How to Start a Knowledge Management Program

International Legal Technology Association’s Annual Conference presentation on how to start a knowledge management program.

Speakers:

  • Cherylyn Briggs
     Director, Knowledge Management, Dickstein Shapiro LLP 
  • Mara Nickerson
     Director, Professional Development, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
  • Elizabeth Ellis
     Partner, Torys LLP
  • Nola Vanhoy
     Director of Practice Innovation, Alston & Bird LLP

My Notes:

This is the first session for me at the ILTA conference

Organization and Leadership

Who should lead a knowledge management initiative?  There were professional service organizations that were doing KM long before law firms got on board. There is no right answer or wrong answer. It depends on the culture of the firm and the leadership of the firm.  Inevitably, you are going to be stepping on someone’s toes.  KM tends to stick its fingers in lots of different areas, both legal and administrative.  That means you may be intruding into an existing area.

It may work having KM under the CIO/IT dept. (You can do KM with technology, but it just makes it harder.) 

There is a generally a good synergy with the Library. They hold lots of substantive information and are used to finding and organizing substantive knowledge.

Most important is finding a champion. Who in the organization really understands KM and wants KM to succeed? It is easier to start off as part of an existing sphere of influence.

The Stealth Approach

Don’t label it as KM.  Start small and create success, then build on these. It may be easier to get resources dedicated once you can show the value.

Identifying and Prioritizing the Need.

Start by making sure that KM is aligned with the firm’s business plan.  If the firm is planning to expand, find ways for KM to add value in the expansion. As a firm gets bigger, you need better tools to find resources and expertise.  Look for piles of documents and information on shared drives or disparate locations.  Look for silos of information that could benefit the firm by being more open and accessible.

Cherylyn shared two stories from Dickstein Shapiro, they cataloged a hard copy collection of information and published it to the firm’s intranet. The second step was an early implementation of WestKM.

It also important to highlight that KM is not about purchasing a single technology program. There are technology tools that are useful for KM, but there is no single application that will solve all of the KM goals.

How do you pick the first KM project?  Research first. Find out what other firms have done and how successful they have been.  Then find the pain points inside your firm.  It is better to find an existing pain point to create early value, instead of a high level, conceptual or expensive project. Look for existing activity that is KM, but does not have a KM label.  Lawyers are always doing knowledge management, just not intentionally. (Let’s face it. Lawyers sell knowledge. They collect their own knowledge resources. Knowledge management is really about knowledge sharing.

Getting Management Buy-In

Be realistic when you start. Management sees KM=cost.  You need to show value. It is hard to show ROI, but you can gather success stories to show value. Tangible examples can sway management. Pictures and real-life examples work best for showing the benefits.

Knowledge management is all about context.  It is about substance, not technology. Lawyers deal better with other lawyers. It is better to appeal to the lawyers and get them to understand the need and the problems that need to get solved. If you are in KM, you need to talk with the lawyers.

Knowledge management needs to be institutionalized.  We need to keep people from building silos.  KM is about integrating information and making it accessible, wherever it may be.

Download the presentation, reading list, and speaker bios

My ILTA Schedule

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