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    May 9th, 2012

    ♫  Cos when I look at my life
    How the pieces fall into place…♫ 

    Lyrics and music by Jarl, Stenmarck, Andreas Carlsson, recorded by Westlife.

    Last piece of the puzzle

    Gentle readers of this blog are aware of my interest in the intersection of business strategy, finance, leadership and technology within a law firm setting.  One of the emerging areas that lies within the  intersection of these disciplines is knowledge management.  I believe it has particular importance within a large firm setting as there is the tendency for lawyers in larger organizations to become ‘silo-ized’ – not for any other reason other than your ability to interact with people on a 1-1 basis diminishes as the size of an organization grows.  For example, if you work in a larger organization, ask yourself how often you speak to someone who works on another floor in your firm?  If you have multiple offices in multiple cities, the situation is compounded even further.  Since 1-1 interaction is at the heart of person-to-person knowledge sharing and transfer, the sheer size of an organization works against 1-1 knowledge transfer.

    So to begin: What are we speaking about when we use the phrase “knowledge management”?

    My friend Ted Tjaden in his blog (Legal Research and Writing) put it well:

    Knowledge Management

    Knowledge management (KM) is an important aspect of law practice. The Wikipedia entry describes KM as “the range of strategies and practices to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable the meaningful use of people’s insights and experiences in an organization” that “seeks to maximize the value of its people’s insights and experiences by cultivating the two common forms of knowledge: explicit knowledge (written knowledge), and tacit knowledge (hidden personal learnings).” (my emphasis)
    In a law firm setting, explicit knowledge tends to be precedent agreements, checklists, research memos, opinion letters, and “how to” guides. Equally – if not more important  is the tacit knowledge, being what lawyers know, their experience and their professional judgment. Capturing and organizing explicit legal knowledge can be relatively straightforward and involves a combination of technologies (internal document management systems, search and tagging technology, and intranets). Capturing and organizing tacit legal knowledge can be more challenging. In most firms, tacit knowledge is transferred through mentoring, training and allowing a knowledge-sharing culture to flourish.
    Depending on the organization, legal knowledge management can potentially involve a wide array of activities, including:
    • Document management
    • Records management
    • Precedent development
    • Legal research
    • Business / competitive intelligence
    • Training students and lawyers
    • Intranet deployment
    • e-Discovery support
    • Project management
    • Client support (virtual data rooms)

    In terms of technologies, in my view, Microsoft Sharepoint and similar collaborative software will be one of the more important foundational tools to implement KM for a larger firm.  Sharepoint enables many of the activities noted by Ted including: records management, document management, precedent repositories, intranets, project management, legal research banks and virtual data rooms, to name a few.

    But KM is not about the technology – in fact in my view, it is the least important part of the puzzle.  This is where leadership and strategy come to play.  In order for KM to take hold in an organization, the technology needs to be paired with the learning or knowledge-sharing culture of which Ted is speaking.  A firm needs buy-in and an orientation towards a sharing culture.  If everyone is dug into their silos, collaboration and knowledge sharing isn’t going to work. You have to get the business plan (ie compensation) aligned with the objectives of the firm to produce the kind of results in KM that you desire.  If lawyers and others are not compensated for their time spent in KM in terms of the firm’s compensation formula, the firm will lack the economic motivation to move forward.

    Furthermore, the law firm leadership (from the top down) have to communicate in verbal and non-verbal ways that they are fully behind this initiative and it has their full support. The cultural underpinnings for KM sharing to take hold have to be in place.

    Once you have the learning culture, the technology, the leadership, the business plan and compensation formula all aligned with the KM initiative, the pieces will have fallen into place to more forward…


    This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 at 10:12 am and is filed under Adding Value, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Tips, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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