Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bringing Knowledge Management Benefits to Smaller Law Firms and Law Departments

Knowledge Management has been around in larger law firms now for more than 15 years.  Long enough to have evolved, matured, and brought the bigger firms numerous benefits. As these efforts have  touched so many departments inside the individual firms, the idea is also now slowly catching on in other firms and law departments.

What is Knowledge Management?

It is one of those amorphous management terms that covers a range of concepts. At the heart of it is sharing the knowledge and work products accumulated by members of an organization so that people are not re-inventing the wheel, and instead building on each others' efforts and learning. 

This is not a new idea to any law firm. Here are some examples of basic KM at work:
  • individual partners--and sometimes groups of partners--keep a list of template documents such as key agreements at hand so they do not have to figure out new wording each time clients need one
  • lawyers collect research memoranda together on the network so that they can see if something has already been done before starting new work
  • students and associates work with mentors to learn the ropes of the various practice areas
  • members of practice groups meet on a semi-regular basis to share what they are doing either formally or informally so that they can learn from one another and perhaps even coordinate efforts.
Bring in someone with experience and understanding in this area, and more benefits can be uncovered and developed, such as:
  • more precedent documents can be collected, reviewed, and put into formats for better re-use, with clauses available for the different circumstances
  • agreements can be pulled into templates and automated so that the lawyer or staff member only needs to fill out a quick form to generate a draft of the agreement for review
  • work processes can be streamlined into a more efficient workflows with steps tracked and reminders sent as needed
  • key tips, checklists, explanations and sample documents can be set up to appear as searchers look for certain words or terms on the network
  • key learnings uncovered by senior partners and practice groups can be incorporated into professional development programming for students and associates
  • work can be better tracked so that the law firm has a sense of how long it takes to complete certain pieces of work so they can better estimate the cost to do the work--especially useful if clients are asking for alternative fee arrangements
  • practice groups can be formed and coordinated to attract clients from a new market.
For an additional list of how KM is manifested in law firms, I encourage you to read Ted Tjaden's 2009 article The 7 Faces of Legal Knowledge Management [pdf] which he has generously shared with us from his Legal Research and Writing website. I would argue that KM has expanded out to encompass additional roles since this article was put together, but it gives a well-rounded view.  

KM for smaller firms and law departments

Not so long ago I was getting approached by smaller firms to give an idea of how to bring them benefit of KM. I was disappointed to find the cost of consulting on full strategy, plan and implementation made helping these firms get started prohibitive before even taking into consideration software changes or purchases. 

I then approached my fellow Knowledge Management consultant Stephanie Barnes of Missing Puzzle Piece Consulting to help put together a more accessible alternative: a KM assessment and coaching service. Stephanie has been helping professional organizations successfully implement KM for more than 20 years, and one of the most passionate leaders I know in this area. I have been very privileged to work with her.  

We call the new service Law Firm KM --- you can check out our website

We spent a significant amount of time looking at all aspects of Knowledge Management, and developing a comprehensive set of questions to help firms and corporate counsel determine where they currently sit on a knowledge maturity scale. The questions help them determine priorities, and we then put together a list of manageable next steps. We essentially did the thinking up front so that, after the assessment, firms can jump into the action instead of spending too much time on working through theory and strategy.

We tested out the concept over a number of months and had favourable feedback. We modified things as we went into each test using the feedback we received, and I am excited to say we have put together a very helpful service. 

We are now just getting the ball rolling on this initiative. Since Stephanie is currently in demand working on projects across Canada and internationally,  I encourage you to get in touch sooner rather than later if you are interested and would like to schedule some time with us. 

An assessment takes a day spent with selected members of your firm or department, and we get a report back to you quickly. Coaching for implementing the next steps is optional. The coaching is especially helpful for anyone new to KM who would like some advice on getting started or working through more advanced projects. 

More about KM

If you are interested in learning more about Knowledge Management, I encourage you to follow along over on our Law Firm KM blog. I have also put together a list of "must-read" KM blogs.  I encourage you to leave a note if you find the list useful. You are also invited to post your questions in the comments. 

What about you--can you think of other ways to bring the benefit of Knowledge Management to smaller law firms and corporate law departments? Please share in the comments! 

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