Monday, October 25, 2010

Law Firm Information Risk Management: Coping with Info Overload in an Electronic (and Often Public) World

The publication last week of the 2010 International Workplace Productivity Survey highlights the extend to which law firm personnel increasingly struggle with information overload. More details are available on the survey web site, but a few key findings are worth noting in the context of risk management:
  • "...legal professionals across the globe are struggling to cope with a flood of information which has only grown in size since the economic downturn."
  • "Two-thirds of legal professionals, 66%, wish they could spend less time organizing, and more time using, the information that comes their way."
  • "A large majority...admit to deleting or discarding work information without fully reading it."
This brings to mind a true story where information overload directly intersected with risk, first described on a Risk Roundtable Risk Bulletin. In this case, one lawyer's overload (and public flaunting of the fact), opened a firm to significant potential exposure.

The story actually highlights the risks of information overload along with the dangers of internet social media sites. Here, a lawyer at an AmLaw 100 firm posted an update on their personal MySpace blog site that was observed by unexpected eyes. Here's an excerpt of what they wrote for anyone on the internet to read:
  • “An associate just walked by my office… and she asked how it felt to have an ethical wall being built around me… I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. So she says she's referring to the firm-wide email… I responded that I guess I hadn't read it because I always immediately delete all my junk mail, and she pointed out that just because something is sent to the ‘all-attorney’ email list doesn't mean its junk mail… Whatever. DELETE!”
To read the complete back story and the complete post see the 2007 Risk Bulletin: "Ethical Walls and Attorney Screening."
 
Clearly, no firm would want to find itself having to explain why a lawyer publicly admitted to not reading screening memoranda while defending a disqualification motion... That's why firms often turn to technology to combat information overload.
 
In this case, confidentiality software is used to track affirmative acknowledgment of important policies like screening memoranda (with repeat reminders and management escalation facing those who overlook a notice or don't respond in a timely manner). There may not be an easy way to cut down on the volume information, but new approaches provide added protections for ensuring that important details aren't lost in the deluge.

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