Friday, October 23, 2009

Client-Facing Knowledge Management

I'm continuing in a KM peer group meeting in a discussion on client-facing knowledge management. There was a good presentation about client facing KM including a very impressive instance of law department and law firm collaboration in KM, training, and beyond.

How can client-facing KM add value and get clients to work more closely with the firm?

KM is perceived as delivering value to internal clients. It can also be structured to deliver value directly to clients.

Our natural tendency may be to focus on the internal clients but there are opportunities with external clients.

It is hard to identify value--"one man's meat [tofu] is another man's poison." Qualitative measurements of value are more appropriate but entail repeated conversations. Ask if particular KM initiatives are delivering value.

What will value look like in the future? Is the recession a temporary dip or a transformational event?

Clients' demands have clearly changed as a result of the recession.

There are three tiers of client-facing opportunities. Every client expects firms to have models, samples, and extranets as commodity services. Above that some KM initiative have brand distinguishing initiatives (e.g., "Blue Flag"). Above that are "bespoke" KM tools such as expert systems that can identify answers or advice to clients through a dialogue (as those discussed at ILTA). Bespoke systems are the most challenging and the most rewarding.

You can't charge for commodity level of services.

Quoting the ACC Value Challenge, "corporate clients want and need value driven, high quality legal services that deliver solutions for a reasonable cost and develop lawyers as counselors (not just content-providers), advocates (not just process-doers) and professional partners." "The problem is not cost per se, but the fact that cost is disconnected from value."

GCs historically have not had good answers when asked for a definite number for annual legal spend. It is not always the lowest cost that a GC looks for, as a predictable cost is of high value to them as well.

What can KM do?

A specific client will have a specific view of what KM can do for them. One classic challenge is resistance from the relationship partner in getting information about what the client needs. Can you proactively get information about KM needs of client? KM managers would have to pitch the internal client. You need to be persistent. It's acceptable to start with small initiatives and build from there.

Case Study

A large company had a GC who had come from a large firm with a strong KM program. He wanted to build a stronger legal department that would allow the in-house team to do more of the legal work themselves. They developed a KM strategy for five business units in six weeks.

Initiatives included a portal, knowledge bank, matter management, expertise management, and enterprise search. They needed some place where the hundreds of in-house lawyers could share knowledge. They created a global knowledge management officer. The GKMO built a global network of "knowledge champions" in different business units. The law department had set of objectives that, after the GKMO came in, included concrete KM goals. KM was seen as a way to link outside counsel and the law department. They have built out four of the five systems (leaving matter management for future development). The company now has sophisticated internal knowledge management.

Their goal was to integrate law department and law firm systems seamlessly through a personalized portal. It's hard for clients to have a view of the law firm's work if they have to visit multiple portals each with their own passwords. They want to be able to search their internal and law-firm created content in their own portal. They also wanted a comprehensive training portfolio.

The value they were seeking was in making their lawyers more effective and efficient; managing their legal spend; improving their lawyers' skill levels; and expanding their knowledge repositories.

One law firm that had a large client team for that company was asked to provide a training program. The discussion started with substantive KM (forms, models and samples) but expanded into communication models, e-billing, and more.

After some development the two had a day-long summit with extensive participation by senior leaders on both sides. The goals for the summit was to deepen the relationship, find some mutually beneficial outcomes, and become a higher performing virtual team. The firm developed bios for the law department staff. The conversation was very valuable. The summit gave each side a better understanding of the drivers in each enterprise. There are now formal client team coordinators for other clients.

The law firm's KM team had been formulating its strategy for providing KM support. The big connection was on the training front. KM had involved training, both substantively and in terms of training processes. KM participated in trainings by including model documents in them and by quarterbacking the communications (with the marketing department). The firm has also proposed managing CLE credits for the law department. They also found third-party trainings that law department staff might be interested in and also found and listed law department staff's speaking engagements. Increasing awareness of the law department staff's activities led to more potential contact points.

Future challenges include a client request for concise regular updates on matter status and very targeted, edited current awareness information, based on what client's issues are.

The partnership is a success because both knowledge initiatives were trying to be stronger. The training program has met the law department's needs for developing their own skills (a corporate initiative that has fed into the legal department's initiative). They have complex multifaceted training goals. And the law firm lawyers have been showcasing their expertise in the trainings and through the forms and samples, as well as keeping the firm on the increasingly shorter list of outside counsel.

Success factors were:
  • Client's specific need
  • Firm skills and resources that met the need
  • In the law firm, lawyers, IT, KM, Business Development, and Professional Development worked in partnership
  • Client perception of value added


Unknown said...

Hi David,

This is an interesting case study on the implications of KM. I think our members would really find it of benefit, as most are in the BI and KM field- would you mind if I shared it with them at

Community Manager

Unknown said...


I appreciate your asking and your comment.

I noticed you have a "creative commons" license system, which makes it hard to restrict what happens with the content once it goes on your site.

So, please don't copy and paste the whole article. Feel free to copy a paragraph or two and describe/link to it.

Interesting project BTW. Some people have clearly put a lot of thought into it.

David Hobbie