A new interesting book, "True Partnership as True Learning"
about knowledge sharing within the law firm Mannheimer
Swartling, has recently been published on the basis of a case study
conducted by Anna Jonsson, Associate Professor/Docent at the School
of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg. The
book is based on Jonsson's studies of the law firm and her previous
studies of knowledge sharing within IKEA, another successful
The book provides a good insight to how, and why,
knowledge is shared and how sustainable success can be achieved
through job satisfaction.
For both IKEA and Mannheimer Swartling, knowledge sharing as an
organisational strategy to achieve an elite identity seems to be a
successful approach. Both these companies have a culture of
knowledge sharing by the apprentice model: education, training and
job rotation and one of the most important fora for knowledge
sharing is considered to be the face-to-face meetings, since
knowledge is best shared in conversations and in interactions with
others (Jonsson page 49). According to Jonsson's study, the success
of an enterprise is strongly linked to employee development and the
perception that the individual's learning and development is
important. For example, at Mannheimer Swartling, education and
learning are normal daily tasks for all employees.
When analysing the concept of knowledge sharing within an
organisation, Jonsson identifies three types of logic -
professional logic, business logic and Knowledge Management (KM)
logic. Being knowledge management professionals, we have focused on
her definition and view on KM, which we will further discuss
In the book, Jonsson describes KM "in terms of how to store and
organize, in other words to manage, documents" (Jonsson page 41).
That way KM is perceived as "IT, database and templates" (Jonsson
page 71) and a "hygiene factor for knowledge sharing" (Jonsson page
83). This means, that KM would then only be a minor part of the
knowledge sharing concept, simply focusing on the retention of
documents. From our point of view though, that is to simplify KM a
bit too much. We share the KM definition by Dave Snowden that the purpose of KM is to provide support for
improved decision making and innovation, by the effective
management of human intuition and experience augmented by the
provision of information, processes and technology together with
training and mentoring programmes. This is much more than to store
and organise documents. It is also more than knowledge sharing.
When applying KM to a business and looking at knowledge sharing,
we agree that the sharing of tacit knowledge - knowledge residing
in the heads of people working there - is most valuable, but this
can be supported by transferring tacit knowledge into documents
than can be more easily shared amongst several people, independent
on time and place. These documents can also be further developed
into, for example, manuals to standardise the business process.
The situation in law firms is quite different when it comes to
the relation to documents. In many cases the business product in
law firms is delivered as a document. It could be a memo describing
the legal situation, minutes of meetings or other company documents
or an agreement. Documents are therefore an essential part of the
legal business and ought to be managed in a systematic way.
Mannheimer Swartling has for example implemented an advanced
document management solution (DM) as an efficient support for the
handling of all their documents. The use of a DM solution for
handling documents could be considered a hygiene factor for the
A DM solution can also be used as a tool for knowledge sharing
and KM, but we do not agree that it would be enough just to
implement a document management solution and a good searching
engine to have the total solution on KM within the firm (Jonsson
page 41). We believe that to support efficient sharing of
documents, most relevant documents has to be identified and somehow
separated and made more easy available. Otherwise it is troublesome
to find the really good examples amongst the loads of documents
available. A law firm produces such a vast amount of documents on a
daily basis, whereof many can appear to be similar at a first
glance. Many agreements are also negotiated in a way that makes
them not suitable for re-use, at least now without understanding
the context. To further support knowledge sharing, these documents
needs some added comments.
From our point of view, KM in law firms must have different
approaches to different parts of the legal work. Besides knowledge
sharing, we also consider standardisation an important approach.
This approach is applicable on legal work that is considered "low
value", and focused on handling such tasks as efficient as
possible, reducing the number of hours spent on the matter.
Therefore, standard documents and templates are the general results
of this approach.
Some law firms argue that they only do more qualified legal
work, but also that kind of work usually includes more simple
tasks. For example, a complex cross-border transaction could also
include a need to produce some confidentiality agreements and to
handle some company registration matters. Both confidentiality
agreements and company registration matters are considered to be
less complex and suitable for standardisation. Therefore, a law
firm ought to have standard documents available to handle these
kinds of matters in an efficient and quality-assured way.
Modern IT solutions can be used to further support
standardisation and further reduce the number of hours spent on a
legal matter. That way it is possible to really change the way more
standardised legal work is being done. According to our experience,
the time spent on for example drafting the document suit doing an
issue of shares can be reduced from four hours to fifteen minutes
by using an efficient IT solution instead of only using templates.
This is a time reduction with more than 90 per cent! This is a way
of completely changing - or disrupting - the way more standardised
matters are being managed.
From a business perspective, and also a client perspective, this
kind of standardisation ought to be a more natural part of the
development of the legal business, comparable to initiatives for
becoming more efficient in other industries. This way lawyers can
focus their time and effort on more qualified work.
However, in the study, Jonsson describes this kind of efficiency
seeking as "a shift away from notions such as trust, collegiality
and partnership towards greater manageralism and bureaucracy which
favours standardization, assessment and a performance review"
(Jonsson page 65). Her resistance to standardised solutions is
argued with the risk for exploitation and that traditional KM will
"replace the tradition of collegiality and partnership - a
tradition that truly builds on knowledge sharing and learning"
(Jonsson page 65). Using IT for standardisation to package
knowledge into quality-assured document packages is by Jonsson
referred to as "experiments" that "can be compared with attempts to
mass-produce knowledge" that is not seen as giving any competitive
advantage for the firm since such knowledge is much easier to copy
(Jonsson pages 92-93). We find these description somewhat
troublesome and believe that there might be a slight
misunderstanding here. Standardisation is mainly applicable on
matters that are already considered low value work; work that does
not give any competitive advantages for the firm but must be done
correctly and efficient. If this work could be done more quality
assured and faster - for example reducing the time spent by 90 per
cent - the new way of managing these tasks could give the firm a
Gaining a competitive advantage ought to be considered quite
important these days when the market for legal services is becoming
more diversified and competitive.
In February Gartner also published a report about the legal
industry, predicting a scenario that by 2020 "Smart machines and LPO Radically Disrupt Legal
Profession". Using modern IT solutions as smart machines is
seen as one viable path.
Also large international prestigious law firms have taken
initiatives to adapt to this new situation.
We believe that supporting the denial within traditional
law firms, suggesting that they do not need to use efficient IT
tools to change the way legal work is traditionally being done, is
a dangerous path. A law firm wanting to survive for the future has
to look at ways to really change the way legal work is being done
to continue to be competitive. Otherwise new legal service
providers will replace traditional law firms handling a large
portion of the legal work, thus marginalising the role of
traditional law firms.