Legal Knowledge Management (LKM) refers to the collection, organization, dissemination, and reuse of knowledge contained within documents and inside individuals’ heads, and it includes the development of standard forms, tools, and templates to streamline the delivery of service. Even though LKM is often thought of in the context of larger firms, its promise is easy to grasp: greater efficiency, higher quality work product, and higher profits (depending on the fee arrangement).
But because Legal Knowledge Management (LKM) will continue to be driven by fast-evolving technology, it’s very difficult for most attorneys to get a handle on it (much less stay current with it). Indeed, as Dan Kennedy wrote several years ago in a post on Do-It-Yourself LKM, “For the average lawyer who needs a time management tool just to schedule some time to learn the differences among case management, document management, litigation management, customer relations management and practice management, the introduction of KM into the mix may be the ‘management’ straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Yes, it’s daunting. But think about that promise for just a second: what if you didn’t have to start from scratch as often as you do now? That is, what if you didn’t have to figure out, re-think, re-create, or re-find something good and smart that already exists somewhere in your firm or your practice group — such as memos of law, pleadings, opinion letters, contract provisions – all sorts of “go-by’s”? So, setting aside the IT dimension of LKM execution for a minute, what can you do to capture more of the knowledge in your organization, your practice group, or your team?
The first step is to find the low-hanging fruit by asking the members of your group the following question: “what knowledge, information, processes, or work products do we use that, if captured and made easily retrievable, would make your job easier?” The second step is buff your understanding of KM – and LKM specifically.
Here are the two resources we recommend: the first is an excellent easy-to-understand overview of KM, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management. The second is an older resource, but it’s targeted to LKM and is useful for both small and large firm practitioners alike, Knowledge Management and the Smarter Lawyer. As Kennedy’s post suggests, you can go a long way to realizing the benefits of LKM without having to undertake expensive deployments of complicated, expensive platforms. For example, the following four step process will set you on a solid path.
- Determine what knowledge you and your team would like to have easier access to
- Have your IT person set up a designated space on a shared server as your LKM repository
- Set a few meetings with your team to establish folder and document naming conventions (see this ABA article to get you started. NOTE the link displays oddly so make sure to scroll down to see the article)
- Purchase a top-notch enterprise search tool such as the brilliant and a very affordable X1 (www.X1.acom) so everyone can instantly search inside all repository items.
Of course, getting your team to use the system once it’s established is a matter of culture and leadership. So start small. Let people experience the value in accessing knowledge this way. The two books, above, provide excellent suggestions for getting buy-in from your team.