There’s No Knowledge Management Without Document Management

A law firm's success depends on the ability of its staff to learn from one another. With the right systems in place, internal knowledge sharing can be made even more effective.

Lawyer Monthly hears from Javier Magaña García, Technical Director at Lexsoft Systems, who discusses the benefits of using software to enhance a law firm’s knowledge-sharing abilities.

Knowledge management (KM) is experiencing a revival from the early 2000s when there was significant hype around the function. With remote workforces and hybrid work environments set to become commonplace in the post-COVID era, already we are seeing law firms, mid-tier especially, actively considering this function, when pre-COVID they had often considered KM a ‘nice to have’ or even a luxury that was only suited to their larger counterparts. One major reason for this ‘second wind’ is that COVID-19 has hurt intuitive collaboration and informal knowledge sharing in firms, in turn impacting lawyer productivity.

Walk before you can run

However, firms seriously exploring KM need to be mindful that this function isn’t feasible without document management (DM). Any firm approaching KM in the absence of a comprehensive, single repository where documents are stored, shared, and collaborated on, will find that their efforts will likely fall short in delivering the high level of business benefit that this function is capable of. The situation is similar to ‘trying to run before you can walk’. How can a firm capture, assimilate and reuse knowledge if lawyers aren’t even centrally storing and sharing documents?

In many firms, document sharing is so poor that it’s not uncommon for junior lawyers to resort to searches on Google to look for specific types of legal contract templates or precedents when they potentially have colleagues with the experience and advanced expertise in those areas in-house. This is why KM isn’t just about sharing data – the culture of the firm has a major role to play too.

How can a firm capture, assimilate and reuse knowledge if lawyers aren’t even centrally storing and sharing documents?

Document management versus knowledge management

For any KM initiative to be effective, well-structured and thorough DM processes must underpin the programme. However, firms often fail to distinguish between DM and KM systems. A DM system is a central repository where a firm classifies and stores the different types of documents its lawyers produce within designated matter workspaces. So, the classification of documents in a DM system is such that by looking in the repository, a lawyer can know what type of a document a particular file is (e.g., a contract, pleadings, a resolution); who it was created for (e.g., client X), or which lawyer worked on it, and so on. Only one of such values is assigned to the metadata underpinning every individual document.

In contrast, a KM system is a repository of selected documents that contain authoritative information. The classification in a KM system will illustrate things like what the document is about (e.g., revenue loss in the UK), what legal information is applied (e.g., tax and labour laws), which lawyers worked on the document, how many other lawyers have accessed the document, in which jurisdictions were they based, and such. Here several such values are attached to the metadata for all the individual documents. It could be as simple as a calendar date or as text-heavy as an abstract of a document – with all of the above-mentioned values.

Scaling KM

Integrating DM creates a solid foundation to scale the sophistication of KM capability. For instance, a firm could subsequently integrate the KM system with third-party legal web and content services. So now, a lawyer can search the KM repository for, say: ‘the most-used clauses related to labour laws in the UK’ within the documents produced by them individually, or then simultaneously also search across the external databases and content services to find the piece of ‘knowledge’ that is most relevant for the legal issue at hand.

To scale the capability and quality of KM further, the firm could layer on technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to facilitate highly customisable knowledge. As an example, to help identify the firm’s ‘eminent corporate litigation lawyer in France’, the integrated technologies could enable search based on a pre-defined criteria of who is considered an ‘expert’ – e.g., the individual leads the practice, has ‘X’ number of documents published, is the author of ‘Y’ number of original documents, has ‘Z’ number of documents authored on related subject matters, and such.

Similarly, the system could also be configured to apply pre-defined criteria that combines automated scoring for every search result (e.g., most viewed, appearing most in searches), alongside human judgement-led grading by subject matter experts in the KM department – to give a ‘star rating’ (e.g., one, two or three) to every document or piece of knowledge that is surfaced in a search in the KM system.

It’s not hard to visualise how, as the internal DM and KM repositories grow over time, this captured knowledge and intellectual property could provide value to lawyers – for reuse and even competitive advantage.

Knowledge management is essentially about increasing productivity, sharing and collaboration for business advantage. To this end, a long-term view of KM is essential, and it starts with establishing a solid, future-proof foundation for DM processes. It is the first and most important step for any KM journey.

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