More from the Ark Knowledge Management Conference in Chicago. A real time report on the non-traditional notions of knowledge management….  

Brent Kidwell, a partner at Jenner & Block, presents on the “Changing Landscape of KM in the Law Firm.”

One definition of KM (Wikipedia) is to “identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for re-use and learning across the organization.” Wikipedia also states that there is no agreed upon definition of KM. At Jenner, the definition is
1. Identify and extract existing data
2. Collect new data
3. Manage or manipulate the data
4. Deliver back the results in meaningful manner
5. Refresh and update.

Example of KM at Jenner: One challenge at the firm was to give partners more visibility into what associates were doing and their utilization. A key goal was to optimize lawyer deployment / allocation. The firm had to extract data, then manage and manipulate it. The data came from finance system but needed to be massaged and presented via a web interface so that it was meaningful. The system also needed to be refreshed regularly based on constant stream of daily timekeeping. It is being extended now to include information and analysis that will help match associate professional development interests to new projects. Brent considers this an example a KM project.

Brent’s issues and thoughts about KM:
– Is KM a distinct function in the firm?
– Automated vs. manual KM processes
– Lightweight KM (“KM 2.0”)
– Migrating from overhead (cost) to revenue
– Finding insertion points in every case.

The firm is rolling out a new SharePoint Intranet / portal now. Each practice group will have a blog, wiki, and document library. We see the blog and wiki as a key way to disseminate administrative information throughout the firm. The blog will be for daily, short-half-life information; the wiki will be for information with longer shelf-life. For example, firm policies have all been re-built as wikis; this makes it much easier to update wikis. The firm sees a role for KM functions across almost all firm operations.

On automated vs. manual approaches…. Brent’s informal survey found that most lawyers in his firm and at other’s in the US want automated approaches. Lawyers have trouble sustaining efforts actively to contribute to systems. So interest in automated approaches is much higher, though there are frequent short-lived manual efforts.

On overhead vs. revenue…. Historically, it’s been hard to show ROI on KM efforts. So we end up saying KM can make lawyers’ lives easier, let them work faster. Monetizing KM in a clear way is very hard. But if you like at e-discovery, there are more clearly direct impacts on the bottom line. More generally, consider the continuum of KM to practice support: there are many touch points for helping: marketing, client development, conflicts and new business intake, case management, workflow management, accounting /finance, discovery management, work product retrieval, trial support, records management (RM). Brent sees opportunities for applying KM perspectives to all these areas.

A case study of the “KM continuum” notion… litigation support and e-discovery. Lit supp attributes:
– Challenging and broad collection efforts
– Large data volume (terabytes)
– Processing to usable formats
– “Mining” for knowledge
– Providing robust review environment
– Potentially complex workflow managment
– Risk management and quality assurance
We can view all of the above as KM-related problems to solve.

Question: What are implications of above perspective.
Answer: Brent manages an applied technology group of 12 technologists and data managers. Is very involved in risk management issues. His staff are all fee-earners – they work on specific matters. So they cannot always take on non-billable projects.