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Most small law firm professionals assume that knowledge management is financially and technically out of reach, and necessary only at large firms. But those assumptions are false. Many practitioners do not even agree on what KM is. Definitions abound; many are unintelligible. Try this for a definition: Development of the governance and organizational structure necessary to nurture the people and systems that create, preserve, disseminate, protect and renew knowledge, and leverage it to the benefit of the organization’s clients. The only real asset a law firm has to leverage is its accumulated knowledge. Whether it is in the form of the skills, training and abilities of its employees, or in the firm’s library, form banks, documents, and manuals, the firm’s very existence depends on developing, organizing, and protecting these assets so that they may be used to their utmost benefit in service of clients. Some people assume that KM is about technology. Certainly technology provides tools to achieve many of the goals of KM, but technology alone cannot do the job. For example, a document management software package can index and protect all the documents at the firm quickly and effectively. But if new attorneys and staff are not trained in how to use the software properly, those documents will never be found, and employees will reinvent the wheel instead of leveraging existing work product. In a nutshell, those aspects of KM that are not about technology deal with orientation and training, codification of procedures and job descriptions, maintenance of manuals and inhouse training materials, proper security and oversight of the firm’s intellectual property, and making sure that new employees are properly trained and effectively using information and tools. KM GONE AWRY Here’s a perfect example of KM gone awry. During a practice management audit at a four-attorney firm, I discovered that the firm had not done a conflict of interest search on new clients for three years. The task was assigned to the receptionist. When the last one announced her departure, she was asked to train her replacement. In the absence of a written job description, and with a brief period to make the transition, she accidentally overlooked this aspect of the job. The firm’s partners were unaware that conflict searches were not being performed. Here’s another example. A young associate was not a good “fit” at a firm. He was encouraged to leave, and eventually decided to open his own practice. On his final day I noticed him transporting more than 24 bankers boxes out of the firm. I called this to the attention of the managing partner. It turned out that he had gone into each partner’s office after hours, and copied literally every form at the firm, plus hundreds of confidential documents which he considered good examples of what he would need in his own practice. He was intending to start his own firm using the intellectual property of his former firm. And this was before the advent of electronics. Today, he could store the same information onto CDs or DVDs and no one might be the wiser without the proper tools in place. BASIC TOOLS What technology tools do you need? For starters, to protect your firm’s intellectual property, you need virus scanning and firewall software. Beyond that, I recommend at a minimum two tools, regardless of the practice areas at your firm. First, you should have document management software (DMS). This will create an electronic index card (profile) for every single document, and even for versions of documents. You can also index images (e.g. PDF files and inbound faxes) and e-mails, spreadsheets, and other materials. You can index the documents for full text searching, meaning that every word or phrase can be searched for. Or you can just search for fields in the profile, such as author, title, client, client number, type of document, and so forth. It will provide security, and prevent people from deleting documents, or altering them or even accessing them if you choose. (A good reason to limit access is if you need to construct a Chinese Wall, or if the documents are “partner only” sensitive materials.) Best of all, reporting capabilities will tell you who has accessed, copied, or even printed the document(s). For small or mid-size firms, typically a product like Worldox, from World Software Corp. ( www.worldox.com) will do the trick quite nicely. Worldox 2002 software is $395 per concurrent user. Not exactly something which breaks the bank. Especially not when it means being able to reuse your existing work product to maximum efficiency. Second in the list of must-have tools is case/practice management software (CMS). This software can capture and organize all the flotsam and jetsam of your practice, including contacts, to do lists, research, calendar appointments, notes of conversations and meetings, and all the other information, such as witnesses, docket numbers, and so forth — all organized by client/matter. So when you open a client/matter, everything, including the documents and e-mails, are just a click away. Among your choices is Time Matters, ( www.timematters.com), which costs $300 for the first user, and $150 for each user thereafter. Again, not something that will break the bank. Consider professional assistance in installation and training for DMS and CMS programs. It can help you tailor the software to your firm’s unique information needs, and assure that all staff know how to use it properly. That helps the firm recoup its investment quickly. With these two tools in place, plus a good training and orientation program, codified procedures, and job descriptions, your firm will take a dramatic leap in its ability to leverage and protect its intellectual capital. All for a relatively small investment. For additional assistance with these tools, contact the law practice management department of your state or local bar association. For a sample training and orientation outline, e-mail [email protected], and include the city/state of your firm, and the number of attorneys. Ellen Freedman is the law practice management coordinator of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and president of Freedman Consulting Inc., based in Harrisburg, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected]

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