Friday, February 3, 2012

The Recapitulation Theory and The Lifecycle of Legal Knowledge Management

I attended a meeting of legal knowledge management professionals earlier this week.  By tradition, the speakers (except consultants) are anonymous.

The first topic was "Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny," a concept from biology also known as "Recapitulation Theory" that refers to the parallel between the embryonic development of organisms (specifically mammals) and evolution. 

The speaker has started knowledge management systems four times.   He addressed the bumpy "curve" of interest, excitement, and profile that naturally occurs when knowledge management programs progress.

First the law firm recognizes that they have a problem.  They see that they'll need to talk to people and develop something.  You slay the sacred cows, enlist the aid of people previously concerned with knowledge management, and then conceive of a grand plan.  After a lot of hard work, an "immortal" result is achieved, and people are astonished.  Most were unaware that the work was going on.

From here the slope of interest and ability to make remarkable changes is downward.  People suggest changes that may or may not be useful or easy to accomplish.  The amazing achievement becomes "background", expected, and credit or recognition slacks off. It's a hard slog to regain the level of immortality again.

Has the field of legal knowledge management followed the same curve?

For instance, enterprise search in legal was a moment of immortality, "god's gift to legal knowledge management."  The next hoped-for trick was the "best practice," which is not a simple add-on but an entirely different approach.  Does KM seeking to solve "everything" lead to KM risking becoming nothing?  Ideas like social media and document assembly may have a low probability of success and clearly require much more work and structure than the earlier successes.  KM staff are helping with project management, financial analysis, task-based process management, and so forth, but legal kmers not necessarily the best people to do that.

So how can legal KM practitioners get back to the moment of immortality?  Switch jobs?  Repeat the process at organizations that haven't navigated the curve?  It's up to us.

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