On Monday I moderated a session on clients paying for KM (see prior post). Turn out was excellent and the discussion lively. 

Jeff Rovner (KM at Clifford Chance) and Christian Liipfert (senior lawyer, BP) were the panelists. We had a standing-room-only crowd with a mix of law firm and law department and lawyer and non-lawyer attendees. We showed NO slides; instead, the three of us, with much input from the audience, covered a range of issues around whether clients should pay for some KM.

One conclusion is that future discussions will need to focus on more specific KM activities. For now, we laid out some of the general issues. Overall, the willingness of clients to pay for KM seems limited. As moderator, it’s a bit hard to take good notes, but some of the highlights for me were:

  • Clients really want expertise more than anything else. This means firms need to focus on expertise location. Clients will pay top dollar for real expertise, but are less likely to pay for many KM activities, especially tangible KM artifacts (that is, documents)
  • KM is a “way of being” so it’s hard to imagine paying for it. The other side of the coin: even when clients are willing to pay for KM by the hour, it can be hard to motivate lawyers to actually “do KM” (whatever flavor you chose).
  • Firms should be willing to invest for KM where they face a lot of competition or offer services on a fixed price basis. That’s ok as far as it goes, but large law firms tend to “move up the value chain,” meaning as practices commoditize, they tend to do less work in that area and move to new, higher value areas. So the impetus for KM is rarely that great.
  • Firms should ask clients what they want, not just in the way of KM, but generally. The in-house counsel present reported that their outside counsel rarely ask them what they want. For me, the lesson on this point is that the right KM strategy is unlikely to emerge until law firms fix relationship management more globally.
  • The greatest willingness to pay for KM is probably during a matter, to capture intermediate results for re-use during the matter. Perhaps a more accurate way of saying this: sessions to review what worked and what did not and why.
  • There is an argument that law firms do not own the work they produce for clients and, unless they distill it (at their expense) to non-client-specific learning, it cannot be re-used without client permission. (The work for hire doctrine.)

If any readers were present and have other or different take-away points, please comment or e-mail me. I hope to post some material from the panelists in the near future.