Is Content Getting Lost in the Shuffle?

In this post on recent developments in legal publishing, Ron Friedmann posits that knowledge management is evolving “from content to tools to true productivity.” He offers the following analysis:

For much of the 1990s, legal professionals did not even use the “KM word”. Instead, we talked about work product retrieval and precedents. That continued into the new century until we finally realized how hard it is to find work product and to write, maintain, and organize precedents.

Moreover, we also recognized that “content is not enough”. We broadened our focus to finding experienced lawyers and finding relevant matters. Both of these have value in their own right and lead to relevant content. Of course, we were aided by the development of software that automated much of the effort to accomplish all this.

More recently, KM has shifted again and I choose “shift” carefully. Many KM professionals today focus on legal project management, alternative pricing arrangements, and process improvement. In my view this reflects more a discontinuity or abrupt shift than ‘evolution’.

Legal KM, like legal publishers, sees the light: content is only a means to an end. Even software is only a means to an end. The real end, the real goal, perhaps the Holy Grail, is improving lawyer productivity; is solving real problems.

I agree. When it comes to contract drafting, the rawest content, in the form of precedent contracts or static templates, is of very limited utility. It becomes vastly more accessible when you harness it to a technology process, namely document assembly.

So you add technology and … voilà? Well, no. That’s because contract content generated in a copy-and-paste world has been deformed by the copy-and-paste process and all that goes with it: Learning through regurgitation. Perpetuation of flawed conventional wisdom. Absence of rigorous guidelines. Lack of customization. And the notion that contract drafting is a craft—that you can do things your way and I can do them my way, and it’s all good.

So content isn’t sufficient, but it is necessary, and it should be rigorous. Because of its variable quality and limited scope, marrying copy-and-paste content with a document-assembly process leaves a lot to be desired. Content and process should be worked on in tandem.

The sad fact is that the process side of things is the easier part. That’s why when it comes to contracts, content risks getting lost in the shuffle.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.