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Law firm librarians may have had more exposure to knowledge management or “KM speak” than their academic counterparts. But there is still much confusion about KM as a process, its potential for law firms and how the law firm librarian fits into the overall picture. Thomas Davenport and Lawrence Prusak’s “Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know” remains an essential reference tool for librarians who want to understand the essence of KM. People processes, such as knowledge generation, knowledge coordination and knowledge transfer, pervade the book. Just one of its nine chapters is devoted to technologies for knowledge management. KM is not just about technology, and technological solutions alone do not translate into successful KM implementations. Though librarians in law firms can be viewed as indispensable brokers of information, status issues that continue to plague the profession leave many librarians out of the decision-making loop. Some law firm librarians face credibility issues in influencing the knowledge management agenda and motivating their firms’ opinion leaders. In “Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart,” Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day warn that much of a librarian’s work is misunderstood or undervalued. Law firm administrators have often perceived libraries as overhead or as an indirect or inconsequential influence in financially successful outcomes. As a result, librarians are frequently limited to internal matters only and rarely have direct contact with a firm’s clients. It is no surprise that when a high-profile topic such as KM comes along, many law librarians once again find themselves on the back burner in developing these projects. However, a transformation throughout America’s law firm libraries mandates that librarians become involved in decision-making roles for KM projects. AmLaw Tech’s June 2002 issue, “The Incredible Shrinking Library: Polling Librarians: Fewer Books, More Responsibilities,” featured articles detailing the reduction of print resources in law firm libraries throughout the United States. The articles stressed the direct correlation between the shrinking size of the print library and expanded use of online legal research tools in law firms. The push to move the legal research library on to the attorney’s desktop has created an expanded role for law librarians within their firms — if they embrace the change. Many firm libraries report through their information technology departments. The KM function often reports through IT as well. The marketing department occasionally has greater status within the firm and champions the KM agenda. A few U.S. firms merely claim to be undertaking KM as a marketing ploy, according to Stuart Kay’s “Benchmarking Knowledge Management in U.S. and UK law firms,” an online version of which can be found at The number of vendors advertising KM solutions at the exhibit hall at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Law Librarians in Orlando, Fla., demonstrated how hot a “marketing” topic KM has become. But knowledge management is not about publicity, marketing and purchasing software. It’s not about advertising to clients that a firm is “doing” KM. Substantively, KM is about making the categorization and organization of knowledge a core competency at a firm. No matter who embraces the name, many groups soon find that they lack the content knowledge of what various practice areas actually do to fully facilitate knowledge-sharing projects among attorneys. Enlightened information technology departments and marketing directors recognize the expertise of the firm’s library staff early in the process and give them responsibilities over content issues in KM projects. Librarians are the ideal knowledge managers because their expertise is in retrieval and organization of information. What separates law librarians from most other legal professionals is that they understand how to find information of value, how to distribute that information and how to make it behave. However, librarians must understand more than just distribution and access. They must ensure that people in the organization actually use the knowledge. Bill Migneron, chief information officer at Shook, Hardy and Bacon in Kansas City, Mo., acknowledged the importance of choosing the library director as project manager for his firm’s portal implementation. “It was key to have someone with a strong grounding in the culture of [the firm] to lead this project…. It also needed to be someone who holds the concept of knowledge sharing near and dear,” he said. Because of librarians’ traditional roles as “indexers and catalogers” of information, their first KM projects often involve studying and developing the taxonomy for the firm’s intranet. As librarians begin to lead knowledge management initiatives, where do they focus their energies? Knowledge mapping is one of the most useful strategies. That technique allows the librarian to track sources of knowledge so that the organization knows where that knowledge resides. Mapping can be accomplished with slick pieces of software, but the best results are derived when workers get involved and take on the mapping process manually. For example, librarians at the law firm of Alston & Bird in Atlanta are interviewing attorneys and staff to identify valuable content and discover where the organizational knowledge exists. This mapping process allows the librarians to recognize and organize the firm’s needs, ranging from legal education and research to rainmaking. As a result of Alston & Bird’s knowledge mapping, the firm is embarking on other knowledge management projects: a searchable repository of best-practices forms from transactional practice groups, work-product retrieval and a client-demographics database. The newest challenge for the firm’s librarians is converging these KM projects and future endeavors into a centralized location — the firm portal. In “Creative Intranets: Constant Renewal Is the Key to Developing Dynamic Sites” (available online at creativeintranets.htm), Susan DiMattia profiles three law librarians who are responsible for developing their firms’ enhanced intranets. At Omaha, Neb.-based Kutak Rock, the director of library and knowledge services leads a team of library, information technology and training professionals in developing the firm’s Web portal. As more law librarians provide the expertise and training to facilitate successful KM projects, their credibility in these roles will be enhanced. Firms will recognize the benefits of their librarians as the librarians themselves become more involved with knowledge management projects. Ideally, information becomes more centralized, processes become more efficient and best practices are synthesized. Firms may even recognize the technological advantages, such as the need for less computer memory space. E-mail attachments may decrease and the amount of “blast” e-mail inquiries may diminish. Opportunities abound for librarians to initiate and champion KM projects. The key is for them to identify these opportunities so they may sharpen their skills, strengthen their influence and bolster their credentials as knowledge managers and as librarians.

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