Brad Frederiksen, chief information and knowledge management officer at Faegre Baker Daniels, believes it is absolutely essential for a law firm to integrate people with its technology – a task not easy for lawyers who are burdened with judgment calls over anything else.
Yet Frederiksen, the onetime chief information officer at National Car Rental who has worked at Faegre Baker for about 10 years, argues that technological issues like mobility, privacy and matter management cannot just be swept under the rug: lawyers need to adapt in an industry that is infamously behind-the-times.
Frederiksen, who was part of a team responsible for merging the businesses of Minnesota legal giant Faegre & Benson and Baker & Daniels of Indianapolis, shared his views on technology and collaboration in an interview.
One of the challenges is helping people use the technology... It distracts them in the short term from practicing law, but in the longer term, it makes them better.
The technology base (at a law firm) is more fragmented. There is no one SAP for the legal industry.
We combined the firm Jan. 1, 2012... There was an all-lawyer meeting in Chicago, and all of us operational executives went into a room with our GCs and said, “Oh, my god, now what?" After talking it through – a bottle of wine helped – we got the idea of creating an integration roadmap.
A vendor that will turn me off in a minute is one that tries to push their own piece of technology and doesn’t understand us. Those folks, you can hang the phone up pretty quickly.
Knowledge management is inventory control... It is what makes firms greater than just the sum of individuals. No one is omniscient.
The following is an edited transcript of the conversation:
[caption id="attachment_1991" align="alignleft” width="278"][Image “Courtesy of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Brad-Frederiksen.png)]Courtesy of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP[/caption]
Big Law Business: What is knowledge management and why is it important for your law firm?
Frederiksen:When your product is knowledge, knowledge management is inventory control. It is what makes firms greater than just the sum of individuals. No one is omniscient. To get that capability together, we need knowledge management.
Our clients are under intense cost pressure right now. We can help by lowering our costs and streamlining services. We created a unique capability for a client through combination of technology people, lawyers, paralegals and some process improvement. Halfway through the presentation, the client stood up, turned to her colleagues and said, “Buy all of our services from this firm.” What makes us unique is how we incorporate people and technology and serve that to our clients.
Big Law Business:What technology trends are you seeing? What are some of the most important tools for attorneys today?
Frederiksen:Mobility, mobility, mobility. People want to access everything, any time, anywhere.
That mobility is almost directly opposed to security and what our clients are telling us. Clients want more security, more risk management. As they become more regulated, they push that risk down the supply chain, and we’re in that supply chain. They will put on us security requirements that they’re beholden to as well.
Big Law Business:How do you handle that?
Frederiksen:We have two people that work in information governance. It isn’t that we serve up a piece of technology in and of itself. It has to be integrated into the overall structure of the firm. We’re moving away from using technology as a solution; it’s a people-focused solution. When we talk about governance, it’s trying to be efficient and effective about where our information is.
Big Law Business:What challenges are associated with new technologies? For example, how do you balance the need for convenience with the need to protect privacy and proprietary information?
Frederiksen:One of the challenges is helping people use the technology. Our attorneys have a vast array of comfort with technology. They’re practicing law. They have to keep their eye on the client, and when you show up with new technology or a new capability, they have to pause and look at it. It distracts them in the short term from practicing law, but in the longer term, it makes them better.
Privacy and confidentiality are challenges. Technology in the legal field tends to lag behind general-business technology. That can be challenging, but we have to get there. I worked for a consumer packaged-goods company (Pillsbury Co., now part of General Mills Inc.), and the supply chains of these companies are well-developed supply chains. There’s nothing compelling like that with a law firm. The technology base is more fragmented. There is no one SAP for the legal industry.
Big Law Business:What do you consider your proudest accomplishments during your three-plus years at the firm?
Frederiksen:Without a doubt, it’s the combination we just went through. (Faegre & Benson merged with Baker & Daniels in 2012, becoming Faegre Baker Daniels.) From an organization point of view, it was fabulous. From a technology point of view, it was challenging. From a personal point of view, it was quite satisfying.
We all mobilized across all operational areas to take the two firms to a new place. We were given a challenge: Don’t just do it the Faegre way or the Baker way; if there’s a new and better way, go do that. All the teams worked together and integrated themselves together and became much closer teams. Organizationally, it’s just really fun to see that happen.
From a technology point of view, we touched everything, either through significant upgrades or through replacement.
From a personal point of view, I formed very deep bonds with my peers. We all worked together as a team. We actually go to some conferences to talk about how we pulled it all together.
We combined the firm Jan. 1, 2012. We had to have the website and all the accoutrements that go with calling it one firm ready. There was an all-lawyer meeting in Chicago, and all of us operational executives went into a room with our GCs and said, “Oh, my god, now what?” We were facing a daunting task, we were worried about how to get it done, and we didn’t know each other very well. After talking it through – a bottle of wine helped – we got the idea of creating an integration roadmap. It really helped us. We engaged our colleagues and got to know each other. It helped us balance change so we weren’t forcing any group to do too much at one time, and it helped us sequence things. It was really a process of engaging all the operational people in the firm and moving the firm through this significant combination. We did it in three years, essentially, because we were so organized and we were working together in an integrated way.
Big Law Business:What is the next major initiative you hope to tackle at the firm?
Frederiksen:It’s a thing we call matter management. If you look at the life cycle of a matter in a law firm, you open the matter, check conflicts, have documents, billing and closing. There’s no one system that does that, unfortunately. A time-entry system does one part, document management another. What we want to do is put together an integrated process, time entry, conflict checking, estimating fixed or hourly billing, budgeting, who is allowed to work on the matter or not, how the client wants the bill served – we’re looking at a cradle-to-grave matter management process.
It isn’t the back end of the firm; it’s the back end of the matter. It’s essential that we do that for client service. The concept is unique, and we have found a vendor we are working with that understands the concept. We’re working with them to start integrating components as they become available. It’s not about the technology; it’s about how you use it and how you integrated it into process to provide good customer service.
Big Law Business:Related to that, what must a service provider bring to the table in order to get your business? And what makes you leave the table?
Frederiksen:I need a vendor that comes to the table understanding the business problem I want to solve. If they can focus on the problem we’re trying to solve, I’m all ears. That vendor (for the matter-management product) was painting a picture of an endemic problem in the industry. A vendor that will turn me off in a minute is one that tries to push their own piece of technology and doesn’t understand us. Those folks, you can hang the phone up pretty quickly.
Big Law Business:How do you stay current on technology and business trends affecting your role?
Frederiksen:You have to keep all your avenues open. There is no one magic document, no one magic subscription. I try to understand what my peers are doing, what my colleagues are doing, and listen to anything I can in the marketplace. The folks who report to me are just fabulous. You really need to keep all your communication avenues open.
Big Law Business:What’s your favorite personal technology?
Frederiksen:My wife and I are marathoners, so my favorite piece is my Garmin. It shows heart rate, distance, elevation, course -- anything an obsessive-compulsive wants to keep track of, your Garmin will do it.