Thanks to Vince Polly for pointing me to this excellent blog post on the future of legal knowledge management, suggesting that things are changing for KM in the legal field.
For many years, legal KM has been focused primarily on document management, and on providing easy access to the best documentation, be it precedents, boiler-plate text or exemplar agreements. This has been driven by a number of factors;
- a focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency, given the historical practice of billing per day rather than per result
- a conservatism resulting from the CKO and the legal teams generally being lawyers themselves,
- a pressure to maximise billable hours, leading to a lack of incentives to invest in learning.
As a result, legal KM traditionally focuses on documents, is often run by law librarians and paralegals, and omits much of the "learning from experience" and tacit knowledge exchange which has proved so valuable in other contexts.
The blog post mentioned above suggests things are changing. As new pressures in the legal market place introduce a drive for efficiency, so knowledge management is evolving and expanding as a response. I quote from the blog
"For the first time in legal history, there is now a true incentive for law firms to deliver results faster, through the right combination of internal and external resources and the better use of IT as a competitive edge.......
"Many KM professionals today focus on legal project management, alternative pricing arrangements and process improvement. In my view, this reflects more a discontinuity or abrupt shift than evolution. Legal KM sees the light: content is not an end. Even software is only a means to an end. The real end, the real goal, perhaps the Holy Grail, is improving lawyer productivity; is solving real problems.......
"the Holy Grail of legal knowledge management appears to be within reach – where the goal of KM is to provide true competitive advantage by developing a combination of tools and content to improve lawyer productivity, solve real problems and make the business more profitable".
In response to these changing incentives, we see new Knowledge Management offers emerging, such as the "Law Firm KM" offered by our Canadian franchisee Stephanie Barnes, and the Expert Legal tacit knowledge collection practised by our partner company Tacit Connexions.
Soon I hope we will see the legal firms embracing the principles of learning before, during and after, and introducing communities of practice, lesson-learning systems, and the other components of a Knowledge Management framework, as they strive to become not just billing organisations, but learning organisations.