Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Knowledge Management in Today’s Law Firm

I am sorry that I missed the Ark Group Knowledge Management (KM) for Law Firms conference last week, but I did get a chance to learn from the speakers and participants through blogs and twitter posts.  It sounded like some interesting presentations based on some participant’s perspectives.  Greg Lambert’s quote, repeated a few times on by conference attendees on Twitter, “KM is a process, not a technology.”, inspired many of those same participants.  I’m not sure of the context of the quote but I’m thinking it might have had something to do with his recent blog post, You Can Call It Knowledge Management If That Makes You Feel Better About Yourself

I’m not the first to write in response to Greg’s post.  See  Mary Abraham’s, Mark Gould’s, and Ayelette Robinson’s responses.  If nothing else, Greg’s post has inspired others to articulate their ideas on the role knowledge management plays in law firms today.  While I’m not sure I’ll be as articulate, here’s my two cents.
In his post, Greg wrote:

Many of them were “Client Services” products… or were fancy dashboards attached to accounting or time and billing resources, but not really what I would think of when it came to capturing “knowledge” at a firm. Don’t get me wrong, these projects were very cool, they were very useful for getting information in the hands of clients or attorneys, but to call them knowledge management resources would be stretching the truth a little bit because they didn’t really capture and reuse existing firm knowledge in the traditional meaning of knowledge management.

Hhhmm… the “traditional” meaning.  If I look back at the two-part article (Knowledge Management : Can it Exist in a Law Office? Part 1 and  Knowledge Management: Part II) that I wrote for LLRX back in 1997 and 1998 respectively, I did define brief banks, work product collections, pleadings/form banks, and research memo collections as traditional KM.  Afterall, I had been working to organize these collections since 1986.  Even so, after learning to call those same endeavors KM, it was clear to me that there was much more that KM (call it a process or strategy or both) could do for law firms.

In the first article, I listed conflicts, records, document and case management, as well as marketing information and contacts management as being areas that KM was or could be used.  What disappointed me in the years following my aha! moment with regards to KM, was that I couldn’t get many others to see beyond the traditional.  Perhaps it was because most firms did not (and may not today) have the “traditional” KM under control. 

In fact, in 2003, when I attended my first ILTA conference having been asked to speak about KM, I decided to use my part of the panel discussion to talk about how KM could be used to develop knowledge about clients from internal and external sources as well as both tacit and explicit knowledge.  To my surprise, the response I received from the audience and panelists was less than accepting.

Now, the tide has turned – at lease in some firms.  KM in law firms still focuses on the “traditional” but, unlike Greg, I am pleased to say that the notion of law firm KM has fallen in line with how it is viewed in other organizations.  For example, an oil company wouldn’t just use KM to research and explore for oil, but also to get that oil to market.  KM isn’t just about the practice of law but also the business of law. 

I agree that KM is not a technology.  I also believe it is more about people and less about technology (the 80/20 rule applies here) but I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  It makes sense to use technology with its “fancy interfaces” to put the information firm’s have stored, in different silos and through external resources, in context* to assist in the development of knowledge that’s not possible to do without technology.  It also makes sense for firms to use that same technology to capture knowledge for later reuse.  I’m excited to see just that happening.

Next time: Content / Information in Context = Knowledge

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