In a Complex World, Even Lawyers Need Lawyers (New York Times, 2/3/04) reports that an increasing number of law firms are creating the position of general counsel to advise on ethics and other issues. It is possible that the GC could become a proponent of knowledge management. 

I do not claim expertise on the details of ethics and conflicts rules, but it strikes me that a KM system could help manage the legal risks a law firm faces in three ways. First, a KM system could be a source of information to check for the existence of parties that might create a conflict. One type of KM system is a transaction database that tracks deals. In some firms, these databases include party names and the record is created or updated at the end of the deal. In theory, a firm should update its conflicts checking system with any new parties after the matter is opened. But it certainly would not hurt also to check transaction databases for party names.

Second, a KM system might also help avoid positional conflicts. Positional conflicts arise when a firm inadvertently takes positions on both sides of an issue.

And third, a KM system can reduce the chance of malpractice by arming lawyers with vetted legal know-how.

I would not try to sell a law firm on KM based on these arguments. But a GC trying to managing his or her firm’s legal exposure might do well to consider how KM systems could help.