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We’re living in an information era, which means that knowledge can feel omnipresent. Yet firms often lose insights that they’ve carefully developed due to poor knowledge management and retention. This can severely hurt a firm financially. Think of it as having taken the time to develop your competitive advantage – and then promptly forgetting all about it.
So let’s think about how to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
What is knowledge and knowledge management?
As this PhD paper explains, knowledge isn’t the same as data and information; it always possesses a human factor, and can be considered an intangible asset that contributes to a firm’s wellness. Like any asset, it needs to be managed. And it seems that traditional methods of handling human capital, innovation and learning are no longer effective. There needs to be new methods of knowledge management to ensure that a firm’s knowledge does not disappear when the human factor changes – i.e. when fee earners with the knowledge move on or retire.
Why do law firms need knowledge management?
1. Efficiency: Law firms need to increase their efficiency to meet clients’ expectations regarding the quality of work completed. Leveraging existing knowledge in a firm is an excellent way to do this.
2. New competition: In order to differentiate themselves in a globalised and saturated market, a law firm must leverage its unique assets, which are its specialised knowledge and knowledge workers.
3. Leaving/retirement: When a law firm parts with a lawyer to another firm or retirement, they often lose valuable knowledge along with them. Knowledge management ensures that knowledge is retained.
Knowledge management: Best practices
Here are some best practices to ensure your law firm retains its knowledge and grows year on year.
Change the culture
Law firms are traditionally individualistic – lawyers are taught that their knowledge is their prime asset and it shouldn’t be shared. It’s important that you change that culture in your firm. This begins with the senior partners. If juniors in the organisation see their superiors openly sharing insights and experience, they will see that knowledge is a collective asset and will begin to treat it as such.
Use technology to create the right knowledge management architecture
For several reasons, knowledge is often forgotten in law firms. Sometimes, the person responsible for the insight has moved on or retired. Other times, law firms merge and knowledge is erased, or top management changes and the new leaders don’t build on the existing knowledge in a meaningful way, which leads to that knowledge being forgotten.
Creating the right architecture for knowledge management through technology can help to prevent this from happening. Online company pages, for instance, are a great way to familiarise both newcomers and old hands with existing knowledge and insights. These are also easily referenced as and when the need arises. Case management software and company portals are also effective ways to store knowledge. Online company portals allow lawyers to easily search through a firm’s cases, queries, reports and analysis, which allows them to leverage the collective experience of the firm.
Learning is one of the ways in which knowledge is effectively transferred – and it’s a great tool in terms of knowledge management. Human Resources should work on encouraging a culture of learning by, for example, implementing a programme where senior lawyers mentor junior lawyers and are responsible for increasing their knowledge. Similarly, e-learning platforms and courses developed within the firm can be an effective way of training lawyers in the firm’s collective insights over the years.
To find out more about how DPS can help your firm retain knowledge through our software development solutions, get in touch with our friendly team today.