If your firm has recently increased in size or needs to be more efficient to satisfy its clients, you may be wondering whether Knowledge Management tools can help. This post is for solicitors like you. It aims to be a simple 5 step plan that cuts through the jargon to help you get started.
1. Designate someone as the “Knowledge Lawyer”.
You won’t be able to afford a PSL for each speciality straightaway, but you will have at least one ambitious associate or junior partner, keen to make a name for him/herself. Task them with finding out more about KM and co-ordinating the firm’s efforts. This person needs to have the confidence of the partnership and to speak with their authority.
2.Introduce training in Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)
Equip your fee earners and their support staff with the skills to be more efficient in managing their own knowledge and make them responsible for it, supported by your Knowledge Lawyer. The training needn’t be led by an outside expert, provided your new Knowledge Lawyer has the time and expertise, although an outsider may be cheaper than taking your KL away from his/her fee earning work.
Your firm is likely to move to co-ordinated, centrally organised KM as it grows, but because of the nature of “lawyering”, PKM training is always useful.
3. Encourage each lawyer to become more aware of how they work
Each lawyer should be constantly asking themselves how they work and how they could work smarter:
- What aspects of this work could be put into a workflow/process?
- What information am I reusing each time?
- Where would be the best place to keep/retrieve this information?
- For how long is this information useful/when does it “expire”?
- What aspects of this workflow/letter/document could be a precedent: the whole document, a paragraph, an appendice?
- What top tips/lessons learnt would I pass on to colleagues? What would I do differently next time? What did the client particularly praise or appreciate?
- Can I reuse anything in our firm’s marketing: in an article, blogpost or client seminar?
- What would make my work easier? How much would it cost to implement? How would it further our business objectives?
4. Feed this information back to your Knowledge Lawyer and develop some simple best practices, policies and procedures
Create simple policies and procedures for managing the firm’s “knowledge” and best work practices, tailored to your firm’s needs. Make sure these are simple and adaptable. Don’t lose the opportunity for improvement on existing best practices by demanding slavish adherence to them. These policies are intended to make work easier and more efficient, not add a layer of administration.
As the firm changes and adapts, keep systems under review, but always come back to two simple questions: “How do your lawyers work?” and “How can they work smarter?”.
You may find it cost-effective to get expert help for some aspects of this, but this will depend on your Knowledge Lawyer (how much time they have, how much they could earn for the firm instead, whether they have become a KM champion, whether they are able to inspire people to change their working ways).
5. Connect people to build trust
Once a firm has the basics it needs set up, it gains far more from connecting its staff, building relationships and encouraging conversation, than by investing more in IT systems.
Trust is the key. Lawyers will not risk their own reputation by using precedents that they do not trust, by accepting work practices suggested by those that they do not trust, by cross-selling the services of those they do not trust to their precious clients.
Connect staff in multiple ways (e.g. those with similar work; those with different work but similar clients; those with different work but similar work practices) and for multiple purposes (training, marketing, business management, socialising) to build relationships and trust.
And lastly, your business needs will change as your firm grows, so keep changing, adapting and improving.
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I also talk about starting out in law firm KM in my popular “KM: The Works” training sessions, which are every January, May and September in London. Find out more here.