A few recent developments have led me to believe that a similar rise in legal knowledge management activity and interest is occurring in law departments (general counsel’s offices).First, my firm’s knowledge management group was recently asked to (and did) present on our KM journey, and our thoughts on how to get started, to a few Massachusetts law departments.
Second, Linklaters released their nicely-packaged “Knowledge to Action” report, focusing on the value of knowledge management to general counsel (though it disparages the term “knowledge management” and the term “general counsel,” preferring “legal knowledge” and “legal risk officer.”).Third, along with Robert Bell, Assistant General Counsel & Legal Knowledge Officer at RBC Law Group (Royal Bank of Canada), I have been asked to speak on Legal Department Knowledge Management by C4CM, also known as the “Center for Competitive Management.” (This webinar has been cancelled, however, but may run in the fall).
I have already been thinking some about the differences between legal knowledge management as practiced in law firms and in law departments (within corporations), and the conditions for the same. Law departments have typically not invested significantly in knowledge management, compared to law firms, and have less advanced legal-related information access and delivery. In part, this may be due to the traditionally smaller numbers of lawyers found in large corporations, compared to their outside counsel.
Law departments may also be different from law firms in the following ways, which impact the ability to initiate and sustain legal knowledge management efforts:
- General counsel have limited or no billable hour pressure; rather, they need to be responsive to the direct demands from the corporation and its employees, ideally as efficiently and broadly as possible.
- General counsel work for a single company, usually in one industry; they are often located in offices associated with different lines of business within a company, and as a result may be far more geographically separated from other attorneys than a law firm of comparable size. They likely have fewer information needs around getting to know their industry—they deal with their company all day, every day—and more around connecting with and learning from other attorneys.
- General counsel’s office are only one (non-revenue-generating) part of a corporation; the general perception is that general counsel find it more difficult to obtain IT resources and attention than is the case in law firms, since the organization as a whole is not focused on legal work.
legal-specific technology investment may be limited, law departments may
have access to corporate technology—particularly sophisticated enterprise
social network and financial analytics software—not broadly available in
law firms. There may also be
line-of-business knowledge management staff and processes that can be
readily leveraged for the law department.