More from the Ark Knowledge Management Conference in Chicago. A real time report on “The Evolution and Impact of the PSL Model”  

John Worall, a Practice Support Lawyer at White & Case, presents on “The Evolution and Impact of the PSL Model.”

The London office has 400 lawyers and 12 PSLs. The PSL program at W&C London started in London in 2000 and now has PSLs in multiple offices around the world. PSL role emerged as a way to stop re-inventing the wheel. “Law firms need to realise that knowledge and experience are the core and rationale of their very existence.” (Stephen Mayson book).

The ratio of lawyers to PSLs in London is 1:26 (PLC 2003 survey). London offices of US firms have hired PSLs because London-based lawyers expect this. The typical PSL is quite experienced (minimum of 4 or 5 years, often much more). PSLs are practice group based, internal facing, 100% non fee-earning, work fixed hours (some part-time), are paid less than fee-earning lawyers (typically 10 to 20% less), and report to local partners and central resources. Achieving work-life balance is one motivator to become a PSL. But its important to make sure that candidates will enjoy the work.

Activities of PSLs:
– standard forms (“models”)
– create, capture, store, and deliver know-how
– training
– current awareness / legal updates
– research
– attend professional meetings
– business development and marketing

Specific KM initiatives at W&C:
– Intranet
– International law firm directory
– Knowledge bank

In knowledge bank, auto-summary from software is not that useful. So paralegals work aside PSLs to produce document descriptions that make finding and re-using documents easier. The know-how search system ONLY includes vetted and described documents. The PSLs are gate keepers for what goes in the system.

How PSLs make KM happen:
– Active presence in practice
– Credibility with practicing lawyers
– Create as well as manage knowledge
– Assess IT from lawyer perspective

KM Benefits:
– Recruitment and retention
– Capture expertise
– Consistent work product
– Efficiency
– Risk mangement
– Cheaper than using equivalent associates
– Lets fee-earners be more billable
– Increases profits on fixed fee work
– Reduce time written off
– Leverage

PSL success requires institutional support. An element of lawyer evaluations focuses on contributions. This makes KM a part of a lawyer’s job.

Future challenges:
– Outsourced professional support (e.g., Practical Law Company)
– Automation and IT challenges
– Career development
– Meeting client expectations that firms will share know-how for free