The evolution of knowledge management in law firms

Over the years I have written about the practical aspects and nature of KM in law firms and the challenges KM professionals face in their day-to-day work:

However, KM is evolving and adapting to keep pace with the growing pressures and challenges facing businesses and this means that the role and scope of KM is undergoing a transformation.

There was a time when KM in a law firm was limited to maintaining a well-rounded precedent collection, including court forms, research precedents and the development of standard precedents, to aid legal operatives in the timely performance of their work.

Then the scope expanded to include managing current awareness, to ensure that legal operatives were up-to-date on the latest developments in the law. This expansion was significantly aided by technology, such as RSS feeds, social media and automated web tools.

As the global economic environment is changing the way businesses operate, law firms face new challenges, pressures and priorities, including the entry of a number of global law firms into the Australian legal market. These new challenges, pressures and priorities unavoidably filter through to the KM function.

However, as the old saying goes wherever there are challenges, there are also opportunities!

KM as value add to clients

As the global economic conditions play out businesses are looking to get more value from their legal spending and one of the additional services a law firm can provide to its clients is enabling an interaction between their KM professionals and their clients. In-house counsel often lack access to legal information tools that are standard offerings at large law firms and they often also consist of smaller teams that may lack the ability to devote sufficient time to KM activities.

As a value add proposition, a law firm can offer the assistance of its KM professionals to help in-house teams to establish their own KM systems or provide them with information and materials which may be of assistance in their day-to-day work.

Projects

Legal KM professionals can (and should) position themselves to offer increased assistance to their firms in the areas of tenders and other project work.

Admittedly tenders are traditionally an area of work largely within the scope of Business Development (BD) lawyers/professionals. However, KM is capable of making a significant contribution by building up resources that capture information relating to work completed by the firm which then can be utilised in pitching for other work. Information of this type can assist in pricing and in presenting an informed tender about the type of work the firm would expect to be doing to complete a matter.

An appropriately resourced KM function can also play a role in:

  • matter management, reducing costs and freeing up fee-earners to focus on the legal and strategic aspects of a matter; and
  • project management and administrative support for a range of initiatives, from running external blogs (see for example Insolvency Law at Allens) to internal matter reviews designed to identify, collate and disseminate best practice matter management techniques and to improve service delivery to clients.

Technology

Technology remains (and will continue to be) a touchstone of KM delivery, however it is essential to identify the right type of technology and to ensure that it is implemented appropriately.

Social media is likely to play a very significant role in KM moving forward, especially as a new, younger generation of legal professionals enter the firms. For this generation engaging via social media is second nature, in fact they are likely to struggle in an environment that has failed to adapt to the changing world. Of course the need of this young tech-savvy generation will need to be balanced against an older more tech-wary generation and the security issues that surround many of these new, still often developing, technology platforms.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, titled ‘Social Media versus Knowledge Management‘ (26 October 2011) looked at both the tension and synergies between social media and KM. The article highlighted that, despite a blurring of the lines, they are two very different things, but can be utilised in conjunction to create a social organisation.

Some technologies however, are uniquely suited to be utilised by KM:

  • Twitter is an excellent new method for delivering the current awareness aspects of KM, freeing up inboxes and enabling lawyers to stay up-to-date while on the move: @stephensander;
  • blogs, such as this, are another practical and effective method of disseminating information to your target audience and also create an outstanding content marketing opportunity (and content marketing is all the latest rage: Why content marketing is king, Entrepreneur, 20 October 2011); and
  • a wiki-type resource, implemented well, can create a quantum leap in KM content delivery and will keep your young, tech-savvy employees happy and productive.

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