Last Friday (9/19), I attended an all-day meeting of KM professionals from large NYC, Toronto, and West Coast law firms that I co-organized and co-moderated. Separately, last Tuesday (9/16), at Legal Tech I co-presented with Kingsley Martin on KM; our topic was determining an organization’s readiness to undertake KM. Both events were interesting and useful exchanges of current law firm KM practices and illustrate the many different approaches possible. I will use this posting and a couple of additional ones to explore some of these different approaches.

I’ll start with my presentation with Kingsley Martin. Kingsley and I have been professional colleagues and friends for many years. He is the author of a West-published KM workbook (really, an extensive treatise) and an article titled “Show Me the Money” – Measuring the Return on Knowledge Management, among others. Like me, Kingsley is a consultant, a lawyer, and has years of experience focusing on technology in large law firms.

Kingsley’s favored approach to KM is to collect, catalog, and classify a firm’s work product as the first step. Using automated tools such as LexisNexis Total Search or WestKM, it is possible to gather a significant portion of a firm’s work product with relatively little human intervention.

I agree that this is valuable. For firms unwilling to invest lawyer time or employ numerous non-practicing lawyers to gather and catalog work product, it may be the best and only feasible step. My reservation is that this automated approach may not create a “feedback loop” within the firm that shows that the activity is worth continuing. Many firms undertake KM programs but most do not put in place metrics to assess whether the program is succeeding. Without measuring the impact (for example by monitoring usage or surveying lawyers), it may be impossible to ascertain the return and the value created.

My favored approach is to start with a practice or sub-practice group that wants to define a set of best practices. As part of their best practices, they would inevitably need to define model documents or collections of research as “inputs” into the best practices. A forward-thinking firm would use the best practice both for marketing to clients and for internal “production.” Especially if the best practice is “exposed” to clients, either directly through some type of web-based access or indirectly through relationship management, the likelihood is that the appropriate feedback would occur to sustain the effort. As firms see the value in discrete and measurable settings, it might create more support for a broader effort.

Of course, neither Kingsley’s “broad” nor my “narrow” approach is mutually exclusive; moreover, the right approach depends on many factors, especially a firm’s culture and business. In fact, for a firm committed to KM, there is merit in using both. We had fun presenting in point / counter-point style and hope that our friendly “reasonable people can disagree” approach helped illustrate the choices firms face.