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‘Knowledge is the most valuable asset of the firm.’ ‘We must manage our corporate knowledge better.’ ‘We must utilise the latest available technology to help us to do this.’All very familiar themes, no doubt. However, it is easy to ignore some of the basic principles of knowledge creation and sharing.What law firms are trying to do, why they are doing it, and how they are going to do it, can all be encapsulated into one word: methodology.The importance of detailed methodology in every area of a firm’s practice cannot be underestimated. There are a number of reasons as to why it is so important. Only the partners of each firm can answer this question: “Do we provide our lawyers and other staff with best practice methodology across all our practice areas?”Not only is methodology one of the best tools for enabling knowledge sharing, it is also one of the best catalysts for increasing the creation of new knowledge.In their prize-winning book, The Knowledge-Creating Company, Japanese writers Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi conclude that knowledge can be split into two forms: tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge.Tacit knowledge (‘soft’ skills) includes, for example, skills that are just in your head or at your fingertips, skills that are not easy to express succinctly in words.Explicit knowledge (‘hard’ skills), on the other hand, is about procedure, systems and formality. It is usually more easily communicated and generally written.If knowledge is either tacit or explicit, then the flow of knowledge can be either:ltacit to tacit;ltacit to explicit;lexplicit to explicit; orlexplicit to tacit.In any organisation, the flow of knowledge is constantly changing.What Nonaka and Takeuchi found in their study of various Japanese corporations, is that the most powerful dynamics occur when existing tacit knowledge is converted into new explicit knowledge, and existing explicit knowledge is converted into new tacit knowledge.What can we learn from this? If we take six random examples of different situations, which typically occur at the beginning, middle and end of a deal, we can see how we can use methodology (including the available technology) to expand the firm’s knowledge base.1. What is the secret to giving a good presentation to win a new piece of work (tacit knowledge)?How often can partners find the time to share their years of experience in this particular area with their juniors or indeed each other (to trigger tacit to tacit knowledge transfer)?Why not video a modest number of beauty parade presentations and publish them on the firm’s intranet (so that tacit knowledge becomes, first, explicit knowledge, and subsequently new tacit knowledge, as it is then absorbed and copied by the audience, as and when it is their turn to present to clients)?Video and publication involves minimal cost and minimal expenditure of time in return for potentially unlimited upside. In this example, there is surely a simple way around any perceived problems of confidentiality or sensitivity, given the likely benefit to the firm’s junior lawyers.In the context of training courses, why not record two different versions of each of the most important core training presentations making one deliberately worse than the other? This would be an effective teaching aid.2. What written tools does the firm need to put in place to enable someone to put together a presentation document in the shortest possible time?Both explicit and tacit knowledge are required to effect this. One system might involve each lawyer maintaining his or her CV in a people database, say in three different formats and updated quarterly in accordance with agreed templates, so the author can simply use a short, medium or long-form version for inclusion in the presentation document, as appropriate. This would be the result of somebody drafting three templates (sharing both tacit and explicit knowledge to create new explicit knowledge), publishing them, creating a database and implementing a firmwide system of shared input and shared maintenance.3. Does the firm have a complete kit of documents and online tools to enable a trainee or paralegal to know:lwhen, why and how to do acompany search;lwhat to look for in the results;lwhat written conclusions to draw and what follow-up actions to perform; andlhow to use online services, search engines and automatic document assembly software to do all of this without having to leave the desk or get out a pen?In reality, how much of this type of task boils down to pure word of mouth and what one trainee or paralegal happens to pick up from whoever supervises them from time to time?This is a good example of one fundamental legal process, where the absence of full written methodology and documentary tools can not only dilute best practice, but also prevent the correct knowledge from being available at all.4. Which method of drafting or reviewing a long commercial agreement is the most efficient, or is it a totally personal choice? How do you learn which clauses are more important than others?Naturally, there is no substitute for doing a good volume of deals in the early years of being an assistant. However, logic would suggest that there must be, at least, a broad consensus as to which are the best ‘tricks of the trade’ and which are not, and that some of this can be articulated, both in writing and in demonstration. Otherwise, knowledge learning and knowledge sharing can be left too much to chance, because it then becomes too dependent on gaining the right deal of experience at the right time in those formative career years.Lawyers could probably spend more time (perhaps saved as a result of using virtual deal rooms and the like) comparing notes with their mentors (partners) and their peer group to ensure the full range of knowledge transfer: tacit to tacit, tacit to explicit, explicit to explicit, and explicit to tacit.5. What provisions are the likely deal breakers? Has the partner or senior lawyer ever explained, or even published in writing, whether they have ever had to advise a client to pull out of a deal and why they came to that conclusion?This highlights a situation where tacit knowledge, possibly priceless in the armoury of the lawyer who experienced it, is rarely shared for the benefit of the firm as a whole.6. At the completion of the deal, a transaction bible is prepared – if that is the usual practice. But does the firm prepare a bible or other record of all the plans, the structure diagrams and some of the key early thinking?The final deal documentation is valuable knowledge, but the early planning and design phase may contain equally, if not more, valuable knowledge. Lawyers need to continue to develop a detailed and workable methodology for capturing and sharing this knowledge.There is methodology at the heart of every process within the firm, some forms much harder to articulate, express in writing or share than others. Nevertheless, written manuals or guides of best practice are fundamental. However, each manual or guide will never be static. Each must be a live creation. Together, they can become the main focus points within the firm for knowledge creation and knowledge sharing.The real value in knowledge management can be seen:lwhen one person unlocks their own or another’s tacit knowledge and turns it into new explicit knowledge for others to use;lwhen new explicit knowledge is turned into other forms of explicit knowledge to widen the pool of shared knowledge; andlultimately, when individuals, by constantly learning new explicit knowledge, convert that knowledge into new individual tacit knowledge.And so the flow of knowledge continues.Lawyers can earn a premium rate for their experience, wisdom and judgement. Without detailed methodology to bridge the gap between the generally known and the generally unknown, and between the ‘hard’ skills and the ‘soft’ skills, a firm will never evolve to create higher levels of tacit knowledge, on which the firm’s culture and values and, ultimately, its market position are founded.Tim Travers is a consultant at e-Legal Logistics advising on knowledge management solutions and more efficient working practices.

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