To help lead its 300 knowledge management (KM) professionals, EY announced last week that it hired former Baker McKenzie chief knowledge officer Mark Ford as its first-ever global law knowledge leader. Before working at Baker McKenzie, Ford served as a data privacy attorney at Clifford Chance before being appointed knowledge management director at that firm.
Ford’s arrival comes as some look for EY to strike an alliance with a law firm, like its Big Four counterparts, and expand its client base. But whether that happens, EY is expanding its legal offerings and internal legal roles. In February 2021, for example, EY appointed Jan Thornbury as its inaugural U.K. and Ireland head of legal transformation. Elsewhere, EY has acquired multiple legal services and tech providers over the years, including Pangea3 and Riverview Law.
Below, Ford discusses why EY decided to create his role, how knowledge management differs in firms and the Big Four, and how upholding a knowledge management culture can be an uphill battle.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What will your job entail as global law knowledge leader?
Mark Ford: It’s all about helping to streamline, make us more efficient, improve our internal processes and at the same time also deliver better, enhanced services to our clients. Rather than clients just benefiting from the one person or team they’re interacting with, they can draw from the collective wisdom and experience of the entire firm.
I’m an internal resource that is helping the firm to work more efficiently and improve service delivery. There is an overlap with client-facing work, [such as] leading go-to-market efforts and thought leadership, but my role is primarily focused on supporting the firm in its internal operations.
What are the similarities and differences you’ve noticed in the knowledge management needs found in law firms versus the Big Four?
I think they are fairly similar. However, a law firm is a more one-dimensional beast. It’s just providing legal services to clients, whereas EY is all about the broader solution, putting legal services into the wider client relationships and services and supporting clients at a broader scale. Although, at the core, what I am doing within legal KM is pretty similar. The needs of lawyers are the same: They need precedents, they need training, they need current awareness and they need previous work products.
Clients are wrestling with these challenges of knowledge management as well within their in-house legal teams because they have the same issues. They need to get the know-how out of their lawyers’ heads and into a form that can be shared.
Why did EY decide to create this role?
I think it reflects the point the firm has reached in its growth. We’ve reached a scale where we need to take a more structured and coordinated approach to the knowledge management work that we are doing. I see my role as helping the firm to leverage the good work, tools, resources, platforms and people we already have in a way that captures best practices and makes sure we are aligned going forward. Of course, there’s more areas where we need to invest in general as well.
What are the knowledge management trends and developments you are seeing in corporate legal departments?
The feedback I get from corporate legal teams is that they see KM as being a priority, but they lack the expertise and resources to deliver it in an effective way. In terms of trends, technology is a big focus area right now. Tech is enabling us to do things that were impossible 10 or 20 years ago. For example, if you think about artificial intelligence allowing us to manage large amounts of information, automatically sift through and profile, review and retrieve large amounts of data, a lot of the time that knowledge exists in your organization but finding it is very difficult.
What knowledge management trends are you seeing on the law firm side?
I think one trend is around cultural recognition. It’s my job to ensure lawyers have the content they need and systems to store and deliver that and [have] a strong culture in the organization because we need everyone to engage and share what they know for the benefit of the wider organization and the client.
That last piece, culture, sounds simple but it’s the most important and can be the most difficult because people are busy and they have many priorities so it’s not necessarily top of mind. It’s important to make sure that people are aware of what we want them to do and why it’s important to them and the whole organization.
In order to do that, you need to recognize, reward and incentivize the right sort of behaviors, that’s definitely a trend I’ve seen in the last few years in law firms. They’re getting better at recognizing it’s not just about the billable hour, there are other things we need our professionals to do to add value to the entire organization. The challenge with KM is that it’s a long-term investment. You don’t necessarily get a return immediately, it’s about investing in the long term. I think most firms are starting to realize that and are adjusting their remuneration and incentive systems to recognize that.