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Forward-thinking law firms recognize that investing in knowledge management can improve their competitive position, increase profits, and make practicing more fun. To gain these benefits, some firms hire a chief knowledge officer. The CKO’s mission and work, however, are not always well defined. In this article, I propose a mission statement for the CKO. I also define knowledge and what the CKO must do to manage it. Finally, I offer real-life examples of knowledge management at work and some suggestions as to how to get started at your firm. The CKO helps improve client service and results. A successful CKO helps a firm increase revenue growth and improve profits. To do so, the CKO creates systems and processes to: � Facilitate and foster collaboration; � Discover, document, and disseminate the best approaches to the practice; � Identify experts within the firm and help lawyers and clients find those experts; � Capture work product systematically and allow its reuse; � Empower lawyers to manage and analyze information more effectively; � Deliver the law firm’s know-how and advice to clients digitally; and � Measure the results of these efforts. In short, the CKO manages knowledge. But what exactly is knowledge? One type — the one on which most lawyers focus — is written work product, often called explicit knowledge. Another type of knowledge is typically not committed to writing. For example, lawyers know how to run a deal or how to depose a witness. Unwritten know-how is called tacit knowledge. Let’s look at each separately. Lawyers create written work product by following a series of steps. By “mapping” these steps, I will try to illustrate how explicit knowledge is created: 1. Chart the terrain. Lawyers write documents to solve client problems. They must start by understanding the context of the problem. This can require background reading on the law or an industry and discussions with clients, colleagues, and other parties. 2. Find the “ore.” Once they understand the terrain, lawyers look for primary sources and/or examples of work product from related problems. Legal publishers, online news sources, prior term sheets, clients, and many other external and internal sources supply this material. 3. Mine and refine the ore. Lawyers must then delve more deeply and discover documents, identify relevant facts, formulate arguments, and/or structure deal terms. They winnow a large collection of documents to a small one. In addition to reading, lawyers frequently tap experts in the firm and collaborate with colleagues. 4. Produce a finished product. Lawyers further process the refined collection to create written end products (legal research, client memos, court filings, or transaction documents). Processing typically requires collaboration among many individuals, both inside and outside the firm. 5. Deliver end products. Delivering a document typically triggers discussions with a client, negotiations with opposing parties, or arguments before a judge. These discussions may occur throughout the life of a matter and often form an important part of the end product, whether or not they are committed to writing. Knowledge management proponents often focus mainly on capturing and reusing written product. This is valuable, but not enough. There are many other opportunities to capture and reuse valuable know-how existing apart from written documents. That is why understanding tacit know-how is essential. Lawyers obtain tacit know-how from experience; they synthesize it slowly over time. Tacit knowledge can be discovered, identified, and documented by examining and mapping how lawyers work. One type of tacit know-how is embedded in creating work product. “Finding the ore,” for example, often means searching online legal databases. Seasoned practitioners know how to conduct highly refined searches, but often don’t pass that know-how along. It might be possible to save “expert” searches for reuse, along with comments and a rank of usefulness. Similarly, as lawyers “mine and refine” — that is, review and read search results — their comments could be saved and reused by other lawyers. Today, lawyers’ thoughts about individual documents are often lost, even to the reviewer. An even more valuable type of tacit know-how relates to client service. It may be possible to map best practices for acquiring clients and matters; managing client relationships; negotiating settlements; billing in a way that helps ensure timely payment; training junior lawyers; and counseling clients. This is difficult work, but the payoff is tremendous. One of the main challenges a CKO faces is creating an environment where knowledge sharing is likely to occur. Below, I suggest some ways in which a CKO can address this challenge. Motivation and incentives: Selecting and running appropriate software and systems can be difficult. The bigger hurdle, however, is creating motivation and incentives to share and collaborate. A CKO needs to be as much a diplomat and an evangelist as a technology expert. The CKO must win the support of leading lawyers in the firm, typically managing partners and practice area heads. He or she should also try to get the firm to adopt a partner compensation scheme and associate review system that encourage sharing and collaboration. The CKO needs to visit lawyers regularly and encourage them to work in new ways. Evangelism does not mean hectoring. It means stopping by lawyers’ offices; organizing brown-bag lunches; preparing accounting reports that measure sharing behaviors; celebrating victories; and coordinating with the firm training staff. Intellectual and marketing framework: Knowledge needs to be organized according to the way lawyers think of the law generally and the way the particular firm thinks about its own practices. The CKO should oversee development of a taxonomy of knowledge that helps lawyers find what they are looking for. The CKO must also have a marketing mentality. Marketing here does not mean selling. It means determining the knowledge that is most important, based on the way the firm holds itself out to clients. If a firm has a one-time need to research aviation issues, it may not pay to capture the know-how. But if health care is a critical practice area, then the investment may make sense even if the know-how captured is relatively small on each matter. Organization and staffing: Just as the CKO must work closely with lawyers, he or she must also work closely with staff departments. The IT staff obviously will have a large role in any knowledge management initiative, but so too will the library staff. The finance staff can help develop yardsticks to determine the success of knowledge management initiatives. And the marketing staff can help develop programs to exploit the new skills. The successful CKO probably also needs dedicated staff. During pilot tests, the CKO may be able to rely on existing staff. But the CKO will eventually need technology staff to select, configure, and run specialized software; librarian staff to create and maintain taxonomies; and nonpracticing lawyers to review and annotate briefs and documents. Technology and tools: Many technologies can help create, capture, and reuse explicit knowledge (written work). Examples include document management and full-text retrieval products; software that facilitates collaboration and working from remote locations; templates that guide legal research; document assembly systems; and systems that push relevant information to lawyers. A customized “portal” (an easy-to-use Web page) can provide links to content and these tools. But portal software is not enough. It needs to be stocked with content and kept current. Lawyers must be trained to use it. Separately, the CKO needs to develop ways to capture and disseminate tacit knowledge. In most firms, identifying colleagues who are expert in legal topics, clients, or industries is critical. A CKO can supervise creating a database of substantive expertise. Surveys are effective tools for this, but there is also software that automatically scans e-mail messages and infers expertise based on the contents. It may be necessary to install a customer relationship management system like InterAction. Another key process is managing large matters. Some partners do this well, and others do not. Documenting the best practices and sharing them is a challenge, but one with a potentially high payoff. Anthropology is as important as technology here. Feedback loops: There must be a payoff to a knowledge management effort. The CKO must develop yardsticks based on billing data, surveys of the firm’s lawyers, or client feedback. Without these performance measures, it will be impossible to judge the success of the effort. Delivery models: The CKO should also help the firm deliver its services directly to clients. Ultimately this may be more valuable than developing an internal focus. Many clients expect to access their work product via an extranet. Extranets can also deliver alerts and other useful information to clients. But extranets today are little more than alternatives to e-mail for delivering documents and updates. Forward-thinking law firms can create self-service systems for clients. These systems can intelligently collect information, diagnose legal problems, generate finished documents, or actually answer client questions. As the market evolves, the CKO has the potential to become a profit, rather than a cost, center. How does all this work in practice? In recent years, Lucent Corporation’s law department created a formal program to capture, share, and reuse know-how. It created small, self-directed teams of lawyers that were given substantive responsibility within well-defined subject matter areas. The teams discover and share best practices and knowledge within their domain. “If you put lawyers in an environment where their job is to share knowledge within a narrow subject area, they are infected with a culture of knowledge sharing that spreads to everything they do,” says W. Preston Granbery, corporate counsel. Lucent also has an electronic forms book containing standard documents for a large percentage of the work Lucent lawyers do. “The time saved in the use of the electronic forms book alone justifies the costs incurred, and that is not even counting the value to the clients of the increased responsiveness and consistent quality of the legal services they receive,” Granbery says. Another example is provided by St. Louis’s Bryan Cave, which recently created an online advisory system. “Trade Zone” collects information from clients about importing or exporting goods. It flags potential problems and can connect users to Bryan Cave’s lawyers for further assistance. “When lawyers talk about knowledge management, they too often limit their focus to tangible work product,” says John Alber, the partner who oversaw the project. He says that for knowledge to be truly valuable, it must be broken apart and repackaged. The lawyers who created Trade Zone used existing work only as a guide to building discrete branches of a decision tree. “This was a huge commitment. This effort is neither easy nor quick. The result, however, is on-point for clients, and the payoff is extraordinary, both for the client and the firm,” says Alber. It’s not easy to start an effort like Lucent’s or Bryan Cave’s. Here are a few simple first steps. 1. Develop a list of priorities in consultation with practice heads and other influential lawyers. This process lets you both gather information and start selling the concept. This is also a good time to work on developing performance measures. 2. Establish an initial organizational structure and assess available resources. This requires reviewing the reporting relationships in and the staffing of all departments that help manage information. The CKO should work with firm management and the human resources department to win approval for staff, software, consulting, and database services. 3. Achieve visible successes. The rollout of Web-based tools can be particulary effective. In most firms, there is a fair amount of low hanging fruit. Reach for it. Make some short-term changes that are valuable and noticeable. 4. Develop a mid-range and long-term plan and start gaining support for it from the partnership. Finally, stay committed for the long haul. Ron Friedmann was director of computer applications at Washington, D.C.’s Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and director of the legal applications division of New York-based Jnana Technologies, which he left in late 2000 to join a startup. A dot-com casualty, Friedmann is assessing his next move. [email protected].

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