I’ve been interested in the people behind the Head of Knowledge role in law firms for a while now. It is often a role with a wide remit, encompassing difficult issues of organisational psychology with information technology.
What kind of person is attracted to this role and senior KM roles in law firms?
I thought a little research was in order and these are the results. I’ll post some of the answers I’ve received on the last Monday of the month. You can follow this blog using the button on the right.
If you are a Head of Knowledge or senior KMer in a law firm and haven’t taken part yet, drop me a line and join in!
1. How did you end up as Head of Knowledge? Was there a key factor/turning point in your ending up in this role?
After working many years with software and product development I wanted a shift on to something a bit different. I had also recently finished a new master in strategic business development and innovation so a new job would certainly contain these elements.
After entering the market I had several interviews lined up, ranging from pure business development positions to working with disruptive teams. But in pursuing this, a fairly different position caught my eye. I think that the reason for this was that Knowledge management was an underlying topic that I had read with great interest in all the programs in my second masters. So even though it was not what I had envisioned originally, I decided to contact BA-HR when I read about the Knowledge Manager position. After talking to them I was very intrigued by their approach to both new technology and to Knowledge Management. During the process I got more and more persuaded that this was a job that I wanted and luckily I was offered the position.
It may seem a bit strange to work in a law firm and at the same time be very into innovation and technology utilization, but innovation in my mind is necessarily not only about hitting a homerun with the next disruptive technology. Innovation is more often about aiding businesses to utilize technology the best way and in ways that gives them a strategic advantage. This is becoming more and more important to BA-HR and the foundation of my work.
2. What job did you envisage having when you were young?
Sports, math and science were always my favourite topics at school and when ruling out a career in soccer, attending the “Norwegian University of Technology and Science” was the natural choice. I had masters in both “industrial economics and technology management” and “cybernetics” on the top of my list for a while, but just before the deadline I switched to “computer science”. The main reason for this was that I wanted to learn a craft from scratch and that a master degree in computer science would give me the flexibility to work in pretty much any area.
Even though I have abandoned a pure CS career now I really enjoyed the years I worked with software and product development. These years have given me lots of experiences and are a great foundation to any future career.
3. If you could have any job in the world, with no limitations (salary, location, hours, etc.) what would you do?
If I were to work with anything else, it would surely revolve around innovation, product and business development. My ambition now is to modernise the way our lawyers work and the way they share information and knowledge and I don’t plan to give up until I have made this happen.
4. Describe your firm in three words.
Dedication. Skill. Sharing.
5. What is the hardest thing about your role?
Being alone I think. I can discuss KM with pretty much everyone in the company, and our partners in particular are very aware of the importance of KM, but I often miss someone to discuss the in depth and complicated matters with.
Another thing that can be frustrating at times is to explain the underlying challenges and factors that need to be taken into account when working with technology. The good thing is that most lawyers are eager to understand, but on the flip side, most of them have an opinion even if they don’t. Luckily they all listen to reason, so it’s all about my being thorough and patient.
One thing that is not all that hard, but very different from what I am used to, is not being directly involved in the end product. For a decade I developed the product that the rest of the company relied on. What I do now is no longer core business, at least not in the short run. So even though considered very important, my work always comes second to work for our clients.
6. What is the best thing about your role?
The diversity and the possibility to really make a difference. I need to combine a large set of disciplines and have to talk to a lot of people to really understand the way the different lawyers work and interact. This, combined with a very dedicated and clever workforce that appreciates my efforts, makes every day exciting.
As mentioned before, being a bit alone can be hard, but at the same time this gives a lot of opportunities. If I make sure to anchor and quality assure decisions, I have the possibility to dictate the direction of my work to a great extent.
7. What is the biggest change that you’ve witnessed during your career in Knowledge?
I would say amount of information and the importance of search! The information you can find on the web just keeps growing and so does the information that everyone has to browse to find the relevant information for getting the job done. It’s no longer enough, or even possible, to be organised alone, you have to master the art of search. Most people have stopped looking for things, they search for it. At the same time it’s getting more important than ever to put information in the right place and label it with the proper metadata, otherwise it will be lost in the heap.
I would also like to mention a personal observation that has been an eye opener to me. When I really understood the importance of company culture and that technology alone is not the solution to everything, things started to make more sense. In Knowledge Management, and in any other domain for that sake, technology will not solve anything unless it is built around a natural way to do things and how people prefer to work and interact.
8. What three things are you focusing on for the next three years?
Internal communication. Project management. Document sharing.
9. What do you think is the most exciting new development coming in Knowledge work/KM?
When it comes to the law firms in particular, I am confident that cloud services in general will become more and more important in the future. Many sectors are already using this heavily and law firms should shift their focus on to cloud services sooner rather than later. There are still a lot of challenges to be solved, but it’s important to be ready and open and to make the shift at the right time. There is no doubt that this is what the vendors want and that this is their strategy, so in my opinion there is no other option in the long run.
In the debate about cloud services I think that there is too much focus on where the information is stored, this is secondary to me. In time this way of storing data will be both reliable and secure enough for anyone to do this without concern. What is often overlooked is that with these services there lie a lot of possibilities. This technology enables sharing and availability of information on a totally different level, both internally and externally. The ones that manage to embrace this will benefit greatly in my opinion.
As a final note, I think that it is wrong to focus on new developments in the KM area alone. New technology and changes in how we interact and organize ourselves never affect KM in isolation. I think that it is very important to understand how this affects the society as a whole and that different domains are affected differently and at a different pace. Hence, in my opinion, a holistic approach is crucial in trying to predict any future in KM.
10. What advice do you have for aspiring Heads of Knowledge?
No matter the background, I think that anyone can become an excellent Knowledge Manager. The important thing is to be curious and to understand that a broad spectrum of disciplines is needed to master this role, ranging from organisational psychology to business development and technology. In this role you also have to value human interaction and to be genuinely interested in understanding the needs and habits of others. If, on top of this, you listen to your counterparts and take important stakeholders into account when making decisions, you should have a solid foundation.
If you would like to read the next Head of Knowledge Q&A, don’t forget to follow the blog (button at the top right) or sign up for the newsletter which gives a monthly round-up of posts and events (or both of course).
And if you are a senior KMer in a law firm and would like to join in this Q&A series, email me or reply in the comments below.