Knowledge management may be all about “not re-inventing the wheel.” Just how far can lawyers go in re-using know-how? Can we define “best practices?” 

The consensus answer is “no.” I recently wrote KM Best Practices (, May 29, 2007). This short piece reports on discussion highlights of a panel on KM best practices that I moderated at a February meeting of large law firm KM professionals. In brief

The bottom line is that most large law firms have, at best, only a few ‘best practices’ …. KM professionals should not bother with best practices absent special circumstances… Instead, consider the metaphor the audience evolved: The world is a dark and dangerous place; swamps are everywhere and dry land precious. KM professionals merely help keep the lawyers on dry land by providing some guideposts.

Contrast this with medicine, particularly the warranty surgeons offer for heart bypass surgery, as described in In Bid for Better Care, Surgery With a Warranty (New York Times, May 17, 2007). Offering a 90-day warranty on this surgery required defining and following best practices for about 40 steps. I think everyone acknowledges the complexity of bypass surgery. If surgeons can establish best practices for this, it’s still not obvious to me why lawyers can’t define at least some best practices.