Thursday, March 12, 2009

Knowledge Management - on a shoestring!

I was on a marketing course last week called Marketing on a Shoestring - How to Develop your Business in a Recession. It was one of the most useful courses I've attended in a long time - worth every cent, not so much for the marketing savvy and know-how it provided, but more importantly because it remotivated me and made me rethink the ways my business can provide assistance to my clients. What with every newspaper headline, TV and radio broadcast full of bad news about the economy, I now know the recession had become embedded in my psyche and was affecting my own business plans and goals. Now, I'm rationing my TV viewing and radio listening and instead thinking about ways I can help my clients to implement KM best practice without having to raid a bank (or at least, ask for a business loan to do so).

It's important for lawyers to think about KM in the recession; firstly,because they may have more time on their hands to tackle those projects that were put on the back-burner when the Celtic Tiger was in full roar e.g. drafting precedents, assembling precedent banks, finally implementing a uniform house style, developing an Intranet, and, secondly, because they may find themselves in the sad position of having to let some staff go.

The second reason should beg legal practices to ask the question: "Have we effectively managed the work product and expertise of those individuals we now have to make redundant?" Think about it for a moment. As a solicitor in a practice, would you be able to quickly put your hands on the advice given to a client in the last few years or the research undertaken by a colleague who has since left? Also, think about the specialist knowledge that colleague may have accumulated about your clients' business or industry sector in the years they were working for you. Has this knowledge and expertise been shared and transferred to other colleagues in your firm so that you can provide a seamless, continuous and high quality service?

The worst case scenario is that the person who has left did not, in fact ,create documents on the network (but has instead saved them to the computer's hard drive (yes, this does still happen!), has made copies of your valuable precedents and previous client work. Worse still, armed with this valuable information and knowledge could they be now be in a position to take your client with them?

So, with this in mind, over the next few months I will be posting ideas on how you can turn the downturn into an opportunity to finally tackle knowledge management and become a 'work smarter' legal practice. My suggestions will be cost-effective, cost-saving and hopefully inspire you to embrace knowledge management principles - on a shoestring!

About me

I am an Irish-based legal knowledge and information professional. I work with solicitors (and other professional service organizations) to improve the ways they manage their organization’s knowledge and information, so that they can maximize efficiency, reduce wasted costs and so provide the highest quality service to their clients.
Yes, it all sounds a touch vague and waffly! But, the reality is that the greatest asset that a law firm has is the knowledge and expertise of their staff - this valuable resource needs to be managed like any other. Think of the volume of research and documents generated by a professional throughout the course of their working lives - research and documents which could prove valuable to colleagues when advising clients with similar legal problems. And if you have procedures in place which enable your staff to quickly access those valuable research memos or letters of advice you will wind up reducing your costs, working smarter and hopefully have happier staff and satisfied clients.
Of course, this a somewhat simplistic view of knowledge management but when you strip the discipline down to bare bones, it is essentially about putting frameworks and procedures in place which makes it easier to share, access, search and publish and re-use information (documents and data) and knowledge (grey matter/ brain-power/expertise). IT plays a role in knowledge management but not exclusively. Anyone who tells you that knowledge management is only about IT is myopic! Some of the most valuable KM programmes involve a shift in the culture of an organization such as mentoring, reviews of client work or transactions and cross-department information sharing meetings, to name but a few. Of course, many of these initiatives can be supported by the use of technology and the Web but, it’s not all about IT.
I have been working in this area for over 20 years, the last 15 of which in my own capacity as a consultant under my company name, Infoconsult. I have developed an in depth knowledge of the inner workings of law firms and the value of leveraging knowledge as a means to improving efficiency, profitability, brand differentiation and as a key ingredient in attracting and retaining legal talent.