Some elements of an email that are relevant to knowledge management are:
- The parties – showing the flow of communication
- Body of the message – useful information may be in the body of the email or the attachments
- Classification of the email – where the email gets filed adds some information around the email
- Finding precedents – often useful content exists solely in an email. Being able to search emails would increase the knowledge base of the firm
- Expertise location – The flow if information in email can be used to identify subject matter experts
- Client development – Lots of information about contacts and the relationship to those contacts does not make its way into the CRM system. Tapping into the email flow could expand the collection of information on the firm's contacts
The first issue is the glut of email. What has to be filed? What should be filed? What should be thrown away? One firm admitted that they made their users file every sent email into public matter folder or private folder. The audience joke was whether this was his idea or his predecessor’s idea. There is also the issue of how to deal with administrative emails. Half of most law firms employees are not practicing attorneys.
There was a fair amount of discussion around privacy concerns. Of course, ten years ago before the proliferation of email, people filed hard copies of letters into paper folders that anyone could pull from records. One conclusion was that people need to rethink email. Not every email is relevant to the matter and irrelevant ones can be thrown out. The biggest point was do not write it down if you do not want people to see it. By putting it into email it becomes findable.
In dealing with the records issue of email the one participant theorized that law firms not been subject to enough litigation and have to deal with litigation holds and producing their content. Our client have been sued enough and subject to enough litigation holds that they see the need for a comprehensive program for managing email.
The meeting then moved onto the importance of not just the information in the email but the relationship evidenced by the email. Do you know someone and what do you know about the person? By emailing the person, there is an indication that you know the person. The more you email that person, or they email you, a stronger relationship is evidenced.
Software companies have recognized this value and starting to exploit this. One example is Contact Networks which passively collects the flow of communication between people, the number of emails and frequency of emails to imply the strength of relationship. It then goes on to map the email address to specific contact information. I saw a similar demonstration of Small Blue at the Boston KM Forum.
Clearly email and managing email is something our knowledge management efforts need to address. But it will not be easy because it will be a big cultural and workflow process change.