Why IT Doesn’t Matter and KM Matters Even Less to Clients #ILTA12

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.

Don’t Harm the Humans

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]


KM for the Obese Lawyer

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]


What Clients Want

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.



Is Your KM System Built to Last?

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]


Is Your KM Department Human Middleware?

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]


Guiding Partners to Better Law Firm KM

lawyer-28838_1280It 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: Nemo]


Make KM Count in 2012

Changed priorities ahead Your New Year’s Eve celebration is a now a dim memory and, hopefully, you’ve fully recovered from the revelry. Now comes the hard part — putting plans in place to make 2012 a year in which knowledge management really counts in your organization. This is not just about creating a list of interesting projects and then tracking your progress on those projects. This is about ensuring you and your team are working on KM projects that really matter. Your challenge for 2012 is to make KM a real force multiplier in your law firm.

To recap, a force multiplier is something that helps the troops perform significantly better than they would without it. The key is that the improvement in performance should be substantial. And therein lies the rub. While lots of law firm knowledge management projects are worthy, too many result in incremental improvements in performance at best. In fact, a recent survey of senior large law firm KM personnel revealed that they were devoting far too much of their time and resources to projects that did not constitute true force multipliers. Based on their considerable experience, here is a list of the high-impact projects that in their estimation had a good chance of resulting in force multiplication:

  • Creating smarter systems, processes and workflows throughout the firm
  • Enterprise Search — ensuring that personnel can find what they need efficiently
  • Matter Profiling/Tracking
  • Providing a portal
  • Investing in design — to ensure your KM systems fit with how people work and do not cause unnecessary barriers to adoption
  • Promoting KM adoption practices / Training

And, here’s the list of the activities to which they currently devote considerable time and resources, but which they admitted were low-impact activities that had little chance of achieving force multiplication within their firms:

  • Arguing with IT over priorities and resources
  • Creating and maintaining content — legal models, practice guides, templates, etc.
  • Data transfer
  • Firm politics
  • Getting buy-in from lawyers and management
  • Intranet Management — this involves the daily tasks of editing pages (or chasing editors), ensuring content is maintained, etc.
  • Manually categorizing or profiling documents
  • Research/Search Requests (KM Concierge) — limited impact since you are helping only one person at a time
  • Responding to individual requests for assistance — limited impact since you are helping only one person at a time
  • Vendor demos

This suggests that if you want to make a real difference in 2012, you need to shift the bulk of your resources to projects that will deliver force multiplication.  But how do you actually move from aspiration to reality? Peter Bregman has a suggestion that can help you find your focus and then keep it throughout the year:

  1. Identify your primary areas of focus for this year.  Bregman suggests identifying five areas of focus, but allows that anything in the 3-7 range would be reasonable. But no more.
    • What’s an area of focus? It is not a specific project or strategy.  Rather, it is an area in which you wish to make a difference this year.  For example, improving the speed and efficacy of information searches within your organization. For our purposes, it should be an area in connection with which you want to achieve force multiplication.
  2. Then, using Bregman’s six box to do list (adapted as necessary to reflect your number of foci), label each box with the name of one of your areas of focus.  Label the remaining box “the other 5%.”  Next make multiple copies of this labeled to do list.
    • To create your annual focus tracker,  start with your list of current and projected projects for 2012. Transfer those projects to a copy of your labeled to do list, placing within each box the projects that will help you achieve force multiplication in that area of focus.  And what about “the other 5%” box?  Put here everything that has not been assigned to one of your areas of focus. The key to this system is that 95% of your time and effort should be spent on the areas of focus listed on this sheet, leaving “the other 5%” for the incidental projects that inevitable arise midstream.
    • To create your daily tracker, each work day take a look at the list of things you intended to undertake that day and then list within each box the tasks that relate to that area of focus.  Any task that does not relate to one of your areas of focus should be put in “the other 5%” box. Finally, schedule an appropriate amount of time that day to complete your priority items.
  3. At the end of each week and each month, use these sheets as a check on your progress:
    • How are you distributing your resources across the areas of focus?  Is any area under-served? Are you spending more than the allotted 5% of your time on projects that fall outside your areas of focus?
    • Are the actions you’ve taken clearly moving you towards your goal of achieving force multiplication?  If not, what needs to change?
    • Are you accomplishing the tasks you set out to do? If not, should you minimize your distractions or minimize your areas of focus?

Now, let’s apply this to the world of law firm knowledge management:

  1. Once you’ve identified your primary areas of focus, compare them to the lists provided above of high-impact and low-impact activities.  If you have not included these high-impact activities, why not? If you have included a low-impact activity as an area of focus (rather than as part of “the other 5%”), why did you do that? To be clear, the lists above are not prescriptive.  However, they do reflect a lot of experience.  To the extent your areas of focus differ, you need to ask yourself what about your firm puts it outside the norm of the firms reflected in those lists?
  2. Fill out the daily tracker for yourself and for your department.  Do your daily time expenditures reflect a commitment to the areas of focus or are you and your team easily distracted by the crisis of the day?
    • In the interest of fairness, we need to admit that when you are in the client-service business, urgent client needs take precedence over nearly everything else.  Ideally, the urgent needs can be accommodated in “the other 5%,” leaving you ample time to work towards force multiplication. If that’s not the case, give some thought as to why these emergencies arise.  If it is a result of poor planning within the firm, can this be addressed by better training?  Do you have the right systems in place to address most client requests in a reliable and predictable fashion? If not, how can you improve your systems. The bottom line is that if you are in a constant state of crisis without good planning and systems in place, it’s extremely difficult to pay attention to the daily tasks that will move you towards achieving force multiplication.
  3. On a weekly and monthly basis, take a look at your daily trackers.  What patterns are emerging?  Are you seeing signs of achieving force multiplication in your areas of focus?  If not, what needs to change?

There is no magic here.  It’s about finding your focus early, planning to achieve your goals, monitoring your progress, correcting your course as necessary, and then holding yourself and your team accountable for the results.

So there you have it — a plan for turning KM into a real force multiplier in your law firm, a plan for making KM count in 2012.  May the Force be with you!

This blog post was written originally for the knowledge management peer group of the International Legal Technology Association and can also be found on the ILTA KM Blog.  Thanks to Mary Panetta and David Hobbie for giving me the opportunity to write for that KM community.  Thanks also to Jeffrey Brandt, editor of Pinhawk Law Technology Daily Digest, who was the first to say “May the Force be with you” when he read my earlier posts on force multiplication.

[Photo Credit: Pete Reed]





Is KM a Real Force Multiplier?

multiply Is KM a real force multiplier in your firm? That’s the challenging question I recently put to 40 senior law firm knowledge management professionals.  This led to an interesting hour of honest conversation that was so worthwhile that I’m recounting its highlights here in the hope that my readers might try this exercise in their own organizations.


As you may remember, I wrote a few months ago about the concept of force multiplication. In Are You a Force Multiplier? I focused on whether the projects we pursue individually have the effect of helping our organizations perform significantly better. A force multiplier is a factor that enables a fighting force to improve its performance many times over.  For the military, force multipliers range from technology and training to terrain and morale.  Each of these can equip a small force to fight with the strength and effectiveness of a much larger group.

The key to force multiplication is not to settle for incremental improvements, but to aim for dramatically improved results.  While it may not always be possible to calculate down to the last dollar and cent the actual value of your force multiplication efforts, it is wise to try to identify the indicia of impact that help you distinguish merely helpful projects from the projects that result in true force multiplication. For purposes of illustration, I showed the group how one might calculate the impact of a typical law firm knowledge management project: enterprise search.  According to a Google White Paper, the average knowledge worker spends one-quarter of their time looking for information. If you implemented a good enterprise search engine and were able to cut the time spent searching by one hour, what would be the impact on your firm?  One way to calculate the aggregate value of restoring one productive hour to each fee-earner is by the following formula:

[the number of fee-earners] X [their blended hourly rate] X [the number of working days in a year] = the value to the firm that year

The Exercise:

The participants sat at round tables to facilitate discussion. We asked each participant to write on separate index cards the three activities currently undertaken by their KM department that consume the most resources.  (Those resources could be time, money or psychic/emotional energy, for example.)  To ensure forthrightness and promote confidentiality, we asked the participants to refrain from putting anything on their cards that would indicate the identity of the firm or knowledge manager involved. Once everyone at the table put their completed cards in the middle of the table, each table sorted through the cards to see the range of activities.  Finally, we asked each group to rank the activities in terms of which ones represented true force multipliers and which ones were least effective as force multipliers. As part of this process, we asked the people at the table to consider the indicia of impact of each activity in order to find an objective means of measuring the extent to which an activity was (or was not) a force multiplier.

The Activities:

If you work in law firm knowledge management, you won’t be surprised by the activities listed by the participants.  These are the activities that currently consume the greatest resources for their departments. What about yours? Take a look at them and then, before reading further, see how you might rank these activities in terms of force multiplication.

  • Arguing with IT over priorities and resources
  • Building smart systems, processes and workflows
  • Categorizing or manually profiling documents
  • Creating and maintaining content — legal models, practice guides, templates, etc.
  • Data transfer
  • Design — to ensure the KM systems fit with how people work and do not cause unnecessary barriers to adoption
  • Enterprise search
  • Firm politics
  • Getting buy-in from lawyers and management
  • Intranet management
  • Matter profiling/tracking
  • Promoting KM adoption practices
  • Providing a portal
  • Research/Search requests (KM concierge)
  • Responding to individual requests for assistance
  • Training
  • Vendor demos

The Indicia of Impact:

As the participants were weighing the relative benefits of the activity list above, they identified the following factors that helped them separate the merely helpful activities from the force multipliers.  This is not an exhaustive list, but certainly is a good starting point.

  • allows efficient, on-demand self-service
  • generates use/traffic
  • increases convenience across the firm
  • provides consistency and coherence across the firm
  • provides leverage at all levels (firm, departments, practice groups, individuals)
  • reduces time spent
  • replaces multiple fragmented activities with a single, more coherent system
  • the number of users affected

The Consensus:

The True Force Multipliers:

  • Building smart systems, processes and workflows
  • Enterprise Search
  • Investing in design — to ensure the KM systems fit with how people work and do not cause unnecessary barriers to adoption
  • Matter Profiling/Tracking
  • Promoting KM adoption practices
  • Providing a portal
  • Training

The Low-Impact Activities:

  • Arguing with IT over priorities and resources
  • Categorizing or manually profiling documents
  • Creating and maintaining content — legal models, practice guides, templates, etc.
  • Data transfer
  • Firm politics
  • Getting buy-in from lawyers and management
  • Intranet Management
  • Research/Search Requests (KM Concierge)
  • Responding to individual requests for assistance
  • Vendor demos


This is a tough exercise.  Many of us realized that the things we were doing really did not provide much more than an incremental benefit to our firms.  It was cold comfort to understand that we did these things because our firms asked them of us. Unfortunately, it is precisely those low-yield activities that many of our firms think knowledge management should focus on.  Why?  Perhaps because it fits with a narrow view of how to help practicing lawyers — by creating and expanding the lawyers’ form files,  with a little technology thrown in.  Or, it provides the benefits of a really good research assistant to help get an individual lawyer’s work done quickly. At the end of the day, this narrow view focuses on the individual rather than on the impact on the overall firm and does not result in true force multiplication.

This exercise confirmed for me the importance of focusing knowledge management efforts on practices and systems that have a beneficial impact across the firm.  In all honesty, this can be tough to do when you work for a partnership and every partner has a point of view, sense of ownership and specific client needs.  This exercise forces you to take an institutional view, but you may not be popular initially for doing so. This is where having enlightened leadership in firm management makes all the difference.

While it can be dispiriting to learn that much of what you spend your time doing has no material positive impact on your firm, the purpose of this exercise is not to depress. Rather it is to help us focus our limited resources on the activities that will provide the greatest good for the firm.  As stewards of firm resources, isn’t that really our job?

[Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds]


Steve Jobs and Legal KM

Tribute to Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011 The day after Steve Jobs died, a knowledge management colleague at another law firm asked why a man who had such a profound influence on technology had seemingly little influence on legal knowledge management.  That stopped conversation for a moment.  Tongue firmly in cheek, I countered with the proposition that if Steve Jobs had turned his attention to legal technology, it would work a great deal better and be easier to use than it is.

All joking aside, my colleague’s question started me wondering about Steve Jobs’ legacy with respect to knowledge management.  After a little Google research, I must admit I haven’t found anything that Steve Jobs said directly about knowledge management.  However, I have found lots of things he said and did that legal KM should not ignore:

  • Focus on Simplicity. Steve Jobs was famous for his commitment to simplifying tools and processes. His drive to eliminate fussy, confusing buttons from the cellphone led to the iPhone. Stephen Wolfram says that Jobs stood out for his astonishing clarity of thought.  He “took complex situations, understood their essence, and used that understanding to make a bold definitive move, often in a completely unexpected direction.” Sometimes lawyers and legal KM professionals can make the error of over-complicating matters.  Steve Jobs would not approve.
  • User Experience Trumps All. Cliff Kuang, writing for Fast Company, said:  “Jobs may not be the greatest technologist or engineer of his generation. But he is perhaps the greatest user of technology to ever live….”  In short, Jobs was a “user-experience savant.” Kuang continues, “It’s not that Jobs doesn’t think like a consumer–he just thinks like one standing in the near future, not in the recent past.” Even if you don’t have someone like Steve Jobs in your firm, you can achieve better results by listening carefully to your internal clients.  Steve Denning argues that even with Steve Jobs’ famous aesthetic sense and conviction about what the customer wanted, Apple listened to its customers very carefully.
  • Plan Early for the Next Improvement. The launch of a system or application doesn’t mark the end of the project, it’s just the beginning.  Cliff Kuang describes how this fact has become reality at Apple:  “[Jobs] has taught his entire organization to play in the span of product generations rather than product introductions. Apple designers say that now, each design they create has to be presented alongside a mock-up of how that design might evolve in the second or third generation.”  Now contrast that with the plausible view that nothing much new is happening in legal knowledge management.  Things would be different in legal KM if Steve Jobs were in charge.
  • Knowledge Sharing is Essential for Innovation. There is a famous story of the visit Steve Jobs paid to Xerox’s R&D facility.  Daniel Stuhlman recounts it in the following way:

    The computer mouse and the graphical interface were invented at Xerox’s research center. Steve Jobs went on a tour of the facility and was able to get enough ideas to create a new computer software system that eventually led to Mac OS and Windows. Xerox was never able to capitalize on its own discovery. Steve Jobs did not steal an idea, he took a great idea and developed it. I wonder if Xerox had a knowledge management problem or was Steve Jobs a gifted visionary?

If you are wondering what law firm KM might look like had Apple taken an interest in it, look no further than Apple’s 1987 Knowledge Navigator.  I bet the lawyers in your firm would kill for a system like this.


[Thanks to Ron Young for reminding me about Knowledge Navigator.]

[Photo Credit: Cornelia Kopp]