Monday 17 March 2014

4 ways in which legal KM gets screwed up

Screwed up Money by Tax Credits
Screwed up Money, a photo by Tax Credits on Flickr.
Corporate Counsel magazine recently published an article by  Dan Currell, entitled 4 Ways You Are Screwing Up Legal Knowledge Management

It's a great read, even though you need to register to read it. Dan starts by saying that "good knowledge management in a law department is the single factor most likely to improve its performance across the board" and then points out 4 ways on which that fails to happen. These are as follows

1. Too Much Communism 
Here he is talking about the typical first-pass law-firm approach to KM, namely creating a common location with common ownership for publishing valuable work product. The problem is that its usually just a few enthusiastic supporters that upload their documents, and everyone else doesn't bother, which leads to the early death of the system. I think Dan calls this Communism because there is no ownership and no real "knowledge market" at work. The solution is to create accountability for each knowledge topic, and this blog has always been very keen on the issue of accountability. Dan likens it to gardening -
"Someone needs to own each plot in the garden (whether it’s organized by business line, practice area or whatever), and they need to be accountable for planting and weeding. In other words, their job can’t just be practising law; it needs to be oversight of the information environment within their sphere".

 2. Too Much Freedom 
The issue for Dan here is too much freedom in issues such as file-naming conventions, metadata and taxonomy (remember legal KM is frequently about managing documents). I think we can go beyond these issues and look at Governance in general, to be honest, as this is the way to work the freedom issue.

 3. Too Much Ambition 
As Dan says " The only way to make a knowledge management initiative succeed is to make it easy, and the only way to make it easy is to keep it simple". Better to start small and simple and add value, than try to create the all-signing, all-dancing system that is too complex to use.

4. Too Much Focus on Information 
Hooray. Here's the nub of it. A lot of Legal KM is actually Document Management or Information Management, even though "an MIT study found that highly skilled professionals (like lawyers) are five times more likely to reach out to colleagues and friends for advice than to consult manuals or guides".

Dan's solution is to link people through information (such as author names on documents) - but surely an even better way is to link people through Knowledge - through communities of practice, through Peer Assists, through collaborative discussions. If people prefer to work through people, lets' link the people, and let's give people a much wider access to colleagues they were unaware of, and friends they haven't met yet.

As Legal KM moves away from Information and towards Knowledge, then we will start to see the next step-up in value.

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