“Like having your very own KM teacher and mentor”
The Journal Online
Reviewed by Ann Stewart, February 2013
I am always excited when I find something calling itself a “Handbook” or a “Toolkit”. I imagine that here will reside all that I need to transform my knowledge of whatever the subject matter happens to be. And if I was new to knowledge management, the target audience for this book, then Hélène Russell’s Knowledge Management Handbook would not disappoint. More than that, however, there is much in this power-packed little book that seasoned knowledge professionals will find of interest and value, too.
This is a comprehensive, and yet accessible starter guide to the theory and, more importantly, practice of KM in law firms, which sets out, in clear and straightforward language, key concepts and issues for new KM practitioners to think about and know about, with plenty of practical examples, checklists, tips and techniques. There are probing questions to ask, as you consider and devise your KM strategy; and step-by-step guides to help you get started, keep going, develop systems and processes, and recognise and harness those that undoubtedly already exist.
The chapters are short, with lots of lists and bullet points, distilling what can sometimes be challenging concepts into intellectually manageable chunks. The book progresses from early scene-setting chapters that explain the concepts, and types, of knowledge management and knowledge, through dealing with knowledge in practice in your organisation, and in particular the vital importance of, and inescapable interconnectedness with, training and learning, to using knowledge to enhance and develop relationships with existing and new clients.
Each chapter contains a wealth of suggestions, identifies and explains the essential elements of particular stages of the KM process, is open and upfront about likely hurdles and pitfalls along the way, and no-nonsense about ways to tackle these. Each chapter provides examples and, as the book’s theme develops, case studies (but not too many) to illustrate what success can look like, and finishes with a summary of “the least you need to know”, to assist the reader in reflecting on applying the techniques to your own business, before moving on to the next chapter. The final chapter – “The future” – recognises that in today’s (and tomorrow’s) challenging and changing markets, the ability of lawyers to be agile and dynamic is increasingly essential, making effective KM strategy more crucial than ever before.
The theory of KM, and references to seminal texts and key KM influencers, are woven throughout the text of the handbook, but in a way that supports rather than detracts from the author’s own forthright, practical approach. Russell suggests that readers are likely to dip in and out of this book, finding what they are looking for on a need-to-know basis, or browsing on a less imperative basis. While the format of the book readily lends itself to both of these approaches, I suspect the newcomer to KM will find this book hard to put down.
Legal Information Management
Reviewed by Gillian Watt, December 2012
Hélène Russell trained as a lawyer, practising in PI and Clinical Negligence with Beachcroft and Bevan Brittan respectively, and later took on Bevan Brittan’s PSL role. She is now a non-practising solicitor and knowledge management consultant specialising in the legal sector.
Russell has been involved in various KM initiatives and draws on this experience to create the Handbook.
In the current climate increased competition in the legal marketplace, commoditisation and clients seeking to achieve fixed fees has resulted in pressure on law firm profits. Knowledge is a major asset every law firm has and this book explores the methods and means to leverage it and gain value from it for the benefit of the lawyers and the firm.
It is important to recognise that this is not an academic text but intended to be a companion, a source of ideas, and down-to-earth advice. If you are looking to understand the main elements of KM and how to apply it to your work, then look no further. This book is laid out in a readable, easy to follow and practical manner to help and inspire you along the way. Read it cover to cover or dip in when you need, to assist with your work or to help with the next stage of your plan.
Russell sees the target audience as a new Head of Knowledge at a mid-sized regional law firm, most likely a partner who is new to KM and trying to see through KM glasses. Another key reader could potentially be a new PSL, working alone in a department looking to gain some ideas and develop strategies to best support colleagues with limitations of resource and budget.
Those professionals working in other areas of the law firm may also gleen key ideas to identify ways they can connect with lawyers through KM, finding new channels to demonstrate their professional value and business understanding.
Covering all bases from the main KM concepts, definitions and names-to-know are included, along with a little bit of history to provide a context. The neat little summaries provided make a useful source of reference. Throughout examples and tried and tested advice from experts in the market place can assist in shaping your thoughts and ideas.
There are several very useful chapters defining KM, creating a KM strategy, what the benefits can be, and explaining how to manage knowledge. For the reader each chapter is manageable with a few key take-away points to consider and apply to the work in hand. No doubt any initiative tackled will throw up lots of challenges and questions which cannot be addressed by the Handbook, but all of the key components which need to be considered are outlined to assist and shape thinking.
In my opinion one of the most important chapters in the book is the value and measurement of KM. As with any business focussed initiative it is crucial to establish what the tangible benefits can be and how these will be established and measured. Within the professional services arena KM benefits are often intangible, or at least the tangibles are complicated to measure. This chapter addresses some of the main questions which can help the reader to inform their ‘measurement’ thinking, keeping things simple and measuring to inform decision making, rather than for the sake of it.
For me the message of the book is try something simple and build on it. This title has real repeat visit value accompanied by some golden nuggets of advice to help the reader keep it simple… and achievable.
Gillian Watt provides independent advice and consultancy to law firms in all aspects of legal libraries including their procurement, and knowledge management. She is a chartered librarian and accredited Prince 2 project manager.