I hope the cryptic title piques your curiosity. It’s inspired by Group Mentality: Lawyers Are Moving to New Firms En Masse on law.com and Rick Klau’s KM blog post The Long Tail and KM. They raise questions about institutional and personal motivation to do KM. 

In Group Mentality, The National Law Journal (2/23/05) reports the growing number of groups of lawyers moving firms. “Since the beginning of 2005, several firms have bulked up with groups of attorneys who have decided to find a new home… attorneys’ loyalty to their firms is diminishing… they also start to scrutinize their own firm’s future in the changing market.” Acquiring firms face challenges integrating new groups, from inaction leading to discontent, to motivating native partners to cooperate with laterals.

In the Long Tail, Rick explains that Amazon recognizes significant revenues from books not stocked by stores and asks what if “more than half of the institution’s knowledge wasn’t even captured, let alone leveraged?” The idea is that knowledge, like hard-to-find books, may not be used that often but is nonetheless valuable and should therefore be stored for re-use.

Groups of lawyers moving raise institutional KM questions: how important is KM to a cohesive group of lawyers and how important is it when that group needs to integrate in a new firm. Arguably, a relatively small group can probably do KM by talking to each other, so has little motivation to formalize efforts. But if the group moves, a formal effort can make the group’s expertise known to new colleagues. If, however, groups are increasingly portable, some lawyers may fear sharing too much, especially contacts, since the sharing could dilute the value in the event of another move. I would be curious to hear from readers if they have evidence of which way the sword cuts – does the move of a practice group cut for or against doing formal KM? (My Law Firm Mergers and KM post, which links to a good article by Shaw Pittman director Cindy Thurston, also addresses this issue.)

Rick’s post implicates the individual cost of doing KM. Unlike Rick, I see little incentive for individual workers to take extra steps to memorialize their knowledge on the off chance that someone else may find it useful some day. As I read his argument, making it very easy to memorialize know-how means workers will more likely do so. I suspect that unless a workers think they will personally need the info again or there is institutional incentive to capture it, they will think “why bother?” no matter how easy. Especially with desktop search options exploding, there’s a good chance a search of the hard drive will turn up a relevant e-mail or document. And personally, as someone who has had a lot of experience with search and retrieval, I worry that the more I save, the harder it will be to find what I really want!

Both items are good reminders that the key issues in KM are culture, process, and incentives.