Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What’s Hot and What's Tough in Law Firm Knowledge Management

The third session was a roundtable on What's Hot and What's Tough in knowledge management. We asked the participants to submit their topic by adding into a wiki we set up for the event. We ended up with 58 entries, with over 80% of the attendees submitting an item. Some participants submitted more than one. We grouped the submissions into a few common themes.

What is Knowledge Management?

What should our elevator pitch be for what knowledge management is in a law firm? How do you get lawyers to pay attention? This group had dozens of different titles and different responsibilities. Is that evidence that law firms are still grasping with how to incorporate knowledge management.
  • Its about expertise and experience.
  • “Efficiency and quality”

Client-Facing Knowledge Management

Clients are asking for this but do not follow-up. The group seemed to think this subject is showing up in RFPs because consultants told them to put in RFPs.

Example of UK delivery: Lots of legal updates. The clients want dedicated libraries open for search.

Client demand is disparate. It seems like they are not sure what they want.


One participant told the story of a meeting where clients were opposed to the idea of outsourcing. Some big American companies do not want work going outside US.

Firms have outsourced some administrative functions. Maybe there will be more outsourcing of “legal work”, EDD, or even KM (Gasp!!)

One participant gave the UK perspective on outsourcing. In the UK, law firms make extensive use of practice support lawyers. Magic Circle firms spend approximately 20 million pounds on PSL. Practical law is outsourcing forms and precedents for the Magic Circle firms. The Practical Law approach was that those practice support lawyers were doing same thing at each of their law firms. Some of the work was not really distinguishing one firm from another. Practical Law's approach was to pool those resources together and outsource them.


This topic came with entries on both sides of hot and tough. Wikis, blogs, discussion forums and the like have been bandied about in one form for years. The tough group asked why does thins new technology make things any different? The hot side countered that we are a new paradigm where the computing power and software is being developed and deployed externally and is not coming into law firms. In the past, the applications were developed inside firms and then found their way into the consumer market. (Remember when word processing could only be done in the office?) These new tools are being developed externally with millions of users testing them and providing feedback. As a result we are getting tools that are much easier to use and to learn than in the past.

Expertise location

This topic came down on both sides as being hot and tough. One aspect making it tough was the ownership of the project: marketing or knowledge management. The two groups are looking for different levels. Marketing is generally looking broader. Knowledge management is looking for more granular and precise expertise. Several participant pointed to the use of time entries as treasure trove of information for an expertise search.

Post Action Reviews

Where do you get the human input? Technology will only be able to go so far in extracting the important information from the matters we work on. Many participants thought that gathering more information about matters is one of the best knowledge management efforts.

Matter opening information is lacking in information. If you require too much information at matter opening then attorneys are less likely to open matters.

There was a broad consensus that you need to hire people to extract the information. You cannot expect the attorneys to be doing all of that extraction and work.

How is Knowledge Management Morphing?

Knowledge management, business intelligence, marketing, client development and other functions are continuing to bleed into each other making some indistinguishable from another. Do they need to be separate? Should the administrative groups remove the balkanization and work more collaboratively? Do we need knowledge management as a separate discipline and as a separate group inside a law firm? This goes back to first topic What is knowledge management at your law firm.

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