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Perspective: The Rise of Legal Knowledge Management

Editor’s Note: The author of this post is a legal technology and management consultant.

By Ron Friedmann, Fireman & Company

Legal knowledge management appears to be on the rise. The definition of KM that I like best is the art and science of capturing and re-using legal know-how and identifying colleagues with relevant experience.

Given corporate pressure on legal budgets, and general counsel pressure on law firms in turn, it’s no surprise interest in KM has grown. KM boosts lawyer productivity, a key ingredient to deliver better value. I use productivity here in the common sense of the word, output per hour, not in the law firm sense of billable hours per year.

Let’s look at what recent evidence tells us about the rise of legal KM. The 2016 Citi-Hildebrandt client advisory expects “to see more focus on knowledge management.” The 2015 Altman Weil law firm report finds that 68% of firms with 250+ lawyer firms have KM initiatives to improve efficiency.

If we look just at KM technology, Mitratech, an enterprise legal software provider, just released “Catching the Wave”, a survey of legal tech spending. It found that law department spending on KM technology will grow at 18% for the next few years. That is one of the highest growth rates in some 10 categories of software. I hope that growth rate holds: I hear too many stories of in-house counsel who pay for the same research or other legal work twice because they have no way to track prior outside counsel work.

Two other 2015 events point to the rise of KM. First, the ABA published a book on it: Knowledge Management for Lawyers by Patrick DiDomenico, CKO at Ogletree Deakins. The last legal KM book was published over a decade ago. And second, the Law Practice Division of the American Bar Association started the Knowledge Strategy Interest Group. I do not recall prior ABA efforts focused on KM.

All the survey findings, publication of a book, and new ABA KM group are consistent with the growing interest in KM that I see in my own consulting practice. So, what exactly do KM professionals do?

To answer that question, consider a survey conducted in connection with an annual private meeting global legal KM professionals. Oz Benamram, the CKO of White & Case, Mary Abraham, a consultant, and I organize the meeting and run the survey. The chart below shows priorities of large law firm KM professionals over the last three years.

priorities

You may be surprised at the breadth of what KM professionals do. In the early days, around the turn of the century, the focus was mainly on creating precedent and taxonomies and building portals. The KM part of the focus grew to include enterprise search, experience location, expert systems, and collaboration tools. While the KM toolkit grew, so too did the remit of KM professionals. Today, many support alternative fee arrangements, process improvement, and legal project management.

This survey also provides evidence of the growth in KM. This year, almost 90 people from multiple Anglo-law jurisdictions answered the survey, up from about 60 in 2014. We have had an almost equivalent corresponding percentage increase in attendance of the meetings. (For a complete survey write-up, see my Strategic Legal Technology blog.)

For in-house lawyers, KM can improve efficiency of their own lawyers. And it can avoid paying law firms to do the same work more than once. Law firms can also improve efficiency. Plus firms can use KM to improve their service delivery, perhaps the only sustainable way to differentiate today.

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