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Looking for that legal tech magic? It’s in the management

Michael Korn runs McKinsey Legal’s knowledge management program as part of McKinsey’s global legal operations team

What have we built at McKinsey Legal?

McKinsey Legal has built a knowledge-management platform with robust technological sophistication. Launched in February 2021, the department’s “Legal Playbook” is an online portal designed to be the starting point for our legal professionals—you either search the collection to find the resource you need or click on a link to take you where you need to go. The intuitive layout expands through a folder and subfolder interface to make sure people find what they need quickly and efficiently.

The content on the Legal Playbook is generally organized by legal subject areas, key contract provisions, and regions. In as few clicks as possible, opening as few pages or tabs as possible, the user can see where they need to go before committing to a piece of content. And all of the information has been curated and developed by each legal team within the broader department with monitored updates occurring on a quarterly basis.

As the person who manages and helped develop McKinsey’s legal-knowledge program, I would like to expound—for just a moment during this time of industry-changing legal tech expansion and innovation—upon the non-tech aspects of building and maintaining a top-tier legal-knowledge program. Because it’s these non-tech, old-school, roll-up-your-sleeves components that make all the difference for attorneys and legal professionals interacting with your legal-knowledge platform.

Why does it work so well?

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Numerous attorneys within the department who have been with McKinsey for at least several years have said the same thing—the user-friendly interface has made finding what they need much quicker, significantly cutting into their search time. McKinsey Legal values and appreciates the playbook and how it’s made their jobs more streamlined—and in large part gives credit to the technical aspects of the user interface our team developed.

Many recent joiners to the department have made sure to share that they were able to onboard more efficiently because of the design and layout of the Legal Playbook. The setup provides for a seamless, intuitive experience, and it’s the developmental efforts of the management team overseeing this program that truly made it shine. Without the input from our legal department when the playbook was being built, we wouldn’t have been able to make this tech a magical user interfacing marvel.

So, what about, you know, the “stuff”? Like, the legal stuff that the attorneys actually want to read and use so they can gain knowledge and add value to the matter they’re working on? How do we get the right stuff onto the Legal Playbook, and how do the legal professionals seeing it know that they can rely on it?

Our efforts to verify the playbook’s information are constantly evolving

The appropriate attorneys and legal professionals take direct part in curating the content available on the playbook website. As part of my role, I coordinate meetings and discussions with small legal teams throughout the department to choose the layout and structure for each section and to determine what content gets included. Having these intimate, small-group discussions with legal teams throughout the department allows me to recognize what elements of their practice area are most important and what should be highlighted to the broader legal function. That level of care and attention is part of the nitty-gritty, non-tech approach that makes the playbook such an amazing tool for our lawyers.

We take responsibility in making sure our content exceeds expectations

The attorneys and legal professionals that curate the information are also accountable for the finalized content. A key design feature of the Legal Playbook is that each piece of content contains a link to the author, contributor, or team that developed it. Every training deck, explanatory guidance article, agreement template—you name it—has a legal professional’s name attached. Our lawyers and legal team members take great pride and care in how they represent both themselves and the firm. With their dedication to their roles as content curators, they do not allow information, links, or advice that would solely pass muster as generic, not user-friendly blobs of text.

This ensures our playbook is comprised only of the most accurate and up-to-date legal information possible. The accountable legal professionals make their best effort to address what the reader might be thinking or assume logical leaps of what users might need based on the content they’re researching. And if there are still questions, we’ve made it easy to identify the expert and to reach them. This way, the user knows exactly who to contact to engage in further discussions—and the more research, input, and considerations we can add, the better the playbook will become.

Content is reviewed quarterly to ensure it is updated and reliable

The law is constantly changing and evolving. The right guidance six months ago may be trailing far behind today. Legal professionals looking for answers need to know that the content they’re looking at today is reliable now—not six months ago. Even though the Legal Playbook is less than a year old, it has already been reviewed and updated twice.

In July and October 2021, I methodically connected with each team of content providers and asked:

Do any of the existing materials need to be updated?

Do any of the existing materials need to be eliminated?

Do any new materials need to be added?

Any other comments, feedback, or issues I should be aware of?

And I make sure the broader legal department knows of this diligent process so they know they can rely on the materials they see when using the Legal Playbook.

Where can we continue to make an impact?

Legal tech, in-and-of itself, is not the complete answer to easily navigating the law. It’s a tool, not the solution. Managing, coordinating, and implementing the incredible “stuff” that populates a piece of legal tech, through a rigorous and dedicated process led by real-life human beings, will ultimately make the piece of legal tech successful.

Here at McKinsey Legal, we see this as the answer, not just for the Legal Playbook, but for contract management, matter management, and beyond. I’m privileged to be able to help make it all happen.

These kinds of behind-the-scenes efforts might make it look like we’re performing miracles, but it’s the tried-and-true hard work and dedication that makes this tech look so incredible. We’ll keep working to make the Legal Playbook remarkable—but we’ll leave the magic to the magicians.