Working with the Smartest Lawyers in the World

Where do the smartest lawyers in the world work?  If Seth Godin is to be believed, each law firm knowledge manager could say “the smartest lawyers in the world work at my firm.”  In his post, All customers are smarter than average, he reports that people regularly rate themselves as “less racist than average, smarter than average, more generous than average.”  He goes further and posits that if asked, each company’s customers would consider themselves “righter than average.”

Even if you believe that the reports he cites are just another instance of “lies, damned lies and statistics,” how do you respond to the information that the folks you work with consider themselves smarter than the average bear?  What if they compound their enviable omniscience with a claim to being more infallible than everyone else — including you?  If this is how humans behave time and time again, then you’d be crazy to take at face value internal surveys in which the users of your knowledge management system self-report on their abilities and expectations.  After all, it appears that either we don’t know ourselves very well or we’re not willing to let anyone else know that there may be some foundation to our insecurities.  In light of these human tendencies, a knowledge manager would be wise to seek more objective confirmation of the self-reporting.  For example, reviewing search queries can tell you a lot about what people are looking for and how good they are at searching.  Reviewing help desk requests lets you know when and where users find themselves in trouble.  Similarly, usage metrics can tell you whether lawyers actually are trying to use your KM system and which content items seem to be used the most.  
These human tendencies of self-delusion can also have an impact on how we plan new knowledge management tools.  For example, if we take at face value what we’re told about the lawyers in our firm being smarter than the average lawyer, then we might make the mistake of creating a system that requires a user with greater technical facility (or tolerance) than the average user.  And, given that those lawyers (like most customers) think they are “righter than average,” any advice you get from them regarding how a KM system should operate would need to be cross-checked before using that guidance in your planning and implementation.  Finally, given what we are learning about the unreliability of self-reporting, we’d be wise not to fall into the trap of getting so caught up in planning the perfect knowledge management system in terms of user functionality that we forget to bake into that proposed system objective means of monitoring the actual (as opposed to reported) use and usefulness of the system.  
But as I write this, I can hear each of you saying to yourselves, “Of course, all of her comments apply to her firm and not mine — since the smartest lawyers in the world really do work at my firm!”

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