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Legal Rebels

Working Wiki: Paula Nascimento, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

Posted Aug 31, 2011 2:11 PM CDT
By Rachel M. Zahorsky

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Photograph by © 2011 Dave Moser

After a typical training session for new recruits, corporate paralegal manager Paula Nascimento braces herself for the barrage of phone calls, emails and pop-in visits that always follow. But on this particular afternoon in 2009, the phone was silent, her office empty.

Nascimento, 41, wasn’t insulted; she was excited. Glancing at her computer screen she could see the Web hits steadily rise as her staff avidly consulted the online wiki site she’d created. Stocked with training manuals, firm policies, question and answer forums, templates, instructional videos and even a community blog, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton’s New York City corporate paralegal team now had Nascimento’s—and each other’s—knowledge, resources and expertise at their fingertips.

The firm originally intended its investment in wiki technology, which allows users to create and edit interlinked webpages via a browser, as a way for lawyers to access shared documents. Nascimento saw the wiki as an opportunity to build a collaborative training and management tool.

“You always have high hopes for technology,” says Brent Miller, the firm’s worldwide director of knowledge management. He notes the use of wiki technology is gaining momentum across the firm, “but it was pioneers like Paula who showed that these hopes were justified.”

The Corporate Paralegal Wiki and its blog, dubbed the ParaSite: Infecting Corporate Paralegal Minds, quickly gained traction among the most tech-savvy members of Nascimento’s staff. Today all 26 members of her team are regular contributors to the collaborative site and consistently organize, edit and upload new material to be shared by the team.

“Now, before people check with me, they search the wiki,” Nascimento says. “And if the information isn’t there, we can create a page and add that knowledge.”

This training tool is especially useful within a large department that sees consistent turnover among young paralegals.

“We hire a lot of recent college graduates, many of whom only stay with us for about two to three years, but in that time they learn a lot of specialized information,” Nascimento says. “Before the wiki, corporate paralegals would take a lot of the information they had learned with them when they left. There was no defined way to collect that knowledge. With the wiki, as they learn and grow into their jobs, they constantly add to the site, so we’re able to capture what they have learned and share it with others in the group.”

The process not only increases efficiency and organization—the paralegals often create matter-specific checklists and document tasks in the wiki rather than through clunky email chains—it also lowers training costs that are often passed on to clients, she notes.

“My own goal now is to share what we’ve created globally so that colleagues from across the firm can benefit from and participate in the shared construction of knowledge,” says Nascimento. “Our Paris office used our wiki as a model for their paralegal program. A lot of information paralegals need to know from office to office is similar, so with the wiki we can share the knowledge we create in New York with colleagues across the firm who then adapt it to their own needs.”

She adds, “When you start a new office, the resources can be limited, so if folks have access to the wiki, a person sitting at a desk at 3 p.m. in Beijing won’t have to call someone at 3 a.m. in New York City to ask a basic procedural question. The wiki makes all of our groups more efficient.”

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