posted 15 May 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 8
Think not how you use Web 2:0 tools, but what your firm is trying to achieve
By Matthew Parsons
In the current swirl of buzzwords and hype around Web 2.0,
Many firms have been involved in structured knowledge initiatives since the mid 1980s, with the shoulders of several generations of people and technology so far being applied to the grindstone. These efforts have been to help their firms and lawyers be more ‘knowledge able’ – to be stronger competitors in implementing their business strategies.
The dot-com boom and bust saw everything e-prefixed or .com suffixed, but not transformed. Is Web 2.0 round two? Certainly Thomas Davenport thinks Web 2.0 won’t transform organisations, and I tend to agree, but what impact will it have on law firm knowledge management (KM) as we know it?
Returning to basics, there are several key elements of law firm KM. Prime among them is people. Investment in people, directly in the form of professional support lawyers or indirectly in the form of line lawyer time, together with energetic and dedicated partner practice leadership, is the key to legal KM. Insights and work product tools may be housed in software, but they originate in wetware – in people. This people investment is part cash, and part culture and process: contributions from lawyers do not so much require cash investment but culture, leadership and aligned reward systems.
The yield on this investment is then a function of software and design – the content production and access tools. If the created knowledge is too hard to find and use, it will not be used by time poor, and highly critical, lawyers. It is here that Web 2.0 may have a transformational impact on law firm KM in the next three years, not by magically turning all lawyers into community enriching knowledge-sharing powerhouses unconstrained by billable hours, but by increasing the content yield from investment in KM, and enabling easier access and leverage of collective intelligence by lawyers in simpler interfaces.
Perhaps we will see emergent firm encyclopaedias of internal legal and non-legal knowledge, and a move away from purely hierarchical portals, web applications and intranets as the way in which law firm knowledge is assembled. In some ways this is the promise of hypertext as envisioned by Ted Nelson in 1960, and something which Web 2.0 tools may facilitate.
Like all KM journeys, the road ahead will be bumpy and challenging. Web 2.0 approaches do present their own flavours of political and structural challenges, but they do offer an important shift in our approach to leveraging legal knowledge to support business strategy. Nobody said knowledge is easy, even in a web 2.0 world... It’s a good thing, then, that we are all change agents. ?
Matthew Parsons, formerly CKO at Linklaters, is founder of Matthew Parsons & Associates. He can be contacted at email@example.com