Written in the Stars:The Truth Behind Lawyer Personalities and KM Adoption

Sally Gonzalez is Global Chief Information Officer, SNR Denton US LLP.

[These are my notes from the 2012 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  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.]


  • The Nature of Law Firm KM has Changed. The earliest form of law firm knowledge management (pre-2000) focused on know-how, current awareness, professional development and some sharing of know-how and current awareness with clients. The big challenges were getting lawyers to engage and contribute. Once the collection was built, how to maintain it and entice others to use it? If you wanted to extend this approach, how could demonstrate enough value to induce long-term investment in technology and platforms.
  • Lawyer Barriers. If you talk to lawyers, you see several themes emerging regarding why they didn’t want to share their content: knowledge hoarding because knowledge is power, the emphasis on billable hours, client willingness to pay for inefficient work, an unwillingness to expose less than “perfect” materials, political challenges in achieving consensus regarding standard form documents.
  • Lawyer Personality Traits. Based on 40 years of data derived from the Caliper Profile (measuring the generic lawyer against the average college-educated population), we find the following traits: very high levels of autonomy, skepticism, abstract reasoning (which makes them theorize that something can be more perfect), urgency (the need to jump in and get things done now). Meanwhile, they have very low resilience (which makes them highly sensitive to criticism).
  • What Worked? Know-how by trusted committees or highly-respected inviduals (practicing lawyers or practice support lawyers), submission of content by a highly-respected person other than the other, stealth inquiries for knowledge (e.g., enterprise search), promoting ways to share “good enough” stuff.
  • KM during the 2000-2007 Period. During this period, the focus was on Expertise (knowing ourselves and knowing others), the integration of KM and business development. While low personal resilience scores are the norm among lawyers, thus making them ill-suited for business development, personal resilience scores are very high for rainmakers.Query: should law firms cultivate young lawyers with high sociability, even though they may not be the best junior associates. Another challenge is that most lawyers have extremely low sociability scores. This makes it difficult for them to build relationships and to mentor others.
  • KM After 2008. Now KM personnel are asked to move outside know-how collection and into new disciplines: alternative fee arrangements, legal project management, business process improvement, etc. The challenge is that some of these KM personnel are themselves lawyers and, therefore, suffer from the same personality traits as the population to serve. Another challenge is that focus is now on teamwork, but the high autonomy and skepticism, as well as low sociability scores, make lawyers ill-suited for teamwork.



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.