9 Well Defined Law Firm Knowledge Management Projects Your Firm Can Model

knowledge management

9 Well Defined Law Firm Knowledge Management Projects Your Firm Can Model

If you ask ten different allied professionals working in law firms to define knowledge management (KM), you’ll probably get ten different answers. One reason for this is that KM is a bit like a Swiss Army Knife – it has many capabilities that can support a wide range of knowledge-centric programs.

That’s why leading thinkers in the field of KM, like Joshua Fireman, suggest beginning with a well-defined problem. It’s sage advice and a good way to get the wheels of creative problem-solving turning is to see what others have done.

To help this along, Aderant’s David Flynn, Global Sales Manager for Handshake, and Richard Hill, Account Executive for Handshake in Europe, recently took inventory of the KM projects they’ve seen law firms implement in the last few years. They’ve narrowed the possibilities down to this well-defined list of initiatives.

1) Precedent collection or knowledge bank

Law firms create and accumulate thousands of documents and store them in a document management system (DMS). Over time, it becomes harder to identify which documents are the best-in-class. Identifying and categorizing a precedent collection of documents goes to the very essence KM – connecting people with knowledge – so they can repurpose it for the benefit of clients and process efficiency. Why? Because a junior attorney isn’t likely to phone a senior partner to discuss a brief she wrote three years ago. The approach a firm takes for identifying which documents rise to the level of “best-in-class” can vary, but the point is a curated knowledge bank is a solid starter project in KM.

2) Matter-centric knowledge

One firm we worked with had a large class-action lawsuit with an astounding 6,000 matters. Like many firms, they managed documents about the matters in a DMS, but that didn’t give attorneys a complete picture. They still needed to switch systems to check the budget or identify docketing deadlines, for example. The firm deployed a KM project to add a knowledge tab within the DMS that pulled in data from these other sources. This puts critical information about the case that attorneys needed – court dates, news articles, legal research, and rules from local jurisdictions – at their fingertips and within a screen they were already using.

3) Law firm experience management

A client asked a firm with 1,200 timekeepers for a lawyer with experience in the oil and gas industry… and who could also speak French. Typically, firms identify such experts by sending out an office-wide email or walking around the office asking for help, with varying degrees of success. This firm, however, had implemented a KM project that automatically combed through both self-stated expertise, such as what’s listed on a biography, along with work an attorney has actually performed, such as legal documents written and time-entry narratives. The firm was able to identify a lawyer with the requisite experience with a simple search.

4) Performance management portals

Portals are a quintessential KM project – it’s the idea that lawyers can log into a single screen and have information pushed to them based on their rank, role, and preferences. However, some of the more successful projects we’ve seen focus on specific management tasks like performance management. In these types of portal projects, individual attorneys can see their performance benchmarked against peers, and in relation to the practice group, office, and firm average. For senior managers, they can see how a practice area, or the overall firm, is performing while also having the ability to drill down to the individual user level. This allows them to identify areas of the firm that are underperforming or simply behind on entering their time. It also taps into the competitive nature of individual attorneys as a source of motivation.

5) A dashboard for action items

Another variation of a well-defined KM project is a dashboard of action items. It pulls information into a centralized view, so an attorney doesn’t have to go out looking for the information. What is displayed here is dependent on the firm, but some common examples we see include:

  • The last time a lawyer entered time;
  • Prebills to be reviewed;
  • Client invoices paid or past due;
  • Value remaining in the expense budget; and
  • The number of CLE credits earned vs. needed;

A centralized view of tasks solves two problems. First, an attorney doesn’t need to skip around from system to system looking for the information. Second, it keeps people informed about tasks they may not be thinking about every day. Expenses are a good case, it’s not something that might be on an attorney’s mind, but it’s very helpful to know, for example, that the budget is nearly used up and yet you have six weeks to go on a matter.

6) Enterprise search

Portals take a persona-based approach to bring disparate information into a single view. It’s very useful, but it can’t answer every question an attorney might have, so they have to search for it. Searching can be an onerous task because the answer could be any number of data sources – DMS, CRM, shared folders, external content services like research. Enterprise search, as a KM project, indexes all these data sources and provides a single place from which to find it. It enables searches, like those about a specific client or topic, across the many different places a law firm stores information. If you’ve ever spent time searching for information, it’s easy to understand the productivity improvement that enterprise search can bring to a law firm.

7) Client extranets

Clients are demanding more transparency from their firms than ever and client extranets give law firms a good way to meet this market demand. An extranet is a secure portal where clients can share and collaborate on documents, shared calendars, review which attorneys are on the team, and even financial information about budgets, invoices or financial metrics the client has asked to see. Client extranets are a self-service way for laws firms to share knowledge with clients and add value in a non-billable way. We’ve worked with a firm specializing in real estate contracts that uses a traffic light system – red, yellow, green – to communicate whether the client or firm is required to take the next action on a given contract. This keeps the contracts moving along efficiently.

8) KM that reinforces cybersecurity

If KM can help firms organize and find documents, it can also help secure them. As Mr. Fireman pointed out in an interview with Think Tank previously, clients are demanding firms “lock down documents.” The role KM has in “capturing the context” and “providing linkages between attorneys within a firm based on experience, rather than documents, will become increasingly important.” Indeed, in the UK, we’ve observed firms using KM technology to flip the paradigm around: instead of giving everyone access to the repository, they are excluding everyone by default and granting access on a case by case basis. KM tools can interpret DMS credentials to allow attorneys to save and organize links to documents they need in a personalized library.

9) Making SharePoint upgrades a little easier

Law firms love Microsoft SharePoint, and they often build highly customized systems on top of the platform. When it comes time to upgrade to a newer version of the platform, all that bespoke code is lost and has to be rewritten. It’s essentially like re-installing an entirely new system and starting over. However, some KM technologies come with a graphical interface that dramatically simplifies this process. It allows law firms to move from one version to the next without having to recreate all the code. Firms can accomplish the upgrade in hours rather than weeks this way.

Final Thoughts for New Projects for KM

Fireman says law firms see about 30% turnover of their people every five years. That’s about one-third of any given legal team walking out the door. KM is essential for capturing what they’ve learned along the way and packaging it up so someone else doesn’t have to reinvent the proverbial wheel.

Each of the examples above are quite different, but what they have in common is starting small and building on success. All of these KM projects were in part successful because they were precise and aimed to solve a well-defined problem.

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