Bring Your Precedent Documents to Life - Just Add KM

by Legal Practice Intelligence - 20 May 2014


[Legal Practice Intelligence sat down with Knowledge Management (KM) consultant and practising lawyer Karen Lee to find out how leading law firms get the most out of their precedent documents]

A precedent without KM may be nothing more than two dimensional text with an unknown past, filled with booby traps. By adding KM, the same precedent receives an additional dimension that brings it to life. With this dimension we learn about a precedent’s history, its potential and its interconnectedness.

According to Karen Lee, who has held KM roles in three major law firms, the place to get started with KM is inside the firm’s document management system. The backbone of a law firm’s KM system becomes its document management system.

A Chief Knowledge Manager of a global law firm once casually commented that the four key functions of a document management system are: finding stuff; storing stuff; securing stuff and version control. The fifth key function of a document management system may be KM stuff, with precedent management falling under that heading.

In her KM work, Karen Lee adds and manages information about precedents, such as:

- FAQs about master terms and model clauses;

- Author notes, including why certain elements are part of a precedent, tips as to their use and how various clauses are interconnected; and

- Search optimising: ensuring that precedents can be found quickly and easily as well as all of the matters in which they have been used.

Karen Lee

A constant challenge for knowledge managers is to get authors to contribute this valuable information about precedents. Karen Lee says "if it is not easy to do then authors will be resistant. As much as possible it should be incorporated into their workflow."

Karen Lee offered one tip in the form of a “big button” inside Word. Whenever a lawyer creates a new clause or makes a significant amendment to an existing clause, all they have to do is press the big button. The act of pressing the button sends certain information captured from the screen to the KM system and this also becomes the call to action for the knowledge manager.

KM in a precedents setting requires not only storing information about precedents but also providing a means of collaborating about precedents. Collaboration and recording the results of that collaboration can avoid the use of a particular precedent or clause in the wrong circumstances.

In the UK, lawyers tasked with managing precedents often have the title Practice Support Lawyer (PSL). However Karen Lee explained that the more common title in Australia is Precedents Senior Associate or Special Counsel. If the role is within a practice group then the title might be Precedents Senior Associate – Banking or Tax or Corporate etc.

Smaller firms may not have the resources to employ people who work solely in these roles. However the important lesson for small firms, according to Karen Lee, is to ensure that the document management system contains KM functionality from the outset. "When someone wants to add value to a precedent, the structure is already in place to enable it to be done quickly and efficiently," she explains.

When you engage a lawyer on a team you want to know their qualifications and experience. You want to examine their resume. Similarly, when you engage a precedent, you want to examine a precedent’s resume, in other words the information provided by KM. 

If you want to bring precedents to life and make them an even more valuable member of your team, just add KM.

To add Karen Lee’s valuable experience to your firm, contact her via:

© 2014 Legal Practice Intelligence


David Garde
One of the best articles on your site. Thanks

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