Above and Beyond KM A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • Making Lawyers Behave Nicely With Each Other

    Reading to the Kindergarten Students The Florida Supreme Court wants lawyers to behave nicely with respect to their opponents.  Here’s how the court’s recent action is described in a press release by the American Board of Trial Advocates:

    Commenting that `concerns have grown about acts of incivility among members of the legal profession,’ the high court noted ABOTA’s efforts to stress the importance of civility in the practice of law.  The Supreme Court emphasized to Florida lawyers old and new that practicing law is an honor that comes with responsibilities, paramount among which is civility, an often overlooked cornerstone of the legal profession.  The Court added to the Oath of Admission the following: `To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.’

    It’s well and good that some lawyers will show their kinder and gentler sides to their opponents, but what about colleagues within their own firms?  The hard truth is that law firm knowledge management faces some rather particular challenges based on the population we serve.  If you doubt this, take a look a some of my earlier posts on lawyers and lawyer personalities:

    Now, let’s consider some specific challenges that all knowledge managers face.  Jack Vinson has done a terrific job of gathering in one place some things we know to be true about how people share knowledge.  In Rules of Knowledge Management, Jack starts with a summary of Chris Collison’s amusing take on Tom Davenport’s “Kindergarten Rationale” for sharing:

    • You share with the friends you trust
    • You share when you’re sure you’ll get something in return
    • Your toys are more special than anyone else’s
    • You share when the teacher tells you to, until she turns her back
    • When toys are scarce, there’s less sharing
    • Once yours gets taken, you never share again

    These observations of kindergarten children are entirely consistent with what we know about “mature adults” operating in a work context.  In fact, the lack of trust coupled with some nasty lessons learned about the downside of sharing can lead to an epidemic of information hoarding within an organization. If this is what happens in the general working adult population, what can you expect from a lawyer population? Given their natural skepticism, high degree of autonomy, low sociability and resilience, and adversarial natures (see What Makes Lawyers So Challenging?), this group may find it even harder to share than your typical kindergartener.  While I’m not sure it is possible to change anyone’s fundamental nature (and that certainly is well beyond the capabilities of a knowledge management group), we can work with senior management to change the environment in which lawyers operate. Taking guidance from Fighting the Knowledge Hiding Epidemic, I’d suggest the following strategies:

    • Build trust — emphasize positive relationships among employees
    • Demonstrate the mutual benefits that result when colleagues share information
    • Treat all workers fairly and respectfully, thereby reducing feelings of injustice and the need for retaliation

    At the end of the day, perhaps we are really about trust management rather than knowledge management (to the extent either trust or knowledge can, in fact, be “managed.”) [Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy]

    Published on September 20, 2011 · Filed under: KM, knowledge management, law firm knowledge management; Tagged as: , , ,
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