posted 28 Apr 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 8
Thomas Collins reviews Knowledge Management and the Smarter Lawyer by Gretta Rusanow.
Title: Knowledge Management and the Smarter Lawyer
Author: Gretta Rusanow
Publishers: ALM Publishing, 2003
Gretta Rusanow’s treatment of knowledge management for lawyers begins with the need to connect KM to a law firm’s business objectives, “Since a law firm is a knowledge-based business, managing knowledge is about managing your business.”
This simple truth might get lost in detail, because Knowledge Management and the Smarter Lawyer covers the planning, design and implementation of KM in many settings, from large firms to law departments and solo practitioners. But Rusanow reiterates the message that KM must be connected to business objectives at every stage.
Rusanow’s detailed coverage chapters devoted to defining the scope of knowledge and KM. When defining knowledge, the book makes distinctions between knowledge, information and data; explicit versus tacit knowledge; and the knowledge needed for the practice versus the business of law. Rusanow demonstrates her understanding of how these concepts apply to law offices by breaking them down into ten knowledge categories, which include:
- The law (cases, statutes, firm precedents or best practices);
- The firm’s clients (knowledge-based client relationships, for example);
- Methodologies and processes (such as the steps in managing a particular kind of transaction);
- Third parties (opposing counsel, judges, expert witnesses).
Rusanow urges lawyers to expand their view of KM beyond just the law. The chapter closes with a checklist for firms to determine which categories they need to manage. Similarly, the knowledge-management chapter expands on the concept beyond lawyers’ usual focus on IT for storing and retrieving legal information. Rusanow offers a useful model to help readers analyse their knowledge, and how to apply specific KM tools and techniques for achieving business objectives. She closes again with a checklist for applying the model.
Subsequent chapters cover implementation issues such as developing a KM team, overcoming law-firm cultural barriers, and employing technology where needed. From this foundation, Rusanow returns to the case for connecting KM to business objectives and profitability, with chapters on valuing knowledge management and turning it from a cost-saving/efficiency strategy into a client-servicing profit centre. She concludes the book with chapters on the unique needs of law departments and solo practitioners.
This is a very practical handbook for lawyers – and those who work with lawyers – to use when introducing KM initiatives. A major strength is her ability to connect KM theory to real-life problems. Each chapter begins with a scenario drawn from her experiences to illustrate how these concepts can benefit lawyers and their clients. Shorter scenarios highlight important concepts and techniques.
Planning tools – from simple business-case-analysis forms to detailed project-management diagrams – are introduced and applied to these scenarios. Each chapter ends with a checklist, questionnaire or exercise so lawyers immediately understand the concepts’ benefits.
Most interesting for me, however, is the last chapter, which applies KM to solo practitioners. Frequent references to earlier chapters demonstrate how many of the large-firm KM goals, tools and techniques can be used by individual lawyers. The book shows how we can improve the success rate of KM initiatives of every size.
In The Future of Knowledge, Verna Allee writes, “We cannot change or manage a complex adaptive system directly. As individuals we can only manage our roles, our activities, our relationships and how we participate.” Peter Drucker made the same argument when discussing knowledge-worker productivity and managing oneself, in Management Challenges for the 21st Century.
If we were to read Rusanow’s chapter on solo practitioners first then our initiatives could address how individual workers work and how people approach the same tasks. We could then apply cognitive and educational-psychology teachings to support ways of gathering and processing information, and creating and sharing knowledge.
While valuable to lawyers and consultants to lawyers, a wider audience should also find this book useful. Lawyers and law offices exemplify the knowledge-based business. As all businesses are essentially knowledge based, understanding how to implement KM in a law office should offer insights for other organisations.
Also, even large law firms amount to small-to-medium-sized businesses. As much KM work has been studied and practiced in larger business settings, this book can provide a model for extending these benefits into a wider segment of the business world.
This book is a clearly written, well organised, step-by-step handbook for successful KM implementation in law offices. For lawyers with little background in KM theory, the numerous scenarios will ring true and make the concepts accessible. For practitioners, the theories behind the techniques will be apparent. It is a useful addition to the KM library.
- Allee, V., The Future of Knoweldge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2002)
- Drucker, P.F., Management Challenges for the 21st Century (HarperBusiness, 2001)
Thomas G. Collins, JD, is principal of Advocacy 2100, LLC. He can be contacted at email@example.com.