posted 29 Feb 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 6
Five minutes with…
Jacquie Bran, project manager with the Knowledge Management events team, spoke to Loyita Worley, head of library, information and knowledge management at Richards Butler. She has been actively involved in disseminating and developing KM within this law firm and has realised the benefits of improved communication and efficiency.
How did you get involved in KM?
It started about four years ago when people first began talking about KM within the context of law firms. The partnership at Richards Butler could see the benefits of a KM strategy and decided to take it forward. I had already been advocating the advantages of using a single database to access all areas of information within the firm for several years, and had written reports recommending we pursue it. Once we decided to proceed, I was the obvious choice to fulfil the KM function. I had experience of making legal information available by using IT, and also had extensive knowledge of the firm – its dynamics and staff – all of which proved invaluable.
Can you provide an example of knowledge management in action within Richards Butler?
Our Paris office needed some materials and asked if I could find out who held them and whether they could be sent to Paris. I pointed them in the direction of our KM database where they were able to find the documents themselves, immediately look at the relevant cases and legislation from their own PCs, and subsequently speak to the lawyer responsible for them for further guidance. They were very impressed.
What has been your most important KM initiative to date?
Our most important KM initiative is our know-how database, ouRBase. Launched in August 2001, it collects the internal know-how of the firm in one place and makes it easily available to our offices worldwide. All of the know-how is validated beforehand to ensure quality and consistency. It is also possible to link to related knowledge through ouRBase and to external database sources wherever case law or legislation is cited.
What specific benefits have you seen from KM?
Our ability to maintain the quality of information is important as is ensuring that all lawyers are using the most up-to-date and relevant information at all times. These are probably the greatest benefits that we can determine. OuRBase also gives 24/7 access to everyone – which is particularly useful for the overseas offices due to the time differences. It allows for less reinvention of the wheel and easier delegation from experienced lawyers to those who are less so. In addition, it tries to garner and retain knowledge from the most experienced fee earners. This has proven invaluable if and when the person leaves or retires. In summary, all of these processes lead to time saving and therefore increased profitability and productivity. There is also the added bonus of being able to identify and locate expertise in a field that staff can approach for advice and information on specific topics.
Have you tried to measure the value of your KM strategy?
I have read extensively about this and given it lot of thought, but I have not yet come up with a satisfactory means of measurement. An ROI figure would be extremely useful for assessing the success of the services we provide and for pushing for future developments, but I have not heard of anybody who has achieved it on a practical level.
Have you faced any specific cultural challenges?
The biggest cultural challenge for us has been trying to achieve cross-departmental consensus. The KM database was the first database that enabled our lawyers to access documents produced by other departments. Each department had its own way of working and even called their documents by different names. There was some reluctance to making their own know-how freely available for various reasons. We had to overcome this culture of resistance. It was also difficult to get the fee earners (particularly the high earning and very busy partners) to spend time making their know-how available. We had to persuade them that it was in their long-term interests to contribute to helping others.
Do you have any active communities of practice?
We have had mixed success with these. It is relatively easy in a firm this size to gather people with similar interests together, but getting them to share information is more difficult unless they are specifically primed. I have discussed this with our professional support lawyers and we wonder whether it could be due to a reluctance to lay themselves open to possible criticism from their peers? We are still experimenting with ways to get round this.
What are the most important lessons that you have learnt?
Flexibility and patience. Apart from increasing my direct experience in KM, I have developed good management and mediation skills. My advice is not to rush your KM initiatives – it takes a long time to get buy-in, which is very important to the overall success.
Loyita Worley is head of library, information and knowledge management at Richards Butler. She can be contacted at email@example.com