By: Kimberly Stein, Thomson Reuters
“Doing more with less” is increasingly the mantra that corporate law departments are living by. A recent survey by Thomson Reuters found that reducing outside legal spend and managing limited internal resources are two of the top challenges cited by general counsel and decision makers in law departments.
As a result, not surprisingly, implementing knowledge management technology was listed as one of the top priorities for improving efficiency, second only to electronic document storage.
By leveraging a law department’s existing legal work product, knowledge management helps companies avoid “reinventing the wheel” when similar matters recur. The process of legal research and writing becomes more about adapting previous work product to meet the precise needs of a current matter and less about creating legal documents from scratch. Knowledge management can greatly enhance efficiency in a wide range of matters, from contracts to litigation to regulatory matters and more.
Knowledge management also can help maintain consistency in complying with company policies and practices, even across internal teams or multiple outside counsel. And it enables the law department to retain its institutional experience and knowledge through personnel reassignments and turnover.
While knowledge management can be an effective tool for streamlining workflows and improving internal efficiency, there are several steps organizations can take to help maximize the gains in efficiency and reduced costs:
Understand the Needs of the “Customer”
Even a global enterprise can often be thought of as a series of related business units. Though they may share common goals, policies and practices, each business unit likely has its own distinct strategies, legal needs and methods of interaction with the law department. Understanding the differing information flows across the enterprise can help surface the unique knowledge management needs for each business unit.
Integrate with Project Management
Legal Project management is becoming increasingly essential for delivering work with more effective planning, cost control, scheduling, resource management and risk management. Whether the matter is handled entirely in-house or together with outside counsel, incorporating knowledge management can improve the effectiveness of project management. It can provide a thorough assessment of the available knowledge resources that can be applied to the matter, helping to more accurately forecast the effort required to complete it.
Build a Culture of Sharing Knowledge
While teams in law departments routinely collaborate closely on most matters, knowledge management presents an opportunity to encourage team members to elevate knowledge sharing to a new level. Knowledge management activities can also be incorporated into individual goals and objectives and annual performance reviews.
As is the case with many technology solutions, working closely with the IT department to understand needs, uses, workflows, etc., can be a major factor in successful implementation of knowledge management technology. In addition, IT can often provide assistance with user training, fine-tuning of search capabilities, and more.
Leverage Training & Development
If the organization has a formal professional training and development department, a knowledge management system can assist by creating effective training programs for existing employees and new hires. It can also provide on-going refreshers and updated training.
Adopting a knowledge management system can be a daunting proposition, and it may be easier to build it in a series of small steps rather than one giant leap. Even small departments can reap significant benefits from knowledge management solutions. And a small but effective knowledge management program can help demonstrate the benefits and build a business case for expanding the program.
Leveraging Outside Counsel
A knowledge management system doesn’t just increase the efficiency of in-house lawyers, it’s also an increasingly common technology within law firms. It improves the efficiency of outside counsel work and helps companies avoid scenarios in which they are paying firms to do the same work more than once.
Firm efficiency is increasingly being used as a criterion by law departments in evaluating incumbent outside counsel. Some law departments are specifically inquiring about firms’ use of knowledge management in their requests for proposals as a means of evaluating their commitment to maximizing workflow efficiency. At the same time, many firms are pointing to their use of knowledge management to distinguish themselves from other firms.
Maximizing Information Assets
Information is one of the most valuable assets of a legal department. Knowledge management can be an effective way for law departments to increase efficiency, reduce costs, better allocate resources and improve management of outside counsel.
A properly implemented knowledge management program can help ensure that information resources are used as effectively as possible, benefitting both the department as well as the entire organization.