Making KM work

  • March 06, 2012
  • Lyndsie Bourgon

Once the legal-industry’s most prominent buzz-phrase, knowledge management (KM) has become so ubiquitous, it’s a must-have aspect of the day-to-day running of Canada’s legal firms. Lawyers deal with so much information and they’re constantly looking for ways to manage it — while that used to mean in-house libraries and binders stuffed with years’ worth of internal knowledge, now it means so much more.

KM is now a monstrous industry, offering options for firms of all sizes, structures and focus. Historically, knowledge management style has been divided between countries. In the U.K., for instance, legal KM was developed on a people-focused approach. This means a large number of lawyers have been hired to spearhead knowledge management initiatives — the “KM law - yer” is a job title.

In contrast, the United States has walked down the route of focusing on emerging technologies. This means everything from online cataloguing and search engines, to developing ways to utilize mobile phones and tablets in business.

Canadian firms lie somewhere between the two. Some larger firms have invested heavily (in both time and money) to develop electronic databases and other technological solutions. But a number have also hired and trained dedicated staff that work with other lawyers to effectively develop a way to manage information.Post-recession, this is more important than ever — efficiency, and “doing more with less,” has become key to business and legal operations. “What people are struggling with now, especially in these economic times, is that you’re trying to get the maximum bang for your buck,” says Laurence Detière, partner and director of knowledge management at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP in Montreal.

“Knowledge resides within the larger industry itself,” explains Blake Melnick of the KM Institute. So take a hint from these industries, which have developed effective knowledge management practices:

  • THE HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY: Driven by the amalgamation of hospitals, the health care industry has become a leader in effective knowledge management, especially using digital tools and record-keeping.

  • ELECTRICITY INDUSTRY: Knowledge management is the No. 1 priority in the electricity industry in Canada, says Melnick. “It’s hard to backfill retiring experts with young recruits.” So, treat knowledge like a product within your organization.

Not an easy task. Lawyers — an infamously conservative bunch — are not quick to jump on bandwagons. Getting lawyers of all ages to buy into KM, and to use it in their everyday practice takes some convincing. And ultimately with KM, it’s only as good as the information being shared within the framework.

In the end, experts agree there are three key components that comprise complete KM, and it’s important to get them all in line: people, process and technology. When these three components work well together, law firms can surpass the challenges of swimming in a pool of knowledge, and come out smarter for it.

Find the right tool

Is it the tools that matter most, or the people who use them? This is the omnipresent question for law firms trying to effectively invest in knowledge management. “Our firm is a lean culture,” says Laurence Detière of Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg. “So we’ve aimed at exploiting technology that wasn’t available 10 years ago.” Some of the tools commonly used include:

  • Document assembly tools, like MuleSoft.

  • Web portals like Microsoft’s SharePoint and Dropbox, which allow users to store and share documents online.

  • Autonomy IDOL, an indexing software that makes sorting digital information easy.

  • Evernote, and Microsoft’s OneNote, which combine many different files into one with easy-touse browser. Instead of flipping through printed notes, websites, PDFs, pictures and emails, view them all in one spot, which you can also use to write and edit reports.

  • Intranet software and companybuilt search engines that work the same way Google would. “My philosophy is ‘less is more’,” says Detière. Keep it simple!

  • Yammer, which is billed as “Twitter for the enterprise.”

Lyndsie Bourgon is a freelance writer based in Toronto.