Getting Real About Law Firm Knowledge Management

In a recent post I discussed a 2007 study of the impact of knowledge management on the ability of Bolivian farmers to innovate and to support lasting change. The beauty of the cases studied is that the issues involved aren’t merely theoretical. If the farmers don’t get it right, they won’t grow enough to live, let alone thrive. A lot is riding on their successful adoption of knowledge management techniques.

Compare and contrast that with the average lawyer in a big city law firm. If the lawyer doesn’t have the necessary KM systems or can’t be bothered to use them, who pays? The Client.

Admittedly, this inefficient lawyer also pays by having to spend more time on their work, which means less time for other things. If this continues, that lawyer will find it difficult to be a profitable contributor to the firm and will also have quality of life issues. That said, as long as the client keeps paying, will lawyers ever really feel as if there’s a compelling reason to get their knowledge management systems right?

At a recent meeting of large law firm knowledge managers, we heard about in-house counsel who have retained knowledge management consultants to help them understand what KM systems a client should expect to find within a large law firm. We were told that these in-house counsel will soon be asking more pointed KM-related questions in their requests for proposals. Once the quality of a law firm’s KM program becomes a real factor in a client’s decision to hire and retain outside counsel, law firms will have to get real about KM. In the meantime, only those firms that are forward looking (rather than merely reactive) are likely to expand and enhance their knowledge management programs.

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