KM’s Worst Enemy

What’s one thing that will doom your law firm knowledge management program? Your knowledge manager’s inability to question premises. (To be honest, this can be a problem with most disciplines, but I don’t presume to speak to any other areas of expertise.)

For example, lawyers (being people who value precedent) have historically placed a high premium on document collections.  Consequently, it was natural for early law firm knowledge managers to assume that their first priority was to create and manage document collections for lawyers.  Is this the way it should be?  Does this fondness for collections make sense any more?  In fact, as the rate of information production grows exponentially, is it even practical to think we can create and maintain a collection that is either comprehensive or current?  Or, should we be thinking more about search and retrieval? Check your premises.

Here’s another example:  lawyers (being people who write professionally) have historically placed a high premium on model documents.  (For those of you outside the legal profession, these are contracts that do not contain client-specific information, but generally do collect the firm’s knowledge of that type of contract by providing annotations containing drafting advice and negotiation guidance.) Most lawyers would love to have a model document for every kind of contract they typically prepare for their clients.  To be honest, some lawyers dream of a fill-in-the-blanks model that they can just pull off the shelf and use.  In reality, however, model documents can be extremely time-consuming and expensive to produce.  And, they can be a bear to maintain.  In short, they are an expensive undertaking.  Nonetheless, many law firm knowledge managers have assumed that a top priority should be creating a comprehensive set of model documents.  But does your firm have the human commitment and financial resources necessary to provide properly maintained model documents?  And, even if it does, is this a good use of its resources?  Check your premises.

Knowledge managers should lead by example when it comes to finding creative solutions to practical problems.  The first step along this path is to question our premises.  When we fail to do this, we pursue outdated goals and methods, thereby relegating our KM programs to an increasingly irrelevant position within the firm.

***Update, 26 Oct 2009 ***

If you’re willing to take a radical, critical look at the things you do and the way you work, the following reading might help:

[Photo Credit:  oberazzi]