Keesal, Young & Logan is First Law Firm to Pass the Legal Tech Assessment

Ray Sodora
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KYL recognizes that it is no longer sufficient for a firm to claim to be something—secure, efficient, innovative. Clients demand evidence.

D. Casey Flaherty, Legaltech News

People, some of whom are lawyers, do not like training. Training takes time out of their day. The time taken is not always offset by skills gained.

Justin Hectus knows this. As director of information for boutique powerhouse Keesal, Young, & Logan (KYL), he anticipated the audible rolling of eyes when he announced a basic technology training program for all associates and paraprofessionals. What he did not expect was that when the program finished every participant would answer “Yes” to the following two questions: Was it worth it? Did you learn something that you now use every day?

But that’s the happy end to a story that should begin at the beginning.

In 2008, KYL proclaimed “Everyone is in the IT department.” The firm recognized that information technology contributes to stellar client service. Superior lawyering remains paramount. But client communication, securing client data, and methods for generating client documents all factor into client satisfaction and retention. Much of legal service delivery—turning legal insight into concrete deliverables—now entails a technology component that combines infrastructure with user input.

At KYL, the investment in the infrastructure is ongoing. Users keep pace through the KYL Keeps You Learning framework, a program that produced the 2014 ILTA IT Professional of the Year (Hectus) and 2015 ACEDS eDiscovery Person of the Year (Janice Jaco) and utilizes the workflow-based training of the Legal Technology Core Competencies Certification Coalition (LTC4), on whose board of directors Hectus serves.

Julie Taylor, a partner in the firm’s San Francisco office, explains, “Buying the best technology is the easy part. Making sure that every member of our team knows how best to use it to the greatest effect and in a manner that is seamlessly integrated into our daily practice is the challenge. That is where we focus our efforts.”

That focus is data driven. KYL’s recent initiative to refresh timekeeper basic technology training commenced with an empirical investigation of where it was needed most. As detailed in a previous LTN article, Hectus and his team pulled usage statistics from KYL’s document management system. Most interesting was their finding as to how the generations differed in balancing delegation and autonomy. While senior attorneys relied heavily on support staff, many younger attorneys maintained direct control over their own documents in a variety of applications.

KYL had identified who should be proficient in which applications. But they still lacked information as to who needed training or how much. Hectus did not want to waste anyone’s time on things they already knew. He considered lecture-style info dumps an ineffective way to deliver technology training, in part, because trainees start from such different baselines. He wanted to ensure that people were learning, not just enduring a demonstration from which they took nothing. Time is a poor proxy for learning. Hectus preferred to measure learning directly.

KYL introduced the Legal Technology Assessment (LTA) to identify gaps and validate gains (Disclosure: The LTA is the tech competence test, covered extensively by LTN, originally created by the author when he was in-house at Kia Motors). The diagnostic assessment allowed users to test out of training they did not need. Some trainees tested out of training modules entirely. For those who needed training, the pre-identification of both skills and gaps reduced total training time to almost a third. Associate Sean Cooney observes, “Group training is often inefficient because everyone has a different familiarity with whatever program is being used. The individualized training allowed us to skip anything that is redundant.”

KYL does not merely claim to have enhanced legal service delivery. The firm actually has enhanced legal service delivery and can prove it. From diagnostic assessment to certification testing, KYL’s tailored training program implemented by trainer Mike Carillo improved the average LTA score more than 40 percent with substantial gains in both time and accuracy. Each participant met KYL’s competence threshold with firm personnel earning 47 portable COBOT badges (Certified Operator of Basic Office Technology) for exceptional acumen on Word, Excel, or PDF.

Most critically, the users were able to transfer what they learned to their daily practice. Associate Erin Weesner-McKinley remarks, “some tasks that I previously delegated can now be done with the click of a button, and I have a better understanding of other tasks which I still choose to delegate to nonbillable personnel or colleagues with lower billing rates.”

Continuously improving client service is embedded in KYL’s DNA. But the firm is also cognizant of the way that clients are shifting the burden of proof. Beyond the merits of the LTA itself, Hectus knew that corporate law departments were already rolling out the LTA internally and asking law firms for their LTA scores. In fact, the leader of a renowned Silicon Valley law department encouraged Hectus to help KYL become the first law firm to have its support system pass the LTA. The firm did just that.

KYL recognizes that it is no longer sufficient for a firm to claim to be something—secure, efficient, innovative. Clients demand evidence. In addition to a number of traditional IT security audits, KYL has recently been through (and passed) a client review of firm-generated PDFs. The client wanted to ensure that PDFs were being properly redacted and secured. This kind of scrutiny, and the attendant marketing opportunity, suggests a greater emphasis on third-party verification. To validate this ostensible relationship between tech acumen and firm performance, Hectus compared the diagnostic test results to the firm’s realization data. Unsurprisingly, he found a correlation between high initial LTA scores and high historical realizations. More efficient service delivery appeared to translate into greater value for the firm’s clients even before the formal initiative.

KYL is not done. The firm has made the LTA standard part of the onboarding protocol for all lawyers and staff. And basic tech competence is but one piece of the commitment to continuous improvement. KYL understands that the way to stay ahead of the pack is to move faster than they do.