This year is shaping up to be the most sociable this decade! We have multiple library and information conferences and events in the Vable calendar, and I’m excited to think about all the conversations that we will soon be sharing (watch this space!). I’ve missed informal exchanges about hot topics with other knowledge and information professionals - but happily, to get us in the mood, we still have CLIG webinars.
CLIG’s recent relaxed panel discussion with senior knowledge people was both fascinating and informative. The four panellists were asked a series of questions about their role; for instance, how they interact with information management and innovation teams, and what current projects they were focused on. Read on to find out the advice they shared to help people thrust into knowledge management positions.
What is the career pathway into legal knowledge management?
The panellists’ varied career histories demonstrate the diverse ways people find their way into knowledge management in law firms. For instance, some knowledge managers study law but then become library and information specialists. Others have extensive legal practice experience and then move into KM. Then there are those who find themselves in knowledge management after years in information management.
No route is wrong. Despite their different routes, all of the panellists had certain characteristics in common - a love of organisation, joy in beautifully constructed taxonomies, and an interest in technology.
Helene Russell made an acute observation about the perception of KM activities in law firms. Lawyers are actively encouraged to participate in business development opportunities to promote their firms, but KM isn’t seen as a priority. However, for a business rooted in knowledge and expertise, KM is vital and some people are better suited to knowledge management activities. There is value in, and a need for both!
What is the role of the knowledge manager in law firms?
Helene was clear on the role of the knowledge manager in law firms. She opened by saying that legal knowledge management is easy to conceptualise as it sits between raw information and the lived human experience:
- Information, e.g., case law, legislation, text books, journal articles etc.
- Knowledge, e.g., precedents, case notes, explanatory notes, checklists. Known as implicit knowledge.
- Legal professional, e.g., the human element, experience, strategy, timing. Known as tacit knowledge.
These essential pieces can only fit together if they are supported by an effective and evolving information technology structure; for searching, storage and retrieval, learning and development. This is why the panellists highlighted new intranet projects, document automation investigation, and the importance of departmental bridge building.
What is the relationship between knowledge management and legal tech?
I’ve already said that technology is the enabling structure for legal professionals to assist their clients. All panellists are involved with identifying, assessing, and implementing new technology. In one case, the legal tech team sits alongside the knowledge management department.
There are reasons why legal tech/innovation departments sit comfortably within the KM function:
- Strategic vision and seeing the potential in new products. KM and legal tech specialists spend time horizon scanning and looking for products to test.
- Implementation and practical application. New products might seem ideal in demos but knowledge teams have expertise in setting up proofs of concepts, running trials with specific groups, and assessing whether tech could be successfully scaled up and rolled out.
- Investigating ROI of existing tech. Part of the legal tech team’s role is making better use of existing tech and centralising all purchasing and budgetary decisions. How can we measure the value and ROI of KM?
This is the million dollar question and all panellists agreed that measuring knowledge management ROI is a challenge - they offered no definitive answer to this. However clients might be the catalyst for law firms embracing efficiency;
High profile clients are well known for exacting pressure on their law firms to cut costs and time wherever possible. The biggest clients will often employ in-house counsels to know the industry thoroughly. Every new technological adaptation, organizational restructuring, and significant process improvements can mean millions of dollars in costs to the top tier clients.
This has been further reinforced in a 2022 report on the state of the UK legal market:
Clients indicate they want their firms to have competency in legal technologies, including artificial intelligence. Less than a quarter of corporations surveyed that use UK firms are currently using technologies such as legal analytics, AI-driven smart contracts or legal project management. It underscores how law firms need to demonstrate skills and drive efficiencies to meet their clients’ shifting demands.
Everyone is saying tech competency is essential to win and maintain clients. If a law firm has invested in tech, and they win clients due to their improved processes, then clearly they can demonstrate solid ROI on both knowledge management and legal tech.
Advice to people being thrust into KM positions
We have seen from some of the panellists that they found themselves responsible for KM “by accident”. So what was their advice?
- Listen to the needs of the business
- Understand and know the hurdles you will face
- Build relations with knowledge champions
- Knowledge is fundamental to law firms. That is what they are selling!
- Embrace design thinking
- Maintain an agile mindset
- If it goes wrong, learn the lesson and move on
- Identify the problem before investigating the technology
- Don't get distracted by shiny tech
- Don’t spend time procrastinating - avoid analysis paralysis
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Find your community and go to conferences
- Learn about KM and read around the topic
- Embrace the quick wins