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Across the country, law firms’ pricey knowledge management initiatives may finally be starting to pay off. Everywhere, firms are assembling searchable troves of “best practice” documents containing memoranda on Hart-Scott-Rodino filings, bridge loan agreements and every other legal topic imaginable. But knowledge management’s leading lights are still figuring out how to capture knowledge from e-mail, the most widely used application on a lawyer’s desktop. Lawyers jumped on the e-mail bandwagon in the mid-1990s. And they haven’t looked back. Today, lawyers routinely use e-mail to send memoranda, mull strategy with clients and mark up drafts of briefs with co-counsel. “The day-to-day work of a lawyer now mostly takes place over e-mail,” says Douglas Caddell, chief information officer at Foley & Lardner. But organizing e-mails isn’t easy. While a case or deal is under way, lawyers mostly just let their e-mails pile up in folders in their Microsoft Outlook in boxes. Once a matter ends, what is left is a heap of scattered information that’s part insight, part reusable work product and part junk. “And your typical e-mail message covers multiple topics,” says Donald Oppenheimer, the chief information and knowledge officer at Boston’s Goodwin Procter. “Folding e-mails into a [knowledge management] system isn’t like folding in research memos that are already organized by topic.” Of course, lawyers are a big part of the problem. Most of the time, they’re loath to go back and organize the hundreds of e-mails that have accumulated by the end of a matter. But help might be on the way. Foster City, Calif.-based iManage Inc. is working on a way to enable lawyers to move their important e-mails into a “common” space in the company’s document management system. It doesn’t exactly solve the knowledge management problem. But it will at least give lawyers an easy way to share important e-mails. And a lot of legal techies think Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tacit Knowledge Systems Inc. might have the long-term answer. Tacit makes a product called KnowledgeMail. KnowledgeMail compiles statistics on all of the e-mails sent from a particular destination and, based on its findings, creates a profile for each user. So, for instance, if the term “Clayton Act” appears repeatedly in one lawyer’s sent e-mails, the lawyer’s profile will reflect a certain expertise in antitrust law. By searching the profile database, attorneys in that firm’s other offices can contact that lawyer when tricky Clayton Act questions arise. “We’re connecting people to people rather than people to paper,” says David Gilmour, Tacit’s chief executive. Gilmour says that a typical law firm’s knowledge management systems take so long to develop because “no one has the time to write down what they know.” But, he says, “with our product, knowledge builds as an indirect consequence of what lawyers are already doing.” When San Francisco-based Morrison & Foerster’s chief information officer, Jo Haraf, saw KnowledgeMail, she was impressed enough to launch a pilot. The pilot met mixed reviews. “Lawyers would post questions to the profile database and get incorrect answers,” says Haraf. “So we decided not to roll it out full-scale.” Tacit’s Gilmour says the Morrison pilot was a “very narrow look” at what the company’s technology does. “And we’re two versions ahead of where we were then,” he adds. No law firms have decided to roll KnowledgeMail out firmwide. Still, Haraf suspects that, over time, KnowledgeMail will get better and more useful. “The technology is absolutely awesome,” she says. It’s just not yet lawyer-proof.

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