Sunday, February 18, 2007

Will Knowledge Management drive law firms in the future?

There is no doubt in my mind that Knowledge Management ("KM") will drive law firms in the future. In the past, law firms were driven by recruiting the best and the brightest lawyers and developing a reputation for good work. Hiring talented lawyers will be important in the future, but not as important as developing the best KM systems. Why do I believe that? Because the Internet makes people and information more accessible. It's scary to say, but the Internet makes people more of a commodity (not that I believe that personally). With regard to professional services, talent will no longer be the differentiator. The biggest challenge for law firms will be to harness that talent and their reservoirs of knowledge in ways that improve product quality and efficiency. In other words, "Knowledge Management".

Ok, but what is KM? Here are some definitions:

According to Wikipedia, "There is a broad range of thought on Knowledge Management with no unanimous definition current or likely." Wikipedia itself defines Knowledge Management as a "range of practices used by organizations to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for reuse, awareness, and learning across the organisations." The fact that wikipedia spells the word "organization" differently than I do does not give me much comfort in their definition.

The definition of Knowledge Management that I prefer is "Capturing, organizing, and storing knowledge and experiences of individual workers and groups within an organization and making this information available to others in the organization." (Ironically, I found this definition on Google from a link that is no longer working.) It is the collaborative element of this definition that I find compelling. Lawyers sharing information will make all of us better lawyers and more efficient. KM will facilitate the process.

More practically, I think that KM encompases all of the systems, tools, and infrastructure needed to practice law effectively. In an upcoming blog, I will attempt to break down the concept of Knowledge Management into practical terms and identify how law firms can start to lay the ground work now for developing the systems, tools, and infrastructure that I (and most lawyers) will need to access in the future.

What do you think will drive law firms in the future? Will it be KM or something else?

2 comments:

Allan Weeks said...

The "aha" moment that came to me several years ago while at a large law firm that had no realistic way (or culture) of searching and retrieving work done by others in the firm and, further, seemed to not see any value in spending the money that it would have taken to catalog, digitize, etc. that intellectual capital (and it would have been expensive) was that--(i) Lawyers and doctors, as well as other professionals, have always been in the business of knowledge management and distribution, and (ii) even taking into account that some of the writings and research would lose "value" (i.e., relevance) over time, what a waste of an extremely valuable asset actually that could give the firm a financial return and competative advantage by reducing the number of times that the "wheel" was reinvented by its lawyers.

V-lawyer said...

Allan,

You were ahead of your time... I still expect resistance today. Lawyers don't like to spend time or money on overhead. As the systems and tools become more compelling and cheaper, lawyers will be more receptive to KM. Everytime I implement a new software program that facilitates my practice I wonder...why did I wait so long?