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.
  • A striking new two-minute video entitled “NYC Dark” is a powerful reminder of the impact of the recent Superstorm Sandy. When the lights went out in lower Manhattan, something very fundamental changed.

    I was talking today to a colleague who said his home had just had electricity restored after 13 days of cold and dark. Having had the experience of involuntary dark, he far preferred living in the light.

    Consider that when you cannot find the information you want, the precedent you need or the expert who can help, it is as if your law firm is operating with the lights turned off. This kind of information darkness is exactly what good knowledge management practices are intended to counteract.

    In the aftermath of Sandy, no one elected to experience a power failure. It was entirely involuntary. So why do so many of us disregard good KM practices, thereby choosing to work under the constraints of information darkness?

    [Hat tip to John Bordeaux for pointing me to the NYC Dark video.]


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  • CONTRACT Lawyers draft contracts every day. We know the rules. For a valid contract to exist there must be at a minimum an offer and acceptance, as well as consideration. Law firms and in-house legal departments enter into contracts of this type with new employees all the time and hope that the consideration (i.e., financial compensation) will be sufficient to motivate stellar performance.  Modern psychology indicates that this is a misplaced hope.

    In Social Pressure Is a Better Motivator Than Money, Scott Keller says that we need to move “beyond the ‘market contract’ with employees and [forge] a stronger ‘social contract’.” What’s a market contract? It’s that arrangement I described in the first paragraph; the arrangement that assumes that money (plus a few sanctions/remedies) will motivate performance. What’s a social contract? Keep reading.

    Scott Keller cites several examples of social contracts:

    • Dan Ariely in Predictably Irrational explains a social contract by first asking you to picture an elaborate meal that your mother has planned and served to you. If after the meal you ask her how much money you owe her, she’ll most likely be taken aback, if not outright offended. On the other hand, if you brought a bottle of wine to dinner, she would be delighted. Why? She wasn’t operating under a market contract that stipulated a fee for services. Rather, she was operating under a social contract with you that allowed the gift of wine as a contribution to the meal.
    • In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner discuss a daycare center that hoped to cut down on late pick ups by imposing a fee on parents who were late. To their surprise, the number of late pick ups multiplied. Why? Once the penalty was introduced, it became a simple business transaction and parents could discharge their responsibilities by paying the fee. Before the fee, they tried harder not to be late because they didn’t want the responsibility (or resulting guilt) of making their childcare providers late. However, introducing a fee changed the arrangement from a social contact to a market contract. And then it was no longer personal — it was just business.
    • Keller also provides an example from the world of lawyers. He recounts that when the American Association of Retired Persons asked lawyers to provide services to needy retirees at a deeply discounted price of $30 per hour, they declined. Yet when the AARP later asked them to provide those same services for free, those lawyers agreed. Why? On strictly business terms the market contract of $30 made no sense. However, on a no-fee basis, the lawyers recognized the social good inherent in the now purely social contract.

    Now consider how things work in traditional knowledge sharing efforts. After years of watching people nag, cajole or bribe knowledge workers to contribute to the KM system, I’ve come to realize that the people who contribute most do it for reasons other than money or negative pressure. First and foremost, they do it because it satisfies an inner drive to learn, to master a subject and to share. Others share out of a sense of community obligation, ensuring that their colleagues have the information necessary to do good work and stay out of trouble. Still others share knowledge to garner recognition as a good citizen, or perhaps even as a subject matter expert.

    So how can social contracts help knowledge management efforts in law firms and legal departments? It’s about giving your colleagues the right opportunities to share knowledge, as well as positive reinforcement so that they continue to do the right thing. Here are some suggestions:

    • Be sure to thank each person who makes a contribution. This means more than sending an email that says “Thx.” We’re talking heartfelt, sincere appreciation. It can make all the difference in the world.
    • If you can get the head of your firm or legal department to express thanks as well, that’s even better.
    • Find opportunities to provide public recognition to people who contribute.
    • Collect success stories and share them. This is another form of public recognition. Further, by layering anecdote over anecdote, you can change for the better the conversation within your organization regarding knowledge sharing.
    • If appropriate, focus the knowledge sharing within a team in which existing relationships of trust will reinforce sharing behavior.

    The key to this is placing knowledge sharing within a social contract. When that happens, it is more likely that your colleagues will engage and it will be harder for them to walk away. If you can ensure that contributors receive appropriate social compensation, you should be able to create a virtuous circle that leads to even better knowledge sharing.

    [Hat tip to Neena Abraham for pointing out Scott Keller's blog post.]

    [Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass]

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  • The speaker in this session is John Alber (Partner, Bryan Cave).

    [These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association's 2012 Conference 2012. Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I've made any editorial comments, I've shown those in brackets.]


    • Law Firm KM is too detached from the Business. John Alber believes that KM is introverted, introspective and far too insulated from the business of the firm. To add insult to injury, he thinks that law firm knowledge managers have created and fostered this state of affairs by calling themselves something that is impenetrable for most people, and by never properly explaining what exactly they do every day and how their work benefits the firm in dollar and cents.
    • KM is a “felt” need. Law firms invest in knowledge management because they feel they ought to. However, when the rubber hits the road (e.g., during an economic downturn), KM headcount is sacrificed. John believes that well-managed businesses invest in functions that provide proven long-term value. He would argue that law firm KM has not always produced the evidence to prove their value.
    • Start by Renaming KM in a Manner that Declares a Better Intention. Start by understanding the function. What does it do? KM doesn’t just manage knowledge. It INCREASES knowledge. It helps us understand what we do best and how we can help clients. Good KM makes good decision-making by the firm almost automatic. Most importantly, good KM is profoundly connected to profitably. John believes that if you are profoundly connected to profitability, you will not be laid off during a recession because you are critical to the firm’s financial well-being.
    • The Accenture Example. John Alber suggests Accenture is very similar to a law firm. In fact, he says they do exactly what we do: they work with incredibly busy professionals, they deliver technology, they train, they manage knowledge. What’s Accenture’s tag line? High performance delivered.
    • Key things to notice about Accenture. From the beginning, INNOVATION was at the core of their efforts and they have repeatedly been willing to take extraordinary risks in order to innovate. With respect to training, they ran that function like a business: they cut the training budget in half, but had to show measurable improvement in training results without relying on “squishy” metrics like user satisfaction. Further, they had to achieve a quantifiable return on the investment in their training business. To achieve this, they focused on increasing customer value and managing relationships with senior leaders and sponsors
    • Six Decisions IT Employees Should Never Make. John recommends that we read this Harvard Business Review book. (For a preview, see this slide deck.) It helps readers differentiate between strategic decisions the business should make and the operational decisions IT should make on behalf of the business.
    • Applying the Lessons. Rather than teaching how to use specific applications, teach people to work in the most efficient way, which will happen to use specific applications in a recommended way. In other words, don’t provide a training session on MS Word. Rather, provide a training session on how to draft a legal document using key aspects of MS Word properly.
    • Ask the Right Questions. Don’t start by asking what everyone else is doing. Rather, start by asking top firm executives what the firm is trying to achieve in the fiscal year for which you are planning. Take their concrete objectives and bring your KM efforts to bear to help make those objectives a reality. He says that asking that question led his firm to investment significantly in systems to rationally support alternative fee arrangements and project management.
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  • Why IT doesn’t matter and KM matters even less to clients: how to align services with expectations. This title is what John Alber calls “”a sharp stick in the eye, which is the shortest path to the brain.” The speakers are Sally Gonzalez, Risa Schwartz and Felicity Badcock. They will focus on what clients want and then look at some case studies that delivered to clients.

    [These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association's 2012 Conference 2012. Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I've made any editorial comments, I've shown those in brackets.]


    • KM Pre-2000. The original focus for KM was collecting intellectual capital and professional training. The main benefits were risk management and efficiency. From 2000-2007, law firm knowledge management shifted to knowledge about people and clients. The benefits were to enhance marketing and business development. (CRM systems were knowledge management systems, although not every law firm marketing department understood this.) After 2008, it shifted from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market for legal services. This has resulted in client demands for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Clients are now demanding alternative fee arrangements, which shift the risk from the clients to their law firms. So now, while risk is still a driver for KM, it’s business risk (cost) rather than legal risk. In the current phase, knowledge managers are focused on legal project management and legal process improvement. The benefits of KM are now reduced costs, improved margins and increased profits.
    • KM:Commerciality and Organizational Structure. The threshold question is “what do clients want?” They want you to KNOW THEIR BUSINESS. Felicity Badcock showed the results of an Australian survey of buying patterns in the Australian legal market. In 2005, the biggest drivers were reliability and leading expertise. Since 2009, the top client concern is the business relevance of the legal advice outside counsel is offering.
    • Sector Teams. How do you address this driver of client buying? How does this get reflected within a firm? By restructuring operations to put the client at the center. At King & Wood Mallesons, KM now reports to the managing partner in charge of clients and markets. They have also tried to put the client at the center by organizing around industry sectors and also by legal practices. All clients are associated with sectors, as are KM efforts, professional development efforts, KPIs and business development. Since these sector teams were new creatures, not all the lawyers within the teams knew each other well. To facilitate communications and build relationships withint these new teams, the firm provided a social network to allow communication via status updates.
    • After Action Reviews. King & Wood Mallesons already has in place the practice of soliciting client feedback at the conclusion of a matter. They are now piloting a facilitated internal after action review. They are implementing a systematic method of interviewing members of the team to capture insights, report those insights and share them as knowledge assets fo the firm.
    • How to start the conversation with clients?. Risa Schwartz suggested that the law firm knowledge management personnel contact KM personnel at clients to jointly carry out a needs assessment. Risa says that once you ask the question you’ll find that the client is more than willing to share.
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  • Robot baby quilt top In the midst of a lively, thoughtful discussion, one of my friends and colleagues asked for a moment’s silence to take note of the fact that Mary Abraham had just endorsed automation over human action. This led to gales of laughter. Why? Because over the years I’ve become reasonably well-known in legal knowledge management circles for repeatedly reminding people that technology won’t solve every problem (note the banner of this blog) and that we might get further if we spent at least as much time and attention on people and processes as we do on the technology.

    That remains my position, but with time and experience it has become slightly more nuanced. While I still don’t think that technology is the silver bullet, I also don’t believe that simply throwing more people at a problem is the best path to a solution either. Further, given the advances in technology today, it could arguably be abusive to humans NOT to adopt appropriate technology.

    Not convinced? Think about the many processes within law firms that to this day still are not automated. They haven’t been studied, standardized or streamlined to improve efficiency and efficacy.  Rather they depend on a variety of people operating consistently at their personal best to ensure good results. In fairness, these folks have probably been doing a good job for many years.  But what if someone becomes ill or disengaged? What if they retire?  Where’s the safety in this system? There’s also the problem that you’re asking human beings to do work that a properly equipped machine could do. How demoralizing is that?

    In the 1940s, Isaac Asimov introduced the Three Laws of Robotics (see video below). The first of these laws was:

    A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    It’s helpful that he identified this way to reduce the likelihood that a robot might harm a human. However, that still leaves the human race very much at risk of harm from members of its own species.  With this in mind, consider what would change if law firm IT departments and KM departments adopted the following variant of the first law of robotics:

    An IT department or KM department may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    What would the practical implications of this be?

    • We would have to spend much more time upfront considering user interface and user experience.
    • We would have to pay closer attention to HelpDesk inquiries and customer complaints — what keeps going wrong?
    • We would have to think harder about the “unintended consequences” (or, as Bruce MacEwen writing at Adam Smith Esq states more accurately, the “unanticipated consequences“) of the innovations we introduce.
    • We would have to stop asking our colleagues and our own staff to do things that more properly should be done by machines.
    • We would have to be willing to review and revise what we’re doing to ensure the humans we serve are not harmed.

    As you think about your work and its consequences, can you honestly say that it does not harm humans? If not, what will you change?

    [Hat tip to Michael Mills of Neota Logic for reminding me of Asimov's Three Laws.]

    [Photo Credit: Chelsea Wa]

  • Baigneurs Obesity in America is a problem of gigantic proportions. In fact, ABC News reports that “almost two-thirds of adults and almost one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese.” Unfortunately, it’s getting worse:

    …according to a new study out Monday, the number of overweight people in the U.S. will grow to almost 42 percent of the country by 2030, and cost a whopping $550 billion in obesity-related health care costs per year.

    Clearly we have a consumption problem. But that’s not all. JP Rangaswami, one of the brightest lights in the knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0 firmament, recently gave a TEDx talk in which he suggested there were parallels between food and information. In fact, he suggests we should think about our information production, preparation and consumption like we think about our food production, preparation and consumption. Who is producing good quality information?  How can you identify good quality information? How do you set limits on your information consumption?  Do you need an information diet or even an information fast?

    Now, consider lawyers in America.  Many of us have an extremely unhealthy lifestyle: we work long hours, get little sleep, eat a poor diet, get insufficient exercise, and suffer high levels of stress. This could make us prime candidates for obesity. Lawyers are equally bad about their information consumption — we don’t always pay sufficient attention to the quality of what’s coming at us from the information fire hose.  Further, our orientation to service leads us to allow far too many interruptions in the name of staying on top of the situation or being responsive.  If JP Rangaswami were here, he’d say that when it comes to information consumption, lawyers snack all day.

    In light of the obesity epidemic with respect to both food and information, what can law firm knowledge management do?  Well clearly, knowledge managers cannot cut off the supply of information so we’ll have to help our colleagues make better choices.  In the realm of physical health, doctors will recommend more exercise, smaller portions of food and longer nights of sleep, among other things. With respect to information obesity, how do we turn the situation around? We need to teach ourselves and our colleagues a healthier approach:

    I’d strongly recommend you take the eight minutes required to watch JP’s talk. (I’ve embedded the video below for your convenience.) Then think about what changes KM can bring about to help colleagues adopt a healthier approach to their consumption of information.

    Hat tip to Luis Suarez who pointed out JP’s excellent TEDxAustin talk and also shared how he has made changes in his own life to avoid an unhealthy weight gain and information obesity (see the video below).

    [Photo Credit: Romain Pittet]

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  • What are the key factors that lead to a successful long-term relationship between corporate clients and their outside counsel? LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell (in association with The Global Legal Post) have just released a report of a 2012 survey of in-house counsel in Western Europe that seeks to answer that question. The report examines the following issues:
    • Selection factors,  reasons for reviews of panel firms, and the frequency of those reviews.
    • Factors influencing the retention of firms for future work.
    • Top reasons for the removal of firms from preferred panels/lists.
    • Approach taken by in-house counsel to evaluate law firm performance and common themes in feedback.
    • Value-adding elements of relationships.

    Of the 219 in-house lawyers who participated across 16 countries in Western Europe, the results were very clear:

    • To be successful, a law firm must demonstrate that it understands its client’s business needs.
    • A guaranteed way to end a client relationship prematurely is to provide poor service.
    • Cost is a factor, but it can be outweighed by the high quality of the firm’s service and the extent to which the firm demonstrates its understanding of client needs.
    • Clients appreciate value-added services such as free training seminars and lawyer secondments.

    Be a Trusted Advisor

    Clearly, knowing the law is necessary but not sufficient. Clients aren’t looking for an erudite legal lecture, they want the assurance that you understand their situation and have the legal sophistication to apply the law appropriately to their facts.  Beyond that, clients want to know that your understanding of their business is so deep that you can anticipate their needs and be active in helping manage their legal exposure. In other words, your client wants you to be a trusted advisor, not just a technician for hire.

    How can KM help deliver what the clients want?

    If your knowledge management program has focused primarily on legal documents thus far, now would be a good time to think about adding some current awareness programs.  In addition, consider partnering with library and training professionals to provide opportunities for lawyers to learn more deeply about client industries: What are the economic drivers? What are the pressures? Where are the opportunities? Look for ways to passively capture KM resources from these training programs and from the related conversations within client service teams.

    Focus on Feedback

    Lawyers are notoriously thin-skinned, so they sometimes shy away from asking directly about client expectations and satisfaction. As a result, they can find it difficult at times to understand how best to serve their clients. The report addresses this issue squarely:

    Most respondents were also very happy to participate in feedback programmes conducted by their law firms, although less than half had received an invitation to provide this. However, law firms appear to be even less committed to using customer insights to help strengthen their relationship. Only 28% of survey respondents said that their law firms came back to them to share the results and communicate improvements or changes that would be made as a result of feedback received.

    Thanks to this report, we now have some insight into exactly what clients are looking for.  Although the report relates to a study of in-house counsel in Western Europe, I have a hard time believing that their North American counterparts have materially different expectations of their lawyers. Put another way, I think a North American law firm would be foolish to disregard these results.

    The client has spoken.  The rest is up to us.


  • Sydney Harbour bridge and ferries Today the Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrates its 80th birthday. Affectionately know as the “Coathanger,” it is the world’s widest long-span bridge. It also is a popular destination for tourists. If you walk across it (or climb to the top of its arch) you can enjoy panoramic views of Sydney’s beautiful waterfront.

    More than a tourist destination, the bridge was purpose built to provide a vital transportation link between central and north Sydney. When it opened in 1932, the bridge handled 11,000 vehicles a day. Now it carries 160,000 vehicles each day.  According to John Nicholson, author of Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge, “They didn’t skimp on material in those days, so it was designed to take 10-20 times more traffic than necessary.” In fact, in the March 2012 issue of Virgin Australia’s magazine, Nicholson goes so far as to suggest that the bridge still hasn’t reached its limit: “…you could put a new deck on the bridge and double the traffic load, and it’ll take it.”

    Built to last, built to accommodate increased demands. That’s what we’d like to be able to say about everything we buy and everything we create. But can you honestly say that about your KM systems? When your KM system depends on a cutting-edge technology, you’re building in planned obsolesce that will become painfully apparent as that technology becomes outmoded. When your KM system depends on constant care and feeding by staff members to remain current, the ongoing cost and inefficiency will weigh the system down to the breaking point over time.

    These tendencies put particular pressure on some knowledge management projects that are favorites of law firms: special document collections (e.g., precedent banks), intranet pages that depend on members of a practice group to add current content, and databases that manually track matter information. While senior lawyers love these projects in concept, few firms have the wherewithal to maintain them in peak condition over the long term. Consequently, they end up with outdated documents, stale intranet pages and incomplete matter information.

    So where does this leave us? Theoretically, a good search engine should be able to uncover “know what,” “know why” and “know who” within a law firm. (After all, we simply use Google when we need to find this information outside the firm. Why not use that search impulse within the firm as well?) The trickiest type of knowledge to gain access to may well be “know how.” Except in highly regulated circumstances, we rarely document and faithfully follow every step of a procedure. This suggests that once you have a search engine in place that really can deliver the goods, you should focus your KM efforts on improving knowledge sharing regarding “know how.”

    But if you are going to build a “know how” system that lasts and can accommodate increased demands, where do you start? I suggest that you concentrate on the following:

    • Create more opportunities for those with the “know how” to share what they know with others while working “in the flow.”
    • Remove any impediments in the system that cause unnecessary friction or otherwise make it difficult to share “know how” in the moment.
    • Build an organizational culture that reinforces and rewards this type of knowledge transfer.

    Notice I said nothing about compelling people to disgorge their tacit knowledge so that it can be “captured” and saved in a knowledge repository. Notice I said nothing about creating special document collections or hiring dedicated staff. This KM system is about making it easier for the people on the front lines of your organization to work together to share their knowledge without having to route it first through a central KM organization.

    This type of distributed, in-the-moment sharing of “know how” can be tremendously powerful. And, it’s always current and never obsolete. It’s a KM system that is built to last.

    While I won’t be around in 80 years’ time to enjoy the celebration, I’m willing to bet that a well-designed and well-executed “know-how” sharing system could be the one KM system that rivals the Sydney Harbour Bridge for longevity and usefulness within your firm.

    [Photo Credit: KLW NFC]

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  • Warning: Do not exceed maximum capacity! It’s great to feel needed.  It’s nice to be known as the go-to person with the answer. In a client-service industry like the law firm world, you can get a small buzz on knowing that you helped improve the delivery of client services — especially at crunch time.  But it’s a double-edged sword. Inevitably, because you step into the breach time and time again, your firm comes to rely on you for your ability to make problems seem to go away.

    Law firms are not unique in having folks like this.  According to Mark McDonald, every organization has “human middleware”:

    Human middleware are the people in your organization whose responsibilities revolve around greasing the skids to keep things moving.  Just like their technology counterparts, human middleware sits in the gaps between processes, they coordinate corporate messages, and they are both the grease that keeps things moving and the glue that keeps things from falling apart.

    Does that sound like your law firm knowledge management department?  If you’ve got KM folks who demonstrate a desire to “get things done” and a greater desire to be needed, then you most likely have a law firm knowledge management department that finds itself pulled in different directions to meet the many demands it faces. But let’s be honest — that’s not all. With the recent economic bad times, some KM departments have been looking for more ways to remind their law firms how vital they are to the smooth operations of their organization.  So, we find KM seeking out new opportunities, filling gaps all over the organization, meeting growing needs.

    While this trend is perfectly understandable, Mark McDonald probably wouldn’t endorse it.  Unchecked mission creep leads to overworked staff and then demands for new hiring. In his view, throwing people at problems is a “sign of distortion” within the organization. The issue is that when you “use people to paper over” challenges to the organization, you run the risking of ignoring some key indicators of disease within the organization:

    • Inconsistent business processes
    • Inaccurate systems
    • Incomplete interfaces
    • The proliferation of too many “me too” products
    • Inadequate management capacity and capability
    • General inefficiencies across the organization
    • Weak general management
    • Baseline budgeting
    • Accretive change

    To be clear, this is not an argument to return law firm knowledge management to its bare-bones function of content repository.  However, it is a warning that not every gap in the firm should be filled by KM.  Unless KM uses its resources judiciously, KM personnel end up simply “papering over” structural problems in the firm.  According to Mark McDonald, this leads to even more pernicious results:

    Human middleware is a silent killer of performance, responsibility and effectiveness. It starts with good intentions, it sounds good – after all who is against greater coordination, improved service, or greater time to market?  All are business justifications for creating human middleware.

    For McDonald, the answer is relatively straightforward:  eliminate the distortions to improve operations and restore the organization to health.  If KM is part of the distortion, then it will have to be trimmed back or removed. To avoid this fate, be careful whenever you find yourself tempted to throw people at a problem — even your very talented KM personnel. Consider first if the real issue is some distortion in your system that ought to be addressed by business process improvement, better technology or greater clarity as to strategy, for example.

    As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s great to feel needed. But don’t let your drive to be needed lead you to make KM part of the problem rather than the solution.

    [Photo Credit: Jay Goldman]

  • Pros and Cons It is the stuff of fantasy — for law firm knowledge management professionals, that is. Imagine law firm partners beating down your door asking to be involved in as many law firm KM projects as possible. Before you laugh derisively, consider the following report from The American Lawyer‘s ninth annual survey of managing partners, chairs, and other leaders of Am Law 200 firms:

    Firms are also pushing for greater efficiency in their internal operations. Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) say they have aligned partner compensation with a willingness to cooperate in new initiatives, such as project management, knowledge management, and rethinking staffing requirements. Mentoring programs have also gained traction. [emphasis added]

    Is this happening at your firm?

    If it is, set aside some time to think about how best to take advantage of this windfall. Partners will come to you with views about what KM should do for their practice area. I’m willing to bet good money that many will focus on precedent collection projects or model document drafting projects.  These are obvious ways of building a knowledge base for a practice area, but are they always the best ways? Before you commit precious time and resources to these projects, take another look at the list of high-impact and low-impact law firm KM activities. You’ll see that both of these projects are on the low-impact list under the category of creating and maintaining content. This is not because they lack value. Rather, they have limited value unless undertaken in response to clear-eyed analysis as to the pros and cons of the project. Further, unless you  are diligent about finding ways to reduce cost through automation, these projects can require considerable amounts of time, money and manual work. For example, firm-sanctioned models can be a huge timesaver and training aid for lawyers drafting documents. However, these models tend to be costly:  they require a great deal of time, attention, willpower and political capital to move from the concept stage to the point where the model has been blessed and adopted by a practice group. While it might make sense to invest this heavily in a critical document that will be used so many times that its cost per use becomes negligible, it makes no sense whatsoever to invest that way in a document that will be used infrequently. Can you find other, less expensive ways to address the training or drafting gap?

    One of the challenges of working in law firm KM is being a good steward of firm resources. This means investing in the KM projects that will provide the greatest return on investment for the firm.  Not every project will meet this standard. So, before you open the door to that long line of partners looking to get involved with KM, be sure you have a straightforward analytical framework for helping them understand how to assess potential ROI. (See some proposed indicia of impact.) And, be sure you have some suggestions of alternative, more productive uses of their KM-focused time and energy that balance their interests with KM needs. Partner time and attention is one of the most valuable resources within a firm. Don’t waste it on low-impact KM activities.

    [Photo Credit: Jason Schultz]

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