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A law firm’s research and knowledge management (KM) capabilities are essential to providing clients with the highest level of service. Given the vast array of online research products on the market, as well as increasingly complex information-management considerations, firms are recognizing the crucial interplay between research and technology professionals, and the value of a dynamic research department. Law firm research and technology staff often have been treated as unrelated, and thus, have been organized under distinct departments, such as the law library or information technology (IT), perhaps occasionally collaborating on discrete projects. An innovative approach, however, maximizes complementary areas of expertise first by formally integrating research and technology under one umbrella and, further, by creating a comprehensive research group that comprises professionals with diverse credentials. This integrated, progressive approach benefits firms in two major respects. First, given that the implementation of new online research tools and KM technologies implicates both content and technical issues, the contrasting expertise of researchers and technology professionals ensures that both aspects are properly considered. Furthermore, innovative solutions to firmwide KM issues are inspired by sharing contrasting perspectives. Technology staff becomes more aware of content issues, and, likewise, researchers gain greater understanding of the technical implications when evaluating new online research tools. This beneficial collaboration can help to build an impressive, well-balanced array of information services to pass on to clients. Second, a research division that has a staff with contrasting areas of expertise quickly becomes invaluable in responding to numerous law firm research needs, including KM initiatives, targeted or practice-specific legal research, competitive intelligence and business-development research, conflicts analysis, corporate and individual background data, new associate research training, customized issue or news monitoring, as well as essential law library functions. Thus, a dynamic research division relies on a team of service-oriented professionals with diverse credentials and a sophisticated understanding of a law firm, such as law librarians, nonpracticing research attorneys, conflicts analysts, senior paralegals and other research professionals. Complementary perspectives As law libraries have shrunk hard-copy collections, replacing them with a wide range of online legal research products, the KM field has become a hot topic among those involved in modernizing law firm research. According to one article, “[s]ubstantively, KM is about making the categorization and organization of knowledge a core competency at a firm.” Tricia Bond & Nola Vanhoy, “ KM and the Law Firm Librarian,” AALL Spectrum, December 2002, at 4. Yet, because law firm libraries often have been viewed as a distinctly narrow aspect of a modern firm, law librarians and other research professionals often did not actively participate in the development of firmwide KM initiatives. Increasingly, however, the valuable expertise of librarians (and other research professionals) becomes readily apparent with respect to content and practical applications: “[A] transformation throughout America’s law firm libraries mandates that librarians become involved in decision-making roles for KM projects . . . .[M]any groups soon find that they lack the content knowledge of what various practice areas actually do to fully facilitate knowledge-sharing projects among attorneys . . . .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.” Id. at 3, 4. Thus, firms became more mindful of the crucial role librarians and other research professionals can play in shaping KM initiatives, as KM engages the very core of their expertise. This inclusive approach also ensures that researchers are continually updating their skills and awareness of emerging technology issues. This not only enhances communication between research and technical professionals, but strengthens the research team’s ability to evaluate new online research tools. This enhanced mutual understanding of content and technology is critical for researchers in order to assess new research technologies, the impact of KM initiatives and firmwide information services as a whole. Integrating a research division into a larger IT framework underscores not only the value of the research perspective on discrete projects, but the ongoing benefit of such a research and technology collaboration. As the authors above note, “KM is not just about technology, and technological solutions alone do not translate into successful KM implementations.” Id. at 3. This ongoing partnership among colleagues with contrasting areas of expertise brings a balanced perspective to a broad range of information and research services, such as firm intranet/extranet design, “knowledge mapping,” work-product retrieval, knowledge sharing, establishing “best practices” for areas of law and evaluation of new online research capabilities. Thus, all KM or research projects can benefit from research and technology staff’s working together as a team with a common goal. Finally, the leadership of a chief information officer (CIO), KM directors or other management is essential to the success of this unified approach. Encouraging ongoing communication between research and technology professionals establishes a collaborative environment to cultivate a greater appreciation of each group’s functions. Emphasizing the shared value of both technical and research perspectives fosters a beneficial partnership, which in turn enhances the firm’s overall level of client service. Beyond fostering regular collaboration between law firm research and technology, a dynamic research department requires a team that has complementary areas of expertise. Thus, a comprehensive research group is built upon a talented staff of law librarians, nonpracticing research attorneys, conflicts analysts, senior paralegals and other research professionals. In addition, a service-oriented, team approach allows the group to maximize its complementary areas of experience, further enhancing its ability to efficiently address the broad range of research needs in today’s firms. A specialized department dedicated to targeted, efficient research makes it possible for attorneys to provide an impressive array of cost-effective services to clients. Firms are recognizing the value of a well-rounded research team with contrasting areas of expertise and a sophisticated understanding of law firm workflow patterns. For instance, U.K. firms have noted the value of specialized research support by creating the role of what they call practice support consultants (PSCs) and practice support lawyers. As one author notes, these professionals are uniquely suited to evaluate and develop a firm’s approach to numerous KM and research issues: “Some progressive firms are evaluating a more broadly conceived ‘practice support consultant’ role. PSCs can be business analysts, applications developers . . . , practice support lawyers, librarians, and experienced paralegals. They figure out what tools and processes will most help a particular practice. PSCs take a ‘blank slate’ approach to practice support. Instead of assuming KM is most important, they go out into the field, talk to lawyers and practice groups, form relationships with them, figure out what they most need, then deliver and support that” (Ron Friedmann, “ Pragmatic Approaches to Knowledge Management,” Nov. 3, 2006). Thus, these specialized professionals draw upon their practical experience to play an essential consulting role on a wide range of KM and research services. A well-rounded and active research department can provide invaluable services not only to specific practice groups, but to an entire firm. For example, rather than turning to a junior associate with billable-hours requirements, partners and senior attorneys can rely on a team of experienced nonpracticing research attorneys to perform efficient and focused legal research in the most cost-effective manner. Unlike a junior associate with numerous duties related to cases, nonpracticing research attorneys are entirely dedicated to the research function, allowing them to concentrate on efficiently responding to targeted requests. Furthermore, librarians, senior paralegals, conflicts analysts and other members of a comprehensive research team can quickly address a wide range of requests, including company information, business-development research, conflicts analysis, docket research and targeted issue and news monitoring, as well as legislative, intellectual property and expert background research, to name only a few. In addition to providing daily firm-wide research support and contributing to KM projects, a vigorous research department has the crucial function of evaluating emerging online research tools. Given its experience with vendor relations, the research department can effectively evaluate new products for content, cost/benefit considerations, potential firm usage and comparison with top competitors. Further, the close collaboration with technology staff ensures that new online research products are suited to the IT environment of the firm. By providing this critical review of new online products, a knowledgeable research team can help not only to ensure that the firm maintains the highest level of research services, but also to avoid costly contracts with duplicative, unnecessary or deficient online tools. Finally, an energetic research department can offer invaluable training to new associates joining the firm. While many firms have research training programs, research attorneys can share invaluable first-hand experience, often drawing from previous experience as practicing attorneys, and present “best practices” to a wide variety of typical research questions. This service is greatly appreciated by new associates, who are also encouraged to maintain contact with the research team for guidance on research projects. Further, senior attorneys and partners feel the benefit of this ongoing training and guidance, as new associates can more independently address research projects with greater accuracy and efficiency. In short, diversity of experience and complementary perspectives lead to a dynamic integration of law firm research and technology resources. With innovative leadership, a firm can foster a creative partnership between research and technology professionals, which in turn enhances its ability to provide the highest level of service to clients. Joanna Hudson-Therway is manager of research intelligence at Washington-based Dickstein Shapiro’s research services department, a division of the firm’s technology and research solutions department

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