Last week I posted two items related to knowledge management: “Advertising Practices Applied to Law Firm Marketing” discussed mining documents to determine client interests; “Relationship Mining” described software that allows determining who knows whom within an organization.

After writing these, it occurred to me that some lawyers may wonder why KM systems are necessary. Of course, addressing this is a big topic, so I will only touch on a couple of key points. One reason systems are needed is that memory is imperfect. An example illustrates this point. In 1990, I was involved in creating work product retrieval systems at Wilmer Cutler. A managing partner wanted to use the system, so I showed it to him. He did a search and reviewed the documents returned. One of them caught his eye as being particularly on point. He became curious who the author was. When he scrolled to the end, he was surprised to find that he himself had written the document a couple of years earlier. We both had a good laugh as we realized we had just demonstrated the value of the beta system. In my experience – observing my own workings and others’s – it’s just hard to remember everything you’ve ever written.

Just as we don’t always remember what we have written, we don’t always remember, especially out of context, whom we know. Even a lawyer inclined to answer an all-points e-mail asking “does anyone know someone at company XYZ” may not, in a vacuum, remember that she in fact has a contact there.

The automated systems I described last week would do far more than jog memories. But as law firms consider how technology can advance their business, it is useful to keep in mind that even seemingly simple things like remembering what you’ve written or whom you know may not be as easy as we think. Technology can help with this – plus do far more.