Written in the Stars:The Truth Behind Lawyer Personalities and KM Adoption

Sally Gonzalez is Global Chief Information Officer, SNR Denton US LLP.

[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.]


  • The Nature of Law Firm KM has Changed. The earliest form of law firm knowledge management (pre-2000) focused on know-how, current awareness, professional development and some sharing of know-how and current awareness with clients. The big challenges were getting lawyers to engage and contribute. Once the collection was built, how to maintain it and entice others to use it? If you wanted to extend this approach, how could demonstrate enough value to induce long-term investment in technology and platforms.
  • Lawyer Barriers. If you talk to lawyers, you see several themes emerging regarding why they didn’t want to share their content: knowledge hoarding because knowledge is power, the emphasis on billable hours, client willingness to pay for inefficient work, an unwillingness to expose less than “perfect” materials, political challenges in achieving consensus regarding standard form documents.
  • Lawyer Personality Traits. Based on 40 years of data derived from the Caliper Profile (measuring the generic lawyer against the average college-educated population), we find the following traits: very high levels of autonomy, skepticism, abstract reasoning (which makes them theorize that something can be more perfect), urgency (the need to jump in and get things done now). Meanwhile, they have very low resilience (which makes them highly sensitive to criticism).
  • What Worked? Know-how by trusted committees or highly-respected inviduals (practicing lawyers or practice support lawyers), submission of content by a highly-respected person other than the other, stealth inquiries for knowledge (e.g., enterprise search), promoting ways to share “good enough” stuff.
  • KM during the 2000-2007 Period. During this period, the focus was on Expertise (knowing ourselves and knowing others), the integration of KM and business development. While low personal resilience scores are the norm among lawyers, thus making them ill-suited for business development, personal resilience scores are very high for rainmakers.Query: should law firms cultivate young lawyers with high sociability, even though they may not be the best junior associates. Another challenge is that most lawyers have extremely low sociability scores. This makes it difficult for them to build relationships and to mentor others.
  • KM After 2008. Now KM personnel are asked to move outside know-how collection and into new disciplines: alternative fee arrangements, legal project management, business process improvement, etc. The challenge is that some of these KM personnel are themselves lawyers and, therefore, suffer from the same personality traits as the population to serve. Another challenge is that focus is now on teamwork, but the high autonomy and skepticism, as well as low sociability scores, make lawyers ill-suited for teamwork.


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