After deciding, about ten years ago, that I wanted to be The Contract-Drafting Guy®, one of the first things I did was contact every law-firm “knowledge management” person I could track down, so that I could discuss with them how I might help their firm put its contract-drafting process on a rational footing. The response? Lots of crickets chirping.
I subsequently figured out that law-firm KM people were too busy trying to avoid utter irrelevance. And since then KM has lost whatever buzz it had. The spotlight has moved on—currently it’s trained on “social media.”
If you ever thought the notion of KM made sense, I have some depressing reading for you: this post by Greg Lambert on 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. In it, Greg shares some thoughts prompted by a recent KM conference, leading him to wonder “if KM just needs to be scrapped at law firms altogether.”
What caught my attention was one of the comments—presumably offered by a panel member—that Greg says he heard at the conference:
When asked about “who” creates the documentation behind a firm’s model documents resource, the answer was that this would be a good opportunity for those in KM who were former practicing attorneys. (Translated: “You’ll need to have someone in KM do this, because no one else in the firm will.”)
I agree with Greg—if your attorneys play no part in your template initiative, that doesn’t bode well. But law firms are ill-suited to implementing and maintaining a rigorous template initiative, so benign neglect may be the best that you can expect. (For more on that, see this October 2009 blog post.)
But there are exceptions. Wilson Sonsini comes to mind; see this April 2009 blog post.
Aside from issues that relate specifically to law-firm template initiatives, a broader existential problem for KM is that knowledge, aka information, is increasingly a commodity, and the real action is in applying information to the facts. That’s why law firms are increasingly outsourcing the KM function to vendors such as the Practical Law Company. And that’s where Koncision comes in.
In any event, I no longer seek out KM people at U.S. law firms. (As with so many other things, Canada is a different matter.)
2 thoughts on “The Irrelevance of Knowledge Management”
I certainly agree with Greg's perspective in his blog entry, as well as your nuances above.
This discussion could quickly lead to one that examines the law firm business as a whole, and its lip service to collegiality. Law firms do a poor job of hiding the fact that they are rarely firms in the sense of how that word is used in non-legal settings and are essentially barely held-together confederacies of independent businesses (solos or small teams grouped by cults of personality) that have little to gain from collaborating/sharing their knowledge and skills even within said 'firm.' If you look at the motivations that drive those lawyers in that system, it actually makes perfect sense that they would be unresponsive to pleas to share their individual knowledge with the collective, since that gives away the very thing that keeps those individuals relevant and able to earn a living in that system.