A Chat With Ogletree Knowledge Chief Patrick Didomenico

Next in this series is a conversation with Patrick DiDomenico, chief knowledge officer at Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC. DiDomenico began his career as a litigator in New York. In December 2011, he joined Ogletree as the chief knowledge officer after working in knowledge management at two other firms.

Q: How did you get into knowledge management as a practicing lawyer?

A: After practicing as a litigation attorney for several years, I knew I didn’t want to continue for the rest of my career. For a while, I mulled over what I should do. I enjoyed practicing, but I knew I needed to make a change. I’m the type of person who questions the efficiency and practicality of how things are being done. When I was practicing, I saw that there were just so many things that could be improved.

After taking steps to make my own legal practice more efficient, I realized that I couldn’t be the only lawyer frustrated with the inefficiency of practicing law. I decided I would create a job to fill this need. I put my ideas into a job description and pitched it to the managing partner of my firm. After I shared my idea, he said, “Well, what do you know about knowledge management? We happen to be looking for someone,” and he hands me a job description of a chief knowledge officer. The description was nearly identical to what I had developed. And the rest is history.

Since then, I also held a KM position at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. About seven years ago, I was recruited by Ogletree Deakins. I was attracted to the firm because of their collaborative culture and because they had a real desire to build a world-class knowledge management program.

Q: How have you seen your role as CKO evolve? What have you found to be most surprising?

A: My role has definitely evolved. At first, when I had smaller teams, my focus was very much on day-to-day operations. Knowledge management strategy has always been part of my role, but it’s a much bigger part of my day-to-day now. I supervise a fantastic group of leaders and focus on overseeing the strategic direction of the department.

I am also a member of Ogletree’s technology strategy committee, which deals with our short- and long-term technology plans for the firm. Additionally, I am a member of the research and development council, which is very closely related to knowledge management. Research and development at Ogletree is not just about technology; it’s about innovation related to the way we practice law, the way we handle the business of law and the way we interact with our clients on various levels.

One of the pleasant surprises I’ve experienced at Ogletree is how our lawyers have embraced knowledge management and innovation in all aspects of the industry. When I was interviewing, they told me about the collaborative nature of lawyers here and the innovative culture of the firm. I thought, “Every law firm claims to be collaborative and value innovation.” But I was pleased to learn that these concepts are not just platitudes — our lawyers really walk the talk.

Q: You worked as a litigation attorney for nine years prior to your career in knowledge management. How does that experience influence your work in your current role?

A: The experience of practicing as a lawyer has absolutely contributed to my current role because being a lawyer provides you credibility and a level of comfort with the people you work with on a daily basis. They don’t have to explain much to me because I know what they go through. It’s empathy — and it’s easy to lose that after you’ve stopped practicing for a while because you don’t do what they do anymore. The more I do this job, the more I value, and focus on, empathy. I try to put myself in my colleagues’ shoes and support them in all my work.

Q: In what way has increased competition affected your position and your firm?

A: I think clients are becoming savvier and more demanding in what they expect out of their lawyers. Many people say being a great lawyer is just table stakes; they wouldn’t consider us if we weren’t a great law firm and our lawyers weren’t great lawyers.

Clients want to know what value we add beyond being good lawyers — what we offer that provides them with a better experience than what the competition offers. A large part of what we do in knowledge management is promoting our tools to our clients and answering those questions directly. A number of members on my team, including myself, routinely attend client meetings to talk about our knowledge management resources and to demonstrate our tools.

Clients want additional resources, tools and services, and it’s very important that we provide those and get their feedback. A lot of times we’ll build individualized tools — and we use them to work closely with clients to solve their business problems.

Q: What new or emerging technologies do you believe will have the most impact on the legal field?

A: When most people think about technology, they think about computers, the internet, networks, servers and mobile devices. But technology is broader than that. The actual definition of technology is “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.” I think of technologies as tools to deliver ways of solving problems. The ability to create these tools is becoming easier because of advances in, among other things, web-based software. Now, people without computer science degrees can build tools to solve real problems.

This article was originally featured on Law360 on August 16th 2018.

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