Reprinted with the permission of the Association of Corporate Counsel. Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. www.acc.com. Available at: http://www.accdigitaldocket.com/accdocket/201104?pg=18#pg18.
A WORLDWIDE WIKI by Frank Fletcher
“The Times They Are a-Changin’,” or so wrote Bob Dylan. I am notsure he was writing about in-house legal counsel then, but the words ring true for us today. The biggest changes are brought by technologies, one of which I have used successfully over the past three-plus years: the wiki.
I have often thought about how I could establish a successful global legal department for a company with offices in Germany, the United States and Asia — a company that never sleeps. I wanted to develop a system that was user-friendly and would encourage involvement. After some consultations and discussions, I settled on developing an information source through a wiki. For those who are only partly familiar with the term, a wiki is software that allows you to make a site of internally linked webpages that can be easily edited. The best example is Wikipedia.
A wiki is not as wide open as some would think. The administrator can set the rules and be informed of changes. For example, access can be limited to certain groups such as senior management. A wiki is also relatively easy to use. The tutorial we developed is only one page. A primary reason I selected the wiki was because it allows contributions to be made directly by users without involvement of IT. Not that I have anything against IT (in case someone from our IT department ever reads this), but the more steps you add to a process, the more complicated it becomes, and the less likely the process will be successful.
As for what to post on a wiki, the sky is the limit. Our legal group is a particularly good looking group (just in case someone from the legal group reads this), so we started out with photos of ourselves and then listed our areas of responsibility — a list of who to approach when you need legal support. Each section is assigned to a different person within the legal group, and where appropriate, a business partner is listed. The wiki covers basics such as template agreements and attendant rules of use, directions on how to work effectively with legal, and when it is necessary to get finance or the technical approvals beforehand.
The wiki is a good place to post information on the company’s intellectual properties and what needs to occur to protect the company’s rights. We listed our company trademarks and instructions on how to use the marks, training materials and procedures for how to involve legal in the trademark selection process. The same works in the patent area as you can post issued patents and patent applications in process, training materials and blank invention disclosures. Another good topic for a wiki is your company’s export compliance rules and product classifications. If you have open source and/or new product release approval processes, this is a great place to post these materials.
Such processes can be complex and it can be difficult to get internal buy in. A set of clear procedures helps to simplify the processes. You know you have done this job right when people start quoting your own procedures back to you. One area I found particularly useful is posting our copyright registration procedures. The overall policy is posted along with the reasoning behind the policy. Having the policy and procedures posted makes it all the more efficient to collect the necessary pages of source code from extremely busy engineers.
Another benefit of a well-planned wiki is that you have a ready-made presentation for new employee orientation. All you have to do is boot up your laptop, go to the wiki and walk through the sections of interest. If a situation arises such that you need to create a new internal presentation or training module, you can post it on the wiki. This also applies to an email that summarizes policy. After you draft the email, you can cut and paste into a memo template, and then post on the wiki. No reason to reinvent the wheel, or in this situation invent the wheel and then lose the wheel. Individuals who want to grow have a resource they can access. As long as the rules of use are followed, the employees can go forward and in such a way that they are empowered. Or at least they have someone to blame if they follow the rules and get in trouble.
A wiki isn’t the solution for every company but it makes for a userfriendly, collaborative, cost effective solution for some companies. With a bit of daring, it is a process that a legal group can set up and own.
FRANK FLETCHER is general counsel for Nero AG headquartered in Karlsbad, Germany with subsidiaries in Hangzhou, China; Tokyo, Japan; and Glendale, California, where he usually can be found. Fletcher is always glad to share a travel story and can be contacted at email@example.com.