A new report on knowledge management from the UK highlights KM best practices, barriers, and outcomes. 

The February 2011 report, The Knowledge Imperative (14-page PDF), is by OMC Partners, a “a management consultancy that works with leading legal and professional services clients to reduce costs while increasing the effectiveness of their operations.” The KM report was commissioned by the Practical Law Company (PLC). (For additional OMC reports, see the OMC News & Events page)

To write this report, OMC interviewed 50 lawyers, knowledge managers, and other professionals at 10 leading UK law firms. It is not a “how to KM guide”; rather, it provides an overview and brief analysis of KM best practices, barriers to KM, and the benefits (outcomes) that can be realized when KM is done effectively.

The findings suggest an optimal ratio of Professional Support Lawyers (PSLs) to lawyers (at 50 to 1). The findings and analysis suggest that firms should rely on a 3rd party service for significant KM support:

“Creation of generic knowledge is pushed ‘down or out’. That is, it is either allocated to cheaper internal resources or passed to external providers, benefiting from economies of scale. There is an openness to collaborating with external providers, creating strategic partnerships that help the firm meet client demands.”

Given the impact PLC has had over the last decade on the number of PSLs in large UK law firms, this finding is not surprising. From my day-job perspective working for a legal outsourcing provider (Integreon), I have long believed in the compelling logic of relying on a “shared service” where possible. PLC is, of course, an example of this. Prior to its advent, a significant portion of PSL work across UK firms was duplicative and did not provide competitive advantage. By relying on PLC, many large UK law firms have been able to reduce the ratio of PSLs, allowing them to focus on higher value, firm-specific, competitive-advantage creating work.

The report is also a good reminder of the difference between the US and UK market when it comes PSLs. Few large US firms, at least in their US offices, have PSL ratios even approaching those commonly found in the UK. (Some large US firms are now increasing the number of PSLs though in my view, it is premature to call this a trend.)

Experienced KM professionals will find few surprises in this report; nonetheless, I recommend reading it. It has a business perspective meant to appeal to law firm management, a perspective that KM professionals must always keep in mind.