KM and The Future of the Legal Profession

What’s the future of the legal profession? And what role do technology and knowledge management play in the development of that future? These are the questions I’ve been pondering since I heard that Stephen P. Younger (President of the New York State Bar Association) had formed a Task Force to seize “an historic opportunity to shape the landscape of the legal profession.” The announcement of the Task Force describes an ambitious goal:

A panel of top legal minds comprising a diverse range of legal practitioners, including managing partners, law school deans and general counsel, will study and recommend ways to create a roadmap for the future use of technology in the profession, to improve legal education and training, to establish proper work/life balance for attorneys, and to reform the billing structure in law firms.

If there remains even one Rip Van Winkle lawyer who believes that it is safe to ignore technology, I’d rush them to the nearest litigator for a crash course on eDiscovery. Litigation has been changed in a fundamental way because of technology.  What about non-litigation areas of practices?  Have they undergone a similar change or are they due for a change? And what do these changes indicate about the future role of technology in the practice of law?

Knowledge management’s role is a little less clear cut.  While law firm knowledge management personnel are fond of saying that lawyers have been “doing KM” since the beginning of the profession, I suspect there are many lawyers who haven’t spent enough time thinking about how to embed good knowledge management practices in their legal practice.  Further, I suspect that there are some lawyers who feel that KM is a luxury that only large firms can afford. Against this backdrop, what role can or should KM play?

I’m writing this post in the hope that it will elicit your ideas and thereby enrich the public conversation about this important issues.  What should the technology and KM roadmap look like? What recommendations would you make to the legal profession with respect to its future use of technology and knowledge management?

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3 thoughts on “KM and The Future of the Legal Profession

  • December 17, 2010 at 9:25 am
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    Mary,

    Harriet Creamer wrote an article on this very topic a year ago (http://www.thelawyer.com/opini…). Harriet was one of the first PSLs, and her article compares the law firm KM landscape as it was when she started in the 1980s with the current position:

    At many firms, the basic organisational tasks took longer than expected, and ­eventually became so time-consuming that many KM lawyers remained almost wholly focused on them. In some cases ­management of the KM function was poor and priorities were commonly set by client partners who misunderstood the ultimate goal or who had particular axes to grind. The vision of the KM function as the ­efficiency engine of the firm, constantly streamlining working practices and driving forward proprietary knowhow, became blurred. Now is the time to clarify it.

    To do this it is critical that KM lawyers engage proactively with the business. Their central focus should be on ­profitability. They will need a clear ­understanding, at both the financial and technical levels, of the work undertaken and the systems adopted in the different practice areas.

  • December 20, 2010 at 9:46 pm
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    Mark –

    Thanks for pointing me to this article. It's a shame that 20 years on we're

    still having to apologize for things that knowledge management has not been

    able to accomplish. The reality is that the knowledge management function

    within a firm is so dependent on the culture of the firm, the resources made

    available and the individuals hired to carry out the function, that

    sometimes it's astonishing to discover that the stars have actually aligned

    sufficiently to enable significant progress towards KM goals.

    The notion that KM should focus on client-facing, revenue-generating

    activities is not a new one. However, practice support lawyers used to

    laboring in the back rooms may find it difficult to push themselves forward

    into client meetings. Yet, this is the next frontier for KM.

    – Mary

  • January 4, 2011 at 1:47 am
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    I arrived here from a link off the ABA techsite and could not believe that we now have a state bar task force on knowledge management.

    What sensible rational lawyer would ever share his or her knowledge with a firm? The only skill or value a lawyer has is his or her knowledge.

    A world of near perfect knowledge management presently exists in the legal world. It is called the Federal Sentencing guidelines. The result is that the run of the mill federal criminal case can be handled by a paralegal.

    Talk to the lawyers on the various CJA panels around the country. No one complains more about proper work/life balance for attorneys.

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