Jeff Beard, aka LawTech Guru, has an interesting post today about KM. In KM Thought of the Day he argues that KM should shift its focus to individual effort in place of institutional effort. I disagree. 

I agree with Jeff that doing institutional KM is hard. I also agree that there is much value in personal KM and personal productivity (along these lines, I recently started a new blog category, Personal Productivity). If we concede Jeff’s point, however, I fear that we will confirm that large law firms are nothing but a collection of solo practitioners sharing some overhead.

In my view, a large firm should offer several benefits to its client, including a broad range of service, deep expertise, and an ability to deploy to large numbers of lawyers on deals or litigation. KM supports offering the range of services and deep expertise. If I were a client, I would not be happy retaining a large law firm if I could not benefit, at least indirectly, from the know-how of the partners and associates of those lawyers with whom I happened to be working directly. Furthermore, if I were a lawyer at a large law firm, I would not be happy if I could not tap into the expertise of my colleagues.

That said, I recognize that institutional KM is a struggle. UK and Australian firms have been doing it with pretty good success for quite some time but not US firms. It seems to me that US firms recognize that they should be doing KM, hence the interest in automated solutions (e.g., Westkm, Recommind, or LexisNexis TotalSearch) if not in more staff-intensive approaches. Also, in my anecdotal observations, which span quite a few large law firms, I see many signs that even firms that say they are not doing KM and are not interested in it and actually have pockets of KM activity operating under other names (or no name).

I agree the challenges are many. But I think the answer is to continue to work at institutional solutions. This does not, of course, preclude supporting individual lawyers’ KM efforts or ways to aggregate those efforts.