Knowledge Management is for Firms of All Sizes
By Stephen Sander, Knowledge Management Professional
Knowledge Management (KM) is a growing discipline in corporations and professional services firms around the world, including law firms. Larger and medium sized firms have embraced KM with enthusiasm, but size, even sole practice, should not be a determinative factor whether you engage KM to grow your business and increase productivity.
What is KM?
To put simply, KM refers to a range of business practices designed to:
• create, capture, collate, organise, distribute and promote the adoption and use of organisational knowledge, learning and experiences; and
• identify, collate and distribute relevant external information.
A law firm, whether small or large, is the sum of the people who work in it and their collective knowledge, expertise and experiences. The knowledge, expertise and experience of those people are the intellectual capital of the firm.
For a law firm it would be unthinkable to waste money or other tangible property, yet in many firms the intellectual capital in the form of knowledge and experience is overlooked or under-utilised.
Some firms have sophisticated KM practices in place, others may have some rudimentary aspects of a KM system in place, while some others have completely failed to capture this intellectual capital.
Why implement a KM system?
Capturing the knowledge, expertise and experience of lawyers (and even support staff), collating and organising that knowledge, expertise and experience and then making that resource available to the firm at large, contributes to efficiency, productivity and innovation and creates a platform for continuous learning, improvement and competitive advantage.
A KM system will benefit any organisation, especially law firms that rely on the intellectual output of their lawyers, regardless of their size or scope of practice.
A KM system can also be utilised to identify, collate and distribute external information relevant to the firm which can include business, legal, regulatory and competitive information among other things.
It would be hard to imagine a law firm where a business case could not be built to support the formal establishment of a KM system or at least some types of KM practice by evaluating the time and costs that can be saved by capturing, collating and making available the firms intellectual property to be utilised in a daily business context.
If as a lawyer you have ever used an existing court document or an advice as the basis for a new, similar document, you have already unconsciously engaged the basic concept underlying KM of utilising existing knowledge and expertise to create a competitive advantage by being able to prepare your next document faster and at a lower cost than previously.
a KM system is not a luxury to aspire to but rather a necessity to ensure productivity and a competitive edge
In today's competitive and costs sensitive business environment a KM system is not a luxury to aspire to but rather a necessity to ensure productivity and a competitive edge.
How to implement a KM system
The level of sophistication, technology and resources which would required to establish and support a KM system is something to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The system needs to be a fit with the resources and needs of the relevant firm.
The best KM system is tailor-made to suit the needs of the relevant firm by taking into account:
• the size and the nature of the practice;
•the knowledge, learning and experience that needs to be captured;
• the appropriate method of:
• capturing, collating, organising and storing the information; and
• making that information available; and
• the resourcing requirements for the establishment and ongoing management of a KM function.
Technology and KM
Technological developments have increased the possibilities in managing organisational knowledge. Semantic web and Web 2.0 (even 3.0 now) technologies, such as tablet devices, mobile computing, social networking, wikis, RSS feeds and web-based applications have revolutionised not just communication and the world at large, but also our ability to create, collate, organise and distribute professional information and resources.
Any modern KM system is doomed to failure if it fails to embrace the new frontiers in technology because such technologies have the capability to improve communication and collaboration and therefore are essential building blocks of any KM system.
Also with the increasing number of tech-savvy employees a KM system which does not adapt and integrate new technologies will fail to engage and will surely wither un- or under-utilised.
Other matters to consider
The human factor
Maintaining a KM system is much like tending to a garden
To create and maintain an effective and useful KM system, visibility of the KM professional or the person responsible for maintaining the KM function within a firm is a key attribute.
State of the art technology to back your KM system is desirable. But at the end of the day a KM system will only be as useful as the quality of its content.
Maintaining a KM system is much like tending to a garden – it requires hard work and dedication. You must:
© 2012 Stephen Sander & Legal Practice Intelligence