I am writing a book chapter on knowledge management and preparing for my 10th Annual Ark KM conference panel on ’10 Years Gone: From Content to Tools to Productivity’. To prepare for both, I wrote a brief history of legal KM in tabular format, below.

Beyond wanting to share, I hope to crowd-source corrections and updates. I welcome comments or email. My caveats about this table: limited time putting it together; relied on personal memory and experience; mention products by way of illustration; and wanted to keep it short.

[The Ark KM conference is October 22-23, 2014 in NYC. The link above provides more information. My co-panelist is Joshua Fireman, who also chairs day one. I am consultant with Fireman & Company; we partner with some of the companies that own products mentioned below.]

[Update, end of day, 4 Sep 2014: be sure to see the comment by Harris Tilevitz of Skadden, which provides more detail about the 1980s.]


A Brief History of Legal KM

Decade Initiative Description Issues and Comments
1970 Brief banks Collect briefs in binders and write a simple index
  • Incomplete
  • Index not very useful
  • Limited use
1980 Work product retrieval – 1st Generation – Boolean search Find digital documents with keyword searches
  • Collecting documents from hard drives and file shares difficult
  • Keyword search turns out to generate too many hits of questionable relevance
1990 Work product retrieval – 2nd Generation – Smart search Conceptual search (semantic engines) with better relevance ranking
  • Smart search only somewhat better than Boolean; still too many hits / questionable relevance
  Precedent collections Find, sanitize, index high value, re-usable work product
  • More valuable than work product retrieval
  • But costly to do this – requires dedicated staff (Professional Support Lawyer, PSL)
  Shared, outsourced precedents Practical Law Company offers published precedents
  • Reduces duplication across firms (UK)
  • [Enters US market in 2008 and acquired by TRI in 2013]
  Legal Intranets (~1995) Legal-specific Intranets based on then new web standards (HTML and HTTP)
  • Early Intranets are all manually constructed, mainly collections of links
  • Useful in early Internet days
  • Hard to maintain and few firms dedicate sufficient staff time
  Portals – (~1999) – 1st Generation Enterprise Content Management (eg, Plumtree and Vignette)
  • Specialized software simplifies building Intranets, managing not just links but also content
  • Still labor-intensive to populate and maintain
2000 US law firms hire KM professionals Firms begin hiring professionals to manage KM and experiment with PSL
  • Forward thinking firms recognize the need for dedicated staff
  • The first KM Directors and Chief Knowledge Officers (CKO) are hired
  • PSLs tend to be more context-specific than institutionalized program
Legal Portals – 2nd Generation Specialized products (eg, LawPort) offer legal-specific portal
  • Heavy use of taxonomy, which proves political
  • Experience location (with self-rating, which has has limited uptake)
  • Better content management
  • Still labor-intensive to populate
  • Creates strong awareness that finding experienced colleagues is as important finding documents
  Work Product Retrieval – 3rd Generation – Enterprise Search and Experience Location Better search of work product by tapping multiple sources and using those sources for better relevance ranking (eg, Reccomind, Vivisimo)
  • Arguably the first time computerized search produces truly useful results
  • Automation avoids precedent problem
  • Evolves to finding experience via integrating matter data and time entries
  Enhanced KM retrieval for litigation Lexis and West products to locate firm work product based on citations
  • Identifies firm work product when conducting online legal research
  • Allows identifying jurisdiction, area of law, other metadata (profile information), which improves 3rd Generation search results
2010 Collaboration and social media Web 2.0 and explosion of social media trigger internal law firm experiments
  • Apply Facebook- or Twitter-like products inside the firm with the goal of improving collaboration and reducing email volume
  • Everyone hates the volume of email but no one wants more places to check.  These experiments go poorly.
  Email Filing and Management Advent of tools to automatically file and search email (eg, Decisiv Email)
  • Much legal advice has moved from documents to email but email is hard to manage and share
  • Specialized tools help with filing and searching
  Legal Portals – 3rd Generation SharePoint and other tools (eg, BA Insight, Autonomy) allow more sophisticated, useful, and automated portals with search to populate content
  • Better content and user interface and experience (UI / UX) supports more lawyer use
  • More automation but populating with content still a challenge
  • Building and maintaining takes resources – and governance
  • But integrated view onto multiple information sources and smarter searching creates more value
  • Early gamification experiments suggest it helps encourage contribution and usage
  Specialized practice tools Deconstruct contracts (eg, KM Standards and Exemplify)Due Diligence (eg, DiligenceEngine and eBrevia)
  • KM now deploys specialized tools for specific practices
  Legal Project Management (2013) Many KM professionals lead charge on LPM
  • Not historically a KM function
  • Institutionally, KM professionals are well-positioned and suited to lead, support, and evaluate and deploy tools (eg, Elevate Cael LPM and Prosperoware Umbria)
  Specialized Experience Location (2014) Technology focused only on finding experienced lawyers (eg, Neudesic Firm Directory)
  • Firm Directory is purpose-built experience location tool; automates many back-end data functions and offers many front-end enticements to use
  • This may represent a new wave in experience location