Thursday, October 30, 2008

KM and Modern Law Firm: Strategy and Operations for IT and KM


Peter K. Kaomea, Chief Information Officer, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
Tom Baldwin, Chief Knowledge Officer, Reed Smith, LLP
Stuart Kay, Director, Global Information Systems Projects, Baker & McKenzie

This high-powered panel focused on the possible tensions and synergies that arise between IT and KM departments. My basic takeaway is that there are so many dramatic changes in the competitive environment and technology that KM and IT have to work together. While there may always be some sort of tension between the two, it is KM’s responsibility to engage with IT, and to learn something about it.

Stuart mentioned that in his current position, KM acts as the “public face” of IT, representing its abilities to lawyers and in effect “selling” new systems to the firm. KM can avoid tension with IT by demonstrating its value on a daily basis and talking to them a lot.

Peter suggested that some tension or conflict can be avoided simply by setting the framework in a way that cuts to the responsibilities at issue rather than ownership of a project or piece of information. Break out what aspects of “ownership” you care about. If you ask “who owns” an information security project, you are setting up a turf war. It is easier to ask who wants to be responsible for entering and updating particular pieces of information.

Tom Baldwin comes from an IT rather than a legal background. He believes that KM is very much IT-driven in the U.S.; by contrast, it is more driven by Practice Support Lawyers (i.e., people like me) in the U.K. and Australia where there are many more PSLs. He believes that law firms haven’t been able to treat technology strategically until quite recently, as “ripping and replacing” whole systems is no longer necessary and the basic infrastructure is more stable.

Where there is a successful KM project, there is often a heavy dose of IT. IT does not get kudos for making the “plumbing” work (“Hi, this is the managing partner. I’m so glad my phone is working today. Thank you very much.”) Yet (Stuart suggested) it is much harder to make a business case for a precedent database than an email or phone system, because it is harder to prove an indirect profitability driver than a to establish a direct negative impact.

Some of the more interesting side discussion was about identifying what lawyers want out of IT and KM. Ron’s basic answer—“Ask them.” Peter reported from his previous experience that U.S. Defense Department generals want IT and KM provide them with a way to be more competitive, for instance, by making their decision-making cycle quicker than the other side’s.

This was one panel I wish had had much more time to drill into their topics. They were just getting warmed up when the time was up.

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