Two recent articles remind me why US law firms should focus their knowledge management efforts on automated approaches. 

The September Harvard Business Review reports in Create Colleagues, Not Competitors on knowledge sharing in executive recruiting firms. Researchers found that e-mail traffic (and therefore presumably knowledge sharing) among professionals is much higher where compensation incentives focus on group rather than individual performance.

My friend Eric Mankin, a business innovation expert, in his weekly update titled Forced to Change, writes about the challenge of changing behavior. He notes that even when individuals face serious health threats, the chances are 9 to 1 against the person changing dangerous behaviors. Similarly, organizations typically change only in the face of powerful external motivators such as supply disruptions, new regulations, or new competitors.

So change is hard and behavior follows external incentives. Law firms should therefore not expect lawyers will change how they work to share knowledge absent significant changes in compensation and difficult change management programs.

Consequently, automated solutions that tap existing information to share and re-use knowledge are much easier to execute than approaches that assume lawyers will work differently. For example, I recently affiliated with Practice Technologies, developer of RealPractice, a work product retrieval solution that makes it easy for lawyers to find useful work product from all other lawyers in the firm. The only behavioral change is learning to use a very simple, Google-like interface.

Other products that help automate KM include West km, LexisNexis Total Search, and enterprise search products such as Recommind and Autonomy. Except for firms willing to engage in big organizational change and/or hire many practice support lawyers or staff who manually collect and catalog information, automated solutions like these or RealPractice seem to be the logical choice.