The International Legal Technology Association held its blowout “ILTACON” conference last week at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, in which lawyers and professionals from the country’s top law firms convened to discuss how technology is changing the practice of law.
Speakers who manage operations at firms such as Hogan Lovells, Microsoft Corp., Cooley and McKool Smith among others participated in the well-attended conference.
Earlier this month, Big Law Business caught up with Jeff Rovner, the managing director of information at O’Melveny & Myers, about how his firm has attempted to streamline its legal research and matter management process.
From his Orange County office, Rovner explained how O’Melveny’s internally developed product called OMMLit that provides its lawyers with a central database to research 400 common tasks of litigation. Examples of tasks include motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgmen but also operational work such as preparing a budget or running a conflicts check. The system provides information and tips on handing the task based on firm records.
“It is intended to be a soup-to-nuts chronological list of things you would do in a case,” said Rovner.
Anyone from the firm’s most junior lawyer to Walter Dellinger, the former solicitor general in Washington, D.C., are encouraged to use the system, so they can more easily navigate the operational side of the firm’s casework and also understand how to try a case in the courtroom.
The interview with Rovner, below, has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Big Law Business: So how was OMMLit conceived?
Rovner: OMMLit was officially launched in 2015. But the work began a couple years before that, when we kind of lamented that we did not have a single smart way to do many of the tasks involved in our litigation matters. Our vice chair of the firm — at that time, Mark Samuels — commented that the firm was like a fine restaurant that had wonderful dishes and terrific chefs, but needed to be smarter about the way we ran our kitchen.
We began in earnest to try to solve that problem and our initial [idea] was that we had to be smarter about our staff. If you had people chopping the vegetables and creating the plate, you had to have the people in the right positions. We started going down that path and realized we had to deconstruct 400 litigation projects into tasks that chronologically represent the litigation process at our firm. And then we realized, ‘Wait a minute. Since we have gone this far, why don’t we associate with each task the smartest, quickest way to do it, given our library resources, technology, specialized people and all documents and precedents across all the work we’ve done. And that way, not only would we know for a particular task who would do it, but we could direct them to the best way of doing it.
And then we could keep those tasks current. So when new approaches would occur, we could slot them in, just like an assembly line. Then we decided to go a step further and crowd source all of this, so that each task that explains how to do it would have a box challenging someone to come up with something better. And if on review it was really a better way to do that thing, that would become the method and provide the task. We would be learning from the community as we go.
That was the impetus for the project and it required us to really do a thorough analysis of all our library resources to work out an arrangement with Practical Law and marry their resources on information with our list of tasks. Even where we had a technology that would be useful, sometimes that technology was just a little too hard to learn or use if you’ve never used it before. So we created simplified instances of many of these technologies directly on the page. So, for example, if someone was going to make an appearance in a jurisdiction where they weren’t licensed to practice and one of the things they would want to know is someone who is licensed there, we had a way of doing that with our recommend search process. But it was a multi-step process, so it was a little too daunting for a newcomer. So we created a simple search box right on the OMMLit page that we were typing the name of the state we would appear in and immediately you would see names on the box of those who would be licensed to practice there. We did a lot of that: single purpose use of complicated tools. We brought hundreds of technologies and research tools and brought them to directly associate them with litigation tasks.
Big Law Business: Interesting. So what happened after that?
Rovner: We realized there were some other benefits that naturally flowed from this. We added 10 different types of roles in the firm that are involved in litigation, from the obvious partner, counsel, mid-level associate, junior associate, to paralegals and people involved in discovery and practice support. We made it possible to filter the 400 tasks in OMMLit with the ones associated with a particular role. Let’s say a mid-level associate comes to the firm laterally and could quickly select their role and first see the whole 400 tasks and then see the tasks appropriate for them and peruse that filtered list to see if there were any tasks they were familiar with. In the OMMLit system we want people who are assigning work to call any appropriate staff person and assess the work assigned to them. If they see a person who hasn’t done a task yet, they can click on them to get them training to do the task with all the things we have today. So it turned out to be an effective training tool.
Big Law Business: Can you give me a sense for where this all appears? On some internal website?
Rovner: It’s on our overall knowledge management platform — a question-answering platform called OMMNI. And the pattern is that every technology has to start with OMM. OMMNI is the overall platform and OMMLit is the system. It starts with a page on OMMNI. So one navigates OMMNI to OMMLit. It is completely internal and we just launched yesterday a new feature that I haven’t spoken to anybody else about yet.
Big Law Business: Cool, what’s the new feature?
Rovner: We recognized in the 400 tasks in OMMLit that many of the tasks were the result of litigation documents, like drafting a motion for summary judgment. And those were going to be particularly important tasks that we used quite often. So on our home page, we released a box that we call OMMLit Drafting Assistant. And it has two little drop down boxes, one for general litigation and one for patent litigation. And you click and down come a whole list of documents you might draft — 150 in all, I think you have. You click on the one you want and boom, you’re taken to the OMMLit page with the best way to draft those documents, given your precedents, training materials and tips.
Big Law Business: What does the site look like?
Rovner: [In a nod to the play of the word OMMLit sounding like Omelet] we had representatives from each different role show up in a chef costume. So when you show up to the site it’s a revolving set of images showing people wearing their chef costume. Even Brad [Butwin, the chair of O’Melveny] signed up for this. He’s our lead off image. And there’s Walter Dellinger, the former solicitor general, as well as clerks.
Big Law Business: Can you give some examples of these 400 tasks? Seems like a lot. Is it only court filings?
Rovner: It could also be things like prepare a budget, run a conflicts check or prepare an engagement letter. It is intended to be a soup to nuts chronological list in things you would do in a case starting with the conflicts check. The drafting is a subset but we thought it was important enough of a subset to make it simple to access in the homepage of the site.
Big Law Business: Presumably all litigation is different, with different facts. How much can be automated in this process? Are there template forms that can be used?
Rovner: There are some instances — there are a few — when one can use a form. I’m thinking of an engagement letter, a settlement agreement, a notice of service. These are documents within a jurisdiction and vary so little that one can produce a template and start from there. In general, the documents are jurisdiction specific, judge specific, and client specific and always subject matter specific. What we will do in OMMLit is if you’re drafting a motion for summary judgment, we will present all the documents for summary judgment and to the court [and] find examples that are very close to the situation at hand. And then supplement that with any educational training and additional materials from library online resource sites that bear on that specific task so we can marry our specific experience dealing with the specific context with some general information with that kind of task.
Big Law Business: How did you go about developing the site?
Rovner: We took a look at the Amazon site and looked at why it worked and why it was useful to the customer. We use the exact same approach when using OMMLit. So when you click, when searching to bring up motions for summary judgment, you are presented with filters beside the search results that are exactly like the filters on Amazon, to decide you want the book instead of the movie and you may want a book in hard cover. It’s the exact kind of approach we use for the examples that relate to the case. The filters only present choices that are supported by the results. Because our firm has been around for so long and covers such a wide number of geographies and industries and practices, we are drawing from a very wide base.
Big Law Business: Do OMM lawyers need to use this?
Rovner: We don’t impose any rules to use anything if someone doesn’t want to use it. It finds different audiences that have different interests. Junior associates who are doing research projects or drafting projects will use it because it makes their life easier and it helps them find examples of documents that have already passed through the lawyers who are supervising them. They are doing something for the first time, so if they see how the lawyer does the work, they can do the document. Mid-level people beginning to staff cases find it useful as a staffing tool. More senior people will use the budgeting parts of it and the new engagement parts. It’s a very effective way to demonstrate beyond any shadow of a doubt that we are highly committed to efficiency.
Big Law Business: I’d imagine it would be difficult to develop your own technology at a law firm.
Rovner: Well, it’s an organizational task more than a technology. One of the biggest challenges within law firms and I know I share this with other firms, because when I talk with my counterparts we talk about this a lot, it’s so difficult when you bring technology to a law firm to get the attention and focus of lawyers to know you have it and use it and then incorporate it into their workflow.
We would very happily sacrifice the next several software packages we were looking to buy for greater use of the ones we have. That’s a huge problem. Even as wonderful technologies are emerging, if you can’t incorporate them into the workflow of your lawyers, you haven’t gained anything at all. One of my great motivations in creating OMMLit was to solve that problem. If I took online research sites we already use, and aim them at specific tasks and make them highly useful, people would use them. In our job creating OMMLit, the hardest part was not creating new technology as it was getting our arms around the technology and resources we already have and through organizing them into a framework that would make them consumable. That took us a while.
Big Law Business: Can you point to any specific use cases of OMMLit?
Rovner: One example I thought was interesting was when we first launched. One of our first tasks was to draft a complaint. We had to see and filter other complaints drafted. And we had some commentary on drafting in certain jurisdictions. One of our partners said it’s a good practice, whenever you’re drafting a complaint, to look at proposed jury instructions on a trial in the case to make sure the complaint had alleged all the things necessary to instruct the jury to win the case. I thought, of course, that is a completely logical, terrific idea. But it’s exactly the idea that lawyers tend to inform one another about through mentorship. But, we can capture in a crowd sourced system so everyone can be aware of it; not just the partner who goes out to lunch with them.
Big Law Business: How did you get into knowledge management?
Rovner: I first joined O’Melveny as an associate in the 1980s, from ’83 to ’88. After five years with OMM, I joined Morrison & Foerster, where I stayed to become a partner and run a practice group. And then, I guess it was in 1996, I completely switched careers. I left the practice to do what became known as knowledge management. I think I was the first knowledge management person in a law firm in 1996. I did that for six years for Brobeck, may it rest in peace, and four years in Clifford Chance, and then rejoined OMM in 2006.
I was a municipal bond lawyer, which might explain to you why I switched careers.
It’s just my nature to try to organize things. When I come across a chaotic body of information, or chaotic process that I have to deal with repeatedly, it’s just my obsessive personality to try to streamline it, make sense of it and find the patterns to make it easy, so when I come across the situation a second time, it’s graceful and I avoid the tedium. I was doing a lot of that. The muni bond practice I ran involved private transactions structured as bond deals, so they required a knowledge of government law, tax, and all sorts of areas. And I would have to teach young lawyers every time who helped me on a deal how to be useful to me in all these unfamiliar areas. So I came to systematize my practice. At the time, the chair of the firm was a guy named Carl Leonard, who saw what I was doing, how I was using computers to avoid the repetitive work in my practice. He said, ‘You need to run our technology committee and get us all doing what you’re doing.’ So in my spare time, when I was a partner doing my bond practice, I helped move the firm to personal computers.
Then a friend of mine at Brobeck said why don’t you come here. You can always go back to being a bond lawyer, but if you do, it might make for an interesting career. That was the best call I had gotten — certainly within the top five.
Big Law Business: Who called?
Rovner: That was Bruce Hallett who had been a partner at Morrison & Foerster with me and remains a dear friend.
It turns out that Carl Leonard, who started this thing with me, went on to Hildebrandt and created a master’s program at George Washington University and invited me to create a curriculum. Still to this day, I teach it.
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