Knowledge Management Systems: A Comparison of Law Firms and Consulting Firms

By Gottschalk, Petter | Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, Annual 2000 | Go to article overview
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Knowledge Management Systems: A Comparison of Law Firms and Consulting Firms


Gottschalk, Petter, Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline


Introduction

Little empirical research has been conducted on information technology (IT) support for knowledge management. Most published research develops recommendations for successful knowledge management without empirical basis (e.g., Davenport et al., 1998; Fahey and Prusak, 1998). The study presented in this paper complements existing research by focusing explicitly on the use of IT to support knowledge management in law firms, while contributing to the body of empirical knowledge management research (e.g., Alavi and Leidner, 1999; Ruggles, 1998). This research makes a contribution to the emerging knowledge-based view of the firm applied to professional service firms. This paper explores some important and contemporary issues concerning knowledge management by viewing organizations as knowledge systems, and it reports results from a major survey of Norwegian law firms and a minor survey of Norwegian consulting firms on IT support for inter-organizational knowledge management. The research is concerned with potential predictors of IT support and potential differences between law firms and consulting firms. This research relates to informing clients as it is concerned with providing a client with information in a form, format, and schedule that maximizes its effectiveness (Cohen, 1999).

Research Aspects

Firm Cooperation

A law firm can be understood as a social community specializing in the speed and efficiency in the creation and transfer of legal knowledge (Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998). Edwards and Mahling (1997) categorized the types of knowledge involved in the practice of law as administrative data, declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, and analytical knowledge. Administrative data includes all of the nuts and bolts information about firm operations, such as hourly billing rates for lawyers, client names and matters, staff payroll data, and client invoice data. Declarative knowledge is knowledge of the law, the legal principles contained in statutes, court opinions and other sources of primary legal authority; law students spend most of their law school careers acquiring this kind of knowledge. Procedural knowledge involves knowledge of the mechanics of complying with the law's requirements in a particular situation: what documents are necessary to transfer an asset from Company A to Company B, or what forms must be filed where to create a new corporation. Declarative knowledge is sometimes labeled know-that and know-what, while procedural knowledge is labeled know-how (Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998). Finally, analytical knowledge pertains to the conclusions reached about the course of action a particular client should follow in a particular situation. Analytical knowledge results, in essence, from analyzing declarative knowledge (i.e. substantive law principles) as it applies to a particular fact setting.

Treating professional service firms such as law firms as KM setting seems to make sense (Lamb, 1999). IT used to support KM may well revolutionize law firms (Whitfield-Jones, 1999), as effective IT support for KM can serve as a competitive advantage and as a valuable professional aid to law firms.

Law firms increasingly enter into cooperative interorganizational relationships with other law firms (Wall Street Journal Europe, 1999). Some law firms are nodes in formal networks such as Eurojuris, Lex Norvegica, American Law Firm Association (ALFA), Proteus, and Multilaw, while others expand their informal firm cooperation.

The term network has become the vogue in describing contemporary organizational arrangements (Nohria, 1992). While it may be true, from a network perspective at least, that every market may be considered a network and that no business is an island, firms increasingly adopt a network organization. In this case, the notion of a network refers to an organizational form with distinct structural properties, regardless of whether it is considered to be an intermediary form between or beyond markets and hierarchies (Sydow and Windeler, 1998).

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