I went along to Harriet Creamer’s presentation on Knowledge Management not really knowing what to expect. I’ve never had any involvement with KM at my firm, and I’ve never really been that clear on what it entails, so I was looking forward to hearing what Harriet had to say about it.
I wasn’t disappointed – this was a surprisingly fascinating talk. A colleague who also attended this talk described Harriet’s ideas as “radical” – I don’t really know, because as mentioned I don’t really know what standard practice is in KM, but I did think she had some very interesting suggestions. The focus was on reframing our skills as information and knowledge professionals: Harriet argued that changes in the structures of law firms (partly due to the recession) have provided opportunities for information and knowledge professionals to take on more responsibility (e.g. there are fewer junior lawyers to do the routine work, research etc). IS/KM teams can provide standard information and/or documents for quick, accurate access, in order to free up time and work more profitably.
There are opportunities for information professionals in transaction management. We should encourage planning – who needs to be working on a deal? What steps need to be completed? We also need to get to grips with resourcing – what will be needed? When? If IS/KM professionals understand this then they can advise – we are well placed to identify and encourage best practice. We need to know how transactions work so we know how to support them. Should we be going along to training/induction sessions with junior lawyers?
Harriet also suggested that IS/KM professionals could have a role in building “toolkits”. Commoditisation and outsourcing are important for basic, commodity work. No need for fee-earners to spend time producing the kind of material that’s available on PLC, for example. We can also leverage internal know-how – use fee-earners to help identify knowledgeable, well-organised people; identify best practice and encourage it across the firm. Another idea would be to produce standard tools/documents and share them with clients – this could be a good business development opportunity
Librarians have a unique skill set that can and should benefit the firm. Information professionals are on the “sharp end” – we see what happens when fee-earners don’t know where to look for relevant information. We understand e-resources (and their limitations) better than KM lawyers, and know how to add value. We have close involvement with precedent material, but should learn how/why/how much/by whom they are used – not enough to just organise the material!
In the Q&A at the end, someone queried how easy it was to get your point across, and get involved in the kinds of processes Harriet was talking about, if you don’t have a legal background. Harriet explained that it was a two-way process: it can be frustrating not to be taken seriously because you’re not a lawyer, but you need to demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest if you want to be listened to. She restated that it is important to attend meetings, training etc. outside of your area – you won’t be able to seize opportunities outside of the library if you never leave it!
I came away from this talk really inspired, and wanting to learn more about what my firm does and what other areas I could get involved with. Myself and my colleague who was also there have both suggested to our line manager that we liaise with the professional support lawyers and find out what meetings we could sit in on, etc., so the next few months should be quite interesting.