Have you ever heard an administrator say that their department could fulfill its mission without additions to headcount? Yet in this economy, more and more administrators are going to be told that they must meet their institutional obligations with a smaller staff. Before we let panic overtake us, let’s spend a moment thinking about the wonderful opportunity this mandate presents. Necessity drives us to think critically about our mission, how we’ve chosen to tackle it and how we’ve chosen to staff it. In these last few years of feasting, many have become bloated. Now we have to rethink our approach.
Rather than thinking small, let’s blow up the model and start again. What would you do if you could afford only a knowledge management department of one? What would you have that person do? Suddenly, routine chores that consume so much time and effort are much less justifiable. Equally, expending energy on projects that benefit relatively few is short-sighted. So, for example, instead of grinding away at database maintenance chores of marginal value what high-impact project would you tackle? In the context of law firm knowledge management, drafting a model document that might be used occasionally by a relatively small group of lawyers becomes less compelling. So does working on a lawyer’s pet technology project, unless the resulting opportunity cost is one the firm is prepared to tolerate. Instead, spending time to train lawyers to filter and organize the flood of information that comes to their computers daily so that they and their colleagues can find this material efficiently makes much more sense. So does giving them centrally-accessible places to store and exchange the tribal lore that sets the great law firms apart from their competitors. In each case, you make individual lawyers self-reliant and leverage the efforts of one to benefit many.
In the language of economic development, this is about teaching people to fish so that they can sustain themselves over the long-term rather than handing them fish for a single meal. In the days of plenty, we could afford a large knowledge management staff to find the fish and serve it to hungry lawyers. Things have changed now and everyone will have to know how to do their own fishing. Are you and your firm prepared for this?