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How Law Firms Can Assess and Adapt to Changing Skill Needs for Information Governance

Terry Coan | November 06, 2018

As law firms recognize the growing importance of an information governance (IG) strategy, they are beginning to think about how they can transform traditional records management (RM) staff into true IG professionals. This shift, which is driven by increasing regulatory demands and pressure from clients for stronger security, is making firms realize that IG requires a much broader set of skills than records management.

For instance, RM roles have traditionally involved the management of physical records and similar low-level operational functions. But IG demands a far more advanced skill set. Not only is there a need for the retention and proper destruction of records, there is ultimately a broader focus that supports the legal practice. This broader focus includes the handling of electronic matter files which requires leveraging document management systems as the primary content repository, expanding data security issues amid increasing regulatory demands, and digitizing physical documents. All of these functions require higher-level staff with a more strategic view and stronger technical backgrounds.

In order to support a strong information governance program, firms need to evaluate their existing talent and develop a strategy for evolving traditional records managers into IG professionals in a way that comports with the desired future IG structure and business plan.

This was the subject of the presentation I gave at the International Legal Technology Conference (ILTACON) alongside Leigh Isaacs, director of Records and Information Governance at White & Case LLP, as well as Jim Merrifield, Information Governance Risk and Compliance manager at Robinson & Cole. In the session, it was our goal to help firms identify a path to transform their resources in line with firms’ IG strategy.

As law firms plan their 2019 initiatives, those that are ready to get serious about evolving RM to IG should follow the roadmap below to level up their staff in tandem with developing a holistic IG program.

 

Start with a thorough assessment of the current structure and staff members. 
Before laying the groundwork for an IG program, it is critical to begin by assessing the records and information-related business requirements of the firm and its various practice groups. This context ensures firm-wide alignment with policy and processes, information that should be used to define the desired future state of the IG program. Once you have a vision for the new IG structure, compare it to the current structure. In doing so, assess the steps you will need to take to arrive at the desired state. 

Since the design of a firm’s IG program directly correlates to available staffing and skills, during this step, firms should also conduct a skills assessment and review performance of current RM managers. Often, a soft assessment is included in the process, which allows team members to express interest in learning more about certain areas. It can also identify individuals who already have skills they were not previously able to demonstrate. The entire assessment will determine the skillset, aptitude and interest RM employees have for supporting the future IG program. It will also help you understand where there are skills gaps so you can plan for the future structure. Armed with details from the assessment, your firm can begin to pinpoint opportunities for transitioning certain RM staff into new or enhanced positions that are more broadly IG-focused. 

 

Design the IG framework and plan for implementation. 
With a better understanding of the desired IG structure and skills needed to get to the next level, it is time to move into the operational design and planning phases. While designing the program, collaborate with administrative departments and practice teams to identify key business requirements that the expanded IG program can help to address. These objectives might include improving information management approaches, reducing reliance on paper files or enhancing firm-wide communication. Once your goals are solidified with input from the practice groups, it is time to define the new operational structure as well as the roles needed to support and sustain it. 

Once the reorganization has been approved, you can begin developing an implementation plan. This plan should clearly define the mission, vision and goals of the IG program – while ensuring alignment with firm stakeholders. To ensure buy-in for the IG program, make sure the plan addresses all changes that are being made to business processes, organizational roles and structure. For further clarification, consider creating current and future-state flow charts to clarify the changing business processes. Finally, you should align your strategic IG implementation plan with the IT strategy and operations teams to ensure alignment and get buy-in from the C-suite. 

 

Develop the staff accordingly to set them (and your IG program) up for success. 
With a solid plan in place, you can begin establishing new roles and responsibilities based on the defined organizational structure. From there, determine the skills needed for each IG position – which could involve a range of skills specific to support matter mobility, increasingly complex matter security requirements, or managing the firm’s intellectual property. Once this is complete, create job descriptions for the newly defined positions so existing RM staff, positioned to transition into IG roles, understand what their responsibilities will be. 

At this point, it is recommended to benchmark the results from the skills assessment against the job requirements for the new roles. This will help you define a development and training plan for current RM staffers who exhibit the ability to take on more advanced roles. Then, identify the training and potential certifications the staff will need to perform their new roles and responsibilities at the firm. It is possible that the firm will also need to make external hires; if this is the case, work with your HR team to establish a plan for filling open positions in the new structure. For staff who will not be able to level up their skills, develop plans for their transition to a different area or out of the firm. It is critical to take a phased approach to upskilling current employees and handling staff departures and/or transitions. 

 

Implement the new IG framework while managing change.
A new IG strategy is ready to implement once a combination of additional training, new reporting structures and outside hires have been completed. While rolling out the IG framework, determine methods and systems for monitoring implementation progress and gathering feedback from stakeholders and staffers about the initiatives’ effectiveness. During the implementation stage, it is important to align technology with the new IG program. When announcing the IG program to the entire firm, demonstrate how the framework supports the firm’s overarching business objectives. 

Because implementing the new IG framework will shift many of the firm’s processes, ensuring a sound approach to change management is key. To do so, create a comprehensive communications plan that includes key messaging, a detailed timeline, defined methods of communication (email, intranet announcements, handbooks, etc.) and clearly identified internal and external audiences who will receive information about the new structure. 

 

Moving from RM to true IG takes time, investment and most importantly, a trained and empowered staff. While it is possible for law firms to develop a new IG framework in-house, the process can be daunting without a trusted advisor. At HBR, we have led many successful IG skills assessments, staffing and organization restructures and change management programs. If your law firm is thinking about the future of its IG program, please contact me at TCoan@hbrconsulting.com.

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