Knowledge Management Lacks Full Integration into Law Firm Structure: Survey Shows That, While Firms View KM as Important, It's a Challenge to Implement Initiatives

Article excerpt

Knowledge differentiates a law firm from its competitors. Knowledge management is about leveraging that differentiating asset so that a law firm leads, and breaks away from, its competitors.

Knowledge management is the leveraging of your firm's collective wisdom by creating systems and processes to support and facilitate the identification, capture, dissemination and use of your firm's knowledge to meet your business objectives. It's about recognizing that practicing law is a knowledge-based profession--and managing your knowledge is key to managing your business. In essence, knowledge management is about working smarter.

Some 71 of the world's leading law firms participated in a comprehensive survey of law firm knowledge management conducted by ALM Research and Curve Consulting. The survey covered a range of topics relating to knowledge management, including scope, culture, organization, technology, measuring value, and relationship with client service delivery. The survey was also the first to collect comprehensive data relating to the size of the knowledge management organization and staff compensation, knowledge management budget and spending, and technology products used by law firms as part of their knowledge management systems.

The average firm responding had 611 total full-time equivalent lawyers, including 193 partners, and 787 full-time-equivalent support staff, a mean revenue between $200 million and $299.9 million, and an average of 9.3 offices.

It's clear from the survey results that law firms have embraced knowledge management as a critical function. However, the knowledge management organization is typically isolated and faces challenges in engaging the firm in the broad scope of what knowledge management is--and can bring to this knowledge-based business.

Scope

Law firms have broadened the scope of knowledge they manage, though the emphasis is still on knowledge relating to the practice of law, rather than the business of law. Law firms have broadened the scope of knowledge they manage to include both explicit and tacit knowledge. There is a strong emphasis on managing knowledge of the firm as it relates to the practice of law. There is, however, little emphasis on managing the firm's financial information, market position, prospective client information, and competitor information--suggesting a lack of focus on managing knowledge relating to the business of law.

The leading knowledge management initiatives implemented so far are precedents/forms, legal research tools and systems, a best practice document repository; and practice group meetings. Roughly half of the firms have also implemented know-how files, skills and expertise locators, clause libraries, professional development programs, client relationship management systems and third-party contact databases.

When it comes to collaborating with other functions, knowledge management initiatives are underway typically with business development/marketing, and learning and development. There is little focus on working with human resources and finance on knowledge management initiatives.

Approach

There is not enough alignment of knowledge management with the firm's business objectives. Two-thirds of firms take a hybrid approach to knowledge management--where a central knowledge management function sets the direction for knowledge management and provides the infrastructure for practice-area knowledge management. Initiatives are typically launched by a combination of practice groups and the central knowledge management function, with some differences across the regions.

Just 61 percent of firms have a formal knowledge management strategy, suggesting that knowledge management may not be adequately aligned with the firm's business objectives. Also, 75 percent of respondents report they develop a project plan before implementing a knowledge management initiative, though only 62 percent of respondents develop a business case to go with it, suggesting that many firms may not be adequately engaging management and the partnership in understanding how the knowledge management initiative will bring value to the firm. …