(Credit: Shaw Nielsen)
Law libraries and law librarians aren’t what they used to be. But as those mainstays of law firm research adapt to a new legal industry, broader roles in knowledge management have found a place in the c-suite.
Elizabeth Chiapperi has been in knowledge management for more than 25 years, and she has spent much of that time at Nixon Peabody, where she is now chief knowledge officer. Her title changed at a time when a lot of the firm’s administrative titles were getting the “chief” modifier, she says.
“Our role has evolved from providing data to really providing insight,” Chiapperi says. “You have to understand the business as a whole, understand what’s going on in the industry.”
Reed Smith already had the role of chief knowledge officer when it hired London-based Lucy Dillon in 2015, but it wanted to refocus the job on content. In her responsibilities, the emphasis is on making content and training available, rather than on research, for which firms often bill in the United States, but not in the United Kingdom.
While the traditional law librarian role has made way for more modern approaches to knowledge management, Dillon says that research roles are not dying out. But knowledge is becoming an administrative area that touches on more functions, including marketing, business development training, HR and even overall firm strategy.
Finding new ways for the firm to serve clients is a major part of her role, Dillon says, so much so that “innovation” may become part of her title in the future. “It is important to have someone who is responsible for knowledge at the table with all the chiefs who manage the other functions,” Dillon says. “If it was lower down in the hierarchy of the organization we wouldn’t benefit from all of those synergies.”
Despite her c-suite title, Chiapperi of Nixon Peabody still reports to the firm’s chief operating officer. Not every firm uses a chief title for knowledge management, she says, but that doesn’t mean the role is less important.
“That function has always been part of the c-suite,” Chiapperi says. “Sometimes the title lends some credibility both internally and externally.”