Large Law Firm KM: Meeting Our Internal Clients’ Needs

gavel [These are my notes from a recent private gathering of large law firm knowledge management leaders. Since the conversations are by agreement off the record, the comments I note below are without attribution.]

This session is a conversation with two partners from a major New York law firm. The lawyers of the firm are key internal clients of our KM departments, which is why it is important to bring their perspective to the forefront.

  •  How does KM serve the firm? 
    • Both partners use KM to drive efficiency through their practices. They could not meet their own client deadlines without access to a great KM system that helps them work quickly and efficiently. There is a perceptible and measurable difference in turnaround time between the lawyers on their teams who use the KM system and those who do not.
    • They get feedback to confirm that their team is using the KM system. Furthermore, they can tell when the team isn’t using the KM system because their team members ask the partners for more guidance than usual.
    • People will always use a personal connection and a network to find what they need. They rely on their practice support lawyers to provide a personal response. This is a time-saver for partners.
    • One partner used the KM system when he was an associate and now directs his own associates to use the KM system as well.
    • Clients expect that your internal housekeeping is good. This means that your precedents are both good and current. This is particularly the case with financial institution clients.
  • How do you justify additional investment in KM?
    • One partner believes that a KM system is necessary to maintain competitive parity. It is absolutely necessary to develop a competitive advantage.
    • One partner has worked in US-based and UK-based firms. In his view, the US firms have not yet achieved the level of technology and KM competency of the UK firms. As the legal industry is more globalized, the UK firms will have a competitive advantage unless the US firms try harder.
    • It is necessary to attract and retain new talent.  Law students do ask about the technology and infrastructure of the firm. It is an element they take into consideration when choosing among firms.
    • Good KM is critical to the firm’s efforts to be profitable within the matter budgets agreed with clients. Therefore, there is a huge pressure to work as efficiently as possible. “The fee pressure is steady, heavy and growing all the time. It is not going away.”
    • It allows them to share selectively some of their internal materials with clients.
    • The practice support lawyer (PSL) model is well-established in the UK. It is newer in the US, but growing all the time. It is probable that PSLs will move more into business development work.
    • Partners need to make the more junior lawyers on their team happy. This means giving them the tools they need to do their jobs well. Technology and KM are a key part of the toolbox.
    • PSLs are able to relieve some of the training and drafting burden that would otherwise fall on partner shoulders.
  • Can you automate certain tasks?
    • Even though there are some seemingly menial tasks that junior lawyers are asked to do, those tasks can include certain nuances that require an attorney’s eyes and attention. This is particularly the case in generating documents — by doing the work, the lawyers learn the structure and logic of the documents.
    • For creating standard forms, they still prefer lawyer inputs rather than machine inputs.
  • Can KM help accelerate the maturity process of junior associates?
    • It depends on the individuals involved. Some are ready for the assistance early, others take more time. However, they often end up in similar places.
    • Clients assume that the first two years are primarily training years. Once they become third-year associates, young lawyers are expected to add value to the matter.


[Photo Credit: Sal Falko]



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