New ideas for Knowledge Management strategies and technology

We did not have the possibility ourselves to attend the Australian Janders Dean Legal Knowledge and Innovation Conference, but we have followed the reports and discussions closely and would like to provide a summary with some reflections on the thought-provoking and forward-thinking aspects emerging from the event.

Key note speaker was Professor Richard Susskind OBE, who opened the event with the somewhat provocative notion “don’t criticize what you can’t understand”, suggesting that law firms need to be less reactive when it comes to introducing knowledge management policies and that “it was nonsense for law firms to claim to be innovative but not embrace new technology”. “I think there is great lesson here for lawyers, because very often I find with lawyers when they are thinking about technology or knowledge management, they often are thinking about putting plans in place that would be good for today, while the real trick is to try hard and anticipate what the market will be like in five years’ time.” Read more about Richard Susskind’s key note presentation here.

Another aspect affecting knowledge management strategies and the legal services market as a whole is the in-house counsel more-for-less challenge, when clients have more legal issues to handle, but less in-house resources and less budget to spend on external advisers. According to Richard Susskind, law firms can meet this challenge with two different strategies. The first is the efficiency strategy, where focus is on reducing costs of routine legal work and generally to make the legal service more automated along the line from bespoke to standardized, systematized, packaged and commoditized, as well as by using new ways of sourcing the legal work by oursourcing, off-shoring, sub-contracting or combined multi-sourcing ways. The second strategy is the collaboration strategy, where law firms ask clients to share the costs of legal services, by online closed communities for collaboration, by online legal services, automated drafting and electronical legal marketplaces. Both strategies create an increased need for efficient and innovative knowledge management.

The need for innovation in Knowledge Management was then followed up by inter alia Charles Christian, CEO and Editor-In-Chief of Legal Technology Insider and one of the world’s most influential legal tech commenters and advisers, Sam Dimond, Global Director of Knowledge, Norton Rose, and David Jabbari, Chief Operating Officer, Clyde & Co and Chris Bull, strategy consultant at Edge International.

Charles Christian added the technology aspect to innovation in Knowledge Management, by asking why so many law firms have spent millions of dollars over the past 15 years building unsatisfactory, lacklustre KM systems? “The quick answer is that the Wrong People have been using the Wrong Technology to curate the Wrong Content. There is more relevant KM information captured in law firm time recording, credit control and CRM systems than in most KM systems: How long did the project take? What resources were required? Did we make a profit on the matter? Legal expertise is assumed but in the New Normal, this is irrelevant if legal services cannot be delivered profitability OR in a fashion that meets the business and commercial drivers of the client.”

Please find a collection of the bullet points from the presentation here, but here are four key points mentioned by Charles Christian for law firm who wish to adopt new Knowledge Management strategies to achieve a more innovative and business focused result:

  • Law firms need to reinvent the workplace – move to a friendlier, sharing physical working environment rather than the traditional, hierarchical, bureaucratic office environment.
  • Law firms need to reinvent the interface – the most widely used computer software application today is not Microsoft Outlook but Facebook – KM systems need to have more in common with social media software than library index systems.
  • The iTunesification of legal information – legal information and KM needs to be accessible in relevant bite-sized chunks. Users no longer want to buy the album – they want to cherry-pick the best tracks. Potentially huge threat to traditional legal publishers’ business models.
  • The Gamification of KM, legal training and legal software applications – too many training systems are dull, they need to be more fun to use, have more in common with FourSquare than a teaching aid. And also all this needs to be deliverable upon an iPad.

David Jabbari then shared his interesting insights on how low-leveraged law firms are struggling to engage in Knowledge Management and how it is always hard for KM to displace the sense of being about high-talent individuals and personality in the traditional model, but “as things move into the modern version of high-leveraged processes, Knowledge Management usually stops being an independent arc of something that sits aside from the business, it becomes integral to it. It becomes the business; products and process development is where the value resides. It is in this realm of high leverage that Knowledge Management continues to prosper.” Read more about David Jabbari’s presentation here.

As we see it, Knowledge Management now has every potential of becoming a real competitive advantage for law firms adopting innovative strategies and new technology. If KM was seen as a management function supporting the business and not just as a department working with know-how, the purpose of KM would be to support the business, develop the tools and work toward making the business  even more profitable, and each KM investment would be based on a true business case which takes into consideration the total cost of managing it. Already last year at VQ Knowledge and Strategy Forum, Chris Bull offered the following five KM priorities for competitive advantage:

  1. Analyse and document workflow and process – this enables you to forecast fees and find efficiencies
  2. Convert know-how into products – by delivering value-added services; providing out of hours services, attracting more online traffic
  3. Develop true thought leadership – create differentiation through specialist expertise, key recruitment
  4. Leverage client knowledge – focus on branding, and most importantly, make CRM work! CRM needs to be a way of leveraging client data and converting it into new business, rather than a simple contact database
  5. Seamless collaboration – deliver a consistent service from third-party providers, alliances and networks.