People-based KM: the Role of the Professional Support Lawyer #LexMundi

LexMundi_logo_CMYK Speaker: Lucy Dillon, Director of Knowledge Management at Berwin Leighton Paisner.

[These are my notes from the 2013 Lex Mundi Knowledge Management Roundtable. 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.]


  • Her Firm’s PSL Team: BLP has 24 professional support lawyers. One-third are men, the other two-thirds are women. Some work on a part-time schedule. Half of the group were internal transfers who were fee-earners in the firm; the rest were recruited in.
  • The traditional PSL role: This role started with the need to develop standard-form documents. The purpose of this effort was really about ensuring quality and consistency, not so much about efficiency. Then the developed practice notes, creating know-how databases of useful precedents, legal technical training, in-house counsel training, and current awareness.
  • Traditional Staffing Approach: The PSL role was conceived as a means to keep talented female lawyers involved in the practice. Over time, it has become an appealing alternative to fee-earners (male and female) who want new challenges.
  • The Skill Set Required:
    • Legal technical excellence
    • Good understanding of how to deliver service to internal and, increasingly, external clients
    • Interest and literacy in IT
    • Great communication skills — they need to be able to communicate with the KM team, internal clients AND external clients.
    • Team-player
    • Self-motivation — This role is what you make it. There won’t always be a client setting the agenda for you.
    • Impact and influence — if you’re going to be asking people to do things they don’t really like to do,
    • Robustness — they need to be resilient because they will experience rejection and delay from the fee-earners. KM professionals need to believe in what they are doing so that they can persistent in the face of setbacks.
    • Wider firm vision — they need to be able to stand back and look at a practice group and look at its work as a whole. (Peripheral organizational vision.)
  • Evolution of the role in the new legal landscape
    • Firms are redefining the value of KM and redefining the value of knowledge
    • Moving from using KM for the practice of law to using KM in the business of law
    • New areas of activity since 2008
      • Strengthening client relationships — providing training and current awareness, adapting internal standard-form documents so that they are tailored for specific clients. This is a value-added service. Clients don’t usually pay separately for these services.
      • Innovation product design
      • Reducing risk
      • Process improvement and project management
    • New skills required to support these new functions
      • Facilitation skills
      • Process mapping
      • Understanding how the firm makes money
      • Social media
      • Thought leadership to support a premium practice
      • Efficiency expertise to support a commodity practice

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