Legal KM in transition towards the Holy Grail

Last year The American Lawyers' survey reported that firms were pushing for greater efficiency in their internal operations and that nearly half of the 200 responding law firms said they had aligned partner compensation with a willingness to cooperate in new initiatives, such as knowledge management. Mary Abraham discussed the impact of this report in "Guiding Partners to Better Law Firm KM" and how KM professionals best should take advantage of this windfall by avoiding the traditional precedent collection projects or model document drafting projects and instead focus on high-impact KM activities. This means investing in the KM projects that will provide the greatest return on investment for the firm. This also means that legal knowledge management is transforming, from the previously dominating precedent and knowledge base building focus to a more problem solving and business development focus. Legal KM today is something very different from legal KM in its early days. Ron Friedmann has provided his very interesting inside insights on this transition in "The Evolution of KM from Content to Tools to True Productivity":

"In the 1990s, we talked about work product retrieval and precedents. That continued into the new century until we finally realised how hard it is to find work products and to write, maintain, and organize precedents. Moreover, we also realised that content is not enough. We broadened our focus to finding experienced lawyers and finding relevant matters. /…/ More recently, KM has shifted again. Many KM professionals today focus on legal project management, alternative pricing arrangements and process improvement. In my view, this reflects more a discontinuity or abrupt shift than evolution. Legal KM sees the light: content is not an end. Even software is only a means to an end. The real end, the real goal, perhaps the Holy Grail, is improving lawyer productivity; is solving real problem."

What is really interesting today is that not only legal KM professionals sees this "light" that Ron Friedmann refers to, or "the Holy Grail of Legal KM", recent developments in the legal publishing world prove evident that also legal publishers are on the same path.

In "Ch-ch-ch-changes: Rocket Lawyer Acquires LawPivot; TR Joins the Club (finally)" Stephanie Kimbro addresses some of these developments when analysing two recent announcements - RocketLawyers acquisition of LawPivot and ThomsonReuters launch of client centric platforms. ThomsonReuters recently reveiled its legal solutions strategy designed to support the evolving needs and workflows of legal professionals by leveraged new connections between content, software and know-how tools. The acquisition of Practical Law Company earlier this year is also in line with this broadened focus on providing "tools to help law firms deliver the best advice quickly and efficiently, keep on top of regulatory and market developments, and better control costs." ThomsonReuters Legal thereby seems to be evolving from a content company to a software company focused on providing integrated platforms supporting total workflow, productivity and collaboration tools with legal research functions.

Thus, both legal KM professionals and legal publishers, seem to agree on it is not enough to provide information, work products or precedents. Instead, focus is on supporting lawyers to improve the way they work and serve clients, and ultimately to improve how law firms operate as businesses. Mary Abraham has in "Is KM a Real Force Multiplier?" explained how KM needs to improve productivity and problem solving and how "the key to force multiplications is not to settle for incremental improvements but to aim for dramatically improved results". With such a new focus, the Holy Grail of legal knowledge management appears to be within reach - where the goal of KM is to provide true competitive advantage by developing a combination of tools and content to improve lawyer productivity, solve real problems and make the business more profitable.


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