Knowledge, and the curse of apathy, insufficient budgets and resources constraints …

Resourcing

… for my first article of 2015 I will switch off my corporate filter and speak from the heart, so buckle up …

I am a true believer in the significance of knowledge sharing and collaboration and I would like to think that so are organisations that maintain a knowledge function.

However, recently I attended a forum of knowledge professionals where we were presented with some interesting facts based on a recent survey of the state of knowledge management in law firms.

… the headcount in the knowledge function of many law firms had reduced, however the workloads both in depth and volume had increased …

The survey indicated, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, that since the global financial crisis, the headcount in the knowledge function of many law firms had reduced, however the workloads both in depth and volume had increased.

Another issue the survey identified was the general lack of appropriate resourcing of the knowledge function by some and the poor state of technology. The results of the survey also indicate to me that in some instances knowledge sharing is being stifled by fading legacy systems and a lack of foresight and commitment.

Consequently, for my first article of 2015 I will switch off my corporate filter and speak from the heart, so buckle up …

On the one hand, increasing expectations and workloads in the knowledge function indicate the growing recognition of the importance of encouraging collaboration and knowledge collation, management and sharing from a strategic perspective.

… the fading resources that would enable knowledge professionals to properly deliver on those expectations betray a fundamental lack of understanding of the knowledge function …

On the other hand, the fading resources that would enable knowledge professionals to properly deliver on those expectations betray a fundamental lack of understanding of the knowledge function and scant tangible support from executive teams. Admittedly, in the current economic environment, there are few, if any, who are not asked to do more with less.

Nevertheless, it highlights the commitment and professionalism of those involved in knowledge management that they continue to deliver a demonstrably outstanding contribution to law firms’ strategic goals, despite considerable restraints and obstacles.

2015 is likely to be another critical year for law firms. The recent direction of the global economy is unlikely to change as it is the result of a structural shift emerging from a new technological industrial revolution. The pressures on the legal services market are unlikely to lift any time soon as clients will continue to expect ‘more for less’ as the new status quo.

Law firms have two choices: adapt and evolve or wither away. We are witnessing a whole new phase of economic Darwinism in light of the structural shift in the global economy. Those nimble enough to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of ‘new law’ will survive, may even thrive again. Those who can’t, or refuse see the writing on the wall, will fade away …

If you are expected to deliver legal services faster and cheaper than ever before, you can work either harder or smarter to meet those expectations. Frankly, I rather work smarter than harder. Working harder is tedious and exhausting. Working smarter is, well … smarter and sustainable.

Lawyers are known for their intellect and ability to grasp and analyse complex situations. It’s time we apply these valuable skills to protect the future of our own profession. By the time the current global economic realignment plays out the legal market is very likely to be fundamentally different from what it was a few decades ago, but in real life few things, if any, are truly constant and immune to change, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

The real-world consequences of the new economic landscape law firms operate in is that managing and utilising knowledge, collaboration and sharing will be critical components, together with legal project and pricing management, in being able to deliver legal services within the parameters of client expectations.

Unfortunately, the knowledge function, traditionally being a ‘non-fee earning’ area of law firms, is always one of the firsts to suffer from the usual short-terms business mentality of the false economy of cost cutting.

Underfunding and under-resourcing the knowledge function is a significant strategic mistake and if that’s what you have done over the last few years, you are already at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis firms that devote appropriate resources to their knowledge function. Your efficiency and productivity are already below where they should and could be and will continue to suffer until the strategic priorities of your firm around knowledge are addressed.

Firms … seriously need to rethink the historical view of knowledge as a ‘non-fee earning’, purely overhead function. This view is outdated, unsustainable and strategically naive in the current economic landscape.

Unfortunately, the knowledge function, traditionally being a ‘non-fee earning’ area of law firms, is always one of the firsts to suffer from the usual short-term business mentality and the false economy of cost cutting. This is despite the fact that a healthy knowledge function is critical to delivering to client expectations of efficiency, productivity, low costs and speedy turnarounds. Without the strategic utilisation of the knowledge and skills base of a firm, those competing expectation will be impossible to meet … no matter how much harder lawyers are working.

Firms also seriously need to rethink the historical view of knowledge as a ‘non-fee earning’, purely overhead function. This view is outdated, unsustainable and strategically naive in the current economic landscape.

Frustrated, starved of funds and resources, knowledge professionals are doing their best they can with what they have but, due to the limitations forced upon them, are struggling to provide a fraction of the support law firms need to survive, let alone thrive, in the current legal services market.

Knowledge services are marketable value-add services to clients. Firms need to recognise this, stop paying lip service, and take tangible steps towards marketing their knowledge competency as a service and value-add to their clients.

However, as the survey mentioned above highlights, the reality is that at many law firms the knowledge function has been treading water over the past few years. Frustrated, starved of funds and resources, knowledge professionals are doing the best they can with what they have but, due to the limitations forced upon them, are struggling to provide a fraction of the support law firms need to survive, let alone thrive, in the current legal services market.

Many law firms need to be honest with themselves and make a decisive strategic call about the worth and future of their knowledge function. Unless the cultural gap is closed between the perceived and real worth of knowledge to firms, this critical function will continue to fail to achieve its potential, and its strategic objectives. And the cost of that failure to firms is reduced efficiency and productivity, higher costs, slower service delivery, and dissatisfied clients.

Not something any firm can afford in today’s legal services market.

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