintained accurately and timely.
There are various techniques that can be used to accomplish this. I would recommend that the information manager develops a series of “go to” reports that they can run on a regular basis to review the data. One method I highly recommend in a matter management system is to run “exception” reports that will identify any matters that may be missing key data points that are used to run management reports. The last thing you would want is to produce a report that is not accurate because data may be missing.
The types of matters maintained in the matter management system will determine the methods used to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the data.
The final phase of the information manager’s responsibility is to ensure that the necessary information is available to those individuals who need It an in a timely manner.
Distribution typically is of two kinds – those reports that are circulated on a regular schedule, and those reports that are required on an “ASAP” need.
The former kind (i.e., regularly scheduled reports) are the easier to produce because you know what is needed in advance. The latter kind (the “ASAP” kind) are typically more challenging because often there is little, if any, advance notice of the need for the information.
This is where “the rubber meets the road” in terms of the need for an information manager. When the report is needed “yesterday”, all the effort applied by the information manager in terms of collection and management of the data will pay off.
Do an honest assessment of the above phases of the information manager’s responsibility – collection, management and distribution in your department. If your department is lacking in any of the above areas, the effectiveness of your department’s ability to provide reliable and timely information is jeopardized. On the other hand, having a person in place that is properly managing these three phases will ensure your department will be ready to respond and even be proactive in making strategic decisions to fulfill the law department’s goals and objectives.