Do It Now – CIM Excellence (and it’s easy)

September 2, 2015

We all know something about information management, even if this is not set as a KPI or specified in our job description. But what about commercial information management? Do you know CIM is fast becoming an essential skill for many professionals? Not surprisingly, this includes us - legal practice managers.

You don't need to go to boot camp to achieve CIM excellence. Let me show you how.

Information management

Let's start with information management. A quick internet search will yield many definitions of, and reference material on, information management. It is fair to say the consensus is that information management focuses on the ability of organisations (including law firms) to capture, preserve, store and deliver the right information to the right people (such as our fee-earners) at the right time.

We now live in an information-rich world, and the legal industry is an information-rich industry. There is no denying that information management is an essential fundamental for success for law firms.

Commercial information management

Now, let's look at commercial information management. The word “commercial” relates to trade, commerce or business. A value can be assigned to something that is commercial. Commercial also has something to do with making a profit. So, commercial information is information of commercial value. It means having access to this information enables us to gain insight that will provide a commercial advantage. For example, information that exposes a company is at risk of being wound up is an extremely important piece of commercial information. Knowing this, would you want to enter into a sales agreement or a supply arrangement with this company? Probably not!

From IM to CIM - is your legal practice doing this

Currently, many legal practices do use some form of information management methodology or have purchased information management software to help organise the information they have collected. As a legal practice develops, and to remain competitive, its information management methodologies or software must evolve. But how?
As technology advances, traditional methods of searching, reviewing and managing the commercial information that is relevant to a matter are becoming inefficient and ineffective. Many fee-earners will find their firm's processes are too slow, making it difficult to aggregate and accurately interpret all the available commercial information. What can you do to help them?

Undertaking commercial information management is the logical as well as necessary next step.

Gap identified!

For a legal practice manager, if CIM is not front of mind, then you have a gap. This really is a knowledge gap because it is a gap between the skills and knowledge that many legal practice managers have and what our day-to-day work now mandates. Let's face it, most of us already have a full plate and lots of things demand our attention. Is there still room to learn about CIM?

Closing the gap - it's easier than you think

You certainly can use formal learning to fill this CIM knowledge gap. There are many degrees on offer by Australian universities, such as Master of Information Management, Master of Information Studies and Master of Digital Information Management. But formal learning, while valuable, takes time (and money). Now, since this gap is most likely caused by past working environment (in that CIM as a discipline has emerged only in the recent years, so we may be aware of its importance but we may not know what to do next), whilst formal learning could definitely help (especially for gaining some underpinning theoretical knowledge), learning-by-doing (that is, to achieve something through practice) could equally help.

Let me show you what you can do, and I mean what you can do right now, to start closing the CIM knowledge gap and to start achieving CIM excellence.

1. Step 1 - know what exactly is CIM
CIM is a term to describe methodologies or software that help a firm manage the commercial information they use in the process of delivering their core services in an organised way. CIM can rapidly convert commercial information about people, companies and property into an asset that has value and can be leveraged. CIM is a discipline that can be applied equally well to any kind of commercial information.

2. Step 2 - recognise that CIM is a 4-stage process
The management of commercial information has 4 stages:
 Stage 1 - acquisition and creation
 Stage 2 - retention (for example, storage and filing)
 Stage 3 - retrieval (for example, sharing)
 Stage 4 - refresh (for example, verification and update)

Now that you know CIM is a 4-stage process, you can identify what your firm needs to focus on. For example, many legal practices already have lots of commercial information parked (that is, they have acquired/created as well as retained the commercial information), but when the information is needed, frustratingly, fee-earners cannot actually find it! In this case, a legal practice manager should focus on retrieval (stage 3). If you can find or build an effective CIM system that enables retrieval of commercial information with minimum or predictable costs that suits all users, you have found the Holy Grail! (And they do exist, I assure you.) Other things to consider at this stage (retrieval) of the CIM process include security, compliance, speed, space (such as the use of the cloud) and specific requirements for specific practice groups.

3. Step 3 - use CIM best practice to overcome CIM challenges
Of course, CIM has its challenges. (No kidding!) For example, inertia or reluctance to change can inhibit the introduction of new processes and methodologies that will require new skills and behaviours from people and teams who are accustomed to doing things a particular way.
For legal practice managers, the ability to bring about CIM excellence is becoming an expectation as opposed to coming from left field. You can overcome the CIM challenges (and bring about CIM excellence) by implementing CIM best practice.

Here's my top tip - divide CIM best practice into 2 categories, IT related and non-IT related. Focus on both, and not just one or the other. Don't fall into the trap of believing IT is your complete solution. A good example of IT best practice is ensuring adequate technical support during all 4 stages of the CIM process. Another example is to choose CIM software that you can scale as the firm grows. You should also get assurance of acceptable accessibility, reliability, security and privacy standards from your legal technology service provider.

On the non-IT front, a good best practice example is ensuring adequate managerial support during all 4 stages of the CIM process. Interestingly, I noticed that something that often gets overlooked is the importance of a separate and dedicated budget. There are huge commercial benefits in investing in CIM technology, so budget for it properly!
CIM is becoming more and more important to the legal profession as lawyers face an era of corporate data and commercial information explosion. Furthermore, as clients see their own processes and services become more and more digitised, efficient and even outsourced, expectations on their legal advisors also increase. Tomorrow's lawyers will need to be able to harness technology and information to stay ahead. And legal practice managers can play a key role in helping our lawyers do exactly that.

SAI Global has the exclusive perpetual rights to distribute Encompass in Australia. Encompass has been around for over 4 years now and is the first CIM software to be offered in Australia and the only software with a data refesh and workspace sharing ability. Speak to us today about how we can help your business to become CIM savvy.