Patrick DiDomenico is ushering in a new era of efficiency and innovation at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. While the renowned labor and employment law firm has grown to nearly nine hundred attorneys throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, and Mexico, the chief knowledge officer is ensuring the firm’s innovative resources are accessible to all. In doing so, DiDomenico is exposing the crucial function of a role often missing from leadership circles.
“Clients don’t hire large law firms like ours because of one person,” says DiDomenico, whose firm represents diverse clientele, from small businesses to Fortune 50 companies. “Our clients want the collective knowledge and broad experience of many lawyers. A knowledge sharing mind-set and true collaboration are key differentiators for Ogletree.”
Knowledge management is still a relatively young discipline, says DiDomenico, who adds that having a dedicated knowledge management leader at any organization, law firms or otherwise, is rare—but on the rise. Last year, in fact, he co-hosted Ark Group’s 13th Annual Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession conference, which has experienced a surge in attendees from about thirty people originally to now more than 170.
Many organizations today tend to tack knowledge management tasks onto someone else’s full-time job, DiDomenico says, but that is a mistake. “Knowledge management is about being pragmatic,” he says. “It improves both the business and practice of law, and an organization matures exponentially when it focuses on knowledge management and gives a chief knowledge officer a seat at the table.”
DiDomenico, who is the recipient of the International Legal Technology Association’s 2013 Knowledge Management Professional of the Year Award, has documented his thirteen-year evolution in his blog, LawyerKM.com. He is also the author of Knowledge Management for Lawyers, a book published by the American Bar Association in 2015 that outlines successful approaches to implementing law firm knowledge management programs.
DiDomenico earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Le Moyne College and a juris doctor from the Syracuse University College of Law. After practicing as a litigation attorney for about eight years at Gibbons, P.C., in New York City, he began to feel unfulfilled and frustrated by the inefficiency and lack of innovation in the legal profession. Determined to make a difference, he drew up a job description and approached the firm’s managing partner with an idea to help other lawyers at his firm.
“I knew our work could be performed more efficiently—or better, stronger, faster, as I like to say—and ultimately, provide more value to our clients,” he says. Unbeknownst to DiDomenico at the time, the firm happened to be looking for someone to lead a new department called knowledge management. “It was a great coincidence. I wasn’t even familiar with term knowledge management, but about 85 percent of the job description I created was the same as what they were looking for in the new role,” DiDomenico continues. “It really was fortuitous.”
The role of chief knowledge officer transformed his knack for creating and organizing digital files, case management, legal technology, and online research into the first full-time knowledge management function at the firm. Later, he held a knowledge management managerial position at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP before joining Ogletree
Deakins in 2011, where he also created the firm’s first department.
Almost seven years later, the knowledge management department at Ogletree Deakins has grown to thirty members. “My knowledge management team at Ogletree is fantastic,” DiDomenico says. That department consists of four main groups: research and knowledge management counsel; the internally focused knowledge management firm solutions; the externally focused knowledge management client solutions; and the process-focused group known as legal project management, which helps lawyers plan, scope, budget, and efficiently execute matters.
But knowledge management is not just the responsibility of the members of the department. “We want to make knowledge management second nature to everyone in the firm, and we can’t do it alone,” DiDomenico says. To that end, DiDomenico created the Ogletree Knowledge Management Network, which comprises at least one lawyer in each of the firm’s fifty-two offices who serves as the local knowledge management representative. “The Knowledge Management Network is like an auxiliary police force,” he explains. “Members help us ensure our lawyers are collaborating and using the great knowledge management tools we built to access our collective knowledge.” The deputized helpers also meet regularly and receive extra training, he adds.
DiDomenico is also a member of the firm’s Technology Strategy Committee and R&D Council, which keep him abreast of innovation and technology trends, from the latest legal business service delivery models to artificial intelligence.
“We’re not going after the latest shiny object because it makes buzz-worthy headlines in the legal press. We seek out the best, most appropriate technology for our lawyers and clients,” says DiDomenico, who also helps coordinate Ogletree’s annual client Innovation Summit, a round table meeting that addresses evolving client needs. “We’re constantly testing various technology tools, and the demos and pilots involving our lawyers help determine if it’s the right fit.”
While a chief knowledge officer is not a substitute for a chief technology officer, DiDomenico says, the savvy C-suite role brings value when evaluating technology tools. The lawyer perspective and laser focus on efficiency and value inherent in the chief knowledge officer function is more holistic and strategically focused than its
Currently, DiDomenico is focusing on the revitalization of his early initiatives at Ogletree Deakins. He had spent his first year replacing the firm’s intranet with a robust, one-stop-shop portal platform for the firm’s resources and developing an enterprise search system. Now, he is updating the enterprise search system once again, which allows users to search for experts by experience and subject matter. He’s also revamping the firm’s intranet to improve the portal’s function.
“I’m always thinking about how to improve what we do and how we do it to ensure that we’re providing the best value for our clients and lawyers,” DiDomenico says. “Supporting the strategic direction of the firm is a fundamental principle of knowledge management.”
Photo: Bradley Lau Photography