This excerpt comes from Chapter 1 “Introduction: setting the scene” page 1-2

Knowledge Management – An introduction

“… the only sustainable advantage a firm has, comes from what it collectively knows, how efficiently it uses what it knows, and how readily it acquires and uses new knowledge”

Davenport & Prusak “Working Knowledge”

Why read this book?

Lawyers have been managing their practices and the knowledge those practices are based on for hundreds of years, without “Knowledge Management” Handbooks or specialist training, so why spend non-chargeable time reading this Handbook?  Is knowledge management just another business theory, great for consultants and conference organizers, but a time and money waster for practitioners?

Law firms sell their clients solutions to their problems based on their combined knowledge and experience, through their advice, representation and advocacy, and written documents.  Whether they know it or not, lawyers are in the “knowledge” business and most have been doing knowledge management within their firms for many years.  Any means by which lawyers manage their knowledge in order to be more efficient is “Knowledge Management”.  Law firms have always been about “minds” not “hands” and many will even have a knowledge management strategy, although it probably isn’t labeled as such.

Why read this book now?  There is no denying that the information age has brought about a new global competitiveness, which is forcing rapid change in all business sectors.  To some extent legal professionals, who practice under different laws in different nations, have been sheltered so far from many of the forces which have changed the landscape for clothing manufacturers or helpdesks, but it is doubtful whether this will last much longer.

Trends towards quality and leaner organizations have also contributed to increased interest in knowledge.  As clients became more sophisticated in their understanding and use of these business methodologies, they expect their law firms to embrace similar efficiency gains.  And as each generation suffers an economic downturn and loses key staff to redundancy and outsourcing, remaining staff realize how much valuable knowledge is lost and try to think of new ways to avoid this in the future.

The other side of the coin is, of course, that knowledge workers such as lawyers, need new challenges to remain fulfilled in their work.  While you may begin to read this book anxious that knowledge management (KM) offers a life of standardized, commoditized work, without the intellectual challenges of bespoke legal work, I hope you will finish the book with a clear view of KM as an enabler, helping to strip out the standard, dull tasks from legal work, enabling lawyers to concentrate on the truly complex aspects of their work, the aspects that clients are prepared to pay for.
The aim of this book is to enable lawyers and those who work in support functions in the legal sector to understand the world of “knowledge management” better so that they can improve their firm’s efficiency, effectiveness and profitability, securing them for the future.

When writing this book, I had in mind a couple of potential readers:  a new Head of Knowledge at a mid-sized regional firm, probably a partner and an expert in their own specialism, but new to KM, trying to understand their firm through “KM glasses” for the first time; a new PSL working alone in a department, struggling to understand how best to support their teams with their limited budget; and an enthusiastic new partner in a smaller firm who sees the changes to the legal landscape as a challenge and hopes to develop a new kind of law firm.  This book isn’t an academic book about knowledge management and no doubt many within the profession will see gaps in the content, but my aim has been to highlight the key issues for those new to knowledge management in short chapters, then expand these with case studies, project plans and interviews.  I imagine readers dipping in and out of this book perhaps on their commute or quickly reading up on topics as they need to know about them, so I have tried to keep the jargon to a minimum and the concepts easy to digest.

This excerpt comes from Chapter 2 “What is knowledge?” page 10

Knowledge: What is it?

The aim of this chapter is to help you to understand the language used by knowledge management professionals and the ways that knowledge management professionals divide “knowledge” into different types.  This is a useful process because it will enable you to:
•    Provide the most appropriate solution for each particular kind of “knowledge”
•    Be strategic and focus on managing the type of “knowledge” that gives you greatest return on investment
•    cope with information overload

Most lawyers instinctively understand what is meant by knowledge, but there are a couple of ways of defining knowledge used by KM professionals that are particularly useful for lawyers to understand.

This chapter will look at:
1.    the DIK(W) pyramid;
2.    explicit v tacit; and
3.    knowledge in terms of function;

When reading this chapter, the most important thing to bear in mind, is that the purpose of KM in law firms is to create better, more profitable law firms.  KM isn’t an end in itself.  I have introduced these terms here because they will probably be helpful, but if they aren’t, ignore them and use terms that suit you and your firm.

This excerpt comes from Chapter 3 “Personal Knowledge Management”, page 38, Annex 3A

Top tips for connecting yourself to people

  1. Give to get – when you connect people to other people or the information/knowledge that they need, you become a “trusted source”, just like the ideal “trusted advisor” every lawyer wants to become, which increases your ability to influence and encourages reciprocation.  When networking, concentrate on how you can help others.  The less you think about the return you are looking for, the greater that return in the long run.
  2. Use ready-made groups – build a diverse portfolio of networking groups, with a mix of groups based on professional expertise (Association of Litigation PSLs), geographically based professional groups (local law society, local Gurteen Knowledge group) and mixed background groups (alumni, clubs, local interest groups). Diversity sparks creativity and helps you understand what you didn’t realise you didn’t know.
  3. Be prepared – before you go anywhere, get a copy of the list of attendees and see if there is anyone you particularly want to meet or if there are any particular work issues you would like to discuss.  Often having a plan and a couple of goals to fulfil, makes introducing yourself to others and starting conversations easier.
  4. Pay attention – most people are happy to discuss themselves and their work if you listen and pay attention to their non-verbal clues.
  5. Keep in touch with people – the internet provides many varied ways of staying in touch with those who are no longer within your personal face-to-face network, just make sure that you use the right tool for the right group – LinkedIn is right for professional networks and Facebook may be more suitable for personal relationships.
  6. Act as host or get involved – if you find the social aspect of networking a struggle, you may find it easier to be the host or take on a defined role, such as club secretary.  These are often less work than you would imagine, and as you will have a defined job to do and a good reason to chat to everyone, as you greet them and check they are enjoying the event, the social aspect is easier than simply starting conversations with strangers.


This excerpt comes from Chapter 5 “Codification and Managing Explicit Knowledge”, page 58, Box 5.1

Knowledge in a legal firm suitable for codification

Some examples are:

  • forms
  • precedents
  • models to develop documents/improve drafting
  • practice notes
  • contact information – experts in litigation, external advisers, counsel
  • contact information for internal experts – people to pass clients to when cross-selling or people to discuss tricky problems with
  • commonly referred to background information – i.e. in clinical negligence cases this may be basic medical information about diseases or common operations, in professional negligence cases this may be checklists used by surveyors
  • checklists
  • workflows
  • client-based specific clauses/precedents (for larger/more frequent clients)
  • common clauses in tenders and supporting documentation
  • lists of current charge out rates
  • reading lists for lawyers and sources of additional information
  • lawyers’ CVs and profiles, written for different audiences (tenders, authors’ profiles, website information)


This excerpt comes from Chapter 6 “Managing tacit knowledge”, page 87, Annex 6C

Project idea: try an ask-an-expert coffee morning

I first came across this idea when preparing to present at an Ark conference with a PSL from A&O.  She had set up an “ask an expert coffee morning” which had become a great success with the fee earners, who found that it filled a gap between discussions with peers and their personal network, and formal supervision.

The idea is very simple:  once a week, or whenever suits your team/department/firm, you take over a room in your offices, provide coffee and biscuits and encourage approachable senior-junior fee earners and partners, to hang around for an hour or so, available to answer questions on matters and generally talk about work to those who need some friendly help.

The informality of the situation encourages knowledge sharing through case-study sharing (storytelling) and conversation, without the pressure and fear of failure that can affect supervisory relationships.

If you want to, you can also use these coffee mornings to improve internal networking and cross selling by including fee earners from other departments/teams, which may also improve knowledge creation and sharing by bringing a different perspective to problems.
Firms may worry that time which could have been spent fee earning will be wasted, but discussions about files and supervision are chargeable and if the solution reached through collaboration is more elegant through these discussions, then the client will be delighted and if not, the time may be written off the final bill, but the benefit of improved networks and the sharing of tacit knowledge will remain.

In a lot of ways, this is like the talk rooms of the Japanese businesses, repurposed for law firms.



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