Our “Small” Project with a Big Impact: Littler’s Knowledge Desk, A Case Study

How do you fix something that no one thinks is broken? About four years ago, my boss talked about creating a help desk – a concierge for our attorneys, a place where attorneys could ask questions and be directed to the best resource. I didn’t get it. Wasn’t this just a new name for our Library Reference Desk?

Our library had a well-established and respected reputation within Littler. Our Knowledge Management (KM) attorneys’ reputation was unprecedented. Attorneys asked us questions and received answers, so what needed to change? My boss already knew that any business looking to succeed must seek opportunities to change, innovate and evolve. Innovation need not come in the form o f expensive new tools or sweeping, firmwide changes. Small changes can have a big impact.

Law firms often roll out multiple search engines, databases and portals to  provide information to their lawyers, and are then surprised when lawyers don’t use them. The belief is that lawyers don’t use these tools because they are not tech-savvy. In reality, it’s because there are too many options, and it can be difficult to figure out which tool to use and when.

Introducing Littler’s Knowledge Desk

Littler’s library, a division of the greater KM department, bridges information needs and answers through its one-stop-shop for all KM and library research inquiries and needs via the Knowledge Desk. The Knowledge Desk is available to all Littler attorneys and staff for any legal research, traditional library resources, KM requests or questions concerning our legal training group Littler Learning Group (LLG). Via the Knowledge Desk, attorneys are connected to subject matter experts, a vast collection of databases, print materials, practice groups, internal work product and proprietary data collections, through which our team can search efficiently to locate exact information.

We had distinct goals when creating the Knowledge Desk:

1. Centralize the gathering of attorney’s questions;
2. Use library, KM, and LLG more efficiently;
3. Create time for higher level projects and innovation;
4. Better serve our attorneys.

Our first step was to determine what types of questions were separately coming to the library, KM and LLG, and who was answering these questions. We reverse-engineered the services we were providing to our attorneys and staff. The team reviewed years of emails, and sifted through mountains of data collected in our ticket-tracking system. We discovered that questions were being sent to KM that should have been sent to the library, and high-level KM attorneys were gathering documents that could have been provided by a library assistant. We were doing the wrong work with the wrong people.

After our fact-finding, we mapped out types of requests, reviewed inquiries as they came  in and then used data to shape our new policies and response protocols. We determined t hat all questions would be sent to one centralized email #KnowledgeDesk. The library created three teams to specialize in various types of tickets, and a system was created to elevate tickets to KM attorneys, LLG attorneys and KM management as needed. We spent significant time training the library staff to recognize KM questions and how to respond to those questions. During the pilot phase, KM attorneys were assigned to work in tandem with Librarians as we transferred work.Law firm librarians are perfectly suited to liaise between attorneys and a legal KM department,and our training and mentoring efforts served to enhance our librarian’s abilities. The training and pilot phase were critical to our success. We understood that every question received had to provide outstanding responses to ensure total firmwide adoption of our new plan. We spent several months running the Knowledge Desk with oversight by our KM attorneys and LLG teams,  and in the end the training from KM and LLG merged with the expertise of our library
team to create an increased level of service.

Through the pilot phase we also dedicated time to cross training and thorough documentation  of procedures. This not only brought the entire team up to speed quickly and accurately, but now running at full capacity this depth allows the Knowledge Desk to handle smoothly the inevitable ebb and flow of request levels. Our attorneys receive the same quality service whether it is a slow summer week with 400 requests, or the fall rush with requests surging to nearly 600 in a week.

Once we knew how we wanted the Knowledge Desk to run, and we completed a successful pilot, it was time to determine how we would announce our new tool to the firm. Collaborating with our marketing team, we developed a detailed campaign. We knew it had to be more than one email announcement; it had to feel different because it was different. The announcement had to make a splash. A team, assembled from the library, KM, and marketing, worked together on a multilevel campaign for the launch. Our Managing Directors sent out a firmwide announcement that included an animated video explaining the KnowledgeDesk. We put together an animation to explain the Desk, and why attorneys and other firm employees would want to use it. We also sent each attorney, paralegal and secretary a ceramic coaster with our new logo and tag line. We wanted the Knowledge Desk to be at the forefront of their minds. Every time they picked up their coffee mug, they would see: ​​​#KnowledgeDesk: Your Answer is Here. After the initial launch, our job was not done. Emails sent to the old reference desk or KM group were redirected to #KnowledgeDesk. Direct calls to a KM attorney or our Management team were met with reminders that the Knowledge Desk would have the best answer. We continued our guerilla marketing efforts, to preach about the Knowledge Desk at every opportunity, and we continue to utilize the best marketing tool there is: exceptional service.The Knowledge Desk strives to answer every question posed, even the seemingly odd questions such as those regarding exchanging money overseas, what rental car company to use, flight information from Los Angeles International Airport to Omaha, Nebraska, or how to order new business cards. We hold true to our tagline, your answer is here.A logical offshoot of our online concierge was to find a way to help our attorneys help
themselves (when possible). After the Knowledge Desk was firmly established, we created a portal for our information that allows attorneys to access its power conveniently. This portal is a part of the internal “Littler Apps” and is available to everyone at the firm. Several years ago, I attended a conference where a shareholder said, “I want a research librarian on call 24 hours a day. I want you to know what I need and be there to answer the phone when I need it.” This is obviously neither practical nor sustainable, but the Knowledge Desk coupled with the portal comes closer to answering this shareholder’s request than any other system I have seen.

Via the Knowledge Desk on LittlerApps, attorneys can explore the vast catalog of Littler’s firmwide resources and get a hold of documents or information they need at any time. The portal also holds research materials for frequent specialty research, such as legislative history, class action data, verdicts and settlements, and litigation profiles.A comment we hear a lot is: “well, I don’t know if the Knowledge Desk can do [this] or not. ”The Knowledge Desk page creates live links to help with common requests. An attorney sees the request he/she needs, clicks on the button and it generates an email to the Knowledge Desk with pre-populated questions for the applicable information. We also use the Knowledge Desk portal as a place to advertise and market our services. An attorney may come to the page for self-service, but end up learning about alert services, legislative tracking, or a new KM product. The Knowledge Desk self-serve portal contains many of our KM products and tools, such as links to the Littler Employer Library, our employee handbook materials, a legislation resource page, current issues and archives of the Daily News, and other subject area news digests.

The portal also contains a tab for all library resources training. Materials are provided in several formats to fit differing needs. Training guides, demo videos and best practice tips are maintained and provided by the library team. A year later, #KnowledgeDesk averages over 2,000 requests per month and has handled more attorney requests in the first nine months of 2017 than in all of 2016. We are on track to respond to over 26,000 requests by year-end – a 35% increase year-over- year. In the past 20 months, the number of “All Attorney” emails requesting basic or general information have dropped by over 50%, allowing our attorneys to spend time practicing law rather than digging through emails. #KnowledgeDesk​ continues to streamline workflow as the single point of contact for the Knowledge Management Attorneys, Research Librarians, and Littler Learning Group Trainers. After this initial success, we will continue to work to improve and innovate delivering knowledge resources to our firm. We are now focusing on scaling the Knowledge Desk with smarter technology, automating processes as applicable and continuing to elevate each team member to continually improve the level and depth of service we can provide with minimal additional capital investment.

Our initial goals for the Knowledge Desk have been met:

1. Attorneys and staff no longer wonder who they should ask for help. Our triage system allows us to tap into institutional knowledge to direct inquiries to subject matter experts, practice groups, and department contacts. And our library provides content, internal and external, to our attorneys in the most efficient manner possible;
2. Our library team is better organized and all team members have new opportunities to work on a wider range of requests and elevated projects. Our KM and LLG attorneys have more time to work on the specialized projects they are uniquely qualified to lead, and;
3. Our efficiency has allowed us to focus on and continue to innovate. As one of our shareholders has said: “The Knowledge Desk is the best thing Littler has ever done.”

Editor’s note: This article is published with the permission of the author and the ARK Group. This is a chapter from ARK Group’s new book Innovations in Legal KM. An edited version of this article was published on the blog Firmer Ground.

Posted in: KM, Libraries & Librarians, Library Marketing, Reference Services