Last week at the Marcus Evans Law Tech Forum in NYC, Phil Crowley, Assistant General Counsel of Johnson & Johnson and I presented on knowledge management in corporate law departments. 

We discussed the demand for KM and processes, technology, and staffing to support it. Though law departments do not face the billable hour barrier as do firms, KM is no cinch for them.

J&J is fortunate and unusual in having a dedicated KM person and, as a result, has done some interesting KM work. For example, the law department created a practice guideline on the corporate Intranet to guide business people through the process of divesting a business. I am partial to this because I think that documenting processes is an under-developed aspect of KM. Separately, the company has crystallized significant legal information in an e-learning and compliance system that reaches all employees.

Phil emphasized that KM is about process and culture, not solely technology. Since in-house lawyers are no more willing than law firm lawyers to “do extra work” for KM, law departments do not have any “magic bullets” that law firms do not. Both benefit from dedicating the efforts of “practice support lawyers” or equivalent in pushing the effort. Given the economic barriers to dedicated staffing, however, we also discussed some emerging automated paths for doing more KM.

One path is “baking it into the business,” meaning capturing additional information in established processes. We explored the potential for “baking in KM” to case/matter management. Phil confirmed what I have often heard, that law department matter management systems are a bit like manual KM systems. They rely on lawyers doing something extra (with nothing in it for them personally), so they are not uniformly used. We agreed though, that law departments with the collective discipline to use matter management probably have lurking KM opportunities.

Another automated path to better KM is deploying a specialized KM tool. For example, many law firms are evaluating or deploying RealPractice or West km. These products seem to have less traction among law departments. [Full disclosure: I work with Practice Technologies, Inc., the developer of RealPractice.]

In sum, I would say that law departments are fellow travelers with law firms on the KM road.