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]

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