A KM Definition that isn’t: KM Legal 2014 examined

This extract from today’s twitter stream on KM Legal 2014 is telling:

Just been asked why we’re not at in London – “because we went to the one in 2004” was the answer.

I was there to deliver the opening address to this year’s KM Legal event.  It was very well attended with 80% of the audience being qualified lawyers.

In truth I left feeling disappointed. Apart from an interesting perspective on the future role of predictive data delivered by Eric Hunter, Director of Knowledge, Bradford & Barthell in California much of the remainder focused on providing information rather than applying knowledge and the discussion was about Intranet implementations on SharePoint. I should point out that my impressions are based only on Day One.

In my presentation (publically available on SlideShare) I began by describing how 20 years ago I’d helped build a one screen view of all our activity and created what was effectively one of the first Intranets in the process.  Yes the solutions and reach are greater today but the questions being addressed are the same.

Its significant how many people have knowledge in their titles however almost all are involved in Operational Knowledge Management and many in Information Management.  Very few appeared to be involved in Strategic Knowledge Management which for me is surprising given that the legal profession more than many others has to be knowledge driven relying on precedent and changing judgements in order to make recommendations (legal arguments) based on personal and team knowledge and experience.

Information Management is not Knowledge Management!

Mark Gould (who was suitably voluble) summed it up thus:

Information management is important, and often needs to be better. Helping information flow is not knowledge management.

I noted the Knowledge Management definition delivered by Zurich which might work for them and meet their specific criteria but for me misses by a mile the real meaning of Knowledge Management:

Knowledge Management: ‘The efficient and effective use of information to meet the objectives of the team and businesses we support’

Where is the key bit about learning from what you’ve done before, capturing, storing and reusing the knowledge of people? What happens when people leave and new lawyers join?  Yes Knowledge Management requires good information systems to support it but there is no mention of building knowledge into the processes of the business.  Its quite ironic as in 1998 Zurich Re London hired me to help embed knowledge into their Lotus Notes systems for underwriting and decision making.

We want value add from our legal parners!

This was a cry from a few of the presenters and the logic is powerful.  If their lawyers have expertise in managing knowledge then why not tap into it and ask them to share it with the clients as part of an overall package. But that’s a narrow perspective as the conference demonstrated.  The essence of KM tools like Peer Assists is that you are bringing expertise from outside of your own industry when launching a new project. Organisations that just hire the same character types and draw from the same talent pool end up being clones! The same applies to advice.

Transparency and co-creation

Eric’s presentation struck a chord.  His premise: that the future is about opening up and co-creating with clients is spot on.  Clients at the event were complaining about opaque charging structures and archaic processes.  Eric (who is ex Oracle) noted that:

Real-time data analytics is changing business models

I buy into that argument and can see a world where more generic aspects of law are consolidated (perhaps in the cloud) and the superior knowledge hence value is priced differently. Surely the value of great legal minds is in the analysis and delivery not the curation and storage?

Comments I liked:

  • On Intranets: Bird&Bird-content facilitation role vital to look at what was best version and then use that. LinklatersWhen search works you are on your way to a winning Intranet!
  • On how to sell: White&Case- Demands for collaboration coming from clients is a common theme. Love analogy of selling processing and successful completion.
  • On the creation of  embedding knowledge into ‘Pathways’ (processes): White&CaseSubject matter pathways (a set of navigable PowerPoints) that help lawyers go thru a workflow. simplicity thru PowerPoint with embedded live links. Real business efficiency tool. pathway dependent on effective curation next step is to add on time recording and budgeting. Good for showing clients Gr8 for onboarding.
  • On what’s in it for me: White&Casepeople will only contribute if they know who is going to see information. Simplicity is best, fewer options better.
  • On what people are called: ZurichExpertise Enablement Officer, (Learning Officer, Knowledge Manager, Information Manager rolled into one).
  • On organisational values and change: Berwin LeightonPaisnerDownside of giving people ability to customise their personal home pages is that the core message / values of the firm get lost.Lewis SilkenPowerful group needed to bring about change in a legal firm? Secretaries! Administrative initiatives will fail if not involved.
  • On the future: Variousrevolution in way of working is coming with a need for a virtual digital workspace across the industry that all firms contribute to. Increasingly clients will put together teams based on the best practitioners drawn from different firms.

What I missed?

  • Any discussion around communities and talk of knowledge sharing policies.
  • A discussion on risk – none seemed to follow the example of Nuclear who have identified what critical knowledge is and tried to plan accordingly for its loss?
  • And a wide ranging debate on Twitter that brought those outside the room into it.  How can we as a KM Community preach knowledge sharing if when we are at events like this we don’t practice it?

And finally:

I left feeling that the huge challenge of breaking down silos across specialist practices in law firms has yet to be tackled effectively.  Yes the idea of common platforms is a good one but each practice area is a federated business and lawyers probably have more allegiance to their specialism than a firm.

‘What you bill is who you are’ came across as a strong undercurrent that can only be overcome by the sort of technological changes that impacted the Reinsurance Industry when Catastrophe Modelling Analytics went from being nice to haves to must haves in order to stay in the game.

If you accept the premise that the future is about co-creation and collaboration then the centralised firm structure is in danger as technology aids disintermediation.  This suggests Legal Knowledge Management’s future focus should be on competencies, skills and network management.

And just to prove that the legal profession has embraced ‘Gamification’

From Penny Newman's session on change and managing resources

From Penny Newman’s session on change and managing resources


5 thoughts on “A KM Definition that isn’t: KM Legal 2014 examined

  1. Paul
    Thanks for this. Would you mind expanding on your last sentence? While I (think) I understand what you mean I would be interested in a bit more granularity on what you think the future looks like when it comes to focusing on competencies, skills and network management.

    • Hi Trevor, I’d be happy to.

      Following my future scenario here’s what I mean:

      In a world which is truly collaborative and where co-creation is ingrained behavior the people (lawyers) who are at the forefront of client’s minds will be those whose profiles and skills are easily identifiable and searchable and who come highly recommended by people who are themselves valued, respected and whose opinions are trusted. This translates in my mind to effective communities around different topic (aspects of law), better competency management and better Knowledge Management.

      If you take that model forward legal firms would become known for specialisations (many already are) and systems and KM focus around promulgating that specialism.
      For the Knowledge Management professional they would be accelarating away from being information management focused (as technology improves they will anyway) towards more of a facilitation, innovation and knowledge capture roles and perhaps most importantly managers (connectors) of disparate networks At the moment a lot of what is done is to collect stuff and make it available in quite sophisticated ways. In the future that stuff will have to have a greater focus on capacity building, competencies management and a navigational hub. Learning and KM will become so much more interrelated.

      Yesterday I believe there was much talk about Academies and I loved the Q3D — Quality, Externally Endorsed, Excellence Delivered programme idea. It is aimed at answering the question ‘How do you actually know that your lawyers know their stuff?’ And as Mark Gould comments (thank goodness he tweets so prolifically) ‘Importantly, the learning modules include tests of knowledge at beginning and end — allows lawyers to see where they need to focus’

      But why do people share? Another Twitter extract:

      Main finding by @heleneadby: intrinsic motivation to share is the strongest influence. People do it because it is in their nature
      Despite @heleneadby’s evidence that intrinsic motivation drives sharing, people wanted more incentives to share #kmlegal
      More tellingly, @heleneadby’s research suggested that incentives for knowledge sharing actually depressed incidents of sharing #kmlega

      In one culture I am working with, no reward, no contribution!

      I loved the idea from White&Case of embedding KM into the day to day work processes. But how many others will do the same and are ‘ballsy’ enough to take a stance on why KM is important and different from IM. This twitter stream might help:

      Mark Gould ‏@markgould13 May 14 The failure of #KM to have more respect (and budget) is at least partly our fault. We haven’t convinced people so we do other stuff #kmlegal
      Paul J Corney ‏@PaulJCorney May 14 @markgould13 is that because its not seen as part of the way we do things?
      Mark Gould ‏@markgould13 May 14 @PaulJCorney Yes, but nobody else is responsible for catalysing that change other than us
      Paul J Corney ‏@PaulJCorney @markgould13 aaaah. Is that because its more comfortable to push at ajar doors on lower floors rather than the big one at the top?
      Mark Gould ‏@markgould13 May 14 @PaulJCorney Yes! (I’ll steal that — it’s a nice image.)

  2. Great post Paul – thanks.
    I wonder whether there’s a collective negative reinforcement when lawyers get together (what is the collective noun for a group of lawyers?) that you don’t see in other more general KM settings.
    I say this because one of the companies you mentioned above participated in a consortium which I co-facilitated this year, joining a diverse mix of companies ranging from Pharma to the International Olympic Committee – and they were excellent contributors who held their own in terms of story, vision, curiosity and participation.

    Perhaps it’s just when you tie the same people (and Legal is pretty incestuous) into a windowless hotel conference room, stalked at the perimeter by sponsoring content/technology vendors, with a familiar conference format and organizer… it tends to lead the conversation down the same sheep-paths as 2004? (I loved that tweet!).

    • Chris thanks for the observations. I was interested in one of the ‘off line’ comments relayed back to me about the post and from some of the people who are currently working directly on the front line. They all said ‘spot on’ or words along those lines – it was what they recognised.
      You might therefore be interested in my follow up post of yesterday inspired in part by Nick’s ConocoPhillips post and a conversation I had with the former head of innovation and creativity at University of the Algarve.
      There are loads of excellent operational km programmes and great practitioners – the issue is what happens when they leave? I recall changing the culture of a business for a year and when I left it reverted. I ended up as Executive Chairman for 3 years and made sure I learned from before. I always think of Animal Farm -‘four legs good two legs better’to sum it up.
      Appreciated your comments.

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