KMers in the legal sector discuss continuously the best ways to improve lawyers’ engagement with KM systems. Do you need top-down support or bottom-up engagement? Do you need “big KM”, “small KM” or “personal KM”? Trying to engage fee earning staff is difficult enough in the good times, when there are plenty of KM staff about. In tough times, when KMers and fee earners are working with one eye on the job ads and one ear open for rumours of redundancy, it feels like an impossible task.
The simple truth is, looking at it from the individual lawyer’s point of view, why should they engage with know-how projects and share knowledge more widely, when they could be proving their value to the firm by earning fees and billing massive amounts of chargeable time? The firm gets the benefit of a knowledge-sharing culture; the fee earner gets the benefit of keeping his/her knowledge to himself/herself. That is why, particularly in tough times, you have to continually ask “What’s in it for me?” (WII FM). Appeal to their rational side and promote knowledge-sharing to your lawyers as the win-win solution.
So, what’s in it for me?
Glory – a young ambitious lawyer may be desperate to distinguish themselves, to be noticed by the partnership as an expert with a specialist niche who is indispensible. He/she will engage with know-how projects which give a payback of face-time in front of partners, such as writing for knowledge databases, notes for precedents, or client-facing KM (newsletters, portals, seminars). It’s important to remember to give credit to these lawyers to prevent their support flagging, but be sensitive if they don’t want to appear to have too much “spare time”.
Please their clients – clients will not pay for their solicitors to work in inefficient ways, reinventing the wheel. Most solicitors will be glad to be able to deliver their client’s work on time at a lower cost than expected, due to the efficiencies KM practices can deliver. Here, it is important to have plenty of ways of sharing the resultant client satisfaction widely, or the possible loss of chargeable hours will put them off.
Develop new skills – contrary to popular belief, most lawyers are keen on life-long learning and developing new skills. Once they understand the benefit of investing a little time in learning a new systematic way to store their work, retrieve and reuse it, and perhaps learn to use new software, they will be pleased to have a new skill for their CV.
Better leverage and more fulfilling work – those fee earners who enjoy the technical detail in their work, can, with help, be persuaded to develop checklists and workflows which can streamline work, removing the straightforward tasks, enabling them to be leveraged to a less expensive fee earner, and leave them free to focus on the technical law and client relationships. The key with these fee earners is to keep their eyes on the prize – the development of workflows, checklists and commoditization of their work can be tedious, so they’ll need support through this phase and plenty of publicity afterwards, about the new leveraged result.
Connecting people and teaching – many fee earners enjoy teaching junior lawyers, particularly through storytelling (not that they would call it that). Work systems which enable senior lawyers to connect and engage with junior lawyers formally and informally have a significant payback to law firms (often better than expensive knowledge databases) and make work more enjoyable for the fee earners involved.
Work-life balance – there is a (small?) minority of lawyers who are confident in their existing roles and like to go home to their families at the end of the day. With a more streamlined process and more efficient access to knowledge databases, these fee earners can finish their chargeable daily targets more efficiently.
The trick with improving engagement, particularly in tough times, is to tune in to each lawyer’s different WII FM and utilise them appropriately. A convert to KM will become a champion for KM, and if you are very fortunate, begin creating a virtuous circle towards a knowledge-sharing nirvana.
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