Markus Coleman explains the three simple steps to effective knowledge management for your firm.
Step 1: centralise
First, take inventory of the knowledge you already have, and centralise it. Bringing all your subscriptions, information services, process notes, etc into one place will enable you to:
- identify duplication and waste
- spot gaps in the information available to your staff, and
- retain knowledge in the event of losing staff members
For example, a firm might have several subscriptions to a publication that were set up by different people, or your firm might still be paying for a subscription that is no longer necessary but has somehow managed to escape the axe.
Going through the firm, systematically identifying both resources and needs, shouldn't take that long, provided at least one person takes ownership of the task.
Once you have identified the various needs within your firm, there are many useful tools that can help you manage this knowledge and information.
These range from highly customizable but somewhat complicated enterprise systems like Microsoft's SharePoint, to free but perhaps less powerful services like Google Docs. Both of these also support version control - perfect for documents that require collaboration or a sign-off process - that will help to de-clutter your inbox from those countless versions of that same document.
Step 2: source
If you are not fully informed on need-to-know issues, this could cause your firm to lose a pitch, hinder your staff from performing at their best, or even land your firm in trouble with regulators.
For example, keeping tabs on competitors will increase a firm's chances of outmanoeuvring them when pitching for a client, while the relevant fee-earners will need to know what that new, key client has been and is up to. Likewise, lawyers need to be kept abreast of new and changing regulations and guidance.
There are several 'out of the box' solutions that can assist firms to keep up to speed on developments that matter to them and, naturally, make sure that the latest Law Society practice note is caught and devoured as soon as it is published.
Services such as Lexis PSL and Practical Law provide easy-to-use web-based services that tap into various news sources (national and international media, Google news, BAILII, gov.co.uk, etc) and offer automated news feeds, available on the web 24/7 and emailed straight into your inbox at your chosen time of the day.
Companies like Linex Systems also allow you to point to a webpage of your choice, be it a company, regulator, or journal, to name but a few examples. The information source will thereafter be continually monitored, while collated emails will notify you of any new content on the pages that matter to you.
By providing high levels of customisation and exhaustive yet relevant alerts for departments and individuals, such subscription-based services are particularly useful for smaller firms that might not have professional support lawyers (PSLs).
Step 3: share
The next step is embedding into your organisational culture a habit of sharing knowledge and systems for connecting important information with those who need it. An army of PSLs is not a prerequisite to keeping ahead of the curve in the fast-paced worlds of law, business or regulation, as services like those mentioned above can deliver many of the same outcomes.
It should be noted that the work involved in centralising, designing and implementing knowledge and information sharing systems is front loaded, as it does take some time and effort to identify the right sources and set up relevant alerts for each recipient. Firms should for this reason always appoint a KM champion or give ownership of knowledge-based services to at least one individual so that momentum is not lost amidst the fog of everyday legal work.
Of course, any automated news system should also be reviewed regularly to ensure there are no new relevant sources, while you should also be aware of the risks involved in any cloud-based computer services.
But the beauty of KM solutions is that once the initial set up is done, the sharing becomes automatic, and the need-to-know news will drop into your inbox in real time or whenever it's convenient to you.
Small steps can bring big rewards
Law firms are particularly knowledge-intensive and information-hungry organisations, which is why firms can gain a competitive advantage by successfully embedding KM practices into their organisational culture. Simple steps like the above can deliver significant wins for law firms, both large and small.
To ensure your firm has good systems in place, you could consider applying for the Law Society's Lexcel Standard, which helps practices develop consistent operational efficiencies and client services, manage risk effectively, reduce costs and promote profitability.