The degree of focus law firms give to knowledge management (KM) has ebbed and flowed over the decades, but there is a steady recognition that our knowledge assets are a source of improvement, learning, efficiency and differentiation. KM cannot be ‘done’ to people – it has to be factored into the daily work of lawyers and positioned along the matter lifecycle. Setting and presenting knowledge in context enriches otherwise static content and makes our knowledge assets most valuable and reusable.
At White & Case, we are deliberate about our messaging around the importance of driving ‘knowledge for impact’ as it relates to our strategy, our people and our clients, capitalising on existing programmes such as new partner programmes, practice group meetings and trainee inductions. This approach goes far beyond just telling people about knowledge but also demonstrates how it fits into the organisational strategy.
To maximise benefit from the work and expertise that has gone before, it’s useful to see knowledge as part of an ecosystem leveraging synergies between people, processes and technology. For all new joiners, it should be par for the course to explain which knowledge resources exist and how they can access them. Explain the importance of converting tacit to explicit knowledge and the part, in practice, that lawyers must play. Build up an active knowledge onboarding programme and support tailored knowledge drives from the ground up, including lawyers from different practice groups, client teams and industry groups. To ensure consistency of approach, consider a cross-functional working group to oversee and help steer the activities of these workstreams.
“Partners also need to understand how critical their role is for promoting the benefits of knowledge – leading by example in terms of knowhow contributions, codifying their experience and identifying ‘gaps’ in the ecosystem.”
Partners also need to understand how critical their role is for promoting the benefits of knowledge – leading by example in terms of knowhow contributions, codifying their experience and identifying ‘gaps’ in the ecosystem. For trainees and associates, ask the partners to explain to them how they can benefit from knowledge resources, improve their expertise and be more efficient in completing their tasks – and explicitly ask them to share their knowledge.
Debriefs with key members of a matter team at completion are also extremely valuable for harvesting important knowhow, precedents and learning in context (including known knowledge types and new entrants), and are critical to feeding the ecosystem. Asking the lawyer for “any useful information” … “before they know, or after they care” (to quote a friend) has often proved to be futile! Try to be targeted and timely, and then promote and demonstrate the benefits of active participation in the ecosystem at group meetings, training sessions and in response to questions from clients in pitches and proposals – remembering to highlight both the client demand for, and the positive impact on the client experience of, a rich knowledge ecosystem against a backdrop of billable targets and pressing demands on time.
For business services, identify where their input is required and how knowledge can help in pitching or in effective client and matter management. The growing recognition, importance and practice of deploying multidisciplinary teams to support client work is also driving the need for dynamic collaboration among knowledge, legal project management, marketing and practice technology professionals promoting and supporting the creation of knowledge and other assets for reference, use and adoption by lawyers.
It’s critical for law firms’ success to carefully, deliberately and regularly communicate to their people the value of a dynamic knowledge ecosystem and the human inputs needed to support it – future ways of working and differentiation depend on it.