After Ark: Notes from the Legal KM Conference

ark-logoAs I discovered at last week’s Ark Legal KM Conference, one of the benefits of being a conference co-chair is that you have an opportunity to provide some closing remarks. Eager to take advantage of this opportunity, I prepared my remarks and a slide deck before the conference started. However, by the end of the first day of the conference it was clear to me that I would have to toss my materials and start over again. Why? Because the speakers took the conversation into some new areas that I had not heard discussed at recent Ark conferences.

How nice to be surprised!

Among the themes that emerged during the conference were the importance of trust, strategy, knowledge flows and alliances:

  • Trust. According to psychologist Robert Plutchik, trust is one of the eight primary emotions. As Bruna Martinuzzi points out, it may be the most fragile of the emotions: Trust is “difficult to establish, hard to maintain and easy to break.” The challenge for knowledge management personnel is that without trust there can be little effective knowledge sharing. Yet how many of us intentionally focus our efforts on establishing and preserving trust?
  • Strategy. As I discovered in the course of my research for Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions, having a strategy is critical if you wish to optimize your KM department. While any number of activities may be worthy, they won’t be ultimately worthwhile unless they serve your firm’s business strategy. ¬†Interestingly, while many of the KM personnel attending the conference said that their firms had a business strategy and that their KM program was aligned with that strategy, virtually no one in the room was willing to claim that they used metrics to track their progress against strategic goals. Do we have a fundamental problem?
  • Knowledge Stocks versus Knowledge Flows. Traditionally, law firm KM has focused on building up sizeable knowledge stocks: inventories of model documents, practice guides, clause libraries, etc. To be honest, far too many lawyers believe it is the role of law firm KM to create these knowledge stocks and then make them accessible via the firm’s intranet. During the conference, however, we talked about the value of switching focus from knowledge stocks to knowledge flows. This switch would mean shifting from capturing, organizing and classifying knowledge into databases, collections and websites, to sharing knowledge by convening and facilitating conversations. If we’re agreed that the firm’s most valuable and elusive knowledge is its tacit knowledge, then why are some of us spending the bulk of our time on stocks of explicit knowledge?
  • Administrative Alliances. Lori Reese Patton (Chief Learning Officer) and Bill Turner (Chief Knowledge Officer) of Womble Carlyle showed the conference attendees an inspiring example of how much more can be accomplished when heads of administrative departments reach across departmental boundaries and silos to create alliances for the benefit of the firm. In a time of reduced budgets and smaller staff, strategic administrative alliances can expand a KM department’s opportunities, resources and impact.

This is just one of my snapshots of the conference. Each attendee of the conference undoubtedly has their own snapshots of memorable moments and lessons from the presentations. I hope the conversations begun at the Ark conference continue. There is much for all of us to learn together.

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