Knowledge management as a business development function

In a case study in Managing Partner Magazine recently, VQ founder Helena Hallgarn has been asked about her views on KM strategies. "Knowledge management is more than just bringing various parts of a firm together," says Helena Hallgarn. "To deliver benefits KM has to look beyond legal knowledge alone." Here are some further comments to the case study and how VQ defines the purpose of KM as a business development function.

In a law firm, in essence, you can say that what you sell is knowledge. The information and knowledge combined in the people within the firm will generate new applicable knowledge that is valuable to the firm's clients. This is why law firms generally consider themselves as a knowledge business, and that is why many invest in knowledge management (KM). But what exactly is the role of the KM function at a law firm? Is it simply about legal know-how and documents, or is there more to it? And are the strategic issues for law firms really that different when compared to other production or industrial companies?

Over the years we have broadened our KM strategy to focus on business knowledge, as opposed to the pure legal knowledge that many other KM initiatives take as their sole focus. We have also tried to think along the lines of a production company rather than limiting ourselves to legal knowledge.

A lawyer solving a business-related legal problem needs to have knowledge about the company, the industry, the business environment, what knowledge within that firm can be of use, etc. Accordingly, a lot of different knowledge sources have to be covered - not just legal knowledge. For KM purposes, this means it is important not only to focus on legal knowledge.

Further, looking at the spectrum of matters handled at a law firm, it is easy to realise that there isn't one KM solution applicable for all kinds of matters. Instead, we apply three different approaches to support the whole spectrum of matters - standardisation, knowledge sharing and innovation. Based on these approaches we focus on developing and implementing different KM tools that support the business. When talking about a KM tool, we mean a combination of procedures, structure, an IT solution, and so on. It is sometimes part of a change-management process too, as it sometimes changes the way the fee-earners work. These tools are to be integrated within the firm and are easy for our fee-earners to use.

We see the whole business of a law firm as a knowledge business and all fee-earners are considered knowledge workers and KM as a means to manage knowledge and the exchange of knowledge within the firm by the right tools to support the whole business and give the firm a competitive edge and further increase profitability. Looking at KM in this light, KM is a management function supporting the business, developing the tools and working towards making the business even more profitable. Couldn't it be argued, then, that with such a focus, the KM function is in fact a business development function in itself?


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