The ‘new normal‘ currently experienced by the legal industry worldwide, is having a pervasive effect on every aspect of the operation of law firms, small and large.
Knowledge management is not immune from this fast-changing environment and it is in fact caught right in the whirlpool. To avoid drowning, you will need to get on top of two main issues: strategic focus and project management.
Strategy used to be like an 18-wheeler … Today … strategy is more like a gazelle.
If I were a betting man, I would place big bucks on the presumption that the strategic focus of your firm and the practice groups you are supporting have undergone significant changes.
Strategy used to be like an 18-wheeler: massive and steady. If you had to put on the break and change direction, you were provided with significant planning and lead times.
Today, firms no longer have that luxury and strategy is more like a gazelle. It needs to be agile and able to respond to environmental changes swiftly and easily. It needs to be flexible and adaptable.
… knowledge management is only purposeful if it supports the strategic direction of the practice groups it serves …
Given knowledge management is only purposeful if it supports the strategic direction of the practice groups it serves, it must also become a gazelle and integrate into the herd. It needs to be immersed and responsive, it needs to be able to adapt to new strategic priorities and focus on relevant areas of practice at very short notice.
In order to achieve this, knowledge professionals must have a complete understanding of any relevant strategic plans and ensure that the knowledge strategy is continuously adapted to meet changing strategic needs. To achieve this, knowledge professionals must work closely with those responsible for determining the strategic direction (and can also provide added value by contributing their knowledge of current and emerging trends to shape the strategy).
Familiarity with the strategic plans must be supplemented with understanding of the day-to-day operations of the various practice groups and, to achieve this, knowledge professionals must stay close to the legal teams, to understand the work they are doing and the issues they are facing.
Communications, flexibility and sociability … become key skills …
Communications, flexibility and sociability thus become key skills in ensuring that knowledge and strategy are aligned and work together to achieve a firm’s business objectives.
I have written about aspects of project management previously, but it is worth emphasising that everything we do must be imbued with focus and purpose. The best way to achieve this, is by ensuring that each project, whether a legal matter or a knowledge management project, including general knowledge management strategy and execution, is managed appropriately by defining scope, resourcing, and managing and monitoring implementation, to ensure optimal, business-oriented outcomes that align with the underlying strategy.
At the top end of the market … the quality of legal services is a given …
In the current climate strategic objectives at law firms will focus on efficiency, reduced costs to the firm (and consequently to clients) and the speedy delivery of high quality legal services. At the top end of the market, where the quality of legal services is a given, project management is the business methodology designed to assist in the delivery of these variables by ensuring that tasks are scoped, resourced, implemented and monitored in the most efficient and cost effective manner.
Knowledge management fits into this puzzle by collating and delivering the resources that enable lawyers to deliver those high quality legal services effectively and efficiently, through the provision of appropriate precedent materials, process maps and other know-how.
To ensure this occurs in an efficient and timely manner, knowledge professionals must be immersed in the day-to-day operations of legal teams, have an understanding of the work those teams are performing and an ongoing and strong dialogue and social relationship with the lawyers, so relevant knowledge and information can be identified, collated and made available firm wide.
The fast lane …
As the ‘new normal’ ripples through the global economy, including the legal industry, and those ripples increase in frequency and disruption, the key skills required of knowledge professionals, beyond their technical know-how, will be agility, precision and the ability to successfully manage the ambiguity of the fast lane …