Why is Senior Law Firm Management Now Driving Knowledge Strategy?

The panelists are Thomas Kennedy (Partner & Global Head of Knowledge Strategy, Skadden, Arps), Kenneth Bender (Partner, Paul Hastings) and Jack Bostelman (President, KM/JD Consulting LLC and former partner, Sullivan & Cromwell).

[These are my notes from the 2012 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  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.]


  • Why Are Partners Taking Charge of KM?Ken Bender believes that at the very highest levels of the firm, law firm leaders don’t have the negative personality traits discussed in Sally Gonzalez’s keynote address. His managing partner believes that there will be 15 firms that dominate the international practice of law and that those firms will have a well-developed knowledge management function. At Skadden, they had a change in senior firm leadership (and a McKinsey study), which led them to pursue more intentionally the idea of building a knowledge management effort.
  • Skadden’s KM Approach:For the associates, they are providing productivity tools so that they have the best training and resources to do their work. For partners, they want to provide real-time actionable information to manage their matters and support their client relationships. They also want to integrate this with their client communications. Finally, they want their KM function to be a nerve center that provides information on content and expertise. On the management side of the firm, technology, marketing, professional development report to senior management, but they also have regular meetings with Tom Kennedy and his team to discuss projects. In addition, each practice area appoints a partner who is responsible for KM efforts within their practice area. Their primary focus is their intranet presence. Their executive partner provides senior support for these efforts, which encourages participation by the partners. Skadden actively monitors user activity on practice websites, they also actively manage the efforts of each practice area to build internal support and client-facing work. Their practice group reviews include a KM component, just like they have a utilization component.
  • Paul Hastings Approach:They have hired a director of KM and several practice support lawyers. They also have great top-level support from their managing partner. Ken Bender is leading the effort. (He did not believe that a person from another firm — especially one who was not a partner and didn’t have strong relationships with Paul Hastings partners — would be effective.) Without this high-level leadership, it is hard to get buy-in from the other partners of the firm.
  • Next Steps at Skadden: A major challenge is keeping the focus on KM within the firm. In addition, they want to take more of a client focus so that their data-driven, information-driven approach meets client expectations. They are also investing in technology platforms such as experience management systems.
  • Next Steps at Paul Hastings: They want to develop some systems that they should have had years ago. This includes improving their enterprise search. They are also trying to build knowledge bases for individual practices. These will be maintained by KM attorneys. Their biggest challenge is to get lawyers within the firm to focus on something “beyond what they have to get done that day.”


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