I’m a little startled to report that I begun practicing law nearly 20 years ago. (Since I don’t feel that old, perhaps the space-time continuum can explain this fact!) In the intervening time, one of the things that lawyers around the world have mourned is what they perceive as the transition of relationship-based interactions with clients to a situation where legal work is a commodity much like any other and the relationship between client and lawyer does not seem to be as highly prized (or reliable) as before. According to this view, as law has declined from a profession to a business, some lawyers (and clients) have dropped their focus on relationships and hoped that results alone will win the day. However, as we’ve been discovering in law firms and other kinds of organizations, most people crave connection — even at work. The loss of connection leads to loss of personal investment, loyalty and satisfaction.
Into this sorry mess comes Enterprise 2.0. As I’ve been experimenting with social media tools inside and outside the workplace, I’ve been struck by how they help forge and build connections. Further, with this foundation of relationship in place, knowledge sharing become easy, efficient and effective. We move from working in silos to working together, without much additional effort at all. In fact, the beauty of the tools is that the best of them are extraordinarily easy to use. While some use cases are undoubtedly more helpful to the enterprise than others, the number of use cases is usually limited only by a lack of imagination. This presents a wonderful opportunity for the enterprise.
Ross Dawson takes this further by describing the alchemy of combining knowledge + relationships. He starts by quoting Norman and Ramirez, who said 17 years ago: “the essence of strategy is to `link together the only resources that matter in today’s economy: knowledge and relationships.'”
They are right. Linking knowledge and relationships is even more critical today than it was then. Here’s how Ross Dawson describes the situation within today’s organization:
An organization cannot function with only commoditized supplier relationships or strong partnerships – both are required depending on the function and situation. However the danger is that the shift to commoditized, price-based relationships takes away from the energy put into relationships based on trust and deep mutual knowledge. Today more than ever, those who are better at developing rich knowledge-based relationships have an enormous advantage over their competitors, not least in being able to innovate more effectively.
Enterprise 2.0’s gift to law firms (and other organizations) is that it gives us a way to restore our foundational relationships, both among colleagues within the firm and with our clients. When law firm knowledge management is focused on building relationships and facilitating communication, knowledge sharing becomes much easier. And, at the end of the day, making knowledge sharing efficient and effective is one of the key reasons law firms invest in knowledge management.
[Photo Credit: Wombatunderground1]