I recently attended a meeting of knowledge management practitioners from law firms. We had two law firm partner guests, who effectively spoke as the voice of the internal "KM client," albeit from a firm with a sophisticated and established KM program. I especially valued their thoughts because there was one transactional attorney and one trial lawyer. In accordance with the expectations under which they spoke frankly to us, I do not identify them or their firm. Any comments of mine are in brackets.
KM's Impact On Attorney Work
The transactional partner said that KM drives efficiency in his group. It helps to mitigate demand and improve client service in his matters. Generating work product quickly is of prime importance in his group's practice. People will always use a personal connection and network to learn how to do things and to get answers. KM can underpin that. When people contribute consistently to KM it can really take off.
The litigation partner said that being able to leverage prior work product is a prerequisite to being able to do his work. He can tell an associate is leveraging KM when they are able find things more quickly and better. He can also infer that an associate is probably not leveraging KM when an assignment comes back incomplete and not on time.
Speed of turnaround of answers is much faster between people who use KM systems and those who don't. It's about speed and delivery of service.
The US experience with a "heavy IT footprint" is not as advanced as that of Magic Circle firms.
Partners involved in KM need to continually remind senior leadership of the benefits of KM.
KM Advances Client Service For Transactional And Litigation Practices
Clients expect that you have good systems for leveraging previous firm work. If you are continually inventing the wheel you will appear more expensive and less effective than your peers.
Big financial services institutions expect law firms to be on top of their own business. The speed and depth and ubiquity with which you can marshal your firm's knowledge for your clients can be a competitive advantage.
In litigation, how to keep clients informed about the progress or status on a matter without distracting the matter team may be a key area for KM. The litigation partner has had great success with a client extranet, in particular with very large complex cases where the client needs to be aware of the case status on a daily or weekly basis. More effective information sharing with clients on litigation matters is a real opportunity, especially in firms that have invested in effective internal information management.
On the litigation side, some work product junior attorneys produce looks menial or routine. But there are usually case-specific nuances that require an attorney's eye, so document automation may be less useful. [I believe that document automation in more sophisticated practices is not necessarily designed to produce a final draft, however, so perhaps there is a role for document automation where there is a lot of consistency between work product types, for instance, in discovery "boilerplate."]
KM Improves Marketing and Recruiting
Reliance on previous experience in a pitch (appropriately) leads to client expectation that that experience can be leveraged quickly. Experience and leveraging that experience pertains to substantive legal knowledge as well the business and industry context of the client and its problems.
Sharing relevant precedent documents can also be part of a marketing strategy. [I saw this at the International Bar Association as well--internationally, law firms are sharing "scrubbed" precedents with clients as a way to add value and attract the clients to their expertise].
KM can attract talent by creating a good environment to work and not waste time. Recruits take technology into consideration, and ask about it in interviews.
Fixed Fees and KM
The nature of how you value legal services has changed. Alternative Fee Arrangements are highly relevant to KM. Fixed fees can be put into place for a whole year or for a particular piece of work around a particular motion. That kind of arrangement puts a huge importance in investing up front in what could make you more efficient.
Fixed fee work will continue increasing. The fee pressure is unparalleled.
KM Staff Expansion?
The Practice Support Lawyer ("PSL") role in the US is new but is gaining momentum. PSL and client development will merge as methods of developing business. PSLs can greatly assist a partner's focus on business development and billable work, because almost everything a PSL does in the way of client alerts, precedent development, and training, a partner would have done before.
Video training has helped people manage their time without losing content. But there is a certain human element that we can't replace yet.