The speaker in this session is John Alber (Partner, Bryan Cave).
[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.]
- Law Firm KM is too detached from the Business. John Alber believes that KM is introverted, introspective and far too insulated from the business of the firm. To add insult to injury, he thinks that law firm knowledge managers have created and fostered this state of affairs by calling themselves something that is impenetrable for most people, and by never properly explaining what exactly they do every day and how their work benefits the firm in dollar and cents.
- KM is a “felt” need. Law firms invest in knowledge management because they feel they ought to. However, when the rubber hits the road (e.g., during an economic downturn), KM headcount is sacrificed. John believes that well-managed businesses invest in functions that provide proven long-term value. He would argue that law firm KM has not always produced the evidence to prove their value.
- Start by Renaming KM in a Manner that Declares a Better Intention. Start by understanding the function. What does it do? KM doesn’t just manage knowledge. It INCREASES knowledge. It helps us understand what we do best and how we can help clients. Good KM makes good decision-making by the firm almost automatic. Most importantly, good KM is profoundly connected to profitably. John believes that if you are profoundly connected to profitability, you will not be laid off during a recession because you are critical to the firm’s financial well-being.
- The Accenture Example. John Alber suggests Accenture is very similar to a law firm. In fact, he says they do exactly what we do: they work with incredibly busy professionals, they deliver technology, they train, they manage knowledge. What’s Accenture’s tag line? High performance delivered.
- Key things to notice about Accenture. From the beginning, INNOVATION was at the core of their efforts and they have repeatedly been willing to take extraordinary risks in order to innovate. With respect to training, they ran that function like a business: they cut the training budget in half, but had to show measurable improvement in training results without relying on “squishy” metrics like user satisfaction. Further, they had to achieve a quantifiable return on the investment in their training business. To achieve this, they focused on increasing customer value and managing relationships with senior leaders and sponsors
- Six Decisions IT Employees Should Never Make. John recommends that we read this Harvard Business Review book. (For a preview, see this slide deck.) It helps readers differentiate between strategic decisions the business should make and the operational decisions IT should make on behalf of the business.
- Applying the Lessons. Rather than teaching how to use specific applications, teach people to work in the most efficient way, which will happen to use specific applications in a recommended way. In other words, don’t provide a training session on MS Word. Rather, provide a training session on how to draft a legal document using key aspects of MS Word properly.
- Ask the Right Questions. Don’t start by asking what everyone else is doing. Rather, start by asking top firm executives what the firm is trying to achieve in the fiscal year for which you are planning. Take their concrete objectives and bring your KM efforts to bear to help make those objectives a reality. He says that asking that question led his firm to investment significantly in systems to rationally support alternative fee arrangements and project management.